20:20 — 20 Questions, 20 Answers
Published December 3, 2021
In part 47 of our continuing 20:20 Q&A series,
CJ Ray —Nevada-based singer-songwriter—
joins us to share about dirt-biking and finding inspiration in the desert, being a granddude, music as a spiritual medium, learning to forgive, and his 2021 EP, For Each Other.
CJ’s thoughtful kind-heartedness is evident through his words, his music, and his actions—from his inspiring generosity of his microgrant initiative to his work with charitable organizations. His song ‘For Each Other’ beautifully illustrates his hope for us to work together to create a connected, peaceful world:
Help another in time of need
Let’s change the world with love and peace
We gotta be there
For each other
Welcome, CJ, and thank you for joining us.
~Bambi Grinder, NoteWorthy Music
Photo by Gentle Giant Digital | Photos courtesy of CJ Ray
20:20 with CJ Ray
NWM 1: Please introduce yourself, briefly, as a musician and human of Earth.
CJ: I am CJ Ray, a singer-songwriter, and I have been on planet Earth for a while and am enjoying the flora and fauna.
NWM 2: Your granddaughter calls you ‘Granddude.’ Please share a bit about this moniker and the importance of your family.
CJ: Well, I feel too young to be a grandpa so when Lana, my four-year-old granddaughter called me Granddude, I was pretty happy with it as I felt it fit me well. A ‘granddude’ is an experienced traveler that has done lots of cool things and still goes for it every day. My desire, as a more experienced life-traveler, is to help others navigate the pitfalls of this life. I love being able to share my experiences with family members in the hopes that the lessons I have learned will save them some heartache or help them avoid some of the mistakes I have made. Ultimately, they will make their own choices but just maybe something I share will light a better path for them to take.
NWM 3: Name three things that make you smile.
CJ: Lana’s laugh, a big hug from my gorgeous wife, and riding my dirt bike in the desert with my buds.
Ultimately, [my family members] will make their own choices but just maybe something I share will light a better path for them to take.
NWM 4: Please share a unique childhood experience that you feel helped contribute to who you and your music are today.
CJ: I grew up in a large family. Being the sixth of eight kids was an experience like no other. I watched the talents of my brothers and sisters lived out at school plays and at the small home we all shared. Drums, horns, piano, violin, cats, dogs, horses, goats, chickens, and a lion next door all contributed to the adventures of my life and my music.
NWM 5: What was your first concert as a fan?
CJ: My oldest sister took me to see the Doobie Brothers at the Chicago Amphitheater in the fall of my freshman year of high school. Somehow I snuck backstage before the show and saw Pat Simmons warming up on a Gibson ES-335, and my jaw fell to the ground. I became the biggest Doobies fan ever for a few years after that. Haha!
Photo by Elaine Torres
NWM 6: Your new EP For Each Other (released July 23) was primarily written and recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, amid the issues we faced as a society surrounding a time of quarantine and disconnectedness.
Please share about the conception and creation of For Each Other and the message you want to convey through this timely album.
CJ: The songs for this release came together in an interesting way. My amazing friend and guitarist, Greg Karas, came to visit me at my home in Las Vegas, and we spent three days noodling around with some of the rough ideas I was kicking around. By the end of the weekend, we had some distinct nuggets laid out and some of the melody lines. Soon after that, the pandemic closed things down, and for the next few months, Greg and I would work over Zoom.
It was during this time that the sense of loss hit me. Loss of the freedom to spend time with those I love, when I wanted to give way to isolation. This isolation was the direct impetus for the lyrics in ‘Fear Begone’ and ‘For Each Other’. I had written lyrics for both of these songs, but they never seemed congruent with my emotions and the tone of the songs, so I kept writing and rewriting until the words and music felt unified in my being.
At one point I thought we would leave ‘For Each Other’ off of the EP, but Greg felt that it was solid and that the message was timely. It is funny that it became the title track, but in hindsight, it really does summarize what we went through and what we are still going through as the human race. We gotta be there for each other!
