Young Jack Sparrow And More: Chats With Anthony De La Torre And Ray Scott, Plus A Legion Exclusive And A Paul Simon CD/DVD Review

06/09/2017 11:16 am ET Updated Jun 11, 2017

LEGION’S “CAPER 1” EXCLUSIVE/PREMIERE

Legion Volume 2 / <em>Original Television Soundtrack</em>
Legion Volume 2's album artwork
Legion Volume 2 / Original Television Soundtrack

Composer Jeff Russo (also of Tonic and Low Stars fame) shares “Caper 1,” a track taken from the second volume of Lakeshore Records’ soundtrack to FX Network’s mind-bending show Legion. The track is a signature slice of the striking score that is both hypnotically pointed and ominously orchestral, helping to propel the listener through the hyper creative plot points of the acclaimed drama. Lakeshore Records releases Legion Season 1 Volume 2—Original Television Soundtrack digitally today.

According to Jeff Russo...

"So glad to be releasing volume two of the season one score. There were a number of cues that we just couldn't let out of the bag until after we aired.”
Anthony De La Torre as Young Jack Sparrow
photo credit: Peter Mountain
Anthony De La Torre as Young Jack Sparrow

A Conversation with Anthony De La Torre

Mike Ragogna: So am I speaking with Anthony or Jack?

Anthony De La Torre: [laughs] I never break character, friend. No, definitely Anthony.

MR: Thank God. Who wants to talk to a pirate anyway.

AT: I know man, he steals your girlfriend but you know, he's a great guy. He makes you smile while he's doing it.

MR: [laughs] Anthony, you must be out of your mind happy since the movie’s not only a hit, it's huge. And you've become an established character in the world of Pirates Of The Caribbean as Young Jack Sparrow.

AT: Oh my gosh, it's the coolest thing ever. Just from day one, when this whole thing started and I got the audition, this fire just got lit inside of me. I was obsessed with Pirates Of The Caribbean since I was a kid, and particularly the character Jack Sparrow. Dude, it's unreal.

MR: On the music side, your band De La Torre has a new music video and I imagine there’ll be new fans based on you being in the new Pirates. So give us your music history already.

AT: [laughs] I grew up listening to everything from salsa to Frank Sinatra to Disturbed and Linkin Park, a lot of urban music too. I grew up listening to everything because my family's Cuban-American and music was always playing. When I first started working with my producer Desmond Child about five years ago, we were actually started going in more of a Latin route. I went to Cuba a couple of times, I shot a music video there. It was really, really special to get to go because I didn't think I was ever going to get to. That was an incredible experience to be there, where my grandparents were born and be in that culture and everything. Then when I came back to the States, we started focusing more on rock. I started a rock band about three years ago called De La Torre and we've just kind of been honing in on the sound and creating our own vibe. We started gigging about two years ago. We've only released two originals and we've done a couple covers. We recorded a song called "Ruins" and filmed a video for it in western Nebraska at "Carhenge." We just released a new one called "Paradise," and filmed the video in San Diego at the Viejas Arena March 5th when we opened for Bon Jovi.

MR: Since you've been working with Desmond Child for a while, what was his influence on the evolution of your music? Did he guide you?

AT: Yeah, absolutely. From the beginning, we've been writing together. You know, our goal was to just write songs we love and turn them into records that we'd both enjoy listening to. From the first lyrics and melody to the final mix... it's a real partnership.

MR: And there's a lot of influence from Desmond?

AT: Absolutely, how could there not be. Desmond's a monster in the writing room, and I mean that in a really good way. He's just incredible. He writes like a madman and it's really inspiring to get to be a part of that process with him.

MR: What are some of your insights from your trip to Cuba?

AT: It's hard to say, because I could probably be way more informed than I am. But as far as I understood it and how I experienced it, it would be fantastic for our two countries to be able to connect better and be at peace with each other. It's tragic, everything that's happened, but the people there are the exact same as we are. They are full of life and loved seeing a young Cuban-American like me and we had so much fun together. I even got my Cuban swag back. But it's a real shame the way things are between our governments but it is what it is right now and I'm definitely no politician. 

MR: Was it a life-changing experience?

