Ahead of UON’s Live on the Lawn Festival, Monique Aganovic talks to featured artist Gretta Ray about her music and her success since winning Triple J Unearthed.
Since it’s establishment in 1995 Triple J’s Unearthed Comp has been pumping out some stellar young musicians. Last year’s winner, Gretta Ray, is no exception. It’s not hard to see why she’s been popular amongst Aussie audiences, her folk/pop songs are complimented by her smooth voice. It’s this style that has garnered her many comparisons to another Unearthed alumnus, Missy Higgins. Her latest single “Towers”, released in March, has proved she is more than that comparison and the Unearthed title, and that she has the talent to cash in on her success and popularity from last year’s competition and cement her place in the Australian music scene. Her interest in art doesn’t just apply to music either; Gretta co-directed her first music video for her hit song ‘Drive’ which was released earlier this year. I spoke to Gretta about her art, how she navigates the industry as a young artist and her musical opinions.
Can you explain a little bit about the role that Triple J, and the Australian music scene in general, has played in your career and your thoughts on that?
“Triple J and Triple J Unearthed are so unique, special and important in the Australian music scene because of what they do for independent artists. Their platform provided me with the opportunity to share my music with a large, diverse audience by playing a number of my songs on their station and letting their listeners know of the progress that I was making in my career.
They do this for so many Australian artists and it is such a gift, for both the musicians and their listeners, who are being exposed to new music on a regular basis. To win triple j Unearthed High in 2016 was such an honour and credit to my work as an artist, but the best part about that entire experience was being invited into the family-like community that is triple j, and getting the chance to befriend and thank the incredible group of people behind the scenes.”
How do you navigate the music industry at such a young age? Do you feel your age impacts you in any way?
“The music industry is definitely a crazy one, and at times can be overwhelming and scary. However, I think I am able to somewhat navigate it due to the fact that I am lucky enough to have incredibly supportive parents who are heavily involved in all decisions that are made in regards to who I’m working with and what the future holds.
I also have amazingly passionate managers whose morals resonate with my own, and thanks to the wonderful team of people we are building together I have been made to feel safe and loved in this industry. I don’t really think my age has impacted me in any way yet… I suppose there is the potential to feel belittled or patronised if you’re significantly younger than the people around you, but since stepping into this industry, I have always felt respected as a musician and only ever viewed as a co-worker, rather than just a kid who writes songs about feelings.”
What advice do you have for students regarding working towards and achieving your dreams?
“I know this is super cliché, but stay in school. I was very fortunate to attend a school that was in full support of what I wanted to do after my final year, but that being said when things became rather intense and exciting after the Triple J Unearthed High win, I was finishing off my second semester’s work and studying for my final exams.
I had this urge to do as well as I possibly could, in spite of what was happening in other aspects of my life. Also, I chose subjects that I loved, that would serve to support my writing, my creativity and my musicianship. So since all of those subjects would benefit me in the long-term, why would I not give them my all while I could?
One of my favourite feelings is putting something you’ve worked really hard on out into the world for people to see and hear, knowing that you couldn’t have done a better job and that you truly gave it your all. My advice would be aim for that feeling because it’s the greatest.”
What’s your favourite musical memory?
“I have a lot of those. Here’s one that really stands out: For 4 years in a row, while I was still in high school, various vocal groups from our school’s music department would board a bus to Mount Gambier in May to attend the annual Generations in Jazz Music Festival, wherein our vocal groups would compete in a range of divisions against other ensembles from all over Australia.
The festival itself is super cool, and each year I had such a great time, but the first year that I went we stayed in a motel that used to be a prison in Mount Gambier. So as one could imagine, it was a rather strange, eerie atmosphere for a bunch of teenagers to be immersed in for a weekend away. On the Saturday night a group of us brought our guitars out into the motel’s courtyard and sang Bon Iver songs until 1am. I have never felt a love for harmony, and the act of sharing music with others as strongly as I did in that moment.”
Does the music you grew up listening to influence you and your music in any way?
“Absolutely, more than I can say, I grew up listening to a lot of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Paul Kelly and Paul Simon, Missy Higgins, Sheryl Crow… I could go on. I think the best thing that my parents did for me was immerse me in music from a young age. I owe a lot to those musicians, and to my parents for introducing me to them, of course!”
Have you experienced any ‘tall poppy’ syndrome since your career has progressed? What do you think of it?
“Oh for sure – I think that tall poppy syndrome is a relatively inevitable and natural part of having a career based around creativity and self-expression, though. I find it all quite fascinating because when I began writing songs, it was only for me. It was my special thing; a therapeutic, indulgent process that I loved solely because of how it made me feel personally. If other people liked the work that I was producing, I considered it a bonus. I should address the fact that I was around 7 when I first started doing this haha.
But that kind of initial obliviousness and innocence is what makes creativity so beautiful I think, yet as soon as you dare to put that out into the world, that genuine love and passion can be interpreted by some, as threatening in a sense. So something that I am in the process of learning right now is that if and when enduring ‘tall poppy syndrome’, it is important to remind myself of the predominant reason as to why I am a songwriter. I do my best to stay in that place of obliviousness and innocence because that space is where I create my best work. So long story short, when experiencing tall poppy syndrome I try to ignore the fact that it’s happening. It only serves to distract me from all of the wonderful aspects of having a music career.”
Is continuing to produce and make art through photography and film an important aspect of your career and life?
“I think it will be. I really enjoyed studying Studio Art Photography in Year 12 and having the opportunity to spend so much of my time making films over the course of the year. As a result of falling in love with that process, I ended up co-directing my first music video which was indescribably satisfying to bring to life. I think that the visual elements of the work that I’m releasing, and what those visuals serve to represent and evoke is always going to be important to me. With the Drive music video, I wanted it to appear organic, dream-like, not too slick and shiny, but aesthetically pleasing nonetheless. I wanted the look of it, the production of it and the feeling that it brought about all to resonate with where I am at this point in my career.”
And, perhaps the most important question to ask a young Aussie, Shannon Noll or Guy Sebastian?
“Oh boy, I don’t actually know much about either of them! But think I’m gonna have to go with Guy Sebastian because I saw him open for Taylor Swift in 2013. Amazing pipes.”
If you’re interested in hearing more of Gretta, she’s performing as part of the years “Live on the Lawn” held at Bar on the Hill. She’s joined by other past Unearthed winners: Japanese Wallpaper and Ali Barter. Tickets are available here and go on sale Monday the 27th of April. You can also check out her debut EP Elsewhere on iTunes or Spotify.
Photo courtesy of Emma McEvoy Photography