NewTracks New Artist: Lucy Gray

NewTracks New Artist: Lucy Gray

Both a climate activist and musician, Ōtautahi singer-songwriter Lucy Gray has probably done more interesting things than many people aged twice her age. With the release of alt-pop single, Pretty, Gray’s current focus is on getting her music out, and NZ On Air Music  lent a hand to the cause by featuring the song on their NewTracks compilation this May.

What’s your full name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

My name is Lucy Gray, and I’m a 16-year-old singer and songwriter from Ōtautahi Christchurch. My main instruments are guitar and vocals, and I also play some piano. I’ve been playing guitar for about seven years now, and I’ve been singing for most of my life.

Was any high school or other music training especially important?

I’m currently studying at Hagley School of Music, which has helped to connect me with people to support my journey. The flexibility that Hagley has, paired with a music department that is really supportive, makes for a good balance of being able to learn and pursue your own interests. Aside from that, most of my music-related connections have been from reaching out to friends of friends, mostly people outside of school.

 Any other projects that some might know you from?

I released my debut single Your Name on October 28 last year. That was more of an electric feeling pop song with a melancholy undercurrent that feels nostalgic. Releasing my first song was such an exciting and interesting experience, that I’m very grateful for.

I was also involved in organising the School Strike for Climate Action movement, which led to some cool performance opportunities, and meeting lots of people. I wrote a song called Rise Up and got to play it at the climate strikes, National Young Leaders Day in 2019, Festival for the Future in 2019 and on RNZ.

What’s the background to your new single Pretty

Pretty is actually part of a bigger project, my first EP which is releasing at the end of the year. Pretty is the first of a series of singles I’ll be releasing from the EP over the course of the year. The overall project was funded through NZOA New Music Development, which I applied for with Andy and Vic Knopp from The Response. Pretty is a song that I wrote, and composed lyrics and melody at the start of 2022, and I had a vision for how I wanted it to sound. I think Andy and Vic really brought it to life.

Pretty is the story of reminiscing about relationships in the past, and the rose-coloured glasses that you see someone through. ‘The golden…’ and ‘The sunlight…’, are descriptions of how the person feels looking back in time. The idea of being stuck in a photograph, is the feeling of looking back at memories with a person that only existed in the past; a memory. The whole EP, including Pretty, has a nostalgic feel to it, and reflects on the past a lot.

How has your music evolved from your early songwriting?

My music has evolved a lot since I first began writing songs. The beginnings of my songwriting were deeply rooted in pop, and even country a little bit, but I write a lot more in indie and alternative pop genres now. I’ve always been passionate about writing and I used to write a lot of poetry and short stories, so I think some of that storytelling comes through in my music. I try to challenge myself more as an artist now, to write a variety of music in a variety of genres.

What made you decide to go with your name as your artist name?

I chose to stick with my own name as an artist, as opposed to choosing a stage name. I considered changing it, but being a young artist I felt like the safest choice would be to stick with my own name. Being in the climate activism scene also meant my own name has been somewhat recognisable, and changing it could make it harder for some people to make the connection of my involvement in environmental action.

What’s been the big music career highlight to date?

One of the biggest highlights for me has been Pretty making it to 19 on the NZ Hot Singles Charts. It has been so cool and surreal to see something I released in charts alongside people who I admire very much, and who have made incredible accomplishments. I also put on a single release show at the Darkroom on April 21. That was a big highlight for me! Playing alongside other musicians, and having family, friends but also people I’d never met before come out to support me was so cool, and it was a very fun night.

What makes Pretty stand out for you as a single?

Not only is it a song I’m proud of, I’m also really happy with its production and how The Response and I have crafted it to sound. It’s a representation of how I want my music to come across. Personally, I like this song more than my last release, it’s a truer portrayal of me as an artist. 

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

I like the bridge a lot, and the build-into the chorus from the bridge is probably my favourite part of the song. My favourite line is; ‘But I’m way too much of what you want, and I’m not enough of what you need’. It follows up by saying; ‘I’m trying to keep you safe with me’ – so what it’s saying is that you want to help someone, but there’s no possible way for you to help them. It just kind of reflects on knowing that despite how much someone might want something, sometimes it just isn’t what’s right for them, or what they need. That you can feel so wanted by somebody and still not appreciated by them.

Who did you record/produce the single with and where? 

With the wonderful Christchurch-based producing duo The Response – Andy and Vic. We applied for the funding and when we got it this was one of the first songs I knew I wanted to work on. They have a home studio, which we recorded Your Name in, so we decided to do the EP there too. Once we finished the first or second take, we were talking about the lyrics, and they asked me about the meaning of the word ‘ingénue’, in the second repetition of the chorus. I stood there trying to describe it, and realised I really didn’t know what it meant either… but it rhymes and it sounded cool! I heard it used in Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers’ Nothing New, and wanted to include it to describe something new or innocent, and desired but also underestimated by people.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

I hope for listeners it evokes some nostalgia and is a song people can connect with memories. I think music is a great way to connect with the past. I think what I’ve taken away from writing it is that letting things go is sometimes actually better than holding on to them for too long, and also that the way we look at the past isn’t always accurate to how it happened.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

When I was working on the EP I didn’t intend on releasing singles, it wasn’t until about a month prior that I decided to release singles off the EP, instead of the whole EP up front. Typically I’d choose something more upbeat to release as a single, but Pretty was one of my and my family and friends’ favourites! I try to choose songs that are upbeat and ‘pop’ enough to keep people interested, but still act as the best reflection of my music and also a good reflection of what people can expect from the EP, or the next upcoming project.

Who else is in your team?

I’m pretty new on the scene so I don’t have a team yet. Distribution-wise I work with DRM NZ, and I couldn’t speak more highly of them. However, there are a lot of people who have been instrumental in this release. Aaron Hogg, who used to be in a band called Pumpkinhead, has been someone I’ve constantly gone to for advice, and his help has been incredibly influential in how I’ve done things. He’s got so much knowledge of the industry, and he’s one of the most down-to-earth and genuine people I know.

My parents have also been very involved and supportive. My mum is my unofficial manager, and she keeps me on top of all the things I have going on. My parents have such a keen eye for opportunities, and me and my mum often spend a lot of time brainstorming ideas for what my next move should be. She’s super creative. I couldn’t be more grateful for their support.

Are there any other musical endeavours that we should keep an eye out for? 

My next single Not What This Is comes out on June 2, so stay tuned for that! My EP releases soontoo. I’m really hoping to play more gigs this year and get involved in the live music scene as much as I can, mostly in Christchurch, so look out for where I’m playing.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song?

  • Lucy Munro: Knotless (Imperfection)
  • Senica: Wide Awake
  • Candice Milner: Run for It

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? 

Your Name was the other song I applied for NewTracks with, and didn’t get accepted. I applied to a couple of the rounds, and it never got picked up. I think it being my first-ever release made it harder to gain traction or get recognition from other people in the industry. My main advice would be just don’t give up if one track doesn’t get accepted, try again with another one! When you apply the application process is very simple, but make sure you’ve included all the right things.

I’m looking at applying for the NewMusic Single funding, which has a lot more comprehensive criteria to meet. There are some big goals to meet there like playing a festival or signing a management deal, so I’m still working towards a lot of those criteria, but I’m hoping to apply in the next few months.

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

Pitchfork’s album reviews are always something I really enjoy, and I love reading the content from NZ Musician and Danica Byrant is a NZ-based musician who also does music-related content and reviews on Tiktok that I also really enjoy.