Marty Ray is a husband, father, singer, songwriter and actor who has taken the world by storm. Utilizing social media in ways better than any mainstream artist today, his interaction with his fans of all walks of life is truly admirable. With so many amazing accomplishments, you wouldn’t think he’d have time to interact with his 50,000 plus Youtube subscribers, or 100,000 plus Facebook fans, but you would be wrong. I had the honor of sitting down with Marty on a warm February day to talk about all things music and life, for the longest interview I’ve had to date; not because there were more questions, or harder ones, but because Marty’s a genuine human being with a lot of great things to say. His music only scratches the surface of the person that he is and my hope is to share just a glimpse of that with all of you.
“The way I think about life is that everyone should support each other and treat them as family,” Marty started out our conversation before the first question. “For instance you, we just met, but I think of you as family,” he said. “Forget everything else. I’m not an artist and you’re not a blogger, we’re just two human beings having a conversation and that’s something we should all be able to do.”
It’s easy to see Marty is a genuinely good guy if you follow him at all on socials like millions of other people. He’s present. He’s active. But most importantly, he listens. When I was originally shown Marty’s music by a co-worker, I knew I had to interview him and find out more about his story, but when I saw he lived in Memphis, I thought that could be out of reach. With probably the quickest email response time to date, his management team got back to me and within an hour or so, Marty was calling me to schedule a time to drive into Nashville for an interview. He says it’s easy to have that kind of support from a manager when it’s family – his brother. But I think it’s probably even easier to support the type of artist who’s willing to grind for their success.
Marty did talk about however, the all too common phrase that a lot of beginners in the industry say and how much it bothers him.
“They all say this at some point ‘I’ll do whatever it takes,’ and I think you have to really analyze what you’re saying there. Would you kill someone? Would you steal? Would you get a divorce? All of those terrible things for a taste of fame,” he sighed, “I wouldn’t. I won’t do whatever it takes because I love my family. If there ever came a time for me where I had to choose music or my family, well, it’d be my family. One-hundred-percent.
They always have good intentions with it,” he continued. “They think, ‘if I tour a lot now and make a ton of money, my whole family will be better off,’ but then they’re on the road for 265 tour dates and they just grow apart with the ones they love. Then sometimes, they never make it anyway and what are they left with? No career and no family. It’s just not right and that what’s labels do. They make you tour because that’s how they make money.”
Marty had the offer to sign with Sony a few years back and turned it down when they told him his music wasn’t “radio ready,” while it was currently playing on stations like Rock 103.
“At that time, it wasn’t a smart move for me to turn them down. I probably had close to 1,000 fans, but I remember thinking I just had to trust in my music and God. If it was just him and I from there on out, it would be okay. Now I look back and think I couldn’t have made a better decision.”
Marty was sort of born into music and has continued to follow his passion ever since. He was raised in a large family with nine siblings in total and grew up singing black gospel at the church his family attended, while at home, his parents listened to country.
“My mama always said when I cried it sounded like a song,” Marty started, “now I don’t know how true that is because, well, I was a baby,” he laughed, “but I remember words used to come into my mind like poems, but I would be able to think about them with music. I remember my older brother’s friend, Jason Lloyd was playing piano one day when I was 12 years old. I had him play it over and over again and I wrote a song to it. I always say that song would be platinum today if I could remember any of it.”
Marty went on to tell me that if Jason, who currently resides in Africa, could remember what he played that day and could play it all again, the words would definitely come back to him. I tried to track down Jason without any luck, but I’d like to say;
Jason, if you’re out there and read this, please dig deep and remember those chords so we can hear this potential record-breaking track. Marty Ray fans beg you.
When Marty heard I was from Philadelphia, our conversation took a turn toward something we both love just as much as music…food.
“I have a funny story about Philly cheesesteaks actually. My dad owns a towing company and we all used to work for him. I was out on a tow taking this guy back to Little Rock, Arkansas, he was originally from Philadelphia and he told me that he had twenty Geno’s Cheesesteaks in the trunk of his car. So, first I asked if I could have one and he just said, no, just like that. So then I asked if I could buy one from him for ten dollars, still no. Finally, I bought it from him for twenty!” He laughed. “It was so good, I could see why he treasured them so much. He said they had to last him the whole year until he went back to Philly again. But, I need to get there soon and try a fresh one.
I think I’m the reason the word ‘foodie’ was invented,” he went on, “someone saw me one day with BBQ sauce in my beard and they were like ‘hey wait a minute, food..ie, yeah, that guys’ a foodie,’ and I was over there with the sauce in my beard like, ‘hi,'” he joked.
