Cheney Ray, known by her fans as CRAY, is dishing out some serious heat in the EDM world. She recently played with OWSLA and Skrillex in Japan, Holy Ship 10.0, and isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon. This Brownies and Lemonade all-star threw down, straight fire, at her first ever set at Ultra Music Festival in Miami. The Sherp sat down with this rising star immediately after to talk about her first experience at Ultra, musical inspirations, how to make it in the industry, and what’s next:
FS: Tell us about your experience being at Ultra for the first time!
CRAY: It’s so big! There’s so much going on. I’ve played some festivals, HARD Summer and stuff. That was overwhelming, but this is a whole new ballgame. [Ultra] is the crème de la crème of festivals, so I was excited. I love the stage I played at; I loved the people around me, so it felt really good.
FS: You’re pretty tight with the Brownies and Lemonade crew, right?
CRAY: They are my family basically.
FS: How did you get involved with them?
CRAY: I just started playing shows with them and we got along. We went to Japan together with Sonny [Skrillex] and OWLSA, did some pop-up shops there. We spent every day together because we were living in Japan, so we just became super close, like all of our personalities matched. They love what I’m doing, I love what they’re doing, so we just kept working together. They are really good friends of mine.
FS: Have you been to Ultra before?
CRAY: I’ve never been to Ultra. Never been to Miami, first time!
FS: No way! Where are you from?
CRAY: I was born in Arizona, moved to Canada when I was 3 years old, and then moved back to LA when I was 18. I’m a dual citizen. All my life, never been to Miami.
FS: Wow this is a big deal then! What are your first thoughts/favorite parts of the festival?
CRAY: My favorite part is that there are just so many artists, so many genres, everyone is so here for the music. It’s a bit overwhelming since there are a lot of people and a lot of intense things going on. I feel a really good vibe. There are so many people playing. Every tent I walk to, there is a whole different genre of music playing. There’s just so much going on, it’s so cool.
FS: What’s the inspiration for your style of music?
CRAY: My inspiration is just literally whatever I want to make, whenever I want to make. I don’t have a set genre. I fell in love with writing music and singing, which is what I’ve been doing recently. I’m really into writing, poetry, and creating lyrics and songs. That’s what I’m focusing on right now: live music. It’s honestly, day by day. I read a lot and watch a lot of movies and films to get my inspiration going. It’s different every day. I never have a set genre ever because I felt like that held me back. I was so nervous that like what if I made a pop song and all of my fans hate me. I get out of that mentality and be like I’m doing this for me and I’m going to make whatever I want to make. If they want to ride with me, they ride with me. If they don’t, they don’t! That’s just how it is.
FS: You recently released a Diplo and Friends mix. How was it to be able to put out a mix for something you’ve been such an avid follower of?
CRAY: I was listening to that as a kid! I was a kid listening to “BBC Radio One Extra.” I know all the words. When I heard I was going to do that, I thought it was a joke. My mom said to me “you were playing that when you were a kid.” I told her that I feel like Diplo is my dad now. It was an awesome experience. He’ll handcraft my favorite songs, put it in a mix, and just put it out there. There were a lot of new IDs in there for me. Hearing me on the radio was just a nuts experience.
Cray’s mix for Diplo’s show:
FS: Have you been making new songs recently?
CRAY: So much new music! A lot of indie-pop crossover electronic. I’m singing for the first time in all of my music, writing it all, so it’s been a long process. I haven’t put a new song out in like a year because I’ve been taking lessons every day to get better at singing, playing the piano, and writing. I want to get my craft better. But, so much new music is coming out. I’m really excited to put out a new single called “Peaches” on April 6!
FS: What’s your creative process when making a song? Do you envision in before or does it just come out when you are producing?
CRAY: A little bit of both. Sometimes, I’ll be in the shower singing and jamming. Then I’ll have an inspiration, run out of the shower and do it. Sometimes, I’m forcing myself to spend a couple days on it but that never turns out as well. I usually get inspiration from other music, words, lyrics. Anything I see, I usually get inspiration. I usually always do the intro first because that’s just how I work. I’m bad at making the drops, so I always start with the intro. Right now, I’m crafting lyrics, singing a top line and then playing a song around it because I learned backward a little bit. I’m so into writing right now and want all of my lyrics to be meaningful. So, I’ve been really focusing on making the writing perfect and crafting something around the writing because I love the writing. That’s what I’m doing right now.