I’m in, are you?
NWM 7: What challenges did you overcome in recording during such a tumultuous time?
CJ: I have always been challenged in the patience category so add to that COVID, and you can see why I have so many wrinkles on my face!
… if I cover a song it is because it has really touched my soul.
We had scheduled the recording session multiple times, and it kept getting canceled due to the strict restrictions in LA. When we finally got the sessions going we had a very tight schedule as we were both recording and shooting video while trying to keep everyone safe and remain sensitive to the concerns of all the cast and crew. Kristin Juel and her team at Juel Concepts did an amazing job managing all of the moving pieces, and we got through it without anyone getting sick
NWM 8: You do perform a few cover songs. What is a favorite and why?
CJ: It is always fun playing songs that you love and wish you had written, but if I cover a song it is because it has really touched my soul. ‘Sweet Surrender’ by Sarah McLachlan is one of those songs. I love the intensity of this song and lyrical imagery. What does it mean to surrender and why is that sweet? It is about being honest and real about who we are as people—our faults, our flaws, our humanness.
NWM 9: What has been a particularly memorable or rewarding experience of your career so far?
CJ: I love people and would say that working with the talented players, producers, creatives that I am blessed to work with has been the most rewarding experience over the last decade of my existence. Unlike painting a picture, recording a song with your band-mates is such a collaborative art project. The tones, attack, rests, intonations, shading are so personal to each of the players that the final song is truly a shared birthing. It may be the closest a man can get to the satisfaction of giving birth to a child. Haha.
Photo by Elaine Torres
NWM 10: You timed the release of For Each Other with a unique expression of appreciation—a micro-grant initiative. Please tell us about this initiative and why it was important to you.
CJ: There was a song we used to sing in church that goes, ‘It only takes a spark to get a fire going’. I always loved that song and wanted to do something to influence positive change in our world. The micro-grant seemed like an ideal way to shine some light on those who are sparks in the lives of others. It has been fun reading how people from all walks of life have been there for others, and I hope we can all show our best face to better the human race.
NWM 11: What is a favorite of your songs? Please tell us a little bit about it.
CJ: My fave song is whatever song I am working on at a particular time. I have written hundreds of songs, and there is always a love-hate relationship with them once they are recorded. I am always hesitant to record a song that I have been living with because once you do, it becomes ‘locked down’ and the adventure of that song and all of the possibilities you felt for the song disappear.
NWM 12: Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd?
CJ: Pink Zeppelin!
NWM 13: You are a lyrical and thoughtful songwriter. Tell us about your process or what is most crucial to you when weaving words together.
CJ: Thanks so much for noticing. We live in an era where ‘beats’ are king, and while I love beats and grooves, I despise thoughtless, redundant, abused-adolescent, distasteful lyrics. I believe that music is a spiritual medium where emotional and mindful elements are able to minister together to the listener. My songs usually start with a seedling. It could be a melody or a phrasing or a riff or a lyric, but it is something that comes from inside my being and that I am able to capture on my phone’s voice memo app.
I believe every measure and every word matters, and I never want to waste either.
I currently have around 800 of these seedlings on my phone. From there I noodle around with the seedlings and some grow and others just stay on my phone for another time. Often the seedling becomes a hook that I remember, and after playing it over and over the basic outline of the song will form. It is at this time that I like to share the song with others I trust to gather some feedback.
Over the past two years that person has been Greg Karas. Greg has a great musical vocabulary, and I trust him to help clean things up, spot weak parts, and move things around all while healing my heart. Once the song arrangement is solid, I will do deep dives on the wording, phrasing, and note selection. I believe every measure and every word matters, and I never want to waste either. If you read my lyrics, know that each word was a few others before it became a part of the permanent record.
NWM 14: What is something that has surprised you in your life or career? Tell us a bit about it.
