Sipping a rosé, sitting on a lounge overlooking Sydney Harbour from a vantage point so intimate I can see the individual bolts on the Bridge, the last place I thought a chat with Jack Gray would end up is regional Australia and the mental health conversation there.
Nights Like This, the first EP from a guy that has blown us away from day one with tight, guitar-packed and anthemic pop songs delivered effortlessly, is a twenty minute experience of much of the same – specific lyrics about personal thoughts, perspectives and moments.
Let’s get into it. We start with the very millenial topic of Voice Memos. I’m in Bold, Jack’s in normal.
Our conversation is recording and it’s called Dawes Point at the moment.
That’s the funniest thing. I never label ANY of my notes, there’s just the craziest names in there and there’s like 4,000 fucking voice memos. It’s so funny with my voice memos because I’ll always think of a melody when I’m in like, the middle of the street, I’ll think ‘that’s cool!’ and sing it into my phone, going up an escalator, and then I’ll never go back on it. I NEVER go back on my notes. When I start a new song I always just come up with something new.
So the ideas you put down you never put into action?
Yeah! It’s so dumb!
Is there anything you think you’ve missed there?
Definitely! I reckon one day I’m gonna through and be like “that’s a fuckin cool hook…”. I’m excited to actually go through them, but there’s SO many unused.
Maybe you need to employ an additional A&R person solely to go through your voice memos.
That is a great idea. You can do it.
So let’s get this straight. Nothing you recorded into your phone as a voice memo is on this EP.
Talk me through the start of a song then. You go in, generally alone, right?
Generally alone, generally in my bedroom. My favourite way to write is in my bedroom, or this little caravan that I go to, and with a friend of mine. Having someone to bounce off makes all the difference. Three of the records are done with a mate and then the other two I just did by myself in my room.
What’s the difference with what you’re feeling towards finishing a song you’ve done on your own compared to one you’ve done with someone? Are you less sure about a song if you’ve done it alone?
No not at all. It just depends what the song’s like? If the song’s great I’m super pumped about it, if it’s not then I know there’s roughly 4,000 unfinished songs on my phone. If I collaborate with someone it’s not like I’m more excited or less excited, it’s all about how good it is. Sometimes it is hard to look objectively at your own work and that’s why I have a few people I can trust, show my demos to and be like ‘what do you think?’
What if that opinion doesn’t match up with how you feel about a song?
Then I always go with mine! But I always want to get the initial reaction. Making it, you hear it a million and one times, so I just need someone’s initial reaction to feed off. Is it good? Is it shit? Does it just need work?
I’m very impressed with this EP because all five songs are actually very good. No skippable moments. You say in the first song Fools that you need to learn to drive. Have you learned to drive yet?
I have learned to drive – and I could drive at the time that I wrote that! I think the reason I put that line in there is because I moved from Brisbane to Sydney. I was just like “I need to go down the Coastline… can I get a ride… I need to learn to drive…” I just thought it sounded poetic! It’s a pretty line! I actually consider myself quite a good driver.
Are you on your blacks yet?
No. You’re going to laugh at me. I was the most excited person on the planet to get my L’s. I got them on the day of my 16th birthday. I was even more excited to get my P’s, got that on my 17th birthday, and ever since then because I can drive, I just never did that 20 minute quiz you have to do to get your greens. I would literally be on my opens now. But I just won’t. I just haven’t done it. I need to do it. I would be on my opens in a month’s time!
There’s not that many advantages to having your opens anyway… you can just have like, one and a half drinks and still drive.
To be honest I don’t even drive that much anymore. I spend so much time over in the States and in Sydney and stuff, where cars are available to me, I don’t really need it.
Let me turn L’s and P’s and stuff into a music analogy. Where do you think you’re at in your musical ability? Reds, Greens or Fulls?
I’m literally exactly where I am on my license! I’m on my red P’s! This last two years has all been a learning process. I’ll probably be on my fucking red P’s for another year or so! And then when I get my green P’s I’ll be a really well seasoned artist, and when I get my fulls, I’m going to be a pro. That’s how I’m looking at it right now. I’m still finding my feet live. I’ve done a hundred thousand pub gigs, I’ve done loads of touring gigs and shit, but I’ve got a whole lifetime of it ahead.
Building ‘Jack Gray The Headliner With Albums Under His Belt’ is going to take time, right?
That’s when I’ll be on my fulls. I’ve got a bit to go. But I’m so happy with where I am.
