With earnest blue eyes, a winning smile, and a Shawn Mendes-esque voice, the only thing keeping Jack Gray from super stardom is a matter of time.
Having recently moved to LA from Australia, the 20-year-old has hit US soil running, already touring with Dean Lewis and opening for Ella Vos at Brooklyn Steel, where he took the stage alone to deliver a moving set. His thoughtful pop music, soaring voice, and obvious multi-instrumental talent—he played the guitar and keyboard simultaneously for the entirety of a song—quickly won the crowd over.
When Popdust caught up with the rising star before the show, he admitted quickly that performing makes him nervous, but "in a good way." He's charismatic, but one quickly gets the vibe that the 20-year-old is more comfortable making beats in his bedroom than being onstage; but somehow, that shyness only adds to his charm.
So you moved from Australia to LA?
Well, kind of. So the plan is to be, you know, back and forth a little bit.
Right. It's not the shortest distance to do that but I've got a manager in Australia and a manager here in LA who I'm living with at the moment. He just told me at the start you have to be in America if you want to crack the American market. There's just no other way. The distance is so detrimental for a lot of Australian artists. It's so hard to break internationally because it's so far away from America. So it's been super, super cool being here and getting to spend time with all these cool, influential people and start making things happen.
And so how long have you been in the US?
I made the move about two months ago. It's super new but even newer because I've spent like three or four weeks tops in LA so far. We've been doing so much traveling on tour with Dean Lewis, another Australian artist, so I'm still getting used to the whole vibe in LA. But it's really cool.
So do you think you're an LA person?
I don't know about an LA person. The vibe suits me, It's like blue skies and sunny. I guess I'm an LA person in that sense, but that's also just the ways it's similar to Australia in some sense. And I feel like I'm definitely more Australian than I am LA.
So was touring with Dean Lewis your first major touring experience?
I've done a bunch. I've just been following Dean around. We met before all his overwhelming success happened. We signed to the same publishing. I was recording some music in Sydney and he was in the rehearsal room next to me, so we just kind of, you know, would always bump into each other and just hang out. When he started getting all that success and going on the road he basically said, "Bro, just come with me." So I did like three tours in Australia with him. Then we did like a European tour together, and then we did one to America and Canada and stuff. So it was like, he's been like a big brother to me, like taking me under his wing and looking after me.
How old are you?
You're 20. Okay. So when did this all start happening?
It's been small steps. I grew up in a musical family. My Dad was a drummer, my grandmother was a pianist, and my uncle was a bass player. So I was just surrounded by it. I grew up playing music. When I moved to Brisbane from my small town to study a bachelor of music, I learned how to produce on my laptop. Then I moved to Sydney and signed a development deal with Warner Brothers. I did that for a year, and then I met my publishers and my manager. It's just little things like that just keep happening. It's just been stepping stones since I left university.
Did you finish University?
No (laughs), I went for six months, but other opportunities kept coming up. I had to keep going to Sydney to record, then I'd come back to University and be studying really boring shit. Eventually I was like why am I doing this? I might as well put all my time and energy into the actual thing.
So you said you started learning how to produce on your laptop. The music that you have out now, is that stuff that you've done?
Yeah. It's all the bedroom warrior thing. I learned how to produce on my laptop, and it became like a whole new instrument for me. I spent every single day, all day, in my room mixing music. I'm just so passionate about the production side of things. And over like two years of just doing that and nothing else, like, no gigging or anything, just writing and recording, I made this EP.
So when people look up your music, everything they're hearing is you?
Yes. It feels good that what I'm putting out there is not really diluted by other people's thoughts or opinions. It's just what I've been feeling and thinking and all the shit that I liked, all the sounds that I think sound cool.
And then you had a new song come out April 5th?
Yes. So growing up, all of my favorite artists were like storytellers. And so, when I started writing my own music I just always started with the story I wanted to tell. But this one wasn't really like that; I started this song with one riff. I used to play this riff everywhere that I went. Eventually Dean was like, "Yo, you're an idiot, if you don't fucking write that song already cause I'm sick of hearing it." So I finished the song and I've been sitting on it for like a year. I can't wait for people to hear it.
So you said you usually start with a story you want to tell. So what does that mean to you? What is that story?
It depends. It could be something that I'm feeling or something that I've seen. Like if like one of my friends go through something and open up to me about it, I'm like, sorry dude, I'm going to write a song about that.
Is there a specific song for which that happened?
Yeah, "My Hands." So one of my friends was talking to me about his situation and I was like, two weeks later, "Do you mind if I write a song about that?" And he was like, "Oh, go ahead." I was like, "Well I already did. Have a listen. Sorry. Thank you." So yeah, there's that. Or sometimes I make up stories for songs. I like making up stories. I mean, why not?
So are all of your songs from your perspective or do you take on other characters and voices?
I mean, I totally take on other people's voices and characters, and I love switching up perspectives. It's something I do a lot in all of my songs. I've got this one song called "Bullet," and it's a dark one. It's about suicide, and it's written from the family of the victim's perspective but also the victim's perspective. So it's about how it affects the family, but also about how broken down that person must've felt. And then the family sometimes says it was selfish and you're like, dude, this person was suffering every day.
And where does that come from for you? That's a very deep, intense subject.
It's a real thing from my hometown. When I was growing up, my town went through a rough patch, and a lot of people started taking their own lives. I've also got a lot of friends who have severe depression and anxiety, so it was definitely something I wanted to talk about, and yeah, hits close to home.
So is that part of it for you? Having the opportunity to tell these stories?
Yeah, but it's also probably a more selfish reason for me. I just love making music, and I'm just lucky enough that I get to actually tell stories. Sitting in my room and making music every day is my favorite thing to do, and I get to make a living doing it. So that's kind of the main reason why I do this, but I'm super lucky that I do get to tell stories and speak about things.
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