AT: Oh, yeah. It was remarkable. It really was. Especially getting to shoot a music video on the rooftops of Havana was was truly life-changing. I'm so grateful for that time. I got to work with artist, producer and film director X-Alfonso who is just the most amazing dude. Last year he launched the ultra-hipster Fábrica Del Arte Cubano where people like Mick Jagger and Bono hang out. He took me under his wing for a couple of months and we recorded some really cool songs together. Like I said, I really thought I was never going to get to go there. Havana was beautiful, and the beaches are just gorgeous.

MR: Nice. When you were down there, you would think that one would come out with an even stronger desire to work on music of that tradition, but you took a rock direction. From your perspective, what has stayed or grown in your brand of rock because of your trip? Know what I mean?

AT: Latin music has a lot of genres including a strong rock tradition with rockero bands like Mana and La Ley. When I worked with X-Alfonso, he's a total rock star and tours around the world half of the year with his band. He's blends rock music and world music and sings in Spanish. That's his language so why wouldn't he? His music isn't so genre specific like we have here and that influenced me big time and opened me up big time. So we had a local young rock guitar player come in and play on one of our songs that had a heavy urban beat and I started realizing, "Yeah, rock guitar, hmm, maybe we should start using more of that.” Then it just grew more and more from there. Once I got back home to Nashville, I started jamming and recording with a couple of guys... lead guitarist Johnny Prentice who was 17 at the time and drummer Landon Hall who had just moved here from Springfield, Missouri and we started DE LA TORRE.  The first song that we released "Ruins" has a Spanish version called "Ruinas." Some folks like it better... well at least my mom says she does. [laughs]

MR: What is the chemistry like when you're working with Desmond in the studio or writing with him?

AT: It's really cool because I look at him like a sensei. He's had an incredible career for however many decades and just the experience, the wisdom, the knowledge that this guy has is just incomparable to anybody else that I've ever gotten to work with. Not that I've actually gotten to work with a lot of other people but you know like I imagine he's incomparable to anybody else. [laughs] So I put on my student hat and just go in ready to learn something new every day, basically.

MR: Do you still feel like you're a developing artist?

AT: Oh yeah, absolutely. And honestly, I'll probably feel like that for a long time. I guess I'll always feel like there's more that I can improve on and ways that I can grow. 

De La Torre left to right: Landon Hall, Nate Schwartz, Anthony De La Torre, Johnny Prentice, Sonny Kennelly
photo credit: Lana Condor
De La Torre left to right: Landon Hall, Nate Schwartz, Anthony De La Torre, Johnny Prentice, Sonny Kennelly

MR: So how has your band De La Torre grown?

AT: We have yet to release an album but we definitely have one ready to go... well we could have one ready to go. [laughs] We've actually been releasing singles for the last three years, so typically, a band would have at least two albums out by now. But we've kind of held everything close to the vest. We've just dropped a single here, dropped a single there testing the waters and gaining fans. It just continues to grow. We've worked with different co-writers and producers along the way explore different sounds for inspiration as time goes on. I'd say we've definitely grown. I'm also working with stupidly talented people in my band. Johnny Prentice, our lead guitar player is just insane. Just getting to be around these guys, I grow. It's great. I'm blessed.

MR: Has the band changed members?

AT: Yes, we've mainly had to change bass players a couple times. I swear they're the hardest ones to find. Most really great musicians have to play in two or three of bands just to make ends meet especially in Nashville so it's hard to hold on to them without mega-success. We've kept the same lead guitar player and drummer though the whole time and recently added Nate Schwartz on rhythm guitar and new bass player Sonny Kennelly, both awesome dudes. We always say, even if we weren't doing music, we'd all want to hang out together, because we're all just like total bros.

MR: Getting back to that Jack Sparrow thingy, how did you react to Perez Hilton's endorsement?

AT: I was blown away... You know he's Cuban too! But that was the coolest thing ever because I've looked at his website so many times, and to read an article that was mentioning me was like, "What? Is that going to start happening now? I guess that's going to start happening now, okay!"

MR: You're from Bowling Green, not the first place one would assume a Cuban-American artist would emerge from. What’s the history there?

AT: [laughs] My parents met in Florida, both of my brother and sister were born there, and then around the time that I was about to be born, my dad got into Bowling Green State University to study psychology.  So we moved there, and I don't think the plan was to stay there forever, but then, unfortunately, my parents got divorced a little after I was born and they ended up just both planting their feet into the ground there. So I grew up there until I was eighteen and then I moved to Nashville when Desmond discovered me on YouTube.

