Ray Scott has always sat outside of Nashville’s mold, and he has always been perfectly content doing so.
After co-writing a top 10 single for Clay Walker, Scott realized the dream every up-and-coming shares; earning his major label deal with Warner Brothers in 2004.
What followed was one top 40 single and the suggestion from his record label to change his formula. Unashamedly sticking to his guns, Scott declined, and has pursued his career independently ever since.
Five albums, two EPs, and millions of streams across his catalog have followed, with all roads leading to the release of his upcoming EP Nowhere Near Done.
Scott’s journey began in Semora, North Carolona, where he was being introduced to country music greats like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Don Williams by his father, who Scott recalls hearing sing those classic songs just as much as the artists themselves.
As he entered his teenage years, Scott began to realize that he wanted to break Semora’s mold, as a career in music was calling him louder than a job in a power plant.
“It was a little town with one flashing light; it wasn’t the type of place where you necessarily dream big,” says Scott. “I had dreamt about it, but it wasn’t until later on when I realized it could be an actual career path.”
That path became clearer several years later, when Clay Walker took “A Few Questions,” a song co-written by Scott, to number nine on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Having a top 10 single under his belt gave Scott the validation that he could make a career in music.
“That success really validated what I was doing, and told me that I knew how to write a good song,” says Scott. “It showed me that I could write relatable songs. I put that in my pocket and I moved forward.”
After a few more cuts, including “Pray for the Fish” by Randy Travis, Scott’s music was sent to Warner Brothers by Paul Worley, who signed Scott in 2004, and released his debut album, My Kind of Music within a year of his signing.
The album’s first single, “My Kind of Music,” was released as the lead single from the album, providing Scott the opportunity to hear himself coming over the airwaves for the first time.
“I was in Phoenix, Arizona on a radio tour, and it was such a surreal moment,” says Scott. “It was a dream come true. I was in town for nine years before I got my record deal. There are a lot of ups and downs along the way, so it was very validating for me.”
“My Kind of Music” would peak at number 36 on the charts. The album’s next single, “Gone Either Way,” failed to reach the top 50, and the final single, “I Didn’t Come Here to Talk,” failed to chart, which wasn’t terribly surprising for Scott.
“Stylistically, we knew that it would be challenging, because mainstream radio favors more contemporary material,” says Scott. “It sounded old school; it didn’t sound like everything else they were trying to promote. We got the excuse that radio didn’t want to play it because the songs reminded their listeners of the older artists that they didn’t play anymore. I was polarized right out of the box.”
Scott began work on a second album for Warner Brothers, with the label suggesting he should change his formula.
“When we started recording the second album, the label believed in it, but they wanted material that might be a little more accepted at radio,” says Scott. “We went in and started having songs pitched by other writers, and it just didn’t fit. I’m way better off doing things the way I want to. I pretty much write everything I record. It’s not because I’m hard-headed, it’s the only way I can pull it off. I’m just a different bird.”
After a shakeup within the hierarchy of the label and confusion about the album, Scott decided to pursue the next chapter of his career as an independent artist.
“When the second record was coming together, I was frustrated, and getting talk from the A&R department that everything was great,” says Scott. “When we had a new label president take over, I was ready to take my freedom back. It was a good experience and it taught me a lot, but I realized that going independent was the only way I was going to be able to make it work.”
After quickly releasing his first independent album Crazy Like Me in 2008, Scott released Rayality in 2011, which featured “Those Jeans,” a song that has since garnered nearly 1.4 million Spotify streams, XM radio airplay, and newfound success in the United States.
“I was totally independent when I wrote that song. I didn’t have any promotion, but it got a lot of airplay on SiriusXM’s The Highway. We were really lucky that their program director, John Marx, remembered me from the days of My Kind of Music,” says Scott. “I was having a lot of success in Europe at that time, but ‘Those Jeans’ put me back on the map in the US.”
Scott continued his hot streak with a self-titled album in 2014, with the album’s second single “Ain’t Always Thirsty” touching the hearts of fans around the world.
“I knew I had something special when I wrote ‘Ain’t Always Thirsty,’” says Scott. “That song is definitely special to me. I can write light-hearted songs all day long, but ‘Ain’t Always Thirsty’ touched people on an emotional level. It sucks what you have to go through sometimes to get material like that, but the response I got from it makes it all worth it.”
After releasing the critically-acclaimed Guitar for Sale in 2017, Scott was hit by a creative surge when writing for his newest EP Honky Tonk Heart, released in March of 2019.
“Guitar for Sale was a lot of songs that I had in my back pocket for a while. At the time, I had been in a little bit of a creative slump, and hadn’t really come up with anything that I really loved in a while,” says Scott. “As soon as Guitar for Sale was finished and released, it took a chokehold off of me, and the ideas started flowing again. I don’t even know where a lot of the ideas came from, but I’ve been in a hot period ever since.”
That hot period has Scott excited to be on the precipice of releasing his newest EP Nowhere Near Done in 2020.
“There’s a song on the EP called ‘Nowhere Near Done,’ and on it, I’m talking about continuing to be excited about the music I’m making,” says Scott. “To me, it’s all about seeing people react to the stories in the songs. I’ve got a lot left to say I think, and that’s why I say I’m nowhere near done.”
Scott says listeners should expect to hear a new side of himself on the new EP.
“There’s a new level of introspectivity on this EP; it’s a little more serious,” says Scott. “I think it shows growth artistically, and I’m really excited for people to hear it.”
Fifteen years after My Kind of Music, Scott is proving himself to be a modern day outlaw, both sonically and in the way his makes his music, something he continues to take pride in.
“I’ve always been a little left of center. Even when I was an insider in Nashville, I felt like an outsider. That’s never really changed,” says Scott. “I feel like I’m a different animal. It doesn’t excite me to fit into any molds or trends. It’s hard for me to do assignment writing or to go along with what’s going on at the moment. It doesn’t appeal to me to serve millions of people with a commercialized product. I care about serving a really special product to the people that want to hear it.”
With the release of his Nowhere Near Done, Scott is looking to make 2020 a huge year.
“We’re going to hopefully have something out early next year. We’re still looking to get into new markets all around the country,” says Scott. “We’re going to keep doing this until it doesn’t make sense anymore, but right now, it’s still making a lot of sense.”
Scott feels it is his independent spirit that is keeping fans engaged, and still considers himself lucky to make a living making the music that he wants to make.
“I tell people that I’m not laughing all the way to the bank, but I’m not crying all the way to work,” Scott says with a laugh. “I’ve got some really dedicated fans and supporters out there. They appreciate the fact that I don’t compromise and that I do things the way I want to do them. It’s that hard-headed, independent spirit that I think a lot of people can liken to their own lives, and they live vicariously through that. I treat my fans like friends, because that’s what they are to me. I’m a lucky guy to be able to do this, that as long as people want to hear it, I’ll keep going.”
*Images courtesy of Ray Scott and Ray Scott Facebook Page*