One of our personal goals during our second year here at Great Dark Wonder was to devote a little more blog-space for music reviews from other genres within the Canadian music scene. I must confess that I’ve enjoyed rediscovering some of the new and fresh country music as a result, and have heard plenty of artists that associate either with the traditional sound or with the edgier, alternative variety. The most recent era of pop-fused country music is not something that I am particularly fond of (even if Donovan Woods has penned many tunes for this crowd in Nashville). But whenever I hear some of the amazing tunes from the new generation of mainstream Canadian country music, such as Jessica Mitchell or Whitney Rose, it has been too easy to lure me back towards that particular scene.
I was recently introduced to rising Canadian country singer Nicole Rayy, who was releasing her latest single, “Bad Habit” at the time. Unfamiliar with this Oakville, ON performing artist, I had no clue that I would be hooked to a new song so quickly upon my first listen. Combining Nicole’s powerful vocals with a catchy tune, I was eager to hit the repeat button several times and constantly remind myself that this is what down-to-earth country music should be. The ingredients, at least for me, is to harness that traditional sound and add a little rock n roll, whilst keeping commercial pop influences to a minimum. Written by Sara Haze, A J Pruis, and Matthew West, “Bad Habit” sees Nicole Rayy checking all of these boxes, and had me returning to this one for several days. I am incredibly grateful to Nicole for chatting a little about this amazing new single.
You recently released your latest single “Bad Habit.” This is a powerful modern country track, but you separate yourself from the pack with some noticeably strong vocals and well-polished production. How long did it take you to get from the initial concept of this song to the final finished product, and what tales (good or bad) can you share during that journey?
I worked really hard on the vocals for this track before I went into the studio to record. My vocal teacher, Kim Wood, and I wanted to showcase the best of my abilities with this song so a lot of work went into making that happen. All the work ahead of time made it so much easier when it came to putting down the vocals in the studio. I felt confident about singing the notes that I could then focus on the emotion of the words. My producer, Doug Romanow, is always a pleasure to work with. He pushed boundaries and really brought together the elements of country and pop in this track. I’ve worked with Doug on many different projects and he always delivers, but I think this is our best track yet.
One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind upon hearing “Bad Habit” was that this is a Canadian country track that could easily be considered a true Nashville country sound. You have stayed true to the ‘New Country’ revival with honest lyrics, instrumentation and delivery. Was this your intention when recording this song?
Well even though I wasn’t a writer on this tune that was definitely my intention while recording this song. I won’t record anything if it isn’t honest and it isn’t saying something that is exactly what I would say. One of my main goals with music is to be as honest as possible so people have a chance to relate to my real stories. I think being honest with the lyrics is one of the best ways to make that connection with people. We all have our bad habits in life and I think a lot of us struggle with bad habits when it comes to love; I know I do. That is why the story of this song resonated so strongly with me and why I wanted to record it to share it with others.
“Bad Habit” will certainly appeal to many country music fans, yet to me, still has that crossover potential to go beyond the genre. From Canadian artists such as Shania Twain and the recent CCMA Hall of Fame inductee Terri Clark, to Jessica Mitchell and Whitney Rose, modern country music continues to push pre-conceived musical boundaries. Where do you hope to take your brand of country music?
I love that country music is pushing musical boundaries as a genre right now. Growing up I listened to all sorts of genres from country to pop to rock to hip-hop and I always wanted to take influence from all those genres when making my music. For a while I was reluctant to pick a genre that my music fell into because I wanted to be able to encompass so many genres. I think with where the country genre is right now it feels like the perfect time for me. I always want my music to have the true heart of country music, which I believe to be honesty and story telling, but I want to push the boundaries with my music too and continue to include musical influences from many other genres.
The chorus contains such catchy lyrics: “I’m your chain-smoker / You’re my cigarette / No I can’t quit you yet / I almost wish I could / But I can’t get you out of my head.” Did these words and expressions speak to you and influence your decision to consider this for a Nicole Rayy song?
I resonate with [these lines] so strongly, which is a reason I was drawn to recording this song. I actually have many of my own lines about cigarettes and love addiction. I think it such a powerful metaphor to use in a song to explain to the uncontrollable feeling of loving or being addicted to someone.
You have had a very busy 2018, especially during these summer months. If you had to pick three particular highlights from your adventures over the last few months, what would they be, and what makes them so memorable for you?
Yes, I was lucky to have a very busy summer with so many wonderful shows. I think the highlights for me this summer were the festivals I got to play for the first time. I had a blast performing at Trackside festival in London for Canada Day. The crowd was so much fun and I met some wonderful new fans and friends. I also got to play Dauphin’s Countryfest this summer, which was such an honour. The Manitoba music community has been extremely supportive of me and it was so cool to play their big festival this year. Last, but not least, would be most recent trip to Shanghai, China. I have been a part of a festival there for the last three years called the World Music Festival and I was so happy to be able to return again this year. The band and I always have the best time enjoying the food and culture in Shanghai and of course playing for their unbelievable audiences.
As we enter the Fall and Winter months, what are your immediate and year end plans for 2018, and what goals are you setting for the onset of 2019?
I am off to Vancouver very shortly to start writing and recording new music with a producer by the name of Brian Howes. We have never worked together before so I am very excited to see what we come up with together and my goal is to make even better music. You can expect a new EP from me in 2019!
The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.