MR: What has your Nashville experience been like?

AT: Wow. You know, my family came into town a couple of times and they were like, "Oh, you've got to take us to all the coolest spots!" I was like, "Yeah, you guys are going to have to Google the cool spots, because I literally never go out."

MR: What? Interview over. Good day, sir.

AT: [laughs] My two destinations while I was there were the gym and the studio. I lived like a freaking hermit - every day, just go to the studio and work. We never took weekends off, we just did it every single day. I'm not exaggerating. That said, it's been amazing, and I'm not just saying that. I love everything about this place; everyone's so genuinely nice here. I love the pace of things like the nature... I love hills; I'm a big fan of hills. [laughs] And, obviously, the music scene is crazy. Getting to do a lot of writing sessions here; it’s a really great vibe. I've written a lot with one of Desmond's Nashville writers, Levi Hummon. Levi co-wrote on a bunch of our songs and just released his own single as a solo artist "Don't Waste The Night" and he's killing it on Spotify and touring like crazy. He's incredible. It's really been a great experience here and I feel like I'm part of a real community of artists.

MR: And I'm imagining that your stock went way up after you introduced Nashville to Young Jack Sparrow.

AT: [laughs] Yes, absolutely. I went on Blair Garner's radio show last week and was also featured on Ty, Kelly & Chuck Mornings. So Nashville definitely knows Young Jack has arrived! 

MR: I don’t know if you’ve discovered it yet but young Nashville artists and songwriters aren’t like past generations. They’re feisty and much less dependent on the old school Nashville machine.

AT: Well, I guess there's a "deep state" of Nashville music... I don't really know about that but I'm open to whatever doors open. I'm happy to go wherever the wind's taking me, whatever the opportunities are that come, I'm happy to do it.

MR: So Anthony, not Jack, what advice do you have for new artists?

AT: I think the key, where I feel like we really started to get into that kind of flow state was—and I guess this sounds obvious—when I made the decision, "Let me make a song that I would love to listen to." Sometimes people aim to make a song that they think other people would want to hear. That sounds really simple and dumb, but it is something important to think about. This is something that I'll still probably be figuring out, but you need to understand who you are and who you are in relation to the music and what your message is and what your archetype is. I hate to use this word because it's sounds so music business-y and not artistic, but understanding your brand...

MR: Again, good day, sir...

AT: [laughs] That came out totally wrong... it's understanding who you are and how you present that to the world and how that relates to music or acting and trying to stay consistent and truthful with all of that at the same time. Okay, that totally made no sense sorry. [laughs]

MR: Do you look in the mirror and go, "Who is that guy?" and then maybe write accordingly? I mean, you also are an actor who can take on different roles, which must be confusing at times, so how do you approach writing when it's for yourself?

AT: When I say “writing something that I'd want to hear,” I mean sometimes I write something that's a story that has nothing to do with me personally as well. But as far as musically and lyrically, "things that I would want to hear" is what I aim for, as opposed to thinking, "Oh, this might work, because this has worked for somebody else." Okay, I already said all that before. I’m just trying to write something that I would really dig and jam out to. But I'm not writing the lyrics to myself. Like I'm not writing a love song to Anthony.

MR: [laughs] How about for Anthony's girlfriend?

AT: Absolutely.

MR: You know the term "Stars With Guitars," right? You had this huge acting gig. Do you foresee an intersection or an intertwining between your music and your acting?

AT: Yeah, totally. 

MR: Are they parallel roads? Is it one road?

AT: Artistically, yes, and on the career, I side think I just see both of these things continuing to snowball and, hopefully, both build each other up. At the end of the day, I've got to do both of them, because when I'm done with one of them, I really want to do the other, and when I'm doing the other, I really want to do the other one. I've got to do both. I'm hoping that as each thing happens it opens more creative doors for both sides of my creative journey.

MR: Are you up for any new parts right now?

AT: Yeah, but I don't think I'm allowed to say. But I continue to audition for more roles all the time. That's the life of an actor. 

MR: I imagine Jack helped get you in some harder to open doors.

AT: Yeah, and it's also a great conversation piece once I'm in the door as well. If Jack didn't open the door for me, he keeps me in the room a little bit longer.

