By Devon Anderson
Ray Hodge is a Queens-based indie soul-pop artist who just released his debut EP, Braveheart. Hodge is not like many musicians you may know of already, but he is one that you shouldn’t miss. He is a young, black, gay man with a wide array of musical influences ranging from Michael Jackson to System Of A Down. His love of music and performance shines through in every note he sings. Braveheart features six songs that are honest, emotional and serve as a beacon of hope for anyone who has ever gone through difficult times. Soaring singles like “I Am King” and “Voodoo” sound as though they were written and performed by someone with decades’ more experience than Hodge. It’s that kind of passion and commitment to his art that makes him a terrific musician to listen to.
We had the great pleasure of interviewing Hodge about his new EP, music, LGBT+ intersectionality and race. Navigating the world as an LGBT+ identifying person can be difficult at times, but knowing there is someone out there as wonderful as Ray Hodge makes all of the difficulties seem a little less intimidating.
Punk Out: Hey, Ray. Devon Anderson with Punk Out How are you today?
Ray Hodge:: Good. I’m good. I’m a little cold today. But, other than that, I’m good.
PO: Yeah, I feel ya. I am cold, and I have a cold, so it is like a double whammy. (laughs)
RH: (laughs) Don’t you hate that?
PO: I do.
RH: The weather here does not know what it wants to be.
PO: Are you in NYC?
RH: I am, yeah, in Queens.
PO: I was there last week, so I know right where you are. The city vibe definitely makes me want to go back. The energy and vibe is just phenomenal.
RH: Yeah, there is the crazy night life always over here. (laughs)
PO: I know that your new song out is “I am King.” And it’s so funny because the other day, I was listening to it nonstop, and I posted it to my Facebook page. And I said that I was so excited to talk to you, and a friend of mine commented on my post, thanking me for introducing her to you. She told me that “Voodoo” is her new favorite song; she found it on your Youtube page.
RH: (laughs) OH my gosh!! That’s amazing. I feel like my cheeks are on top of my head from smiling so much.
PO: Awww. It’s true, though. And I think that your sound is so strong, and your influences are so varied. It’s such a good mix of people who have influenced you, and you can tell in the music. Your voice is so emotive – and sometimes haunting – but it’s just so expressive. I love it. I have been listening to it nonstop since I found it. I am all about it.
RH: Oh wow. Thank you so much. I’m just trying to express the emotion that I feel. I am all about emotion. And, I am a big believer in what you put out can be turned into something else. And that something else can be good and positive – it doesn’t always have to be negative.
PO: No, and there is so much negativity right now. I know you released “I am King” alongside the Black Lives Matter movement, and I have to just say thank you for that. The song is amazing; the video is brilliant. I loved it. But, I know a lot of people in the BLM really latched onto that. There is so much negative that I think that a voice like yours and a message like yours is something that more people need to be exposed to.
RH: Yeah. I think that, especially with that song, it was a great time to express it. Like I was telling my manager – he was the first one to hear it when I put it on my Facebook – it was a very old version that I should put out there so that people can see it. But, when it first came to me, I put it out on my personal Facebook page so that people could hear it and know who I am. Also, I wanted to keep the song to myself and be selfish with it and say it is for me and my family. Over time, though, things started happening, and he was like, you know, you should look at what’s happening around you. And when I did, I was like, I can’t keep this. I have to let it go. I can’t hold onto it, and I can’t be selfish with it. I wanted to spread it around to people because it’s not only meant for Black Lives Matter. When I brought in the ancestors part, that’s for anyone, ya know? Because I feel like we all come from a long way for each people; it doesn’t have to be just one main group. I am a black man, but my grandmother is white. So, I don’t want to throw anything in her face, too, ya know? She’d be like, “god dang!”
PO: Yeah, your grandmother would definitely have something to say about that if you did.
RH: Yeah, she’d be like, what about me? (laughs) She always goes through this because I am black. (laughs)
PO: That’s incredible, and I think that the message behind that song, and other ones you have written and performed, is so important. I know your EP comes out on the 28th, right?
RH: Yeah, the 28th.
PO: I am super pumped about that. I am so excited. My birthday is on the 25th, so I was like, ooooo it’s a birthday present for me! I was so excited. I listened to “I am King”, and I love how your message and your lyrics are all universal. There is no black or white; it transcends the ancestry of everything. And it’s all about being proud of, and being vocal about where you come from, and I think that we need that and more of that, especially in the current political climate with things like immigration. All of the negative can be silenced by something like this song, and your other songs, that promote self power.
RH: Yeah. Definitely. You hit it right on the head. (laughs)
PO: Well, you did that. You inspired that response to the music. So, congratulations.
RH: Thank you so much.
