Lady Wray Proves That She’s a Strong Woman on ‘Queen Alone’ Album [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Second chances are hard to come by. However, when you’re a determined artist like Nicole Wray, you take them and run. Back in the late 90s, Wray did a feature on Missy Elliott’s Supa Dupa Fly and was eventually signed with Elliott’s imprint The Goldmine.
After the success of her 1998 debut album, Make It Hot, which peaked at number five on the Billboard 200 album chart but also went gold, the then 15-year-old Wray made it. However by 2001, her time with Elliott neared its end. Undeterred, Wray was set making things happen. However, after a number of other failed deals, including one with the former Roc-A-Fella Records, it seemed like a sign to leave the business altogether. But these obstacles gave her the drive to move forward, took control of her career and went the independent route.
The Boombox chatted with Ms. Wray, who now goes by Lady Wray, while she was in New York to open for BadBadNotGood and Lee Fields. Meeting at The Roxy Hotel, Wray opened up about her new album, Queen Alone, navigating the indie route and what’s next for her in 2017?
The Boombox: How were your shows in New York?
Lady Wray: The shows were good. I did Summerstage with BadBadNotGood. It was a jazz artist, industry situation, but it was fun. They killed. It was really good in there. Then I turned around, and I opened for Lee Fields for his album release. It was off the chain. It was big, big energy. Before that I just got off a European tour with Lee Fields, and that was pretty dope. Nice crowds. It’s been nice getting back into the scene and sharing my gift and let the world know I’m still singing and having fun. And who else better to do it other than Lee Fields?
How is it touring with him?
LW: You know, when I play with Lee, something in my mind goes, “You’ve made it.” You know, back in the day, there’s that 60s, 70s vibe. I’m feeling like I’m in a time capsule and catapulted into the time. I just feel that energy, and it’s good. It’s live. Everybody loves Lee, and the energy is amazing.
It’s interesting that you say that you’re taken back to another time because that’s the feeling I get from your music. Is that the vibe you’re going for?
LW: I guess I came on the scene, first it was Truth and Soul [Records] and now Big Crown [Records], it was the sound I always wanted as a kid. I grew up in church, and I’m used to having the choir and some real singing going on behind you. I kind of got started with the R&B thing first, but I started with church. So this is the closest I can get to those memories and that feeling. And I think I’m still me. I’m still the Nicole Wray that everyone knows, but I kind of evolved into something that’s more consistent, along with my age and who I am now. To sing alongside Lee Fields, Expressions, El Michels Affair, they bring that special thing. I feel like my voice goes with the live, real, raw, organic talent. So I didn’t change much. I just grew into what I wanted to be.
During the time you were working with Missy Elliott, you were young and learning the business. How do you feel that experience shaped how you are as an artist and being a veteran in the business?
LW: True, true, true indeed. I think all of the setbacks that I’ve encountered in journey prepared me for this moment -- the independent moment. My first big deal was signing with Missy Elliott, and I was in high school when my album dropped. I remember being in the cafeteria and telling everybody that I know Missy Elliott and I know Lil' Kim and Bad Boy artists. Nobody believed me. So here I am in the cafeteria, and they let us watch BET at my school. And I’m coming out with my tray, and my video [started playing] on TV. Everybody went crazy, and they were like, “Oh my god, she wasn’t lying.” And I was like, “Really?” [Laughs.] I couldn’t believe it.
But I think the setbacks helped me become a better writer. It helped me work well with other artists because it’s so easy to be a diva. It’s so easy to understand that you have everything thrown to at your feet. I had things thrown to me and had things taken away from me. And I’m humble about that. I’m an adult now. I think I’ve always [felt like] an adult, but everything was coming at me so fast. So really, it was a lot of pressure. But I didn’t understand that as pressure because when you’re young, you’re naive, you do what you love and what you dream. But all that prepared me for the independent scene and getting back to all of this. It’s getting me back to my natural roots and doing what I like, which is really singing. I really love to sing. I really do enjoy it.
Queen Alone is dubbed your “second debut” because now you’re presenting yourself as Lady Wray. Did releasing Queen Alone feel similar to the way you felt when you released Make It Hot?
LW: I think it was different. Make It Hot came out when I was young. I was in school doing work and keeping up with my grades. Everything was happening so fast; so I wasn’t developed mentally for the music business. And now I’m an adult. I know what’s going on, what’s behind the scenes. You couldn’t tell me anything back then. I didn’t understand back then. It was, “You need to do this. You need to be there. You need to learn these songs.” But now I’m writing my own music. I’m handling a lot of things on my own, and I make sure to stay consistent. And with the Queen Alone album, I think it’s more me and who I am. When I was young, it was what everyone else had in mind. But being older and being with a label that’s so awesome and so dope, it’s a joy.
If there was something you could have told Nicole back then, what would tell her now?
LW: Wow. I would tell the young Nicole not to take things so serious, and trust in your gut. Trust in your gut, have fun and don’t take people too seriously, and don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s a dream you want to come to fruition, but things happen. So run with the punches and stay focused. That’s what I would tell the young Nicole.
What was the most memorable song to work on for Queen Alone?
LW: Probably it would be “In Love (Don’t Mess Things Up).” I think it’s such a cute song. So when we’re in the studio, we jam for a minute. They have some production stuff done. But you pretty much go in raw. They have a mic set up, and people would just start falling in there. Then I came up with the lyrics, and I feel like the register that day, I could do it. My voice was at its peak. Then you start touring, you get horse a lot and put a strain on your vocals. And so I think the song is a beautiful song. But it is one of those songs I stray away from live because it’s just up there in there. But I love the message because I’ve been in relationships before where I would tell, “I’m telling you don’t do this. Because if you do this to me, I’m going to be out of here. And I promise you just stay cool. You’re cool. We’re cool, and we can have a beautiful thing together. But if you go over here and do that, I’m just letting you know. That’s it. Bye bye time.”
What’s “Smiling” about?
LW: “Smiling” is about southern hospitality. It’s family-oriented, love, friendship and stuff, it’s not really too deep. We go through a lot of things in life, and it’ll blow over. So smile at the things we can smile about.
What’s next for you?
LW: I’ll be back on the road. I’ll be going to Barcelona for Primavera Sound Festival. I’m working on a new album with Big Crown. I’m just out here having fun. I’m just out here to have fun. I’m glad to be back and be along the ride with some great musicians that understand the story. They get it. It’s not like we have to try to figure me out. It’s like, “Get me here, and let’s get going.” So I’m so excited for what’s to come.
Last question. If you could put one wish into the world for 2017, what would it be?
LW: Wow. One wish for this year would be to have everyone love a little bit harder. Try to love and learn to love. That’s my wish.