MR: What's your goal? What do you need to get to in order to feel fulfilled creatively?

AT: I want to be able to act, write and direct films and I want to be able to keep making music 'til I drop. That's the goal.

MR: Do you ever picture yourself a decade from now, where you want to be, what you want to get done musically? Maybe some big tours?

AT: There are so many things I'd love to do regarding music. As far as touring, Linkin Park, Thirty Seconds To Mars... I have a whole list of bands that I would love to go on tour with. I think about ten years from now all the time—where I'd like to be, where I'd like to be living. I probably think about that more than I should. I really should be more focused on the present.

MR: You mentioned Thirty Seconds To Mars. So if one of the Letos calls you to co-write some songs, you'd pick up the phone, no?

AT: Oh, oh, dude, in a heartbeat!

MR: Are there some other people you think it would be awsome to write with?

AT: Well, there’s Jared Leto; I love Linkin Park. I'd love to do something with them. I love all the stuff they're doing right now. They're really switching it up. I think Kanye West just produced their last album and it's so good. It's kind of crazy, it's awesome.

MR: I'm always kind of confused by what's going on with Chester, but that's okay.

AT: [laughs] Listen. When you can scream the way that guy can scream and not make your vocal chords explode, I think you can pretty much accomplish anything in life.

MR: What did we leave out? What else do you want to throw out there?

AT: Oh, one thing I'm super-pumped about is my acting role in Ridley Scott and Jonas Åkerlund's music-driven thriller Lords Of Chaos. Jonas also directed it. It's the true story about the rise of black metal bands in Norway in the late eighties and early nineties and I play Mayhem's drummer Hellhammer, who I actually got to meet in Oslo last Fall when we were there shooting. It's going to be awesome. Rory Culkin is playing the lead; Emory Cohen and Jack Kilmer star in it too. They're calling it the Trainspotting of the new millennium. It's going to be crazy. 

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne. But you knew that.

Paul Simon / <em>The Concert in Hyde Park</em>
Paul Simon's Concert in Hyde Park packaging artwork
Paul Simon / The Concert in Hyde Park

PAUL SIMON / THE CONCERT IN HYDE PARK

When many of Paul Simon’s fans discover their hero is releasing a new album, they assume it will be studio material, which means a comforting dose of his wordy wisdom and worldly observations. So far in this decade, he’s batting two-for-two: So Beautiful Or So What (2011/studio), Live In New York City (2012/Live), his latest critical and commercial giant, Stranger To Stranger (2016/studio) and now, this year’s The Concert In Hyde Park CD/DVD combo (recorded in 2012). The concert is part Graceland revisit, part So Beautiful Or So What tour, and part acknowledgement that Jimmy Cliff’s “Vietnam” kicked Paul’s pre-1972 world music consciousness into gear as he molded his self-titled solo album.

Considering Graceland’s sophistication, one might assume that the reunion aspects of The Concert In Hyde Park might have tried to emulate the slick elements of that original album’s tours. Thankfully, these performances are a lot looser, exposing the respect and connections between Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, his band that includes The Rhythm Of The Saints holdover, guitarist Vincent Nguini, and, of course, his enamored yet energized audience. The concert includes Jimmy Cliff (with his own Rebirth album release) performing his own classics such as “The Harder They Come,” “Many Rivers To Cross” (not included on the CDs), and the aforementioned “Vietnam” that slip-slides away into Paul’s “Mother And Child Reunion,” its original arrangement inspired by the antiwar anthem.

Of the most impressive moments are his mesmerizing “Hearts And Bones,” the title song of Paul Simon’s best under-appreciated album, reworked from the abandoned Simon & Garfunkel Think Too Much. The song kicks off a medley that includes Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” and Chet Atkins’ “Wheels,” the artist showing off a little of his musicologist side. Not allowing his crowd to become too mellow, Paul immediately pulls them into a musical block party, ignited by a celebratory version of his “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard.”

As you might expect, the Graceland moments steal the show with the original album’s rhythm section reliving the mostly South African arrangements. Ladysmith Black Mambazo share their iconic harmonies on “Homeless” and on “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” with both the band and singers evoking their 1986 performances flawlessly. Joining the Graceland live gathering as he did back in 1987 is jazz icon Hugh Masakela, and replacing Linda Ronstadt’s part on “Under African Skies” is Thandiswa Mazwai, who begins the song with a short, traditional, South African chant.

