The other day, I got the chance to chat with Ray Toro (former guitarist for My Chemical Romance and now budding solo artist) about the new album, being a vocalist, and . Aside from being a talented musician, Ray is a genuinely cool person. Check out the interview below!
Remember The Laughter, out November 18, is excellent, so be sure to keep an eye out for a review closer to the release date!
Indientry: How are you? How’s your family?
Ray Toro: They’re great! Everyone’s good, my son is in school now. It’s just cool, when you become a parent, how quickly they grow, everybody says it. They go through these crazy spurts of brain growth, where you can see their mind is expanding, the things they’re taking in from their environment, their conversation becomes that much more intelligent and deep and they ask tons of questions. Yeah, he’s doing great, my wife is great, everybody’s good.
I: That’s awesome! Do they ever influence your music or this album?
RT: Oh yeah, I mean, I think that was probably where I was becoming a parent and the conversations that I have with my wife, it played a huge role in the songs, the lyrics. It’s weird, I almost feel like I wouldn’t have anything to write about or to sing about if I didn’t have my family with me through the whole process. Because of my wife’s work, we end up having conversations about the state of the world, and how we’re gonna handle it, how we talk to our kid about it. You know, you go through all of these different changes. The record just wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for them. I would say for sure, they were the biggest influence of anything.
I: That’s really cool. As of yesterday, The Black Parade is 10 years old. Looking back, is there anything about the album or the process that still has an influence on you?
RT: I think if anything, that the time period was a time of great musical experimentation, so kind of the willingness to try anything and push yourself to new heights or new levels. I think that was something that we had to do as a band while we were coming off of Revenge to make that record the way we did, to have a fearlessness to not worry about what came before and not worry about what people may say about what we were working on and just do it. I feel like I’ve brought that to this record as well, where there may be certain expectations or not, based on my work with My Chem, and I think it’s important for each of us, as solo artists, it’s an opportunity to show our songwriting craft and our sensibilities and what we’re capable of. We’re all very different, we’re all each individuals in the way that we play our instruments, the music that we’re into. I think that was something that’s always stuck with me from that period of the band and The Black Parade, is just sort of when you’re writing music and making music, do whatever feels good in that moment and don’t worry about anything else.
I: That’s really interesting, I was just about to ask about how this record is different from what people expected, from their preconceived notions that relate back to your My Chem days.
RT: Yeah, it was nothing like, it wasn’t something that I did on purpose, that’s just how I write. I guess I answered this a little bit before, but we’re getting the chance to see a lot more sides of each person. When a band comes together, everybody works together and brings their own elements to that entire whole. And I think that when each of us as individuals step out and do our own thing, you just get to see more of that, and our individual ideas get to be explored further. That was exciting for me, I can’t wait for people to hear it because I’ve been working on it for a while. I do like that aspect of it, that people may have an expectation and I like the idea of breaking those expectations. Whether the response is good or not, any kind of reaction is good. I’m very excited to see what people think, and I can’t wait to get it out into the world.
I: What is it like to be able to show off your own different sides and be a lead vocalist, as well as everything else, on your album?
RT: It was definitely challenging. I think that was the hardest thing for me to grasp, just because I had never done it before. Any vocals I had ever done were just singing backup harmonies in the band, so that was my experience with it. I think that good singers just have an innate ability to be able to express emotion through subtleties in their voice, and that’s really hard to learn that, and it’s something I don’t know. I wasn’t born with that gift. There’s not a lot of people who can do it, actually, do it naturally. Some people have to learn, so I kind of tried my best to learn the character of my voice and how different it sounds. There’s a lot of subtleties to it, you can sing from a different area of your mouth. It sounds really weird, but you can sing towards the roof of your mouth and project out towards the top of your teeth. It sounds strange, but when you do that, your voice sounds a little brighter and more open. You can use that in certain lines where you want to have them stick out, so there are all of these little subtleties and mouth movements, it’s pretty nuts. So I think that the hardest thing for me, and then also, on top of that, getting used to hearing my voice on the predominant voice on a record, too. I’ll still have days where I was listening back to mixes, and I was like, “Ah, this just doesn’t sound right.” because I’m not used to hearing myself. It’s going to be interesting to see what people think. Again, hopefully people like it, but that was the biggest challenge that I had on the record.
I: Yeah, after listening to it a couple of times, I think that you did a good job with that, because that’s a pretty hard thing to do. You’ve mentioned that this is the first time writing lyrics and songs by yourself. Has watching bandmates write music in the past influence the way you write at all, or is it totally different?
RT: My style is different, I think. I think that with Gerard and what Frank has done, there’s a little bit more metaphor in their lyrics. Mine has less subtleties. I think for me, I took a lot of influence from guys like Tom Petty and Johnny Cash, where it’s more storyteller-esque, I guess, and I try to write songs with a distinct beginning, middle, and end, with a kind of natural progression through the lyrics. I think that’s a little bit different, but as far as, like, I 100% respect the way they do it, I think the way they craft imagery is really unique and special, and Gerard especially. I’ve always taken influence from those guys, I always feel like we found a way to make each other better. It’s a cool thing, we’re all in communication, and kind of can bounce ideas off of each other and get feedback from one another, so that’s a cool relationship that we all still have.
I: That is really cool. What can you tell me about the sound and the themes of this upcoming album? You said, at one point, that it was almost a concept album?
