Interview: Ray Mann Art Exhbition ~ 3D World, Sydney

The Ray Mann Three’s jack of all trades Ray Wassef has nearly seen and done it all, but displaying his art publicly is unfamiliar terrain. He talks Soul and scrutiny with Tristan Burke…

Used to singing, songwriting, managing and booking for the Ray Mann Three, founder Ray Wassef’s schedule doesn’t generally have time for nerves. Yet preparing to showcase a selection of sketches, designs and films crafted over four years for the trio in a dedicated exhibition, the Sydney neo-soulster is feeling the fear.

“It’s terrifying,” he concedes, “like playing a first gig all over again. I don’t have the thick skin about this yet that I’ve developed over time with my music. With the music if someone has any criticism to make I’ll take it onboard; with the art it’s like, ‘if you don’t like it, that’s okay… uh, look over there’!”

Check out his $50 shoestring videos – the Saul-Bass-on-a-budget aesthetic of Opa Opa, or the trio playing almost spectral backdrop for the frenzied feet of dancer Etoile Marley in Hook Me Up – and you’ll see he needn’t worry; Wassef’s artistic merits certainly aren’t ambiguous.

As laidback in conversation as his silken tones are in song, Ray is perfectly accustomed to creating with limited finances and time, laying down his eponymous debut album in a tidy three days. It was a daunting proposition which precipitated retiring his lead guitar services for soul-funk collective Kid Confucius.

“Looking down the barrel at recording the first album, totally independently and self-financed, I thought, ‘this is the fi rst solo album I’ve ever done, so I’m going to need my headspace to be in that’,” he explains. “Once the Kid tour ended I made the call. It was more that than anything artistic or musical – the Ray Mann Three’s my baby; it was the only decision I could make.”

While recognising the constraints in effect, Wassef modestly credits plentiful preparation for their overcoming, even applauding the process for lending the LP its appealingly imperfect quality. “To make those three days happen we spent months working out what we were going to do, so by the time we got into the studio we all knew what needed to happen. Maybe it meant we weren’t as adventurous as we could have been, but there was something exciting about only having one or two takes to get it right, then moving on regardless.”

Playing the tracks in a live environment has brought its own set of challenges. While the Ray Mann Three is an outfi t that, by its leader’s defi nition, operates on a can-do spirit that’s “built into the dynamic of the band,” it’s a special act that can gel together on stage after moonlighting with others. Former Drummer Bart Denaro juggled duties with Kid Confucius, before his replacement by Grant Gerathy, while in August bassist Byron Luiters announced he would also be playing with the John Butler Trio.

“Just like juggling two acts became too diffi cult for me, so it became for Bart,” Ray clarifi es of his departure. “But because the line-up’s changed a bit over the years, I’m used to us coming together from time apart or work on other projects. It may take us a couple of shows to get it back together, but once we do it’s pretty exciting.”

Improvisation as necessity might confound some musicians, yet it appears to just come naturally to the Ray Mann Three. Though reiterating his vulnerability in regards to his art, Wassef equally admits to be nostalgically digging the rush of a new ‘fi rst time.’ “There’s no way to speed up development better than the scrutiny of attention,” he says philosophically. Cats don’t come much cooler.

Original Article: 3D World

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