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It’s likely that by the time my children are of a concert-going age I’ll constantly boast about the time I once interviewed Jack Gray. The 22-year-old from Mackay, Queensland is on an unstoppable career trajectory. Yet the singer-songwriter is, as far as timelines go, still in his introductory period. He has honed his craft in both guitar and vocals since his youth, but Gray as a rightful headliner is only just beginning to emerge.

When he arrives at our shoot, he’s immediately personable and thoughtfully engaged. He greets the whole crew with smiles and laughs. The make-up artist comments on his pink denim shirt. “It was white two days ago!” he reports. “I washed it with a red sock, and then it came out like this. I was, like, cool!” Flanking the neckline of this accidental outerwear – a long string of white pearls. “I found them at my manager’s house, so I put them on.” He makes the look sing, pardon the pun. This kid is cool.

Gray is certifiably grounded. Beyond his burgeoning musical career he has a purposeful outlook on life, one that would usually go hand-in-hand with a much older industry stalwart. Perhaps this is a secret ingredient to his gravitational quality, that paired with with his obvious talent, his humility remains core. Gray’s music is a rosy blend of husky, self-written prose blended with contemporary tunes. Electric-pop songs like My Hands, Red Rental Car and, most recently, Selfish, employ snappy loops, thoughtful lyrics and illustrative guitar riffs. The fact that Gray is both self-produced and curator of his words and music makes him part of a new-old wave. A generation of performers revelling in the second coming of the triple threat – writing, singing and producing.

“For me personally, I don’t wanna hear a perfectly curated pop song where the concept and lyrics are so vague that any great vocalist could sing on it. I want to hear the story and the details and I want to feel like they wrote it. It’s my favourite thing about an artist when I can sense that.”

In 2019 Gray toured with Australian hit maker Dean Lewis, someone whose unique, pop-folk sound is synchronistic with his own. Lewis, too, is the antithesis of churn and burn pop culture. The tour was crucial to Gray’s star rising and to increasing his exposure. This year and last, however, Gray has been using the lockdowns to write songs and perform intimate gigs around the country. His commitment to music in its all-encompassing, sometimes overwhelming, form is deep-rooted. Gray grew up surrounded by encouraging, musical family members, first picking a guitar when he was six years old, finding it among his father’s antiquities.

“I was surrounded by music my whole life.. and it’s such a beautiful thing, how could you not fall in love with it? At the same time, my parents never forced it upon me, they let me learn to love it on my own which I think is super cool. I have friends that hated music in school because their parents [forced] them to do lessons and they despised it, [either because] they had a shitty teacher or they just weren’t ready, you know? That’s a tragedy to me.”

Such conscientious attention to his vocation has seen Gray become methodical in his approach to songwriting. It’s something he’s been able to acuminate and, in turn, repurpose for teaching. This is a unique talent. To be able to externally recognise your art so succinctly that you’re able to pass it on is not an innocuous byproduct of songwriting. Therefore, his participation in upcoming series Arts & Minds: Back Yourself is to his credit. The series, that will air later this year, follows the journey of a group of underprivileged teens from Brisbane. The young men and women, who have been faced with immeasurable challenges in their childhoods, have rarely experienced an opportunity to rise above and look to the future. Orchestrated through the amazing work of Anglicare Southern Queensland, the participants were paired with accomplished musicians like Gray to help unearth their talents and encourage them into their own ability. They are coached in everything from writing to musical composition to recording in the studio.

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“Every one of them had their own unique story and way of expressing it. The fact that it was their first time in a studio, writing a song and being filmed like that, it blows my mind how they handled everything. And their talent is just crazy. I think the most surprising thing was how funny and positive the kids were. They have all had incredibly difficult journeys in their short time on this earth which I guess forced them to grow up faster than other kids. But they were so positive. And hilarious. We had such a great time over the week.”

Gray is earnest and genuine in his praise for Anglicare and the teens involved in the program. He tells me how lucky he feels to be just starting out in his career yet already be in a position to give back. “It was the most amazing and eye-opening experience. Like I was saying before, I feel so privileged to have been surrounded by music from such an early age. I never had to think about what I wanted to do with my life because I already knew.. to be able to show these kids that this path is possible and that it can be a reality it if they work hard enough was so special. It’s very important to me that I give back in any way that I can because I was so fortunate.”

During our shoot day, Gray is relaxed and charismatic. He poses for the photographs with easy precision and delivers his to-camera biogprahy with charm, despite the dulcet tones of a local garbage truck causing at least ten re-takes. This easygoing, team-playing nature will serve Gray well for what will surely be a lasting career. Right now he’s busy working on an album, editing back a great number of songs he’s been inspired to write and record over last few years. “There is literally nothing else that I’m remotely good at. I think I’d be so lost without music and the idea of a normal job scares the life out of me. It’s all about longevity for me. Every decision I make. It’s not an easy career to make last a lifetime, so I’m constantly thinking about that and trying to stay grateful every day that I get to do music.”

Gray is excitedly anticipatory about the upcoming television series, too. He leant his writing methods and music orchestration to the teens, and he’s so proud of what they have achieved. He mentions one girl who was reserved in the start, she appeared shut off and reluctant to trust the mentors. But, by the end she blooms, even revealing some immense, raw talent, he tells me. “After the week, they were hooked up with some recording gear so they could keep writing music. So they’ve been sending through songs and the other mentors and I have been blown away with what they’ve been coming up with.”

Before we finish chatting, the fashion director motions to a bicycle that Gray will ride in the shoot. But she realises the chain has come loose. Without thinking, Gray jumps up and gets to work fixing it back to the derailleur. He’s seems not to be worried about ruining his bespoke pink shirt, but he’d probably make the grease look just as chic anyway.

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A FINAL THOUGHT…

What would you tell your 10 year old self if you could go back in time?

“Get a laptop as soon as you can and learn to produce. I wish I knew how important that would be. I mean I started doing it in high school which is pretty young but the earlier the better. And be patient. Nothing happens overnight.”

READ MORE: ‘THE WAY FORWARD’ FEATURING CAITLIN FIGUEIREDO, LISA FATNOWNA, JACK GRAY & NATHAN MCGUIRE

Photographer: Steven Popovich 
ICON Fashion Director: Kim Payne 
Videography: Harry Glassborow
Hair & Makeup: Pinky 
Hair & Makeup Assistant: Christopher Byrne 
Fashion Assistant: Chrystalla Phylactou

thoughts?