But for Marty the best BBQ place in Memphis is not a joke at all, “Memphis BBQ near Southhaven, Mississippi,” he said without hesitation, “always say ‘mixed’ when you order.”
It took all I had not to get up and run, mouth watering, to Memphis BBQ, but we had too much to talk about.
“Back to the music. If someone ever says they’re pursuing music professionally not to make money, they’re probably lying. If that was the case they’d just write songs and sing them whenever for a hobby or something, but if you’re pursuing it head on you’re always doing it to make money. That doesn’t mean you’re not passionate about it, it’s just what you were put on this earth to do and you deserve to be able to feed your family from it.”
I was curious to know what the initiative was behind Marty Ray Project and why it wasn’t just Marty Ray the singer/songwriter from Memphis.
“It’s funny you ask that, most people don’t,” he said, “they just think it’s a band name or something like that but it’s so much more. It’s a project to see if a man can make it without a label at all. I know I’ll never win a Grammy because I don’t have a label behind me, but I don’t care. If I have fans that support me, ones that I’ll never lose appreciation for and always do my best to interact with, then I’m doing okay.”
As for playing the balancing act between his career and his family life Marty says,
“Well, it’s complicated at times. It’s hard to have time for everything, but the only reason we measure time that way is because that’s what we’re taught to do. Go to work at eight and get out and five, this has to be done before that – I think the best thing to do is to never believe you have limited time. If I want to sit down with my babies and my wife and chill, and not the Netflix and chill,” he joked, “then that’s what I’m going to do. The people closest to me will tell you though, they get annoyed sometimes that I’m always on my phone, but with technology today that’s the best way I can still do other things and stay involved with the music and my supporters. I know I can’t answer everyone, or maybe can’t write a whole paragraph back, but I do my best to at least say ‘thank you.'”
Marty says he even answers the negative comments he gets online. I brought up the idea that a lot of people at his place in his career, don’t have “time” to talk to fans and there’s an arrogance about that, where some fans retaliate back with rude comments they almost know will never be heard.
“I think you hit the nail on the head with that one,” he said. “People are brave behind a computer, or a phone, and so I always like to write back to those who have something bad to say about me or my music. They usually fire back with ‘I was just joking, I love your music – keep it up,’ which is when I usually ask why they’re spreading that kind of energy around.”
With so many aspects of life for Marty to put his energy toward, I wondered if there was one that was the most cathartic for him.
“Just writing a song isn’t good enough for me,” he confessed. “There’s only reward if you know it touches people and they love it. Your family will always say things like ‘wow, that’s great, you’re a genius,'” he exaggerated his tone, “or ‘another one,'” he laughed when I knew he was mocking DJ Khaled, “but it’s those who don’t know you and are moved by your music. The ones who use it to get through tough times, or mourn the loss of a loved one, that’s when it means the most.”
It was clear after talking to Marty for a while that his fans were the most therapeutic aspect of his work for him. Reaching out to so many people and having such an extended family of support means the world to him and he follows through on that daily.
His latest album, Expression Not Perfection, he explains is “exactly what the title says. It’s an expression of music. I’ll never pigeon-hole myself, because that’s what a label wants to do. People can’t expect to listen to my album and hear just country. There’s rock and blues elements that come from the music I listened to as a kid. Lynyrd Skynyrd turned into B.B. King, that then became Boys II Men when I was a teenager. I always tried to mimic the artists I admired at each time, but they all came together and forged the sound I have today.”
Marty says his favorite song he’s ever written, besides the unknown composition we’re still waiting on Jason to help us dig up, is “Spirit Song” the last song off of his latest album.
My personal favorite track off of, Expression Not Perfection, is “I Miss You Like Crazy,” which I told Marty reminds me a lot of my grandmother who passed away and was my best friend.
“That’s the beauty about music and what it’s supposed to do. What the song means for you is right and what it means for me, well that’s right too. I actually wrote it about missing a physical home. That feeling of innocence and being a child who was careless and free. Where you would fight with your brother and forget what it was about a few minutes later.”
You may be wondering where Marty gets his inspiration to write such moving music, or stay so driven all the time.
“Jesus is my greatest inspiration. And being raised singing and surrounded by music. It’s all I know and what I have to do.”
Marty has many talents and shares them with the world daily, but his biggest one seems to be making people feel special. In his eyes, everyone is important and I think that’s why he has such a strong following that supports him whole-heartedly. He is just as genuine as his music makes him out to be and I know he’ll be winning over listeners for years to come. In regards to his music, the one word he uses to describe what it means to him and the one that you’ll have to interpret on your own just like the meaning of his songs…