CJ: How good people can do some really bad things, and how bad people do some really good things. I am learning to forgive people at a deeper level because I am realizing how much I have been forgiven.
Photo by Elaine Torres
NWM 15: You call Nevada home, and have said, ‘Living in the desert is eye-opening.’ Please expound on this, and share the importance of the desert to you and to your creativity.
CJ: I was out riding my motorcycle in the desert near my home, and I stopped at a place called the Rooster. The Rooster is a motorcycle track we laid out complete with a stone fire pit, reclaimed grill, and hidden cooler where we stockpiled water bottles.
I was just sitting alone with my water looking out over the vast desert when I started to notice little movements all around me. Soon I saw a rabbit and a herd of bighorn sheep, and bees started hovering all around me pleading for me to spill a little water on a rock so they could dab their faces in and have a drink.
It all hit me so profoundly that even in the driest regions I was shown life. Just when I feel alone or old or empty or useless, I remember looking out at the desert, and it inspires me.
NWM 16: What is a unique trait or quality that sets you apart from the crowd?
CJ: I am not sure how to answer this, but I would say that I have been good and bad, rich and poor, loved and hated, and through this have learned more about who I am, who I am not, and maybe that sets me apart from others.
NWM 17: If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be?
CJ: It would have been cool to see the Beatles when they first started in Liverpool.
A grateful heart sets a successful framework for interpreting all of life’s experiences.
NWM 18: With the surge of the Delta variant and mounting difficulties and challenges in the United States and throughout the world, cautious optimism wanes. To us, it seems prudent to pause a moment, take a breath, and take stock of our own well-being and those things for which we are thankful.
From the Beatles and the Troggs to Bryan Adams to Snow Patrol, music has long suggested love is the answer. Considering gratitude as an expression of love, do you share that draw to live in gratitude in the face of such challenges? And if so, how does gratitude manifest in your life and work?
CJ: Absolutely! A grateful heart sets a successful framework for interpreting all of life’s experiences. I have seen people with little earthy wealth so abundant with kindness, integrity, and honesty that my heart melts. I am inspired by those amazing angels among us, and I want to do what I can to echo the fact that love is a verb!
NWM 19: What is one thing you would want our readers to know about you that we might not know to ask?
CJ: I would just want them to know how much it means to me to hear from them. I love getting to read comments and especially hearing that a song I recorded touched them in some small way.
NWM 20: What’s next for CJ Ray?
CJ: I am currently doing a Sunday morning radio show on AM 970 in New York and working on an acoustic set of songs that I hope to record live and stripped down. I am also working with Alexandria House to raise awareness and money for the incredible work they are doing with mothers and their children.
At one point I thought we would leave ‘For Each Other’ off of the EP … It is funny that it became the title track, but in hindsight, it really does summarize what we went through and what we are still going through as the human race. We gotta be there for each other! I’m in, are you?
While pursuing his desire to inspire, CJ Ray brings forth his collection of lyric-centered rock, pop, and contemporary music. Inspired by the sounds of Train, Gavin DeGraw, Jack Johnson, John Mayer, and Jason Mraz, CJ combines hooks with intelligent lyrics of hope, contentment, love, and forgiveness into each and every one of his songs.
Nevada based, singer-songwriter CJ is seeking to find the best avenue to share his songs of hope and grace as well as other emotional subjects of the heart, mind, and soul. CJ wants his music to make his listeners find joy and peace in any circumstance they find themselves in.
In the midst of him finding his true voice, CJ Ray launched his For Each Other Micro-Grant, underscoring the importance of being in service of others by shining a light on their good work. This is also the biggest message from his critically acclaimed For Each Other EP (released July 2021).
CJ partnered with organizations like Be Kind and Alexandria House in support of his new EP and has appeared on Kevin Cottrell’s show The Mission WMCA 570 AM, as well as Jesus Freak and Rockstar Dad podcasts.
To learn more about CJ, visit https://www.cjray.com/
You may enjoy our previous 20:20 with Onsen
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