I still think back to when I first heard My Hands come out of the gates and then everything since has been slick and on a higher level. Like, hearing Down Side Of Up for the first time? What an amazing moment for an artist. I actually wanted to talk about that song – when it goes all instrumental at the end – what do you think you can say through just instruments on a song like that?
So much. That part is like a ‘let go’ moment. It’s a minute of just… going crazy. I wrote that for live when I wrote that song. I said what I wanted to say in that song, and then I just wanted to let go. What do I do? I’m just going to go crazy on this guitar. I envisioned blacked out room, strobes going crazy, jumping around losing myself and everyone else losing it too. Eventually, when we can afford that kind of lighting. I’m so pumped to be able to perform that song in venues when I can control the lighting and the sound and deliver to people the show I see in my head.
Do you think you’ll ever be able to fully deliver what you see in your head?
Yes. For sure.
I think a lot of people have a really grand idea in their head of how a show should look and feel, and never get there.
I have a pretty grand vision, but it’s realistic. It’s not like I want a full orchestra on stage with me and three rappers to do ad-libs. It’s not crazy. It’s the idea of bettering myself. I see my pitch being great, my movement being very cool…
You know what you’re capable of, right?
Yeah! I see my guitar work getting better and better… I just want everything to be heightened over the years with time on the job.
That song Down Side Of Up, was that one of the songs you wrote solo or with a mate?
I wrote that with one of my best mates Zeke, in my bedroom, we probably wrote the whole thing in 45 minutes. We thought ‘do we need a bridge? Na.’ and then I went HAM on the production, sat there and programmed all these pretty sounds, recorded in live bass and all these guitars and just had a whole lot of fun with it.
Do you think if you didn’t have Zeke on that one, you would have written extra verses and a bridge and made it into a full pop song?
No! Zeke’s a rapper, I was just like “…we’re done here bro. Let’s go for a walk on the guitar.”
I want to talk about Bullet too. You talk about how you “started partying when you were 15,” etc. Is that how it happened?
Wellllllllll I meaaaaaaaan yeah. I’m from a small sugar cane, mining town, Mackay in North QLD. People start partying quite young these days. I’m sure it’s always been that way. But when I say “started partying” it’s not like I’m dropping LSD tabs and fuckin’ Molly and stuff, I went from going to parties eating lollies & cake and waterslides to going to parties drinking a 6-pack and talking to my mates.
It jumps really quickly, doesn’t it?
Yeah. When I say “party” I mean the transition from playing with your friends in the backyard on the jumping castle to having a few drinks and pretending you’re really cool and maybe stealing your older brother’s cigarette and lighting it.
I still remember the first ‘party’ I went to when I was like 14, it was on some chick’s farm.
IT’S ALWAYS ON A FARM! Why is it always on a farm!
Regardless of where you grow up, there’s always one kid that has a farm!
It’s a real thing!
But what does a track like Bullet mean for you. It feels like a coming of age?
It’s a little deeper than a coming of age track to be honest with you. Growing up, Mackay hit a bit of a rough patch. The mining downturn happened, a lot of families lost their jobs… there was a lot of drugs like ice floating around in the town and an unusually high number of people chose to take their own lives. One day I overheard a family member of one of the people who took their life use the word ‘selfish’ to describe what had happened, and it got me thinking. This was when I was younger right, so when I wrote it I was being really retrospective. Families can sometimes see those situations as selfish, but if you know what this person is going through… I’ve got a very close friend who suffers from really bad depression and it is fucking painful for them. When they get into their dark patches it is hard for them to be alive, and awake, I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. The song is the two sides of the coin – it can seem selfish on one side, but you have no idea what that person is going through. The song is about suicide, essentially. The song is about suicide and how it’s seen from different perspectives.
Do you think conversations around suicide and mental health at large are approached differently in regional Australia compared to in the cities?
It’s very different and it’s more concentrated. It becomes the talk of the town, it becomes more of a thing. Maybe? I don’t know. When I talk about songs, I know I’m not ‘woke’, I know I don’t know everything, I know very little.
But it’s a perspective.
It’s just me talking about it. It’s bringing it up. I heard these sides, here’s what I’ve experienced, it’s a perspective on the whole thing.
I think a young person from regional Australia’s perspective is really important. We’re lucky to be able to talk about this. These conversations didn’t exist 20 years ago.
Exactly. And that’s amazing.
What do you want people to learn from listening to this EP. It runs about 20 minutes, it’s a quick snapshot into your life, what do you want people to know about you at the end of this?
I don’t know if I want them to learn anything, but I want them to lose themselves in the songs and find a connection with one or a few of them, and think about what I’m saying. Hopefully they hear out what I’m trying to say.