Ray Dalton Interview

MARCH 17 2013

I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Ray Dalton – a young, soulful singer from Seattle who recently worked with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on their debut album, The Heist. We talk about Ray’s approach to singing, working with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, touring the world, musical influences, and his solo career. 

Update on 4/25/2013: “Can’t Hold Us ft. Ray Dalton” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis is now at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

So you recently got back from The Heist world tour with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, during which you performed over seventy shows. Could you tell me about that experience and what it meant to you?

Oh it meant so much, it’s like… I love—that’s my family, you know? Those are my brothers. Owour, Ryan, Ben… it was such a learning experience. At first, it was kind of difficult, like I’m just going to be real: it was hard, everybody was stressed out, there was so much, you know? But after the first week… it was amazing. We always bond when we go anywhere, but, when you’re living on a tour bus, you’re sleeping right under each other, and you live with people for that long of time… it was great, it was so much fun.

What surprised you the most about touring — that was your first world tour, right?
I’ve actually been on tour with my gospel choir, we went to Japan and Korea last year and it was like… Being on a tour bus, you know, where you wake up, and you’re in a new city. Bus calls out at 2, says you’re in Seattle, and the next day you’re in Alabama. So it’s like, whoa, that’s crazy! And it’s overnight, so that was really weird, but it was cool too.

What’s it like having people cheer for you across the world? What’s that feeling like? Going from Hamburg, to Ireland, to everywhere? Tell me about that.
Oh I love it. I feel the love, I feel the love, you know? I feel like… I feel loved. I think that’s what it’s about. I think all that, all that is so worth it; it’s one of the many things why I love to sing. Because it makes me feel good, it makes other people feel good, and they tell me they feel good – that’s the love man, that’s the love.

How did you get connected with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis?
Well, it’s funny ‘cause I did a song called “Need Your Love” when I was seventeen. And the rapper I worked with didn’t really think it was gonna be… he just didn’t believe in it that much. He was just like, my audience, they’re not gonna like it. And I was like, okay, whatever. So about two years later the rapper showed Ryan Lewis that song, and he was like “what do you think?” And Ryan was like, “who’s the dude singing?”

Then I got this Facebook message, “Ryan Lewis wants to be your friend.” And I was like, who is this dude? I go, okay, you can be my friend. And then the next day, I get an e-mail saying, “I really like your voice and I’d love for you to come to the studio and make music. “And I was like, okay, I’ll go to some random person’s studio that I don’t know… it seemed kinda sketchy. So I met Ryan for the first time, and I had no idea who he was. He put me in the studio and I made some random hook beat to a song, and he ended up loving it. Then, he brought me in the next day, and Ben was there, and I had no idea who Ben was… so I was like, oh cool, do you do music too? And he was like, yeah I rap. And I was like cool, you guys are friends, do you ever do music together? And they looked at each other like… who the hell did we bring in here? (laughs) And he’s like, yeah we do music together. I didn’t even know, I didn’t even know… And I’m not trying to be disrespectful to anybody, but I just didn’t know them at all. I just met them as Ben and Ryan.

And when was that?
Maybe two years ago. “Wings” was the first song I worked on with them, I’m the opera singer in the background. We did “Wings”, and then we did “Can’t Hold Us.”

Tell me about Can’t Hold Us, how did it come to be?
Well, it’s funny ‘cause after we did Wings, Ryan had done this hook. Then he called me and was like, we need a hook for Can’t Hold Us, can you come into the studio? Usually when you go into the studio, they test your levels, how loud you’re singing. When I was testing my levels I went, “can we go back?” I was singing about love. “The ocean is blue, cause I lo-o-o-ove you.” Ben was like, “what?! I like that.” Ben writes something down on a piece of paper, says sing this, “Can we go back, this is the moment…” And it, like bam; instant Can’t Hold Us hook. And then we just added more flavor, more juices… it happened very fast, the creating process.

