Frank Ray is starting to see his music career take off after risking his day-to-day job to form a band in his hometown.
In 2017, the singer/songwriter from Las Cruces, New Mexico, walked away from his steady decade-long position as a police officer to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a country artist. He eventually decided to move to Nashville to embark on his musical journey full-time. And, while his band stayed behind, Ray has continued to move forward as a solo act.
After making the rounds on Nashville’s music scene with his manager Oscar Chavira, Ray released a version of “Tequila Mockingbird.” The track caught the attention of several music executives, including his current label home BBR Music Group/Stoney Creek Records. In June of 2021, Ray released his debut single, “Streetlights,” which pays tribute to his Hispanic heritage with Latin percussion, a distinctive horn break, and fresh bilingual lyrics.
Ray’s most recent single, “Country’d Look Good On You,” penned by Cole Taylor, Derek George, Monty Criswell, and Taylor Phillips, has, meanwhile, earned the title of being the most added song on country radio by a new artist (by impact day) in 2021. Ray, who has no intention of slowing down, also made his Grand Ole Opry debut on Saturday (Nov. 6) and has plans to release more music in the coming months.
Read on to find out more about Frank Ray in this exclusive Q&A below!
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How did you begin a career in country music?
I spent a large portion of my childhood in San Antonio, Texas, which is where I fell in love with country music. I’ve always wanted to sing since I was a kid. But, life happened, and I grew up and found myself stepping away from music to focus on everyday life. So, I found myself in a career in law enforcement and did that for ten years. But, it was about five years into that career when I figured out that I needed a healthy outlet. As most officers will tell you, it’s such a stressful job, and I found myself turning back to music. I picked up the guitar and started writing songs. They weren’t great songs, but they were good enough to play sets on the weekends at local clubs. I put together a little country band with a couple of buddies and a cousin of mine, and we hit the ground running. So, I was a law enforcement officer by day, and Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, I played music.
When did you decide to officially leave your job in law enforcement?
The band that I had formed in Las Cruces, New Mexico, gained some notoriety around town, and it started looking like we could really do it full-time. We performed at this Battle of the Bands show at a local bar for a chance to open up for Keith Urban and won. So, we played our home town in front of thousands of people in an arena. That was our first time playing on a big stage and getting that kind of treatment. That’s when it really hit me. I was like, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’ So, that was really it. I wanted to do that, but I couldn’t convince the band to uproot their families or lives and move to Nashville with me, which was always kind of my goal. But, my wife, who I was dating at the time, was the one who was like, ‘Well, if this is what you want to do, you’ve got to give it a shot and go by yourself without the band and see where it takes you.’ So, that’s the way it worked out. But, it all happened at the right time because I had just started working with my manager, who decided to take me on as a solo artist. So, it was perfect timing, and I quit law enforcement in 2017.
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What were some of the challenges you faced as an artist when you moved to Nashville?
First and foremost, because I had spent so much time focusing on law enforcement, all I knew about the music industry was that I loved to play songs, and I loved to perform. I didn’t have any networking experience, and I didn’t know anybody. Both my manager and I were green to this whole industry. For being as big as it is, Nashville is a very tight-knit community. So, once we figured that out, it was like, ‘Alright, if we can get in front of some people and make a buzz, then eventually, others will hear the name.’ So, we started coming to Nashville on our own dime and talking to people on music row. So, it was a matter of walking into a building and saying, ‘Hey, I’m a new artist. Would you like to set up a meeting?’ A lot of times, it didn’t work out. But, other times, it did. Eventually, we linked up with a producer named Steve Dorff, who my manager just wound up cold-calling one day, and he had a catalog of music that he would allow new artists to record and stuff like that. So I was able to get my hands on a couple of songs, one of which got onto the New Boots Spotify playlist and put us on the radar. So, it all worked out beautifully.
What do you think about when you reflect on your musical journey so far?
I reflect on being on the road that got us here. It’s easy to see a new artist and be like, ‘Wow! They came out of nowhere,’ and not see the miles we put on these past years, playing all the clubs and honky-tonks from Southern New Mexico, all the way to Alabama. We did that several times a year for several years, and it is possible, if you surround yourself with the right team, the right management, and have the talent, it just comes down to a matter of work ethic. It’s a difficult industry to tap into, but once you get in there and do all the work, it never stops. It’s not for the faint of heart. So, I like to reflect on the hard work of my team and myself that got us here. I never want to lose sight of how it started.
Is there any artist that you’d wish to parallel your career after?
In regards to work ethic, I would draw parallels between me and George Strait and his manager, Erv Woolsey. Now, I’m not saying we are equal, but they have a very similar story to my manager and me – also Cody Johnson and his manager. It’s the same thing! Cody had a heck of a lot more success in the Texas market than we did. I mean, we had some decent radio success, but Cody has been grinding it out for a long time. It’s finally at the point where he’s pretty much the king of Texas – at least in country music before he signed his major label deal. So, we really kind of share a lot of parallels because those guys put their heads down, and they charge forward. A lot of times, they’ve played for free. We did that too several times to play shows and get our names out there. So, it has taken a lot of sacrifices and hard work to accomplish what we have now with scratching the surface.
