Brisbane’s Sue Ray isn’t really one for labels. Sure, you could call her a ‘singer-songwriter’ or a ‘solo artist’ – but she prefers simply ‘musician’. And when you look at her impressive career to date, you can see why.
There’s been the garage rock bands, the country folk songs, the collaborations – even a stint in a philharmonic choir. And it’s that wide breadth of experience that has been etched all over her new solo record Red Roses.
Confident, considered, warm, spontaneous – this collection of country-tinged songs showcases a songwriter and performer filled with confidence, maturity and a sense of experimentation. Add in Sue Ray’s show stopping voice, a band of exceptional players, and ARIA winning producer Magoo, and you have an album that really feels like the work of someone born to make music.
But then Sue Ray has known nothing else. Growing up in a musical family in Toowoomba – west of Brisbane – she learned from a very early age that music was something to be valued and treasured…that is was more than just wallpaper. So, for the past 15 years she has followed a path that has taken her around the country and the globe.
Moving to Brisbane in 2000, she found herself swept into that city’s music community. With her bands The Fondelles and Sugartown she earned plenty of fans, and soon other artists came calling. To date she has performed on stage and in the studio as a guest with numerous bands and artists including The Gin Club, Darren Hanlon, Baron Field & Shifter. While with her bands – and as a solo artist – she has opened for everyone from Faker, The Apartments, Keith Podger, The Purple Hearts, The Kill Devil Hills, and Halfway to The Wilson Pickers, Busby Marou and Dan Sultan.
Sue Ray sees that connection with any number of artists and genres as key to her growth as a songwriter. It’s about challenging herself to try new things, explore new sounds and mess around with convention. And soon enough it was her talent and dedication as a solo writer and performer that really started to shine through.
As 612ABC Radio’s Mardi Lumsden put it a couple years back: “Sue walked on stage and my jaw hit the ground. Her voice was so strong and confident. Her guitar playing is excellent and her songs heartbreaking. A consummate performer.”
In 2008 Sue Ray released her debut solo offering Best Beware ¬– a mini-album that effectively cemented her spot as one of Brisbane’s most gifted talents. Enjoying strong support at community radio across the country, tracks from the album went on to be nominated for numerous Q Song awards with the song ‘Last Cigarette’ also featured on the 2009 ‘Home’ compilation of Australia’s finest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
Having spent years touring to most of Australia’s major cities – and plenty in between – Sue Ray started looking further a field for inspiration and last year packed her guitar and went to Europe. Chalking up shows across the continent and the UK, the trip became pivotal to writing and producing the new album. Away from the comfort and familiarity of home, Sue Ray found she had time to reflect and get comfortable in her own skin – to deal with fears and insecurities and let herself be a more vulnerable and open through her music. And as the songs began to take shape they had at their core a sense of honesty and depth that she has managed to keep front and centre across the finished album.
Sue Ray returned home earlier this year and brought together a collection of friends and fellow artists to make the new album at Magoo’s country studio Applewood. Drawn to the no-fuss recording approach of artists like The Cowboy Junkies and Neko Case, Sue Ray’s priority in making the album was to capture the performance, not simply piece together the tracks in the studio – an ambition she has more than just realised.
Hardly one to sit still Sue Ray plans on spending the rest of this year hitting the road to tour and promote the independently released album – released July 29th – and finishing the year with a slot at the Dreaming Festival already on the cards. Whichever way she goes, creatively and professionally, you get the sense that Sue Ray has now, perhaps for the first time, truly found her voice.