How did you become comfortable singing on stage? You mentioned earlier you were shaking in your first audition, how have you gone from that shy teenager to a man travelling across the world playing sold out shows?
You know, it was Camila, and the choir. You have to put in the work for anything. Our choir isn’t a normal choir, we sing probably five times a week. We’ve sang for the president, President Clinton, President Obama… we do so many things. Mrs. Pat, the founder of the choir, is like, tough love. You get it, or you’re gonna cry. It’s just someone being so real with you to the point where it’s like, training, you know? Waking up at five in the morning, going to run for five hours… it’s just discipline, and that’s what she teaches. It’s what you learn, you can decide to be in the choir and just goof off, or you can take it to heart. And that’s what I did.

What do you tell yourself before you walk on stage?
I tell myself like, some of these people know who I am, some people don’t know who I am. And that’s a good thing, because in my mind I think, they don’t know… it’s not cocky, it’s like, I’m about to sing, and I want them to like it. And so like, my mental space is like okay, here we go. They might be like, who’s this dude coming on stage wearing a bowtie? And I think, I’m just gonna sing that first note, and they’re just gonna go “Oooh.” You know?

I also saw recently that you guys did a concert recently for NPR. 
Well that was crazy. We were in DC, and we went to go to a show in DC, but we stopped by NPR. They’re so cool, they’re so great there. We did a little performance, and it was in a little space. It was cool, it was like, intimate – it was in an office. When do you get to sing in an office with hecka people working, you know?

Who have you grown up with in terms of musical influences?
When I was little I listened to Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Babyface, Ina Marie, The Carpenters, Earth Wind & Fire. And the Menudos, which are a Mexican group. Those were who I listened to, all the time. I’d sing with my mom, sing in the car, sing in my room. And then when I started getting older, I’d still listen to them. When I got to high school, my senior year, I found Amy Winehouse. Man let me tell you, when I discovered Amy Winehouse, that’s all I listened to for like, three years straight. I mean I was obsessed, I’ve seen all her YouTube videos, I have her book, I have all her CDs, I have a tee shirt, I mean I’m Amy Winehouse’s number one fan. I just went through a phase with Amy Winehouse… and when I’d overdone it I would listen to Sam Cooke and Lady Gaga, cause I thought it was cool, I was like, who’s this weird little white lady jumping around butt naked? I like her songs, it’s cool. And then I went straight back to Amy Winehouse, I love her. When people are like, who do you want to collab with? I’m like, obviously she died, but I would have loved to work with her.

I’ve seen some of your work with Camila Recchio, and I’ve heard you call her your mentor. And you guys did a song and video for a song called Whisper. Can you tell me about your connection to her?
Camila is… words can’t even describe right now. I mean… look at my face, I’m so happy ‘cause she’s one of my best friends. We’re so close, I was actually with her last night.

It’s funny, cause me and Camila went to high school together, but she was two years higher. I was really shy when I was little so… she heard me sing in the hallway at school, and she was like “Oh, you’re really good!” and, you know, I was kind of just petrified about singing in front of people. She pushed, she was like “you should do it!” And I ended up trying out for this solo, nearly shaking, and waited ‘til everybody left the room… and then I did my audition. But it was pretty much her, she influenced me a lot… and then she left, she went to another school, and then we ended up singing together for a project, and she was like, “You should sing in my gospel choir!” which is the Total Experience Gospel Choir, it’s like really huge in our city, and in Japan and Korea. In certain places, the choir is just so well known. I was in the choir, I’m still in the choir. She’s huge to me, she’s taught me a lot of things.

Do you have a different approach to singing in a small venue versus a large venue?
It’s the same. I don’t care if it’s one person or it’s fifty thousand people. The surroundings and the sound are different, but, I don’t give any less or more. If people are kickin’ it and they’re showing that they’re having a good time, I like that.

What was it like coming back from that world tour and playing the YouTube show at the Google headquarters?
I liked it, it was intimate. And it was, it was different, you know? Obviously Ben jumped on my back, like that’s how comfortable we feel. It’s another performance, but you’re giving your soul and everything to the audience, and even people who are watching. It’s like, come in closer, let’s do the performance, that’s how it is.