PO: Well, I love it. I know that you’re an out black man, in terms of your sexuality. With something like this being LGBTQ History Month and all of that, and with us here at Punk Out being all about promoting LGBTQ artists and the movement through music, what was the experience like for you coming up kind of as a double minority in which you did being both black and gay? How did that influence your sound and music?
RH: Well, that’s a good question and the first I’ve ever been asked this. (laughs) Growing up, I have always known what gay is. I have always known what I was, even as a kid. Even though I grew up being raised by my grandmother because my mom was going through a hard time – my grandmother and grandfather raised both me and my brother – my mother was a lesbian. So, my thing is that my grandmother and all of the family were accepting of her, but I was still afraid because I got the sense that even though they accepted her, they didn’t want me to have a hard life. So, she would always say, “Try not to be.” When I grew up, I felt it was okay to be myself, but I also had to hide pieces of myself, too. So, I would hide it – even though people could probably tell that little Ray was what Ray was- when I was outside and amongst people, I would feel ashamed a lot. People would ask me and give me these stupid names in school like “Gay Ray” and “Ray Gay”. (laughs) It was all so stupid. It was like, I mean, I have always felt a sense of I don’t belong amongst these people because I am not like them. I have always felt a tiny bit shunned. But, at the same time, because I was so – how can I say this? – I was so expressive and had an old school approach to things. I wasn’t like, let’s go to Broadway! I was very into wisdom and stuff like that as a kid. I would always watch the movie, Little Buddha, so you could imagine the kind of stuff I was looking at as a kid. But, I was into that kind of expressions of myself. Let me be this way; if I show myself this way, then I would get acceptance and okayness to be at least this way. But, amongst kids, if you’re not cool and if you are you are. So, it wasn’t hard for me, but I felt lonely. I was alone a lot and had to learn how to be okay with just being with me.
PO: That’s really hard to grasp at a young age. Congrats to you because that is so hard for kids to understand.
RH: I’ve never been asked this question, so you’re making me think really hard back to the past. (laughs) But, when I got to high school, and even now, being gay is not that accepted yet. There is more understanding now than there was then, but acceptance is still hard to get if you’re gay. People would say, “That ni%$#@ is gay.” But, all the girls were around and talking to me because I was there. There was a great amount of people who were friends with me and cool with me that still took me under their wing and whatnot, but I still felt like my placement was defined as the other; I was not accepted with the rest of them. And in high school, I was depressed and at a breaking point from how I was treated as a kid and stuff that happened to me in my past, and I questioned if I was really wanted. Did my family really want me? Was I an abomination? That was my struggle there. For most of my life, I felt like an abomination from both sides of the spectrum and that I couldn’t turn – I had nowhere to turn to for support. And then that led me to believe that the people that wanted me around were using me either because they saw me as weak or they saw my gift and knew they could use me for things. One day, I got so depressed that I almost let myself completely go. And I didn’t see a way out. I wanted to die; I was ready to go. I held onto that feeling for years; I wanted to let go. And one day, something hit me. I don’t know what it was, but something just hit me and it said, “If you don’t like what you are yourself, first of all you need to look at yourself and see what it is you don’t like. And, then you need to change it.” So, that was all it took. I got myself together. I started liking me and who I was. I started to express myself the way I really wanted to express myself. And then I gained real friends who are still here with me to this very day.
PO: That’s wonderful.
RH: Yeah, but those people who stayed are here for me unconditionally. And it’s good because now I can be me, and be very open. But, that openness has hurt me in the past. Not so long ago, I was hanging out with friends and was being myself, very open. And a girl in the group turned to me and said, “Oh you’re one of those people – the people that others say are going to hell. Well, you are one of them, and you are going to hell.”
PO: OH no!
RH: I looked around like, did anyone else just hear that? I mean, she told me I was going to burn in hell for being me because I made a joke. And there are people like that who are still around, but I have to push past it and move on because it’s not about me with them. Me coming out was in high school. And like, everyone had seen it, and my grandmother was afraid I was gay and didn’t really want me to be like my mother and have the struggles she did and have a hard time. I told my grandma because I had an argument with my best friend, who is still my best friend to this day. We were arguing about being honest, and if I would just be honest, and he didn’t believe me. And I was afraid in his disbelief that he would just run to my house and tell my grandmother that I was gay. And I outed myself. It was the hardest thing ever. And I had to call my friend to come to my house to be there with me because I didn’t want to do it alone. I was afraid that once I did it, I would want to hurt myself after. I didn’t feel like they’d love me anymore. Less than five minutes after she was there, I started telling my grandmother, and I felt so much weight coming off of me. And after I said what I needed to say, my grandmother said, “We already knew. And we love you and support you. And I’m not going to treat you any special way. I know it will be hard, but just know that I love you; that’s not going to change.” And I was happy from that point on.
