Porter Ray’s story has not been full of sunshine and roses. The lyrics to his songs paint the picture of a life fraught with drama and tragedy. Lucky for us, Ray has the courage to write about these experiences, shedding light on his own tragedy, and in turn exposing all of our vulnerabilities as a society. Ray began his journey as an artist, turning pain into beauty, and beauty into profit, in 2013, releasing three incredible albums in one year. His label, Seattle’s own world-famous SubPop, describes Ray’s artistic journey from pain to beauty. “He found refuge in his notebooks . . . they started to give what he actually needed. Within them Porter Ray found Blk Gld and mined it, stumbled upon Wht Gld and purified it, gave us Rse Gold and we rocked it.” More releases followed, which led up to Ray’s newest album.
From Seattle’s Central District, the same streets that brought us Sir Mix-A-Lot and Quincy Jones, Ray’s newest release Watercolor, out March 10, captures the layered vibes of the neighborhood precisely. The trippy production on this masterpiece is complex, and even if Ray didn’t make near-constant cannabis references, which he does, the sound of his music alone would tip you off to some psychedelic undertones. Before his album was released, and his life got too crazy, Ray was gracious enough to chat with CULTURE about his life, his music and his love for herb.
“Artists have been talking about smoking weed, or using reefer forever. Making songs to legalize weed, and trying to rally around that . . . I feel like that has an effect on the listeners where they are being more interested in, or more open to the lyrics, and different ideas.”
When did you get started in music?
I got started in music, like in terms of recording my own music, towards the end of high school. Yeah, I recorded for the first time my senior year. It was actually at my friend’s mom’s house, in her basement, on his equipment. Before that, in high school and even in middle school, I was always writing a lot of music; just writing a lot in general.
Where are you from?
Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, in the Central District.
Who are your musical influences?
A lot of jazz. Miles Davis, John Coltrane. A lot of hip-hop, guys like Nas, Mos Def; obviously Ishmeal and Shabazz from Digable Planets. There was a group called Narcotic from Seattle in my neighborhood, and the MC’s name was Infinite—I was heavily influenced by Narcotic. I grew up listening to everything. My parents had soul, R&B and rock albums. My mom was really into The Beatles, but hip-hop and jazz too.
Has Seattle’s cannabis-entrenched culture impacted your sound, style or creative process in any way?
Yeah, in a sense it has. Artists have been talking about smoking weed, or using reefer forever and making songs to legalize weed, and trying to rally around that. And now it’s becoming legal in a lot of places. So I feel like that has an effect on the listeners where they are being more interested in, or more open to the lyrics and different ideas. They are more open-minded, and comfortable with themselves when they’re smoking trees. And for me, it makes my music more laid back, more introspective.
What is some of your favorite music to listen when you’re consuming cannabis?
Earth Wind and Fire’s That’s the Way of the World, “Rasta Man” by Bob Marley, and just reggae in general.
You’ll be able to catch Porter Ray live this spring all over Washington! Watercolor’s album release party is March 8 at Barboza in Seattle. Ray will also be playing at Fisherman’s Village Festival in Everett on March 31 and at Sasquatch! in Quincy on May 26.