What has the response been, since you’ve worked with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis? Have you gotten a lot of fans from that exposure?
Yeah, yeah I’m not gonna lie. Ben and Ryan have taken me under their wing, and I’m still under it… I’m just so happy and blessed. I don’t think we’d be having an interview right now if they didn’t take me under their wing so… well eventually we would [do the interview], but maybe in like two years.

Download 'So Emotional' on Bandcamp.

You recently released your first single, “So Emotional”. What does it mean to you? 
That was my first time ever writing a song and singing everything. After “Can’t Hold Us” came out, people were like, I love your voice... it got to the point where they were like we just want to hear you. So for my friends and my fans that really like listening to me sing, I’ll do a free download for them. That’s how it happened. And [So Emotional] was like my baby.

Do you think you’re going to work with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis in the future? 
Of course. On my upcoming EP Ryan will be producing and me and Ben will probably do some stuff too. But that’s secret, (laughs) we can’t talk about that yet.

Is there anything more you can tell me about the EP?
Well “So Emotional” is so R&B and I love So Emotional, but that’s not really the vibe all my songs are gonna be. They’re gonna be like Chex Mix; a little bit of m&ms, a little bit of peanuts, pretzels…

(laughs) You’re getting me hungry Ray.
You know you can add some cheese if you want, you know…

So do you think you’ll be doing a little bit of r&b, soul, gospel?
Definitely, soul is my style. But there are so many different types of soul; there’s disco soul, there’s old school soul, there’s so much. And I don’t just sing soul… I grew up listening to my parent’s music. My mother’s Mexican, so I grew up listening to a lot of Mexican music, a lot of disco music, and with my dad a lot of soul and r&b.
When can we expect to hear the new EP?
January or February, around that time.


What do you enjoy most about touring the world?
You know, I love, love, love to travel. I mean, everybody has their own interpretation of what fame is to them. And since I was little, fame was to me, like, going to Italy and being able to have lunch, and then go sing, you know what I’m saying? Go to Czech Republic and go have tea with a friend. That was it. I got into singing hoping I could travel the world.

I love going to a new country and learning their culture, eating their food, playing tennis and volleyball in their country, it’s so awesome. I feel famous when I go to different places, I don’t care how terrible or ugly it is, I love it. The culture’s the best thing, when it’s completely different. It’s a new world.

I've heard Ryan might have gathered a bit of a balcony diving problem on the world tour. What can you tell me about that? 
(laughs) That’s part of the show. It’s not staged, it’s not something fake… he loves to dive. He’ll be diving off higher beams in the future. But I do worry, I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I’m like, oh my gosh…

The first time he dove, it was during the Cant Hold Us breakdown, and he’s climbing, and you go from being ready to sing to, “oh crap what is he doing,.. oh wait I’m supposed to sing”, you know? I get worried, I’m not gonna lie, but, the crowd always catches him cause they love him. It’s great.

Ray, can we expect any diving from you anytime soon?
Hell no.

I think that sets the record for the quickest answer to an interview question ever.
Maybe if I can get some angel wings and fly around to the crowd, until then I won’t be doing it.

Tell me about the ability to interact with your fans on Facebook and Twitter. What it is it like being able to instantly reach out to so many of your fans?
I love them. They make me feel so loved, they make me feel so loved, you know? I just honestly can’t believe that people are Facebooking me, or Tweeting me, or sending a message that says I love you so much, your singing is so good… And I’m just like really? Thank you so much. It just hasn’t gotten to me yet that people are just like ooh, I like you… you’re great. That, that just makes me feel so loved, I feel so loved by my fans, and that’s why I love to sing. One of the many things; It makes me feel good. But I feel like, when you can touch other people, and make them feel good, that’s even better, than anything. I love my fans, I have the best fans in the world… they’re amazing.

Any shoutouts?
My fans, I love them so much. I want to shoutout Ben and Ryan, Camila Recchio, Rep Ink, Bin Bin Ink, and you. Thank you so much for having me… I’m really happy, I’m really blessed. There have been so many people on my side, on my corner. This coming year is gonna be so good.

Stay connected with Ray and his music at the links below.

Ray Dalton on Facebook
Ray Dalton on Twitter