TJ Foster: A Conversation with Ray Buckner
Ray Buckner is a singer/songwriter (among many other things) from Lynchburg, Va.,= who released his latest solo record, Live And Acoustic (recorded exactly as you would think) on March 24.
He and I have never met, but we got to know a decent amount about each other from just a few short emails. We discussed everything from the obligatory restlessness that goes along with being a musician, to becoming a father in the midst of trying to wear so many different hats in the music industry. I hope you enjoy the read as much as I enjoyed the chat.
The following is an unedited interview that took place through the wonders of Gmail. If you are interested in being interviewed like this for a future installment, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be in touch.
First off, thanks for doing this. This will actually mark the first time I’ve interviewed an artist I’ve never met in person. So… nice to meet you!
Just reading up on you ahead of time, I can already tell you and I are kindred spirits. You seem to wear a lot of different hats within the music realm, and that’s something I certainly take a lot of pride in myself. You’ve got an indie rock band (Hemingway) with three other guys, studio work, licensing work (songwriting for film/tv/etc., for those who don’t know) and most recently some solo releases under your belt. What do you find most rewarding and most challenging juggling all those different aspects? I find there’s only so much time in the day, and it becomes difficult wanting to tackle so much and having to reel yourself in a bit at times. (I’m also a little manic, some might say.) But at the same time, I think I thrive when the creative portion of my brain is in a bunch of different directions.
Wearing all those different hats, you must have a pretty good sense of what it takes to be successful in different landscapes with a DIY mentality–what are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry? And do you find it’s easier or harder than ever to embrace those DIY ethics?
Looking forward to hearing back from you–talk soon!
Absolutely man, thank you!
I definitely jump around between a lot of projects. I think it comes from a sort of restlessness in me. Ever since I realized that I could write a song, I just haven’t found anything I like doing more than that. Over the years I started learning how to record and mix as a way to record my songs since I couldn’t afford a studio. Over time I really grew to enjoy that side of things so I started trying to work with other artists. At this point if one thing is kind of at a slow point I just throw myself into another project, for better or worse, haha.
It definitely gets hard to manage my time well once a lot of things get going, so that’s probably the biggest challenge. I also recently became a father so there’s the fact that I really want to spend time with my wife and daughter. My wife has always been behind what I do 100 percent though, so we’re usually able to work out a balance.
I think the most rewarding thing is still being able to write and put out my own music. I love working with other artists, but I don’t know that anything quite feels as good as finishing a song that I’m really proud of. For me music has always been the way that I relate and work out my own thoughts and emotions. A lot of times finishing a song is like finding some sort of closure on something that I’ve been wrestling with or thinking about.
As far as the current state of the industry I’m not sure, haha. I think being “DIY” is almost a necessity. No one is really going to hand you anything, and these days just having a song that you recorded isn’t enough. You really have to want it and you have to work at it. For me, I just want to play music and I’m not waiting for anyone to give me permission, I’m just going to do it.
That being said, I think DIY is a bit of a misnomer. You certainly have to put in the work, but the beautiful thing is that as you do you inherently meet so many people who are doing the same thing. There’s a sort of instant kinship, and it starts to become all about relationships and bringing people together. In the end I think that’s what music is all about.
Restlessness is a great word–I think all the best artists have a least a little bit of that in them. I think if you’re too content and stable, everything would just come out sort of stale.
Working with other artists is definitely a different kind of rewarding than polishing off your own material. Either way, you put all of yourself into it, it’s just a different part of yourself. I always get a sense of pride when a band I’ve worked with releases their record into the world. At the end of the day, your name’s on it, just in a different capacity. But that feeling of taking a song from its pure infancy stage all the way to completion? There’s nothing like it. I often think about how much time people like you and I spend on crafting songs–hours and hours of work between writing, performing, recording, editing, mixing, etc. etc. all for 3-5 minutes of consumption by outside ears. What do you think–is it worth it? And yes, I know that’s a stupid, almost rhetorical question, but tell us why. Non-musicians don’t seem to understand “you drove three hours each way to play music for 30 minutes? And you didn’t even get paid?” How often have you heard something like that? And on a related note, what’s the scene like down in Virginia? Are people generally pretty receptive to underground music? Have you lived anywhere else as a point of comparison?
Lastly, I guess we have even more in common than I knew. My wife and I also just had a baby girl, back in March. She (my wife, not the baby… yet!) sings with me in the group I’m in so there’s definitely a balance and adjustment that needed to happen out of the gate. Thankfully my daughter loves being sung to already, so that makes things easier to play around the house! Congrats to you and the wife–parenthood is amazing. I don’t know how long ago your daughter was born, but so far, how has the experience been juggling fatherhood, music, and any other aspects of your day-to-day? Do you think it will inevitably cause you to slow down in one area of music or another or is that restlessness everlasting for you?
I agree, I think as an artist that sense of restlessness keeps us pushing forward.
I think it’s totally worth it, but I don’t know that it’s worth it for everyone. You’re right that people who don’t do music usually can’t understand. It’s a unique feeling, the release and fulfillment of getting up and playing songs that you’ve poured so much into, and then (hopefully) having people identify and respond to them. If you’re not getting that it can seem pretty pointless.
The other side of it is that if you do want to make a living, it’s a long game. It’s almost impossible to “make it” in music without putting in a ridiculous amount of time just eating it. But it’s that time that helps you grow and really refines you as an artist. It makes you stop and think “do I really want this?” If the answer is yes, you just go after it that much harder. I’ve done all sorts of crazy things for the sake of playing music; long drives after load-out and going into work with three hours of sleep is something I’m very familiar with!
As far as the scene around here, there’s a lot of music in the surrounding areas, and the scene in my town (Lynchburg) is getting a lot more active. I’ve always lived in this area and it seems like it’s only been recently that things have really started happening on a larger scale. We’ve had some really good bands coming up in the past few years and some great venues have opened up. It seems like the city has really started embracing the local scene. It almost feels like there’s a general sense of pride in local talent, not just music, that’s developed over the past three or four years. We’ve had a lot of great local businesses open up and there are regular festivals that are all about locals, be it food, goods, or music/art. I honestly used to not care for Lynchburg that much but it’s really been growing into a cool place to live.
We also just had a baby girl, so congrats to you as well, man! It’s a crazy different thing being a dad, but I absolutely love it. It’s definitely caused me to have to plan everything out a lot more, but I’ve actually been doing more than I ever have since she’s been born. I have a lot less free time, but I’ve cut out a lot of extra stuff that wasn’t important. I’m sure you know, it makes you evaluate how you spend your time a lot more, so for me, when I’m working on music I’m making sure it counts. Honestly, I don’t have any plans of slowing down, I’m more motivated than ever to really work hard so that I can be successful for myself and my family.
So well said. Being a parent definitely makes you evaluate how you spend your time more, and I’ve been doing a lot of that re-focusing myself–trying to figure out the right avenues to focus that energy and time on so it’s as worthwhile as possible.
This has been great, getting a little glimpse into your mind and creative process. Thanks again for taking the time. I always like to leave these interviews on somewhat of a silly note, so I’ve got one more question for you, that first requires a little bit of lead-in. Some of my musician friends started a little thing called the Poopy Diaper Club–it’s basically how they identified the members of their band who had become fathers so they wouldn’t just have to call them “lame old men.” (Ha!) They graciously accepted me into their super-elite club, and now I’m extending that same courtesy to you–welcome! And now that you’re in the club, let’s give a huge conglomerate a shameless plug by having you answer a million-dollar question: go-to brand of diaper?
Haha thanks, this has been really cool!
For diapers, Huggies all the way!