For their third album London trio Girl Ray have changed lanes again, taking a flamboyant step into the world of 70s nightclub disco. We had a chat with the guys about Prestige, their upcoming tour, and getting injured at Spoonfest.
Hello Girl Ray, introduce yourself to our readers. And also, tell me something about you that I won’t know.
We’re Girl Ray. We’re all from North London and met when we were 11. We’re trying to make disco music. Something you won’t know about us; we’re also big fans of country music and sometimes play in our friend Jof’s band Legends of Country. It’s a great show!
That is a good fact, country music is my other life! Back to the topic, what can you tell me about your new album, Prestige?
Prestige was made to be a dazzling party in your headphones. An album to listen to striding down the street, getting ready to party, in the act of partying, or just hanging out in your bedroom wanting to feel lifted up. Some songs were made with the daylight in mind, and some with the night.
It is in some ways a blend of our first two albums; taking the live instrumentation and straight-to-the-heart lyrics of our first album Earl Grey, and the pop sensibilities of our second album Girl. Prestige lands somewhere in the middle, with a spoonful more shininess.
What was the instigation for moving to a disco sound?
We’ve been asked this a lot, but it was an accident really. I suppose it started as an antidote to being locked up in bedrooms at the start of the pandemic, dreaming of being able to leave the house and go dancing. It is also a celebration of love and queerness, which lyrically and thematically lent itself to the genre. We’ve always had a slight lean towards disco and funk the way we play our instruments anyway, so on this record we tried really maxing that out.
Who is responsible for the amazing disco guitar work? And how did you get that Nile Rogers loose-limbed sound?
Poppy: That would be me! I’ve always been drawn to that style of rhythmic guitar, and over the years I’ve been getting better at disco phrasing and timing. Nile Rogers was of course a pioneer of disco guitar, but for me it’s a style that just feels natural.
You end on a brilliant near eight-minute song, ‘Give Me Your Love’, how did that song come about?
That song was made in a session with Al Doyle and Joe Goddard from Hot Chip, where we came to them with probably a 1-minute demo of the chorus, and somehow left with an epic 8-minute house-inspired track… I think we all just got a little carried away in the studio not thinking we’d keep much of it, but somehow it really worked and ended up being one of the funnest songs we’d ever made. Layer by layer we added steel pan, bells, wispy harmonies, intense bass synths, filtered drum fills, vocoder and more. On paper it sounds like we’d lost our marbles but just trust us it’s a vibe.
‘Love Is Enough’ is a cracking tune, what can you tell me about that song?
Poppy: Thanks! It’s probably my favourite on the album. I was really inspired by the production of Parcels’ tracks ‘Comingback’ and ‘Free’, and how they crescendo in a way that really pulls at your heart. It was written in a patch of low mental health, but I was trying to be mindful of the love that I’m fortunate to have in my life.
There’s more of a slow-jam vibe to ‘Wanna Dance’, how did that song come about?
Poppy: I remember working out these chords in a rehearsal session a couple of years ago. At the time, and also in the initial demo, it was a quicker paced song. It definitely helped solidify the disco direction of the record as it was one of the first tracks I wrote for it. When we got into the studio, we leaned into the breathy verse vocals to make it a slow sexy vibe that would sit nicely next to the more fast tempo disco pop that’s on the record.
What does the studio process look like for you? Some people spend ages in the studio finessing, some people are in and out. I know budget plays a big part but what’s your favourite way of working?
Budget definitely does play a big part unfortunately, but we’re adaptable! In the instance of Prestige, we knew we were on a tight turnaround in terms of time, but luckily all of the songs had demos that were really fleshed out and ready to go, a couple had been started at a studio in London too, so the core elements were there. And for most of the songs, we knew what we wanted done to them. I suppose when it comes to the finessing, a large part of that is actually tweaking the mixes of the songs, going back and forth with the mixer/producer; that’s often where we’re most picky. It’s that moment in the process where you start overthinking, knowing that these final changes will be cemented in Spotify forever.
You’ve switched up your sound across your three albums so far, are you restless souls, or just interested in evolving and experimenting?
A bit of both I guess! We made our first album when we were 18, so naturally we were listening to different music and writing with a different sort of emotion than we do now. The thought of our next album sounding anything like our last makes us sad so why would we do that!
How do you think it’s going to work out in your live shows?
We’re feeling optimistic about touring this record! We’re really proud of the outcome so far and have been rehearsing a lot with the help of our friend Mike O’Malley (from Caroline) to make sure it really hits live. We had live shows in mind quite a bit as we were making Prestige. We never got to do festivals touring our last record because of the pandemic, which we were very excited for, so the thought of a late night Prestige set makes us very giddy. After all, these songs are written for the dancefloor!
Where are you looking forward to playing most?
New York in November! It’s a classic answer, but it’s got the best slice. It’s also got some sentimental value for us. The track ‘Easy’ from the album was written in and inspired by New York City, so it will be beautiful to return.
I missed it this year so gotta ask, how was Green Man?
Very fun times. Maybe our favourite show ever?!? It was an evening slot in the Far Out tent, and it felt so huge for us. It was that epic combo, the crowd being made up of kids with glowsticks and bubbles and also a bunch of people gurning their face off. It felt like success.
Love the Far Out tent, some of my favourite Green Man times have been there! What’s your favourite song from another artist?
Iris: ‘When Love Breaks Down‘, Prefab Sprout
Poppy: ‘Good Intentions Paving Company‘, Joanna Newsom
Sophie: ‘To Live Is To Fly‘, Townes Van Zandt
What’s the best bit of merchandise you have available?
We have a T-shirt that says ‘Keep Walking! I’m Listening to Girl Ray’s Seminal Album Prestige’ which we’re selling on our US tour fundraiser right now, which is our humble favourite. We’re hoping to make those into bumper stickers, but replace walking with ‘honking’ as well.
What’s your best story? Music-related or otherwise.
Two members of Girl Ray have been hospitalised in the process of spoon carving. The first time was way back in 2016 when we were due to play at Spoonfest, the UK spoon carving festival (of course). We were naturally invited to partake in the spoon carving antics pre – gig, so got stuck in. It was great fun while it lasted, but Sophie got a little bit too excited and went right into her bass playing finger with the knife. Our friend Jess who was driving her took her straight to A&E, and they returned in time for the show. There was guitar, singing, keys, drums, but no bass.
We thought that would be the last of our spoon carving injuries but the other day Poppy decided it would be a good idea to carve a ramen spoon for her girlfriend’s birthday present. It would have been, to be fair, but she misjudged the sharpness of the knife and went straight into her arm, causing yet another trip to the hospital. A few stitches later and we’re hoping that was the last of the casualties.