Reaching back to pre-Beatles rock for inspiration -- but tossing in a jumble of influences including the torch songs of Billie Holiday, film scores, flamenco, and more -- Gemma Ray has sculpted a sound that is familiar and warm, but also appealingly off-kilter and full of noir-ish touches.
After making her recording debut in 2008 with The Leader, she stripped back her typically cinematic sound for the 2010 covers album It's a Shame About Gemma Ray, then took a more pop-oriented approach to 2012's Island Fire. Alongside a dozen original songs, the latter included collaborations with Sparks on covers of two of their tunes. She returned to a spookier retro-rock on albums such as the more personal Psychogeology from 2019.
A native of Essex, England, Ray released her first album, The Leader, in early 2008 on the U.K.-based indie label Bronze Rat Records. After receiving a warm welcome from the British press, she was about to embark on a tour when she became ill and had to cancel a number of profile-raising shows. While recuperating, Ray wrote a batch of songs and recorded them in a modest home studio with co-producer Michael J. Sheehy. The resulting Lights Out Zoltar!, released in late 2009, belied its homemade origins by boasting an expansive concert hall sound. Ray took the opposite approach for her third album, It's a Shame About Gemma Ray, which found her covering 16 songs (ranging from Buddy Holly's "Everyday" to Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick") in stripped-down versions. She continued to stretch artistically on her poppier 2012 album Island Fire, which featured collaborations with the Mael brothers of Sparks. A year later she released the vinyl-only Down Baby Down, a more experimental record with help from Thomas Wydler of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Her sixth full-length, 2014's Milk for Your Motors, was recorded upon Ray's relocation to Berlin. She returned in 2016 with The Exodus Suite, a nearly hour-long set of torch songs with lead vocals and a core band recorded live at Candy Bomber Studios in Berlin. Taking inspiration from traveling the world on tour and trying to find her own place in it, her eighth studio album, Psychogeology, followed in 2019. ~ Paula Carino, Rovi