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It’s a sudden and altogether rare quality to hear compassion embodied in the lilt of a human voice. Just a couple notes from singer-songwriter Troy Ramey will affirm this. His honey-soaked bravado is ripe with the pains of manhood—with loss and hardships—yet never panders to brazen resilience or bitterness. Instead, Ramey’s words sail and shimmer, wrapping listeners tight with a velveteen tenderness that speak volumes of love and reassurance.
Ramey redefines for audiences what it means to have “soul.” R&B titans of the past like Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke might indisputably differ from Ramey in both aesthetic and cultural roots, but the essence of empathy through song, of perseverance through the spirit of triumph, is ever-present for all.
The songwriter is experiencing newfound international success as of late. His track “Song Man” was selected for Spotify’s “Evening Chill” playlist and has amassed more than half a million plays. BTRtoday sits down with Ramey to talk with the artist about his songwriting process and biggest inspirations.
BTRtoday (BTR): Tell me a little bit about how you first got started on your path to music. When did you first realize this is what you really wanted to do?
Troy Ramey (TR): I always loved it. When I was a kid, my dad was a musician. That’s how my parents met. I guess when I was probably in my early 20s I was in Boston and I joined a couple of guys that were in a band and we started playing music. I fell in love with singing and potentially writing songs and it just felt totally natural and fun but not in a recreational fun kind of way. Just like… you know, happiness.
BTR: Absolutely. And what were some of the biggest inspirations for you in those early days?
TR: Growing up, we didn’t have cable or anything like that. It was kind of before the internet so my introduction to music was my dad’s musical tapes. James Taylor, The Eagles, Queen… all kinds of classic rock and classic 60s and 70s songwriters. I really loved that type of music and storytelling when I was growing up.
Later on I guess I had a little obsession with R&B; I just kind of fell in love with the way R&B singers would use their voice to convey emotions. And it was really something that had a big impact on me because I thought it was so fascinating that they could harness that with their voices. It was definitely the blend of those two genres: singer-songwriter, like classic old-school style stuff, mixed with a modern R&B type of emotional delivery.
That’s like the ultimate mix for me, and anything that has a nice melody or can really make you feel something.
BTR: Aside from music, what are some things that really drive you to write songs on a day-to-day basis?
TR: I would say that the biggest things that I think about on a day-to-day basis that inspire my music are deep and strong emotions. In my mind, it pretty much all comes down to pain [laughs]. Even love and the happiest emotions, they all kind of relate back to the fear of loss. ‘Cause if you love somebody you would be torn up if you lose them. So I feel like it’s kind of a weird, kind of a dark way to look at things, but for whatever reason that’s the kind of life experiences that inspire me most. The things that hurt rather than the things that are happy for whatever reason.
But I also think a lot about the way the world works. Especially religion. I think about religion constantly. I’m not a religious person, so it’s kind of weird to think about religion quite a bit even though it’s not really a part of my life. It fascinates me how that drives some people’s lives and drives the world. It’s just something that’s constantly finding its way into my songs, into my head.
BTR: I feel like the imagery and the iconography of religion is very potent, especially when delivered into an expressive kind of outlet like music, those symbols can become very long lasting.
TR: Oh, absolutely. I was actually talking to a close friend of mine the other day. We were talking about religion and she had a pretty unique perspective on it, and I really agreed with what she was saying. Basically, she’s saying that to her religion is about creation. So artists kind of have a unique opportunity to have a religious experience every time they make something.
I never really thought about it that way. I don’t like to get too deep into it sometimes because you can get lost, but I just thought that was a really unique perspective. Everything that she makes, that’s like her connection to a greater power. And I’ve never grabbed onto it that hard, but it’s a very unique thing to hear, and it kind of opened my mind a little bit. Like the power of what you can do when you make something.
BTR: Even if self-admittedly you’re not religious, do you ever feel like when you’re creating something, you’re making a really powerful song and it kind of just happens, it almost feels like magic? That maybe you are kind of tapping in something. Maybe it’s not a God, but something…
TR: Yeah, definitely. I mean, my mind is open. I don’t have any answers or anything like that so it’s not like I say there is nothing there. I definitely do feel that sometimes. Connected to something else whether it’s just connected to an idea or something just really makes sense to me. There are moments where I definitely can say, “I think I had some help with that one.”
Image courtesy of Troy.
BTR: And speaking about loss, there are a couple of songs that you’ve written that deal with the loss of your father. Both “Restless Lady” and “Rosary” touch on this. I’m curious, were those difficult songs for you to write given the subject matter? Is it easier or harder to write from such a personal place like that?
TR: I wouldn’t say it was difficult to write those songs. Well… it was difficult in one way. It was difficult because I wanted them to be really good. It took me forever to finish them. Actually, “Rosary” took a long time to finish but “Restless Lady” came together pretty quick. It actually kind of made me happy because it was a way of honoring his memory and his legacy to me.
It’s very personal when you lose someone that you love, especially someone like your father. I had a great relationship with him and he was a really amazing man. And so it was a pretty deeply emotional thing to write those songs because he never really heard me sing. To be able to send out a message into the universe and hope that he can hear it was a fun experience. Definitely an emotional one, and still is when I sing those songs.
Every time is tough because it brings you back to a place that’s pretty sad, but it’s also a place of gratitude because there are so many things that I’m grateful for, that I’m reminded of them when I think of him. It’s not just a blanket of sadness anymore like it used to be. It’s been kind of a long time, so now it’s more of like a reflection on the good times and the things that were really cool. It wasn’t like a struggle or anything. It was a way for me to try to just explore.
BTR: Do you have a songwriting process that you find yourself returning to each time like a ritual or do you find that it really changes from song to song?
TR: It does change, but I would say for the most part everything starts with the melody. I latch onto something I like, even if it’s just a couple of chords that sound pretty. And I just sing kind of random sounds. Not even words, just anything that comes to my mind in the form of melody. And if I like that, I’ll try to put something to it.
I usually have ideas in mind, like certain lyrics that I think are cool. And if I find one of those melodies that fits the lyric, I’ll build a song around that most of the time. So very rarely does it happen like, “I’m going to write a song about this.” I can’t do it backwards. I’ve done it the other way, but the melody exploration is pretty much my way these days.
BTR: You totally kill it as a solo artist, but you’ve since moved on to a band. What’s that transition been like?
TR: It’s great, because as hard as you work on the record there’s always going to be little things that each person brings to the live show and everybody kind of has their own personality on their instrument. So it’s kind of a totally different experience. While the songs are the same, they have their own flavor when we play them live.
I think everybody brings kind of a fresh viewpoint. My keyboard player’s got a jazz background. He puts some really interesting voices on songs that I would have never even thought of and they work really well. My guitar player, he’s a blues maniac. He’s just got this beautiful, beautiful tone. Makes songs speak in a certain way that you never really think would happen.
BTR: Sounds like the songs are taking on a new life on the road.
TR: They have, thanks to these really, really incredible players. We’ve been performing around New York the last few months and it’s going really good. I do love playing my songs by myself, but it feels a lot better to have those layers that we worked on in the studio come to life.