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It’s taken quite a few years, many hurdles and some heartache but Dean Ray has finally released The Messenger, the album he has always wanted to make. AM’s Greg Phillips caught up with Dean to chat about the album’s journey.

Beginning your music career via a major television talent contest can be a double-edged sword. If you reach the finals, the exposure is enormous and if you’re good enough, a record contract might be at the end of it. The content of your first contracted album however, will be dictated by the record company and the creative direction you’re steered in might not be what you had in mind for yourself. If you’re purely a vocalist, this might work out for you. If you’re a singer, songwriter with the aim of releasing your own material, it can become problematic. It sometimes takes years to remove yourself from the clutches of the deal in order to record and release the songs that you really want to. Talented singer, songwriter, guitarist Dean Ray knows this story well. After coming second in the 2014 season of X-Factor and releasing his debut album in 2015, it had taken until November 2017 to release The Messenger, the album he always wanted to make, featuring nine self-penned tunes, recorded in the manner and style that he chose to make them in.

The danger of creating an album over such a long period of time and going through different phases of your career in the process is that the end result may seem disjointed. However with The Messenger, Dean and his producer Dan Corless have managed to create a very warm and cohesive feel throughout the entire record.
“Yeah, the songs were written all over the shop,” Dean tells me. “Some of them when I was 15 and a couple of others when I was quite young too. The track Alcohol was the last song I wrote. At the time of recording I think we had a couple of sessions left and I wrote that song and I thought, shit we need to put this song on the record. So we kicked a song off to put that one on. But this is exactly what I wanted for my first real release. I just wish it didn’t take so bloody long to get it out. But then again there are certain songs which wouldn’t have been on the record as they weren’t written … so it did give me time to write more songs. The best thing about being shelved and then getting back into it is that I think I stopped giving a shit. I stopped caring about what other people thought about me and my music and just made this purely honest record. It was like like it or lump it. It’s not offensive if someone says I don’t like this song or whatever, I don’t really care whereas a few years ago I would have. I would have been thinking more about it and thinking I hope people like it but this time it was more along the lines of I WONDER if people will like it. I really like it and that should be the main thing. That should be the goal when you record.”

Dean Ray at Melbourne Guitar Show 2016

Some of the songs on The Messenger are not new to Dean’s fans, he’s been playing a few in his live set for some time. In fact, Ray played a blistering set with his band at our Melbourne Guitar Show in 2016 and some of the album songs were performed in that show. Back then the tunes had a heavier rock edge, whereas on The Messenger they’ve been given more of a country rock feel, in line with the flavour of the whole album. I wondered at what point the decision was made to go down that road …
“I never did make a decision,” Dean states. “I just wanted this album to be a raw and honest representation of what I was feeling at the time and what I am. I have many different sides to who and what I am. It wasn’t planned, really wasn’t. Dan Corless produced the record with me and he asked me at the start, what sound are you going for? Who do you want to sound like? Can you give me a reference for what we are going for? I said no but I will give you this bottle of Jack Daniels and we’ll drink it together, make music together for a month and that will be my sound.”

The sound achieved is of a high calibre, featuring warm acoustic guitar tones, rich, bottom end bass notes and crisp, clear electric guitar and banjo lines. “We used some quite cheap condenser mics,” says Dean in explanation of how they recorded the instruments. “We were trying to use these expensive things but then there’s this guy in Melbourne who makes these condenser microphones and they are like $300 each. They’re a budget microphone but holy shit they sound good. I tried singing on this Neumann mic, fifteen grands worth of microphone. I just couldn’t feel it. It wasn’t picking up the husk in my voice in the mid range. I tried this cheap mic. Dan was furious because he wanted to use this mic that he spent so much money on but I said no it just doesn’t work for my voice. So it was just this condenser into an Avalon pre with a little compression. We’d put one of those mics about a foot in front of the heal of the neck area and usually a pencil mic angled at the bridge. The rhythm section for most of the songs was recorded live which was me, Luke Austen and Marcus Ryan. We sat in a room and played these songs, some to click track, some weren’t. I just wanted that unity in the rhythm section, then I came back later and overdubbed guitars, vocals and keys. It came out like we were all sitting there together doing a live recording”

It seems that the time Dean spent in the recording wilderness awaiting clearance and the opportunity to hit the studio again has made him take a more philosophical and spiritual approach to life. He’s no longer afraid to reveal that side of himself and the title of the album is a reflection of this. “It’s kind of a heavy thing,” he says, as he begins to explain why the album is called The Messenger. “For years I hid this because I was told by the powers to be that it is not something you talk about. We are human beings in spiritual form. We go from body to body and from life to life. There is no such thing as the end. Death is not the end. From a very young age, I have been channeling energies and spirits and they’ll take over and write songs through you. It’s like I’m a vehicle for their messages. It all comes down to truth, discovering truth and being true within yourself. So calling the album The Messenger was my way of introducing myself.”

Dean Ray fans have always been a loyal bunch and it was through their generous contributions to his crowd funding project that he was able to realise his dream and make this album. It’s something that Dean is both humbled by and grateful for. “I still don’t know how to explain that,” he tells me. “Everyone just came together. I was at a place where I thought he career was done. The momentum had dropped off and I thought what do I do now? It seemed just too far fetched the idea of getting something out. I didn’t think it was ever going to happen again. I tried Go Fund Me and it went through the roof. I cant explain how that makes you feel when so many people want to hear what you have to say and they throw money at you.”

Dean Ray’s The Messenger is out now. You can purchase it here:

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