Watercolor Paintings: An Interview with Horace Bray

Photo courtesy of Ana Azarov
For Horace Bray, one of his earliest memories involved falling asleep to the sounds of his mother’s songs. He said they were written more as medicine than with the intention to perform, but it was his introduction to music, and it wasn’t long before he took a real interest in it.

When he was first introduced to the guitar, there was no looking back for him. He would play all day, every day - even if that meant skipping classes. He took lessons from a local jazz guitarist who frequented the same church as his family, and at the last minute applied to the University of North Texas to study jazz performance and music theory.

Once he graduated, all it took was his 1995 Ford Taurus’ engine essentially melting in his driveway to decide that New York City was where he would go to pursue music. He was ready to begin his career as a “super hyper athletic guitar jazz player playing all the notes as fast as I could” when he kept finding himself at predominately singer-songwriter gigs.

“I quickly stopped pursuing the jazz thing as hard because I was starting to become really obsessed with these shows,” he said. “I wasn't crying at a jazz show, but I would get completely wrecked going to Rockwood Music Hall and seeing someone like Julia Easterlin play. I'd be thinking about my whole life, and I was [thinking] jazz music doesn't really do this for me. It hits me hard, don't get me wrong, but not like this. You don't think about your traumas and your emotional development and how you learn to love from jazz music necessarily.”

These shows inspired him to begin songwriting, which quickly turned into his first EP, How It Ends. He wouldn’t say goodbye to jazz completely, however.

“It definitely helps a lot with composition,” he said. “By using bits of jazz theory responsibly, it’s a really nice sweet spot where it feels intellectually satisfying for me to play and write without it being too othering to the average listener.”

Once jazz took a backseat to songwriting, it was clear to Bray that New York would also be taking a backseat. All it took was one torrential downpour, two bags of groceries from Trader Joe’s, Sylvan Esso’s song “Slack Jaw” and a subway ride home to convince him that Los Angeles would be better for his career and his mental health.

Just before he moved to Los Angeles, he had written a song called “Let Go”. It gave off an 80s vibe - more of a dance track than what he had previously been writing - and he thought it would be stimulating to explore more of those sounds.

Then the global pandemic hit.

He decided it was the perfect time to take the opportunity to switch up his compositional process. With the help of a basic home studio setup, he set a goal to create a song every single day. It was his first time really diving into the production side, and with the help of friend and producer Juan Ariza, his next EP started to form.

He compared the process to a watercolor painting. “There's very much a point where if you keep on going, it turns to mud. You have to not only leave enough space for the piece, but you have to leave enough space for the piece to settle.”

As satisfying as it was to work on his own, having Ariza as a supporter truly helped the songs come together. What started as 20 or 30 songs slowly trickled down to five - “Get It Right”, “Waiting For You”, “Close to Calm”, “Let Go” and title track “Fame, Fortune, and Perfume”.

“I think they were the ones that felt like they were the strongest,” Bray said. “I wanted it to be something that we were both really stoked on; that way it really brought out the best in both of us.”

To Bray, the songs ended up telling the story of his process of moving to LA and his view of how relationships work out there, but he knows that he only has 50 percent control of its perception.

When he first released “Let Go”, a young woman reached out to him and told him that the song inspired her to come out to her parents. He never thought to think about it through that lens, but hearing that changed his perspective of just wanting to create a song to dance to.

“I'm never ever going to forget that, because I think especially when you're writing songs about relationships and trust and not necessarily plain ole falling in love but falling out of love and some of the harder angles about romance and relationships, it becomes very much like the inkblot test for a lot of people,” he said. “People start to see what they want to see in it, which has been really interesting with this [project] because a lot of my older songs feel like the lyrics are a little more direct and specific about an experience I had instead of something slightly more up to interpretation.”

Horace Bray has already lived so many different musical lives, and at some point he would like to elegantly bring all of them together. As he continues to explore new aspects of his music, it’s his journey to today that inspires him to embrace the old and the new.