RT: Right, I’d definitely say it’s a light concept. The basic concept is that it’s an older man returns to his childhood home and he hears a familiar melody coming from the attic in his house, and then he goes to investigate and finds this memory box that he never knew was there, and he starts going through it and each of the items in the box kind of spark a memory of himself or maybe of his parents, each song represents one of those memories, I guess. That’s kind of the basic concept of it. The larger themes are very family-oriented, and again, this is my life at the time. I was a new dad, and the last song especially on the record, Remember The Laughter, kinda deals with, “What am I gonna tell my son before I pass?” Like, how do you explain that to your kid? And it’s just a weird thing that came to my brain, I was sitting at the kitchen table with a guitar and just started strumming out the chords, and I just kinda sang the melody and sang the lyrics, but these are questions that I would’ve never asked myself before. But you become a father and you start thinking about these things, you start thinking more about what the world is like, you just brought a life into the world, like how do you explain the world to your kid? So thematically, I think that runs throughout a lot of the record, a lot of it I feel like is words and things that I’ll pass down to my kid, or my son, and it makes me think of my parents and what are the lessons that they taught me, and how did I become the person that I am? Well, I’m the person I am because of the people they are. It’s this cyclical cycle, and I also tried to do the record where it’s like, if you repeat it, it starts where it ends and it ends where it begins, so that’s life. It’s this generational thing, and we pass down our knowledge to our children and they pass it down, and I don’t know. It’s all stuff you think about when you become a parent. That’s sort of the main concept, and the main themes that run throughout the songs.
I: Okay. So, you’re pretty well-known as a “Ray” of hope, so-to-speak, because you pretty much just put out positive vibes, like For The Lost and The Brave, which you put out after Leelah Alcorn’s suicide, and your leadership on My Chem’s #SINGitforJapan project. How does that reflect your personal values, and how do you think that developed?
RT: I don’t know. I’m just a very positive person, I always tend to look on the brighter side of things and try to find the glimmers of light in darkness. I think if anything, I got that from my parents, in that they persevered. Both of my parents have experienced a lot of loss in their life, a lot of hardships, and they continued to be good people. I think that’s really fascinating, I think each of us has a choice, that when we’re given hardships and life occurrences that could be detrimental to us, do you rise up or do you fall down? The example my parents always gave was to rise up. I think that’s what makes that how I became who I am. My wife is the same way, she’s gone through a lot in her life and she continues to be this amazing, intelligent, incredible woman. That’s a choice. You have a choice. I think all of that influences the things that I care about and the person I am.
I: Does that have any influence on the album?
RT: Absolutely. I’m not sure you got to listen to it or check out the lyrics, but there’s one song in particular that’s very much like talking to a person who’s going through a ton of shit. But, like, look at the person you are now, there’s always hope. Obviously Hope For The World, too, is kind of a letter in a way, a mission statement in a way, like especially now, as divided as our country is. It’s one of those things where I think it’s always been there, but especially with things like social media and the prevalence of the internet, and everybody being able to get their opinions out, you see it more. It’s been this undercurrent that’s been bubbling underneath and is just now bubbling out, and people are kind of shocked by it, but it’s always been there. So there’s this divide in the country right now, but we don’t have to live like that, you know? The past doesn’t have to define us, we can make our own future. So there’s definitely a lot of positivity on the record. Some of the subject matter, like Remember The Laughter, is sometimes hard for me and my wife to listen to, because it does make me think of when I am on my deathbed, how my son is going to deal with that, but there’s also positivity in that song as well. Really, with what the album is about, it’s called Remember The Laughter. There’s always a glimmer of hope or positivity to hold on to, no matter what.
I: That’s very cool. So, you’re currently not signed to a label, you’re flying solo, but do you have plans to play shows?
RT: Yeah, it’s been pretty crazy, you never realize how much work it is that labels do. I knew they have been invaluable in the past, but you just never really get an idea of how much work there is that goes along with writing the songs, recording it. Beyond that, there’s so much extra stuff, so I’m getting a handle on it all. As far as playing shows, I definitely wanna play these songs live for people. Plan-wise, I don’t have anything planned for this year, sometime next year I definitely plan on going out. I’ve said this before, in another interview, where I kind of have an idea of how I would like to do the record. It’s really interesting because it’s more common now where bands play with computers, bands play with tracks running behind them, we did it a little bit back with My Chem, but very sparingly, and now it’s not uncommon for people to go onstage with just a computer and two people. That helps a little bit, because there are some songs that are obviously very fleshed out with the arrangements and the orchestras, the strings, and there’s just no way to do that 100% live. I’m trying to figure out the right balance between organic, live instruments with also some backing tracks, and then also, too, there’s a visual element that I would like to have for it. You know, I could dream all day about how I want it to be, but can I actually pull it off? Is there money to pull it off? These are the type of questions that I’m trying to figure out for next year: exactly how and what. It may just be me playing the songs with five of my friends, so it could be simpler, but I can dream right now. I always like to aim high and go a little lower if you can’t manage it. It’s gonna take some thought to pull it off the way I really want to. I’m not promising anything, but I at least have to give it a shot.
I: Yeah. Well, I definitely look forward to that. The album is really awesome, I can’t wait for everyone else to hear it, it’s very cool.
RT: Yeah, I’m definitely excited too! You know that. Living with these songs in different stages for almost three and a half years, some of these songs are three years old. They go through different changes and permutations, and you have a few weeks of great productivity followed by a few months of down time because there’s family stuff or it just got too busy, so it’s really been a life journey getting this record together. I really can’t wait for people to hear it, and to hear their reactions. At the end of the day, I really hope people take something from it, and have a little hope from the record, because we’re living in really dark times right now, so hopefully people can at least pull that from the record.
I: Alright, we’re about out of time, but thank you so much for taking the time to do this!