Saya Gray is in a league of her own. The multi-instrumentalist occupies an undefinable space within the music industry, fusing punk, rock, folk and grunge with hints of hip hop. She was raised in a Scottish, Canadian and Japanese household. As a young girl she recalls learning how to play the piano, trumpet, trombone, and the saxophone, soaking music up like a sponge, particularly from her parents. Her father was a musician, sound engineer and lead trumpeter for renowned artists like Aretha Franklin, the Temptations and Jeff Black. Today, her vast cultural exposure shines through her soft, folk-infused grunge sound.
The first track on her latest album 19 Masters features a two second opening, recorded in Japanese by her mother. Setting the tone for the entire album, she welcomes listeners into her world of artistic exploration. To say that Gray is a champion of sound would be nothing short of an understatement. Her delicate yet lyrically powerful songs make Saya Gray one to watch.
What are some of your earliest memories with music?
My earliest conscious memories of music are growing up in a house full of students practicing and learning instruments. I would wake up with puffy steam bao eyes to get cereal and there would be five people doing music theory at the kitchen table.
How has your multicultural upbringing shaped your creativity?
Growing up watching Japanese films and being surrounded by the aesthetic has definitely shaped the way I visually relate to spaces and see design and colour. I find Japanese art to be extremely intentional and it’s something that I’m learning now more than ever.
Who influenced your folk-infused grunge sound?
I honestly have no idea. I think all of the music I was surrounded by as a child all melted into one hot pot in my crazy mind. I tend to not try to figure these things out as I feel freer sometimes not trying to identify the root of genres in my head. Otherwise, I get a little claustrophobic.
Can you explain your creative and writing process?
I’m a bit chaotic. For example, last night I was ink painting on the floor. I had a big piece of paper to write poetry on as the words came to me then literally would randomly pick up this cheap bass that lives in every corner of my place and voice note a few seconds, put it down and pick up the brush again. It’s a constant with me. I’m probably really hard to live with!
What is the most challenging aspect of being a songwriter?
I find the documentation of who you’re loving, what you’re seeing, living and experiencing historically and politically very strange sometimes, like a sonic polaroid or a time stamp.
Why do you think it was important for you to focus on the theme of isolation in your album 19 Masters?
It was just what I was going through at the time and generally how I live my life as a lone forest woman of the sea. I wasn’t consciously aware of creating a theme or creating an identity out of my isolation. I’m just really weird and see more cats than humans.
Who do you write and create music for?
It feels like a full body purpose. I can’t say it’s even for myself, it’s just something that I’ve felt compelled to do regardless of who, why, where and how.
Has the creation of your latest album informed your artistry at all?
It was an ode to deciding to not play the games of the matrix and to do my own thing. I find that the industry can have a spooky contagious identity that wants to suck you in, spit you out and turn you into a decrepit little sheep. 19 Masters was the truth behind the struggle of my conformity and heartbreak.
How do you relax and unwind from the creative process?
I never do! I struggle with my moods and mind quite a lot so I never feel that the creative process actually CAN stop. That being said, I’ve been obsessed with Chinese hexagrams and bats recently.
If you could collaborate with any other artist this year, what would it be?
Yo-Yo Ma! I love Yo-Yo.
What is your favourite city to tour and perform in?
I love Asian cities mainly because there is an appreciation for how far you have come to perform. You can feel that gratitude on stage. It’s so delicious.
What are some of your personal and professional goals for the upcoming year?
I’m learning koto and also would like to have softer feet in the near future. Professionally, I’m not sure. Maybe to not turn into a piece of cheese for a cheque.
Do you wish to leave behind a specific legacy with your music?
I’m not sure how long it will take before Mother Earth kicks us out, so if I can supply some high frequency for people to freak to in the next 5 to 10 years that would be excellent.