Even Simon & Garfunkel get a nod with Paul’s now official, 9/11 version of “Sounds Of Silence” that begins with a mournful solo guitar instrumental before building into a contemporary prayer. With the audience modestly adding their own voices as the song swells along, the collective experience feels truly honest and innocent (evidenced on the DVD), possibly making this the best live version of “...Silence” on record. The other S&G tribute, “The Boxer,” is made more complete by Paul’s pal Jerry Douglas joining him on guitar, their previously having recorded the NYC story-song on the latter’s Traveler album. And once again, the audience reverently joins in.

As we get to the end of the Hyde Park concert and following the musical riot that “Late In The Evening” becomes, Paul concludes with “Still Crazy After All These Years,” a song whose message over the decades has morphed from a slide into weirdness with age into a pride for that good kind of crazy and what’s left of our cultural sanity. In such a graceless age of history and considering the seemingly relentless, daily assaults on reason and even reality (Trump), it’s comforting to know that as crazy as it gets—and The Concert From Hyde Park confirms—we at least have this guy from Queens still helping to make it all make sense after all these years.

Ray Scott / <em>Guitar For Sale</em>
Ray Scott's Guitar For Sale album cover
Ray Scott / Guitar For Sale

A Conversation with Ray Scott

Mike Ragogna: Ray, Guitar For Sale is your latest. What is the goal for this one? What did you feel like you needed to do with this album versus your last?

Ray Scott: Well, you know, first off, I really don’t stray too far from the brand. But you know, with this record, I wanted to change it up. One thing I wanted to change was the production technique. I went with a new producer, a friend of mine named Michael Hughes. The last couple of records or the last couple releases that I did were all done in the box. In other words, they were basically built tracks. The first couple of records I did were live tracks, for the most part, and there was an energy with that, that I've always known exists. I decided I wanted something like that again and have it be reminiscent of a lot of the music that I grew up on and the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with the music in the first place. I wanted it to be a little bit more rough around the edges, not so polished. I had a lot of songs kind of in my back pocket that I had been sort of holding on to, waiting for the right project to record with and I felt like this was a time to pull some of those out. So some of these songs are a little older, you know, but I’m excited to finally be able to put them in a project.

MR: What was the recording process like?

RS: I used some of the same guys I’m used to and some new guys, including some of my band guys that travel with me on the road. We we went in the studio and sat around and worked these songs up and let everyone sort of do their thing. Then we would come back and pick parts and whatever. It was a little more of an organic experience in that we didn't sit down and map it out beforehand too much. We just let guys play and then if we had to move things around a little bit or change things up, we would. But like I said I wanted this to be a little more of a looser vibe thing with a lot of energy. The tracks run the gamut, so there’s some fast stuff on there—kinda rocking, kinda funny. This record is a little bit darker overall compared to the last ones I've done. That’s another thing I wanted to do. I’ve been known for putting out some funny stuff over the years here and there and I wanted to balance this one out just a little bit differently. There is some real life stuff on this one that is about reality and sometimes, it’s not such a shiny happy kind of thing.

The country music I grew up on was, for lack of a better term, adult music and the thing that turned me on about it was the realness. If somebody was talking about something negative, something hard about life, they got right to the point. It wasn’t sugar-coated. It wasn’t designed to be up-tempo and positive. That's what turned me onto the format and I feel like in recent years, radio and labels are trying to appeal to a younger demographic overall because, obviously, they want the sales. But I like the realism in country that I heard growing up and I know there are a lot of people out there these days that miss that in this format. That's why I think so many underground artists are starting to get so much traction, because people are looking for something different. I’ve been chugging along for a while, kind of doing this same thing so this isn't a real big departure for me; it's just a slight left.

MR: The Ray Scott of 2017 seems different than the Ray Scott of your last albums and that includes your image. So is this THE Ray Scott you want people to know?

