For Michael Ray, one of the biggest unexpected blessings to come from the tumult and change of 2020 was his “Honky Tonk Tuesdays” livestream series, a weekly event that he launched last April.
It started as a way for Ray, who’s long been vocal about his passion for ‘90s and traditional country, to immerse himself in his favorite stylistic iterations of the genre, and invite some of his musical heroes — Clint Black, Terri Clark and Darryl Worley, to name a few — to join him for virtual conversations and jam sessions. Now, as he gets closer to putting out his next album, his “Honky Tonk Tuesdays” have taken on another role, too: They’re a constant reminder to Ray to hone in on the sounds and styles that mean the most to him.
“With the Honky Tonk Tuesdays stuff, [I’ve been] surrounded by that music that influenced me to move to Nashville,” Ray explains to Country Now. “Being around it just, even more, inspired me to write more, and to sing more, in that lane. To be more purposeful with what [I’m] writing. I think with this new record, I think a lot of that Honky Tonk Tuesdays stuff is what made this record what it is.”
Not only does that influence come from listening to his show guests’ catalogues — it also comes from the overall feeling of camaraderie he’s gained by getting to know his musical heroes. Now, he’s carrying that spirit of teamwork and friendship over into his next project’s track list, which he hints includes an exciting yet-to-be-released collaborative song.
“There’s a pretty massive collaboration that I’m pretty psyched about,” says Ray. “It’s gonna be really, really cool when that song comes out. I’m excited for people to hear that one…There’s gonna be a few artists on it.”
Even though the album was made largely remotely, and they weren’t all in the studio together at the same time, Ray says that the experience was still a huge source of inspiration and synergy. “I love collaborating: Just watching the way they are in the studio, the ideas that they’re [having],” the singer says.
“Because a lot of my buddies and a lot of the people that I listen to are way more experienced than me,” he notes. “They’ve been in this longer than [I have.] … Even though we weren’t technically in the studio together, we were still working together. It was still inspiring.”
While Ray’s album doesn’t have a definitive release date yet, he hints that more information is just around the corner. What he can reveal about it is that the new collection will feature a heavy emphasis on real instruments and traditional sounds, a tone he set when he released the project’s first single, “Whiskey and Rain.”
He worked with some of Nashville’s best session players on the project, like reigning CMA Musician of the Year Jenée Fleenor, a fiddle player also known for her work with Blake Shelton and Jon Pardi.
“It’s an honor when you get those musicians to play on your music,” Ray acknowledges. “It’s also a really cool thing when they start diving in and getting excited. Because they’re playing on everything!
“It’s inspiring when they get excited by one of your songs, because you’re like, ‘Oh, this is great — if they’re excited about this, that’s a good sign,’” he points out, adding that across the board — whether recruiting studio musicians to play on his songs or star guest vocalists to sing them with him — a key element of making his new album has been his focus on surrounding himself with the people who he admires most.
“The statement that you should surround yourself with people who are more talented than you is a real thing,” Ray adds with a laugh. “I think [if you do that] you have no [choice] but to be inspired, and to have a goal to reach.”