Gretta Ray: ‘To write a catchy pop song is the hardest task of all’

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Gretta Ray: ‘To write a catchy pop song is the hardest task of all’

Gretta Ray
Words by Joshua Jennings

Australian pop artist Gretta Ray doesn’t really know exactly what to expect when new album Positive Spin drops this Friday. But she does anticipate her phone will have quite the temperature.

“I just assume that I’m going to be working – working, as in, tending to my phone,” she says, chortling, “and making sure I’m across everything, and I’m in touch with my fans. I’m sure we’ll be in a lot of communication that day.”

Positive Spin, Ray’s second album, follows on from her 2021 studio debut Begin to Look Around. Begin to Look Around was a coming-of-age record replete with infectious pop for early 20-somethings reckoning with all the angst of identity.

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Positive Spin, which jets off a little from this headspace, lands as Ray settles into her mid-20s. She says she feels more in command of her songwriting than ever now.

And, with Positive Spin, it shows.

Single Don’t Date the Teenager is a gluey earworm with bubblegum hooks to make breakup pop-loving Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, and Lily Allen fans swoon. It is also an inflection point of sorts.

“I feel like I’ve worked quite hard to achieve being able to write songs like Don’t Date the Teenager,” says Ray. “I think I never would have been able to do that years ago.

“It has taken time and practice and learning from other collaborators to get me to arrive at that point.”

If you know anything about Ray, it’s quite likely the well-documented fact that 2016 was her breakout year. Busy with year 12 then, she was named Triple J’s Unearthed High competition winner.

She also won the feted Vanda and Young Global Songwriting Prize for her faintly woodsier and folkier guitar-pop song Drive.

By 2018, she began her first co-writing sessions. The following year, she started to work with “topliners”, songwriting artists commonly active in pop and hip-hop recording industries, who ordinarily provide melodies and lyrics over beats or demo tracks.

“When I started writing for Begin to Look Around, the whole process of cowriting was a pretty new world to me still, but the terminology in those sessions, you pick up on pretty quickly.

“There are so many. There is the writer-producer – they’re the person producing, but they’re also the writer, because they’re in the room and they’re contributing to the writing, as well as the track.

“Then there’s the topliner. That’s the name you would use just for the other person in the room who is not producing, but is helping with the melodies. And the topline is also a term for a melody. It’s very interesting – there’s a whole other sea of words.”

There’s a whole discourse happening beneath the surface of Positive Spin too.

After investing close to a lifetime exploring songwriting (Ray wrote her earliest songs at the age of five), Rays says she knows from experience that making pure pop music that resonates with pop-lovers is the ultimate challenge.

And yet, on Positive Spin, she’s delivered in spades with songs such as the acoustic diary entry America Forever, and the triumphant anthem Heartbreak Baby.

“To write a catchy pop song is the hardest task of all,” she says. “I have written songs where I have crammed so many bloody words and melodies in; there is no sense of structure; the chorus comes in a minute and a half into the song; and it’s all over the place.

“Sometimes that is totally good and it works, but there is this sense of form, and there does need to be that sense of structure for some things to stick like a popular song does. And it’s really hard (laughs) to learn.”

After Begin to Look Around received a nomination for both an ARIA Music Award (Breakthrough Artist – Release) and a J Award (Australian Album of the Year), Ray performed a sold-out headliner tour in 2022, along with an Australian arena tour supporting Gang of Youths.

To mark the launch of Positive Spin, Ray has 11 Australian tour dates lined up.

Her Big Pop Show tour begins on her record release date, Friday August 18, with an in-store performance at Fitzroy’s Oh! Jean Records.

“Right now, my whole word is the album and the Big Pop Show tour that I have coming up… and then hopefully, at some point, it would be really lovely to have a holiday (laughter). Like, a week, maybe!”

See Gretta Ray perform songs from Positive Spin at Oh! Jean Records in Melbourne on Friday August 18th. Also catch her Melbourne album tour shows at the Northcote Theatre on Friday September 22nd, and the Northcote Social Club on Sunday October 1st. See her full tour dates here. 

Get Positive Spin here.