RS: Yeah, I think so. I think every record I have put out is a new version of that, you know what I mean? I write every song I record, so everything is some sort of extension of what my mindset is at that time or what it was at the time when the song was written. I don't always take life too seriously and I don't think you should, but I think this go-round, I maybe grew up a little bit in some ways. There were a couple things in my life I needed to change and tighten-up and that's why I led the record off with a song called “Livin’ This Way.” It’s the first single. The song is about basically living in a drunken stupor and that was kind of a place I was at a couple years ago. It was after a divorce. It was kind of a rough point in my life, but at the time, I was just kind of hard-headed about listening to anybody or really paying attention to what might be healthy, what might be the best way to handle things. I actually quit drinking last year. I realized there were a lot of things I needed to tighten-up just for life and myself and the sake of my health and relationships and things like that. It was important for me to put that song out. For one thing, I like the melody. I like the way the song feels. One of the things that was important for me was to put that song and make people realize that was a place I was at in my life at one point, but was able to move past it and get in a better place. I know people are going to relate to it because I know a lot of people who have been there. But I also want people to realize I was there and I got away from it and I rose above it and they can do it too.?

MR: Are there any other songs on Guitar For Sale that you feel are personal peaks for you?

RS: You know, it's hard. Every one of them are special for one reason or another so it's hard to pick one necessarily. For instance, one of them is a song called “Pray For The Fish.” It’s kind of a funny song that Randy Travis recorded about 13 or 14 years ago, which was a big deal for me as a songwriter at the time. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written because of the originality of the lyrics and the title. So that was one of those things that was kind of for fun. There's another one called “Soberin’ Up” that I wrote about 12 years ago that has always been one of my favorite real life ballads about maybe being with a partner, lover, wife, girlfriend, or whoever you feel like their love is kind of going away and that is what that's about. I think that's something we have all been through and it has always been one of my favorites songs to play. It’s been a favorite for people at shows for a while, so I've really been looking forward to finally putting that one on the album too. But all of them, all of them are special.

MR: Since you’re a successful, established songwriter as well as a performer. When you're writing a song, how do you know who it’s for? Do you just write songs randomly for no one in particular, for yourself, or...?

RS: For the most part, I’m always writing for me. The thing that pushes me and inspires me is usually some sort of crazy screwed-up thought that I might have myself. To be honest with you, I write these songs and I have been really, really lucky over the years to have had other artists record my material. But I have never sat down and thought, “Let's write a song for someone else,” or whatever. I have co-written a few songs over the years that were pretty good, but they did sound like something that maybe someone else would record as opposed to me. A lot of my songs, especially the ones I record myself, are songs other people wouldn't record. Subject matter is part of it, but also part of it is my language and the way I might deliver it in just a conversational tone that is something unique to me. I just kind of do it naturally, without thinking. So at the end of the day, I might have a song that I think maybe someone else would be interested in possibly, but most of the time, it's more of the Ray stuff. Nashville is a town of co-writing and I think it's a great thing to do. I think it definitely helps, especially in a networking sense, getting your songs heard and recorded. But I have always been on that. I grew up on singer-songwriter music, a lot of which they wrote by themselves and I have always really respected that. I always noticed that those guys tend to be more original because there is really no other points of views watering down the song and what it might become. That isn't a bad thing or a good thing but it's my thing.

MR: Randy Travis’ version of “Pray For The Fish,” was a hit, and you’ve had quite a few others. Was it ever tempting to just do a project focused on your songs that have been covered?

RS: You know, I have thought about that, but for one thing, I don't have enough of the cuts that I consider quality that could make up a whole album. For another thing, I think some songs; for instance Clay Walker has a song that I co-wrote called “Just A Few Questions.” That's not necessarily a song that I think I can sing as well as he did or maybe other people can. That's one of those songs I co-wrote that sort of became something a little outside the norm for me. I like a lot of these songs to be what they are. Sometimes I think it's better to leave them alone. “Pray For The Fish,” I was such a big part of that lyric from day one. That's more or less a story that came from my crooked brain. So it’s something that really fits in with the stuff I have recorded in recent years. I think most people would listen to it and totally instantly recognize it as something I wrote. It sort of fits a little better.

MR: Ray, you have you played at the Grand Ole Opry almost 70 times.

RS: Getting close, yeah. [NOTE: Ray has appeared 67 times at the Opry.]

MR: What is it like performing there, why do you perform there so often?

