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Horace Bray: "I could never see myself limiting my art to one genre. Life is too short to worry about what box you fit into"

Horace Bray
(Image credit: Forrest Smith)

Home to an abundance of emerging guitarists and aspiring songwriters alike, Instagram has been at the forefront of the guitar scene for quite some time now, with hundreds of thousands of six-string slingers flocking to the platform to share their soulful chops and technical prowess.

Very few, however, have been able to amass the following that Horace Bray has, and fewer still have been able to do it by showcasing such an eclectic and masterful blend of jazz, fusion, pop, neo-soul, and almost everything else in between. 

Proficient navigator of the fretboard, possessor of genre-bending skills and ultimate online musical sketch comedian, Bray has climbed to the very top of the online music scene, and proven himself one of its most formidable guitarists.

With the release of new EP Fame, Fortune and Perfume, Bray has boldly broadened his horizons, repurposing himself as not only a fierce guitarist, but a sophisticated songwriter. His second sonic offering since his 2016 debut Dreamstate, the newest entry in the singer-songwriter’s discography combines delicious dream-pop tones, subtle psychedelic sounds and a bounty of to-die-for guitar work in a demonstration of the 29-year-old’s ever-evolving style.

We caught up with Horace after the release of his EP to discuss his enviable collection of guitars, his approach to soloing in a mind-boggling array of different styles, and what it's like to shred alongside Plini and Nick Johnston…

Fame, Fortune and Perfume is the latest stage in your evolution as a songwriter and producer, as well as a guitarist. How did your approach this time round differ from your previous record?

"With my last few projects I always started with guitar and voice. After getting those in place, I would start to build the production and arrangement around those key parts. This time around I wanted to switch it up – so for most of these songs I started out with drums, keys and bass to really get the groove dialed in, and then, after that was figured out, I would start to write lyrics and guitar parts. 

"When I started with guitar and voice I started noticing that a lot of my songs sounded really similar, so I flipped the process upside down to bring out some new things in my songwriting."

Horace Bray

(Image credit: Ana Azarov)

Was it always your intention to explore a blend of psychedelic and dream pop, or did this sound evolve organically during the writing process? 

"Dreaminess and psychedelia have always been a big part of my art – my first EP Dreamstate was really dedicated to this in an instrumental context. So this is a nice full-circle moment where I returned to the things that inspired me to write years ago.

"I wouldn’t say it was planned, but it felt like a very natural part of the process. I’m a sucker for gated and modulated reverbs, so I guess it was meant to be."

The dreaminess and psychedelia felt like a very natural part of the process. I returned to the things that inspired me to write years ago

You play a huge array of guitars on your Instagram page. Which ones are your favorites, and which ones made it on to the EP? 

"It’s always so hard to pick just one, but two main guitars are a Suhr Classic S and a PRS McCarty 594 Hollowbody II. Between those two I can get most of the sounds I need, but for this record I primarily used the Suhr! 

"For acoustic things I have a Martin 00L-16, a Taylor GT 811e, and sometimes I’ll use an Orangewood guitar that I have set up with Nashville tuning!"

There are some great uses of effects on the EP, such as the reverbs on Waiting For You, and the lo-fi tones of the title track. Could you take us through your choices of amps, pedals and plugins? 

"Sure! For tracking, I usually use the Neural DSP Cory Wong plugin for a nice digital pedal platform and run my pedals into it. Right now, my 'board is: Sonic Research Turbo Tuner, Greer Amps Lightspeed Overdrive, JRAD Blue Note, JRAD The Dude, Boss OC-3, Dunlop Mini Volume, Strymon Flint, Strymon El Capistan and Strymon BigSky. 

"For most of my clean tones, I’m using the Blue Note to give my tone a little color but without distorting the signal. For reverbs, I’ve always been a big fan of modulated reverb – I used a TC Electronic Hall of Fame for a long time, but recently switched to the BlueSky."

Last year, you started up your side project called Felty, which is a really guitar-driven project. How do the two projects differ? 

"Felty is a really fun project for me where I collaborate with different producers to make my take on the lofi hip-hop genre. Felty is purely instrumental, and instead of being all about 'me' or athletic guitar moments, it's more about the vibe. 

Felty is purely instrumental, and instead of being all about athletic guitar moments, it's more about the vibe

"I really want that music to ride the line between something you can have on in the background and something that you can really sit down and analyze. I’m currently working on another EP with Iamalex, and I’m really stoked to put it out. 

"The music I put out under 'Horace Bray' is going to be more indie and vocal driven, but who knows how things will develop in the coming years."

You studied jazz, though you play a number of different genres. There's that pickupmusic video, for instance, that sees you shred alongside Plini and Simon Grove. How do you tackle playing in such varied styles? 

"Yeah! I studied jazz at the University of North Texas and for a long time being a modern jazz guitarist was my main thing. In college I started playing in a band called Skywindow, which was very prog-metal-meets-modern-jazz – I remember the leader of that group, Jordan Gheen, showing me Animals as Leaders one afternoon and I was immediately obsessed with them. 

"After that, I started going to a bunch of prog-metal shows and ended up meeting Plini and Aaron Marshall (Intervals) when I was playing at the Blue Note in NYC one night. We really hit it off and have stayed in touch ever since.

I never could see myself limiting my art to one genre. I've come to accept life is too short to worry about what box you fit into

"I think I end up being able to play varying styles because, when it comes down to it, I really love playing them and learning about them. I've spent a lot of time with jazz, bluegrass, metal, songwriter music, blues etc, and I go through phases where I am just living and breathing the history of the music. 

"It might just be the result of growing up with ADHD, but I never could see myself limiting my art to one genre. I’ve had a good amount of existential crises about it when I think about 'good branding', but I’ve come to accept that life is too short to worry about what box you fit into. Play all the things!"

As a prominent guitar player on Instagram, how has the social media platform helped you forge your career, and what do you think its impact has been on aspiring guitarists? 

"There is definitely a big yin and yang aspect to Instagram. I’m extremely grateful for the friends I've made, the guitarists who are a constant inspiration, and the companies I've gotten to work with. 

"It’s opened a lot of doors, but it has a dark side as well. That same source of inspiration can turn on you and lead you down a path of constantly comparing yourself to others. The trick is to really have a solid reason in regards to why you make content. 

There is a big yin and yang aspect to Instagram. Do it to make art that feels genuine. Do it to make art that pushes your abilities as a creative human

"Don’t do it to become famous, don’t do it for free gear. Do it to make art that feels genuine. Do it to make art that pushes your abilities as a creative human. 

"Make things that you are proud of that reflect you as an artist – you never know what might blow up and get your name out there!"

Do you have any ideas or plans for where you will take your sound next? 

"Oh wow, I wish I knew. I’ve been producing so much on my own recently that I think I’m going to take a year or two and really hone in the next sound. I want to do this next record completely on my own and see where the wind takes me."

Horace Bray's latest EP Fame, Fortune and Perfume is out now.