There’s something so comforting about watching movies from your childhood over and over again even though the ending never changes. Michael Ray got that same familiar feeling when he first heard “Holy Water,” and now he’s bringing those emotions through in the incredibly personal music video shot in his hometown of Eustis, Florida.
From the back porch of his Nashville home, Ray joined Country Now to discuss his song “Holy Water,” which has recently impacted country radio, and all the different aspects of his small town, from the people to the historic church featured in the video.
When it came to choosing songs to include in his Higher Education EP, this song checked all the boxes. Penned by Ashley Gorley, Hunter Phelps, Ben Johnson and Michael Hardy, “Holy Water” takes Ray back to his life growing up down the street from a very special little church. This isn’t just any old church though, it has a long history with Ray, his family and the community surrounding it. The country star, his sisters and his dad have even helped restore it over the years to keep its beauty alive for generations to come. Although this song wasn’t specifically written about this small white church in Florida, the lyrics take Ray back to that very spot every time he hears it. That’s exactly what made him fall in love with it right from the start.
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“The power of it (shows) just how good the songwriters are,” Ray told Country Now. “They have this way of writing lyrics that make you feel like they wrote it about you, whether you’re the artist or the listener. It hit me in that way and then I just never got tired of it.”
Generations of his family have left their mark on the little white church that dates back to 1889 – from his grandparents, running with moonshine through the woods around it, to his Sunday school days and all the town weddings that took place there. Not to mention the Bible that has been on display since the Civil War days, and the cross that has hung since at least the time when 11-year-old Ray took on the role of Jesus in the Easter play.
“It was like those old movies that you watched in the early 2000s and ’90s, you just watch ’em, you know how it ends, but you’re gonna watch it anyway if it’s on,” he explained. “For me, that’s how the song has continued to be. It’s just been really cool to see the fans tell me their stories about it.”
“Holy Water” brings him right back to all of those memories that he made growing up there with the people who raised him. The church is still active and functioning today for those that live there and for those like Ray, who still return from time to time.
Since it hit so close to home, it only made sense to go back there to film the music video.
“I heard the demo, I saw the music video in my head right away,” he admitted.
When his family heard his vision for the video, he explains they loved the song even more. Ray’s dad is especially proud to carry this song around with him through his life. “I think it’s been my dad’s favorite song and his buddies’ favorite song. I always get videos of them hanging by the bonfire somewhere, they’re jamming to it at football games that they’re watching. So, it’s cool to have them a part of it too, a lot of them in the video are from there.”
Instead of paying actors to come to his town and pretend that they have a connection to the church, he figured why not just use the people in his community that can truly relate to the song in the same way he can. Ray explained that seeing the church again was like a “time warp,” as visions of his days spent in there came back to him.
“It’s all authentic and I think that’s why it meant a lot to me to have the people as the actors. There’s only two paid actors, the preacher and one of the deacons. The other deacon is my cousin, and then everybody else is part of that church,” he explained. “Everybody had a tie to either that area or the church in some sorts.”
The video directed by Spidey opens in front of a convenience store that’s located right across the street from the church and is owned by his uncle in real life. Ray sits in the pews as he sings “Holy Water” and the dramatic story unfolds around him. The scene that shows the preacher getting caught and starting a fire with the holy water is actually his cousin’s front yard. “We took ownership of the family land there for a while,” Ray said.
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“You really can’t recreate this place,” he told Spidey Smith when describing the idea he had for the video. “It’s not a scene, it’s not a set in Nashville that you’re gonna get. You’re not recreating this dirt road and this Florida moss and this church, this is only one place…we really gave the song the love that is deserved and the video that is deserved.”
The whole community, including many friends who Ray grew up with, came together to help him make the video shoot happen within 16 hours.
“I think now I’m just really confident in myself and where I’m at musically and personally and what I wanna say. So, I think coming home…it hits a little different now for me,” he acknowledged.
Click above to watch the just-released “Holy Water” music video.