brett gray interview
photo: Victoria Stevens / press

Brett Gray

Photography
Victoria Stevens
Grooming
Tara Lauren

Actor/singer-songwriter Brett Gray weaves a world where his contemplative creativity meets his easy exuberance to deliver stories that make people feel. Having found success with hilariously charismatic performance in Netflix’s successful 2018 series On My Block, the ambitious yet easy-going multi-hyphenate has explored his passion for music with new EP Blue which plays on Gray’s love for art, a penchant for upbeat sonics, and inclination towards poetic lyricism.

Equally interested in acting, music, and fashion, Gray seems to see a story everywhere and in everything, easily working his personal introspection into far-reaching relatability among listeners. Inspired by everything from sophisticated impressionist art to binge-worthy reality TV, Gray is– beyond a public figure– someone with the innate ability to connect with people.

The rising star talks about the concept of Blue, the ways in which acting, music, and fashion influences each other in his life, and finally who Brett Gray really is beyond the many professional hats he wears.

Your new EP Blue takes inspiration from artistic “blue periods” of painters like Picasso and Monet. What inspired you to explore this concept? Are you a fan of art?
I’m so into art, everywhere I go, I look up the art exhibits in the area. I’m a creative person and I like to be stimulated by such things. Blue happened because I didn’t want to simply make singles, I envisioned it as a sort of platter of different genres, sounds, and concepts I’m attracted to. It began to set to this backdrop of an unrequited love story, but then it evolved into how I attract the world around me. Blue is the color of creativity and so I wanted to connect these emotional connections I developed with the world with my creative side and passion for art. It’s about how love and art circulate around me, about light, love, and sensitivity.

What was the process of working on this EP? From coming up with the idea and developing it, what stands out most about the project?
At the beginning, it was about discovering and developing my sound. I feel like I’m still at the start of my music career so I can play around with what I want to experiment without worrying about numbers or achievements. The whole project began as an experiment, about finding artists who I respect musically and genres that I was inspired by sonically to see what we would end up making.

But, the hard drive crashed and we completely started the project over. At this point as we were starting over, I went to Korea, and then as soon as I returned the pandemic happened; the recurring theme of every time I was happy, there was a blue period– something to bring me back to reality– this allowed me to refresh and revamp the production to get it to a point where it took a life of its own. If you look at the tracks– “Easy On Me,” “Baby Blue,” Take It Slow,” it’s a combination of self-affirmations, motivation to others, and creative themes/narrative. I’d say Blue is a vibe!

You said you’re still discovering your sound, but how would you say you’ve evolved? Going forward, how would you like it to evolve further?
I write little songs all the time in my room that never end up being full songs ever. They are always these ballads, but when I go to the studio I’m bored with them and want something far more energetic and fun. So I think my evolution so far has to do with learning how to blend poetic themes and lyricism with beats and energetic sonics, that allows me to be free and playful with my music. I’ve learned to blend so the next step would be focusing on working with tempo and the texture of my voice, finding that balance of up-tempo fun with soulful ballads.

In terms of your songwriting, do you lean heavily on that creativity and poeticism you mentioned or is it more introspective and personal?
I’d say my lyrics are introspective but always touched by external experiences as well. I’m also learning to be more internal about abstract topics like impressionism as well as learning to match more externally influenced lyrics with a personal inclination with playful soundscapes. I’m always inspired to write but also allow myself to guide by my instinct. I never know what I’m writing about until I finish the song. When I finish and look back at it, I discover this entirely new perspective that I didn’t even realize I was writing about.

brett gray interview

Can you name a song that you’ve written where you were surprised by the imagery or theme of the song being completely unintended but impactful when you listen back to it?
On this EP. “Easy On Me,” was written about my experiences as an actor, not seeing roles for myself that I’m truly drawn to. It’s a song about feeling like a puppet but learning to find comfort in the lack of control around me. But when you hear the song it could be interpreted as being about a loved one, losing someone, about relationships or work; so many people DMed after hearing the track saying it reminded them of losing themselves in a relationship.

On the flip side, I might listen to a friend’s story or watch something on reality TV that moves me and I’ll find one single line from it around which I write a song, which may not relate with anything in my own life; for example, I was watching Real Housewives and I remember hearing one episode hearing the quote “never again,” and when I went into the studio later to write this became the whole hook for the track. I think this is what I love about Blue, it’s not really about what I’m talking about, but the feeling behind it.

You have mentioned you are a naturally creative person– true enough everything you’re involved in from acting and music to fashion has elements of creativity in it. How do these different passions and interests influence each other?
For me, it’s all about storytelling. Acting, music, and fashion are all connected in that they are all ways through which I express myself. In terms of fashion, I didn’t grow up with tons of clothes at my disposal, and I also went to a school with a uniform until highschool. So fashion became part of life learning to make five shirts, two pairs of pants, and sneakers I’ve collected over the years into a full school year’s worth of outfits?

When it comes to music, it doesn’t have to be about me, it just needs to be a story that interests me. When I read a script, I don’t even have to like the role I’m playing, I can play the bad guy or play a small part but if the story is something that I’m drawn to I just want to be a part of it. The emotion, the stories that move me are what I’m attracted to.

Having explored the mediums that you have, what other creative avenues would you love to experiment with going forward?
I’d love to try my hand at something entrepreneurial– develop a product, business, or service. To be at the founding level of an idea that can take flight. That’s in the cards somewhere. I also love food and traveling so I’d love to delve into those avenues.

If listeners could take away one message from your music, what would you want that to be?
I imagine my listeners coming home from a party and playing my EP, getting lost in it without having to think. I hope when people listen to my music they are able to envision something beautiful and follow the melody along in their head and escape. I think what I’d hope for is that my music is a form of constructive escapism.

What’s been the most memorable moment of your career so far? What’s next for you?
Cardi B liked my tweet! That was pretty big. But honestly just knowing how many people are listening to my music and connects with it blows me away. I actually played around enough and managed to make this my career! Every day is surreal. I’m not taking things too seriously, I think I’m most creative when I feel free. Rather than seek validation for myself, I want to make other people feel. The more people I can make feel something, the more things that will keep happening by itself.

If you had to describe your career in three words, what would they be?
Just the beginning!

What’s one question no one has really asked you in interviews you wish you were asked?
I’d love to be asked more about my background in the arts. What was Brett like before On My Block and these other endeavors? Who am I actually?

Well the floor is yours! What were you like before On My Block and everything else?
I grew up in Philadelphia where there’s so much untapped talent, there’s a spirit, drive and hustle here unlike anywhere else. At the base of it all, that’s who I am. I’m a hustler, I’m going to use everything I possibly have as loud as I possibly can until something sticks.