Tuesday, June 16, 2015

LA History: Joy Ray


Almost 15 years ago to the day, I left Los Angeles and moved to San Francisco. I was also leaving behind music in a professional capacity (or so I thought).

In addition to the quindecennial date, I recently found out that a friend of mine from my L.A. days recently passed away. Thinking about her got me thinking about my time there, listening to old music, and reaching out to old friends.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting about some of the work I did in those days, and some of the people I knew.


It's appropriate to begin with Joy Ray. A woman with striking looks, and intelligence and acerbic wit to match. Not to mention a wonderful name!

In the mid/late 90s, Joy Ray was playing in at least 2 bands in Los Angeles: Silverlake scene favorites SISSY BAR and the darker, more gothy SEVENSOFT. I can't recall exactly how I met her. Perhaps through my brother, whose band Don Knotts Overdrive was also part of the Silverlake scene, or perhaps through my friend Stan Fairbank, or maybe through Anne Kadrovich. I had seen Joy's bands play several times, and had seen her out and about at various parties.

Joy approached me in late 1997 about helping her record some solo stuff. I had a pretty decent little studio set up in the garage of the house I was renting: 24-channel/8-bus Mackie mixer, DA-88 digital 8 track, about 3 racks of outboard gear (largely borrowed from Chris Fudurich and Ken Kessie), and a nice collection of synthesizers (also mostly borrowed from Chris), including a Jupiter-6, a Chroma Polaris, a Nord Lead 2, an Poly-800 (with "Moogslayer" mod), a CZ-101, a Moog Rogue, and a Fender Mark I Stage Piano. Plus a computer running Cubase.


"Firefly" was the first song Joy brought in. She played it for me on acoustic guitar, and I immediately started thinking about what we could do. I had her record some basic tracks (typically a couple of passes of acoustic guitar and vocals) and started monkeying around with it.

I can't remember exactly when we recorded it, but the initial tracking must have been around January of 1998, because I do remember spending all of the MLK holiday working in the studio on the song.

In fact, working on "Firefly" was what convinced me to quit my day job and "do music full-time". After nearly a full day of pushing buttons and adjusting levels and making something that sounded like a "real record".

We did a couple other songs, one of which, "Getaway", I actually didn't add much to...but I mixed it as weird as I could, with her vocal coming out of one speaker, washed in reverb, and run through some effects as though it were on a radio or telephone. 

Summer in Bakersfield

Of the 4 tracks Joy and I worked on in late 1997 and early 1998, this was my favorite. 

I even brought in a real violinist (unfortunately I can no longer remember her name), who did a beautiful job of adding exactly what was needed, and took direction well ("how about some pizzicato?"). She played by ear, which was good, because I'd been so used to rock people playing by ear I didn't even think to write up a chart. I'd also never mic'ed a violin before. When she pulled out her violin and asked me "OK, where should I stand?" I was immediately thinking "Oh man, I totally don't know!" but she was a total pro, and added some violin to one of the other songs as well.

Joy provided her dark lyrics, melodic sense, and a guitar part. I tried to turn the song into a tiny movie, chopping up some of the noise from the crickets infesting the walls to create a rhythm track, and adding some Eno-ish ambient synths, and a drum loop I may have cribbed from a Photek record (who I am pretty sure cribbed it from somewhere else). Joy brought in one of her friends to sing background vocals. They're in there, just real quiet.

A Start

As this was one of my first projects as a producer, engineer, and collaborator this way, I made a lot of mistakes. I failed to build a good rapport with her, and we ended up disagreeing quite a bit about the direction of the record. I didn't pay enough attention to what she really wanted, and didn't have good skills for communicating what I thought would work best for her.

I'm still pretty happy with these tracks, all things considered, but at the time, I recall that Joy definitely was not. I wanted to add more production and technology (probably too much), and make a kind of "space folk" record, and she didn't. After taking 4 songs to completion (including doing one over almost completely from scratch), we parted ways.

There's still some nice sonic detail in there, though. I can still remember working on the song all through MLK day and realizing "man, THIS is what I should be doing with my life, not sitting in an office." And I quit my job a few weeks later to embark on "doing music full-time".

Thanks for that inspiration, indulgence, and opportunity, Joy!


Joy Ray married Jay Harsin, the singer for another band in LA (Chaser, whose song "That Ain't Love" remains in rotation at my house). They live in Hawaii and own and operate the Hearts and Stars Salon.

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