RS: You know playing at the Grand Ole Opry, obviously, is a right of passage. It's pretty much the country music community telling you are accepted, you are appreciated, you are a part of the family. It's important to a lot of artists that come to town and do this. And every time I play that circle, it's still a “pinch me” type of moment. It's always a great crowd and, for lack of better terms, it's a like religious experience unlike really anything else you can do. There are a lot of great venues in the world to play but playing that stage? There is a little extra finesse to it that is definitely a source of pride for any singer that has been able to grace that stage, and I'm no exception.

MR: Do you play all your hits, such as “Those Jeans” and others?

RS: Yeah I do. Sometimes, I’ll try something new on them. After being there so many times, it's easier for me to kind of gauge what I think they might like and what not. There are certain songs I have recorded that I would not sing at the Opry because they might be sort of risqué. I mostly play stuff that I know they might recognize. But, you know, if it's in a time frame like now, where I’m releasing a new album, a lot of times, I'll play something new and something they recognize.

MR: It must be a little weird having huge musical success in the UK, no? Do you scratch your head and say, “What's going on over here in the States?”

RS: Honestly, it's a different game, and folks in Europe and some of the places I've been in the UK appreciate storytellers. They appreciate traditional country and that music’s sound. They pay attention to lyrics. As far as the chart success goes over there, that's now based on the merit of the song more so than any kind of political thing happening. In the States, it's different. You have your big mainstream radio politics going on with the big major labels. I'm an independent and I have been for a while, so I know that's not really a game I can have a chip in, so to speak. We just concentrate on getting things out there as best we can to secondary radio, online or satellite radio. We have been lucky enough to kind of break through those walls with some of that stuff in recent years, so I just try to take music to people wherever I can. Where we know they want us, we go play for them. That’s how we’ve grown our business and, you know, it's good. Folks have a lot more opportunities to discover new stuff all the time. I had my first single “My Kind Of Music” that came out 12 years ago. Recently, it just happened to get blown up on a big Facebook page called “We Hate Pop Country” and there were literally hundreds of people making comments about the song thinking it was a new song. It’s a 12-year-old song, but, basically, what it is doing is turning a whole new generation on to my music, so you never know what's going to reach them first and how it's gonna hit them. The way I look at it is, as long as they are digging something and as long as they are coming to the shows, we are knocking it out of the park.

MR: Ray, what advice do you have for new artists or kids coming on the scene now?

RS: Be yourself, tell the truth, and don’t try to chase any trends or fads because by the time you catch up to them, something new is going to be happening. I just think try and see life through your own particular original window and tell your story that way. Don’t try and copy anybody else. I mean, obviously, you are going to be inspired by people, but don’t try and copy anyone else. Be yourself.

MR: How many more back pocket songs do you have? Enough for another album or two?

RS: Yeah. I have a few left still. I have been writing them for years. There are still a few in there that I know I’m going to pull out at some point in the next go round. I’m still writing; I just hit another creative spurt. You know, it's funny. I’ll make one album and kinda get it out and get it released and it's like you sort of cleared room for a new batch of songs in your mind and in your heart. That is sort of what is happening now in-between all my promotion and everything for this new album. I'm starting to write again and that's always a good feeling. Sometimes, you can go a couple months without an idea and you feel like your may be finished and that’s never fun.

MR: For you, when an album is done, do you ever want to immediately jump in to the next one.

RS: Yeah, it’s funny, I love these songs, but I have spent so much time with them in recording in the last 6-8 months getting Guitar For Sale ready and doing all this business prep for it and everything else. It gets a little...I wouldn't say it's getting old to me, but it’s getting to the same ol’, same ol’. I wrote part of a new song yesterday that I really love and I remember thinking “Damn it, I wish this was on the this new album!” It's an ongoing thing, and luckily, if you continue to be inspired, it's sort of a catch-22. It's nice to feel like you are always playing catch-up. But it's good, it's great to have ideas. It's great to have inspiration and it's good to love what you do.

MR: So what’s happening in the future? What’s the plan and what do you want to get to?

RS: Man. You know, I just wanna keep growing my brand in the United States, for one thing. We got a second little surge about five years ago and it's been steadily growing in a very organic way, from an independent standpoint. What I would like to do is continue growing this business like it is and continue taking the music to the people who are excited about something different instead of what they are basically forced to listen to on mainstream radio. There is a lot of great stuff out there and my goal is to keep on rocking and make sure I get this stuff out to everyone who is meant to hear it.

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