Michael Ray wrote two of the seven songs on his latest Higher Education EP, both “Picture” and “Didn’t Know I Was Country.” The latter, which Ray wrote with Taylor Phillips and Ashley Gorley, is a telling look into Ray’s own life — a look he initially wasn’t sure he was ready to share with his fans.
“It was actually the last song we wrote for the project,” the Florida native tells Everything Nash. “I was FaceTiming one of my buddies, Taylor Phillips, who’s a writer in town. We were just talking about when you’re from a small town where it’s traditions, and you truly grew up on generational stuff. Where I’m from, I’m eighth generation or something like that, in Eustis. You grew up doing the same things your dad did. You grew up doing the same as your mom did. You grew up riding to the same places, you grew up on the same clay pits. You grew up doing the same stuff, it’s just this cool circle.”
It was reflecting on those things, now that Ray lives more than 600 miles away in Nashville, which makes him so grateful for his upbringing, which comes out clearly in “Didn’t Know I Was Country.”
“You think everybody lived that way when you were a kid, and you didn’t know any different … It took us a few sessions to write it,” Ray reveals. “I think we knew that we had something special, but when I started playing it out, and started seeing the reaction at writer’s rounds with it, and that reaction of people that may not even be from the country. They’re from other parts of the world, parts of the United States, but they put their life in there. And that’s what we hoped we would have.”
Ray, who has previously said his time at home last year helped him make this record, likely wouldn’t have been able to write “Didn’t Know I Was Country” earlier in his life and career.
“I think as you get older, you realize who you are, but you don’t know that until you start traveling a little bit and seeing things that are different,” says the singer. “So that’s probably my favorite song I’ve ever written, to be honest.”
Higher Education is, in many ways, the album Ray always wanted to release, but was never able to, until his time off the road.
“I think all the stuff of last year, and then being home is what made me come to the reality that I’m proud of everything we’ve put out,” Ray tells Everything Nash. “I’m proud of everything that we’ve done, but is it one hundred percent me? I have friends of mine that would tell me, ‘Man, we know this part about you, but sonically and musically, it’s two different things.’ I never took that as offense. I took it as a light bulb went off, and it was like, ‘That’s what I’m missing.’”
Purchase, download or stream Higher Education at MichaelRayMusic.com.