Your song “Streetlights” features you embracing your Spanish roots. Is it important to you to incorporate bilingual lyrics in your music?
Absolutely! And we don’t want to make it the primary focus. But, it’s nothing that we distance ourselves from either. We embrace it fully because I never want to come to this town and say, ‘Please pay attention to me because I’m Hispanic. It’s more of ‘I’m a country artist, and I just happen to be Hispanic.’ When we decide to lean into the culture, we get songs like ‘Streetlights,’ and I’m incredibly proud of that, mainly because it’s been a long time since a Latin artist, male or female, has emerged in this genre. I’m not saying that for any discriminatory purpose because it could be timing, or in any case, it’s just been a long time. So, when it comes down to it, I’m very honored to get that opportunity to carry the torch for the culture.
What kind of response have you received from Hispanic communities who have listened to your music?
I’ve had visits with people working in radio positions come to tears because they love to see the representation. The response from the Hispanic community has been overwhelmingly positive. It has been just as positive with the country music community with different walks of life, where everybody is saying, ‘This is refreshing and new, and we embrace it.’ And, quite frankly, country music and Hispanic music have always kind of paralleled each other. They say, often, that the Mexican Vaquero and the American Cowboy are one and the same.
Your current single “Country’d Look Good On You” is doing well on the country charts. What drew you to record that song when you first heard it?
I love country music, but I love all kinds of music. I used to listen to Top 40 and pop radio growing up and tried to get a mix-tape together with like Usher or Boyz II Men. I tried to emulate the kind of soul they had in their vocal talents. So, that was something that I picked up on early in my life, and I kept doing that all my life. So, that became a part of who I am vocally and musically. I just learned how to craft it my way and mix it up with the natural twang that I have when I’m singing country music. So, having those two things, it was a no-brainer with ‘Country’d Look Good On You.’ It was right up my alley and my vibe. The writers knew that about me, and the minute they got the demo for the song, they were like, ‘We thought about you immediately for this song. What do you think? Let me know.’ The minute I heard that song, I was like, ‘That is a hit song!’ I was thinking about all of the cool melodic stuff I could do vocally with it. So, the minute I got into the studio, I was already so familiar with it.
You also recently debuted the music video for “Country’d Look Good On You.” Anything interesting about the filming process for the video that you can share with us?
Yes! The most comical would probably be that when we were hanging out, we were hitting golf balls out by the river, and I got attacked by chiggers! I’m not sure if it was there or by the cornfield, but I had two ticks on me. I woke up the next day, and my legs were covered in chigger bites! It was crazy because I had jeans on. Olivia, the lead actress, had short shorts on, and I never heard back from her, but I hope she was okay. I wondered if she was affected by it because I was. But, we filmed the video in Nashville. We filmed part of it at the Green Door Gourmet, which is this giant couple hundred-acre venue. The video was directed by Chris Hickey with Tiny Terror Productions. For the treatment of the video, he just thought it would be cool to have this guy in this fish out of water environment. He’s in this more high-brow art gallery and has this moment with a girl that happens to be in the same place as him and says, ‘You look great in here, but I’d bet you’d look better out in the country.’
Are you working toward an album or an EP right now?
I am! The label went ahead and green-lit a full album. I don’t have a time frame for when it will be out, but we recorded a bunch of music that we wrote. I think we have one other outside song that I fell in love with that I’m excited about too. I’m excited about the whole album because I feel like at this time in my life, I’ve stepped into my own. I understand who I am as an artist and what I want the body of work to sound like, so I’m excited. It’s going to be a great, fresh new album, and I can’t wait to bring it to the country music genre because, in essence, it will be my introduction piece to mainstream country music and fans.
Besides music, are there any other projects you’re working on that you can share with us?
It’s interesting that you’ve mentioned that because I’ve read a few independent movie scripts. It’s something that has intrigued me. I’d be interested in digging into that. But, of course, it’s way too early in my music career, I think, to put all my time and focus into that. But yeah, I am dipping my toes into that water. Other than that, my priority is working the single, playing shows, getting out there, and meeting the fans. I’m just so grateful that my career has gone in this direction.
What does the rest of 2021 look like for you?
The holidays are always great for everybody to take a break and get some quality family time. We’ve had our foot on the gas since the beginning of the year. So, I’m looking forward to spending some time with my family, but I’m just as excited to continue to play shows. We’ve got some cool acoustic shows coming up with Brothers Osborne and Callista Clark. We also have some live shows coming up with Matt Stell. Then, we’re jumping on a tour next year with Elvie Shane.