Photo |  michaelraymusic.com

Michael Ray, a protégé of John Rich and winner of the singing competition “The Next: Fame is at your Doorstep,” will perform at The Hangout Craft Beer and Oyster Cook-Off Saturday, Nov. 3.


Band: Michael Ray
Date: Saturday, Nov. 3
Venue: The Hangout’s Oyster Cook-Off & Craft Beer Weekend,
101 E. Beach Blvd. (gulf shores), hangoutcookoff.com
Tickets: $10 (VIP & Tasting tickets also available) at event’s website

The Gulf Coast’s favorite bivalve will be the centerpiece of The Hangout’s Oyster Cook-Off & Craft Beer Weekend. However, this two-day event Nov. 2-3 will also provide live music as delectable as the oyster dishes showcased throughout the day.

After country rockers The Red Clay Strays take the stage, country star Michael Ray will provide the crowd with a sonic aperitif. Ray is on tour in support of his second album, “Amos,” which takes its name from the singer’s late grandfather. In addition to classically shaped modern country, Ray promises to provide the crowd with an electrifying live show.

Lagniappe spoke with Ray about his breakout win on the televised talent competition “The Next: Fame Is at Your Doorstep” as well as his new album.

Stephen Centanni: “The Next” served as your big break into the music world. How would you compare your life now to when you first won that competition?

Michael Ray: Honestly, if I look at that guy then and him now, it’s almost two different people, but in a good way. As far as my professional growth from then to now, I just really came into what I want to say as an artist and who I am and what I want to contribute. It’s also having people show up at places that you’ve never been before, and they’re coming out and singing songs back to you. It changed everything. We’re not traveling around in my van anymore. We’ve got a bus, which is always good.

Centanni: John Rich acted as your mentor on that show, and you guys went on to write together. From what I know about John Rich, that really says something. He’s not the easiest person to access.

Ray: From Day One, man, he was a fan in my corner and helped me in so many ways, not only in music but also in business and life in general. When he’s in your corner, then he’s in your corner. He’s been a great guy for me to have in my corner since day one.

Centanni: As far as songwriting is concerned, what have those sessions been like with John? What have you learned from him?

Ray: John has obviously written tons of hits and [is] a great writer. He’s got a way of making you feel comfortable right away. Even though we knew each other and were buddies, still, getting in a room with each other at his house with all the plaques on the wall and seein’ everything he’s done, I was like, “I hope I’m on today. I hope that bring something to the table.”

He has a way of helping you grow as a writer. It was so quick and easy. Sometimes, you get in a room with people, and it’s an all-day thing. Sometimes, you just don’t click on that day. For John and I, every time we’ve gotten together and written, it’s been quick. We spend more time hanging out and talking and sipping on Crown [Royal] and smoking cigars. Within that hang time, a song comes out. You hang for five hours, and it probably only took 45 minutes to write a song. We get to telling stories and me being a big fan of the history of country music and all the connections that he’s built in his career, I’m always asking him, “Tell me about this time. What happened then?”

It’s a really cool thing in the way that he writes and approaches things. Every time we’ve written, we’ve never had an idea. It always just came up, which is a really cool thing. That hasn’t always happened, but fortunately, it has with us.

Centanni: You’ve got your sophomore album on the streets, and the singles have been doing well. How does it feel to see your second album catching on?

Ray: The scary part about the second record is that the saying is true. You have your whole life to make your first and a few months to make your second. I feel like with this record and the songs connecting like they have, it’s made me feel more confident in what I’m wanting to do. A lot of this record is stuff that I wanted to say and things that have happened over the past couple of years. Watching the fans connect with the songs and sing these songs back and request them and give their personal stories with them has been incredible.

Centanni: This album is named after your grandfather. How do you think the music on this album reflects his memory?

Ray: I grew up in my family’s band, and he was the lead guitar player and was the guy who pushed me to country music and turned my whole family onto it. He’s the reason why I fell in love with the lyrics of a country song.

That’s country music. It’s the lyrics and that realness. However it’s packaged, it’s packaged, but I think the realness is the lyrics. If you listen to the songs on this record, you’ve got “Her World or Mine” or “Dancing Forever” with lyrics that tell a story that hit me in a certain spot. I think those are the songs on that record that would make him go, “Man! That’s great!”

Centanni: One thing that makes you unique as a young, modern country artist is you aren’t scared to put out full-lengths. In this EP, single-driven world, how does it feel to put out full-lengths and still be getting the attention and success?

Ray: It’s a weird thing that we always talk about. We feel like we’re at the front end of this industry change. I grew up in the generation of holding that record and reading those lines and reading about the men and women who are behind the scenes who don’t get any credit. It means a lot.

The knowledge and inspiration came from a lot of album cuts. Tim McGraw made some of the best full-length albums. You dive into some B-sides of Tim McGraw, and you can tell that he was always a great song guy, like [with] songs like “Kill Myself.” You read that title, and you go, “What the hell?” Then, you realize it’s about a guy trying to break the chains of alcoholism, and he’s talking about his old self. You dive into that type of stuff, and that’s the shit I love. There’s room for that, and I hope the full-length never goes away.

Centanni: You love the live show environment. What’s it been like bringing these songs to the stage?

Ray: Man, we have a couple of different production changes that we do live to some songs. When I got into country music with my grandfather, and he taught me guitar while my parents got a divorce, music was my outlet to that. No bullshit was going on and no fights. I could hide myself and pick guitar and go play shows on the weekend with my grandfather. Nothing could get to me.

As I’ve gotten older, I still have that, but there’s no emails during that 45 minutes. There’s nothing but me and the audience and all of us escaping together and making it a night. As soon as the downbeat hits, I take everybody on a journey in the same way the people that I used to go see in concert took me on. I remember being a kid and seeing Garth [Brooks] for the first time, and me being a 12 year-old kid saying, “Oh my God! This is what I wanna do!”