FS: There always seems to be a lack of female headliners and artists in general at music festivals and it’s definitely not because there is a lack of female talent. Do you have any ideas on how to get more women involved?
CRAY: I think the more festivals start promoting women, the more comfortable that women will get. I know a lot of female DJs that say they don’t feel comfortable playing a set because they feel like they will get made fun of and not be taken seriously. Them seeing me be able to do it might give them confidence. When I saw Anna Lunoe start playing and being so badass, it gave me so much more confidence to show up and kill it. So, I feel like more women getting put on and more women getting praise is going to really help give other women the confidence to do the same. It’s really important for promoters to do their research. There are so many amazing women killing it right now and, just because they aren’t popping out on social media, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. So, I feel like just doing a little bit of research, finding out this talent, and be able to put them on is really important to get the ball rolling. It’s getting better, but there is still a lack of attempts to try and push us on.
FS: What do you think is the barrier to that?
CRAY: It’s been like this for a long time. It’s a male-dominated industry. Now, we are speaking up and we’ve been speaking up for a while. I see change coming, which is awesome to see, but it just needs to keep going. People need to understand that it’s not going to be some shocking thing for a girl to play the Main Stage anymore. Slowly and surely, women are getting more and more confident to kill it and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.
FS: Has that inspired you also to show up and just kill it during your sets?
CRAY: 100%. When I first started DJing, I was so insecure. I was scared. Anna [Lunoe] brought me on tour with her for Hyperhouse and I was surrounded by women. It was never all girls only, it wasn’t like that. It was literally just Hyperhouse, let’s go. I felt like it was marketed the way it should be. I saw these women killing it and felt so much more confident. That whole trip gave me way more confidence in myself, in my music, and how I can kill it. I’m really thankful for that.
FS: Do you have any good tips on how people can make it into the industry?
CRAY: I think to just keep going and to make friends at your level. Make friends with other producers who are in your same lane, doing the same cool things, and bringing each other up together. That way there are more eyes on your project and you have someone to support you. I think it’s really important to find similar people in your industry, befriend them, and collaborate on ideas. Also, put more music out, put more content out, be excited about your project. I know people always ask me when they are just starting out how to get a manager and an agent. I say I just signed to an agency, my really good friend is my manager, I haven’t signed anyone big; that isn’t what is going to make your project big. You have to just believe in your project, put out music, be confident about it, hit up every promoter. I was hitting up promoters left and right. Throw yourself out there and keep trying. Don’t blame anyone else. You can be making music for 20 years and still not make it. You just have to keep putting your music out there and one day it will stick.
FS: Do you have any goals for the next few years of what you want CRAY to be?
CRAY: I definitely want to have a live band. I love DJing and I love electronic music. I’ll always be in that space and I’ll always DJ. But, my biggest goal is probably to have a live, really cool band where I can sing. I want to do really sick live band shows and then DJ the afterparty. I’ve always wanted to do that, so that’s one of my biggest goals.
FS: So, you love singing. Do you play any other instruments?
CRAY: I’ve been learning how to play the piano. I also have a little ukulele I play and I’m learning how to sing. So, I’m getting that all sorted out before I go up and do all of that. It’ll be a little while, but one day.
FS: We’re excited for Peaches to come out on April 6th. Do you have any other projects you are currently working on, like an EP or an album?
CRAY: I’ve always been on the fence about EPs/albums. I’m going to do an EP when I’m a little more established as an artist. I want to be putting out singles right now; I don’t want to be putting out an album. Definitely next year I will put out an EP or an album for sure.
FS: Do you have any new shows coming up that you want anybody to know about?
CRAY: Electric Zoo. Audiotistic. We have a Brownies show next week in SF, so stoked on that. A lot of festivals coming up to play in the summer. This is the first year I’m really playing them, so I’m really stoked to get out there and play.
Words: Emily Irani