PO: That’s so great. Not everyone has that instant support. You don’t hear a lot of stories about accepting stories, especially for people of color who come out. So, you’re lucky in that regard.
RH: Yeah, in my family, we don’t talk about it like it’s not a thing. It’s not a thing we discuss, but they know who I am and respect me and I respect them. Even if we have differing opinions on things, we agree to disagree, and let it go. We come back and talk about things when we’re both stronger mentally. We don’t force it on each other. And sometimes, I want to tell them that we just have to discuss things right then, but we have that respect where wait until we can do it at a stronger time for both of us. You have to gradually do it; like it’s a process to come out and be yourself, it’s also a process for the other person to see how you are and accept that about you.
PO: It’s awesome that your family is progressive enough to let you do that in your own space. A lot of times, when someone comes out, it’s all people want to talk about. But, there are other facets to people than who they love.
RH: Right, and it’s always funny how people want to ask if you are. For me, I don’t go up to people and say, “Yes I’m gay. Let’s talk.” I think some straight people expect that, and it’s not me. I’m Ray. This is who I am, and if you’re curious, just ask me. Don’t assume everyone I bring around me is a partner. For me, I don’t need to celebrate every single moment of the day who I am. For me, I celebrated who I am when I came out. And now, I just want to live who I am on a daily basis. I don’t want to be like, “I’m gay. I’m gay. I’m gay.” I have already done that. I accept who I am, and I am happy with who I am. I feel like this is almost a gift to be this way. So, to me, it’s just like I am who I am and am happy with who I am. If you want to get close to me and be a part of me, I don’t need to talk about being gay. I don’t glorify myself to get others to accept me. I already know and feel happy and amazing about myself, and I don’t need to go above and beyond to prove myself to whomever. Others should be able to love me.
PO: Yes! And that being able to not have to prove yourself is the key, especially as an artist and someone who expresses themselves through artistic means, be it music or writing or songwriting. I know that I read you’re a self-taught musician. What was that process like, especially with knowing you felt different you’re entire life, was there a moment where you felt, “I have this gift,” or how did it come about for a kid who came from your kind of background to come into this knowledge of the gift of music alongside what you call the gift of being a gay man?
RH: There wasn’t a moment where I felt “this is what I need to do.” This goes back to when I wanted to let it all go and let go of myself. There was a lot of personal stuff I was dealing with, which I don’t want to get into, but it helped me deal with these things all in themselves. I am spiritual, but not religious, in the sense of knowing my intuition. I heard like a person speak to me in my head – and I keep saying that to myself; it sounds so strange to hear it – but this voice said, “Listen. Hear me. I have a way out. And this is what it’s going to be.” It wasn’t in those exact words, but soon after, I had someone come up to me to ask me if I did music in high school. And to make it easy, I just lied and said that I had. I had never picked up a microphone or an instrument or anything like that. But I said I was into music because I felt like I had to say it; I was compelled to say it. I started following that intuition throughout my life. If I felt something was telling me to do something, I had to do it. And it has led me every step of the way down this bigger path to accepting myself and taking me off of the dark path. When I finally sat down to try the guitar was in front of this metal band with my friends. When I started to sing, they were like, whoa. And I thought, maybe just maybe…nah. Not for me. It was so interesting because when I would sing, the emotions would just come out in the words, and when I’d play my guitar, those negative emotions would just fuse and come out of me. I felt free in that expression. These emotions were not meant to just sit on me and make me want to harm myself; they could become beautiful somethings in their own rights. And I had to let them go and be okay with letting them go. I found myself having the ability to help others, too. I was helping others empower themselves or heal themselves with the words I would come up with, and it felt incredible to know it had come from a place of negative turned positive. I was the same way with the guitar; I never thought I’d play guitar, but when I sat with it and let the emotion come out, I would follow it. And I would strum. The next thing I knew, I was making something actually that made sense. I have no idea what notes I play, but it comes out and shows me what to do with it. I just follow that spiritualness and that emotion behind it.
PO: That’s incredible that your instinct has not led you astray. You hear all these stories of people who use art to save their lives and save them from themselves; there are so many stories of that. And yours is one of sitting down and doing it and following it, and apparently, you’re following it down the right path!
RH: Yeah, I am. (laughs) It’s gotten me to a place where I am very happy where I am. If it got me this far, it will for sure get me further.
PO: Good, I am glad you said that because with the new EP coming out the 28th, what is your artistic goal after this? Do you want to tour? A full-length album? What is the future of Ray Hodge in music?
RH: To me, it’s to continue to grow and level up and help a broader audience of people. It’s the music, and it’s about the helping and expressing the love. I want to go through stuff with people and let them know that they’re okay. Ya know? And doing that stuff because I wanted that for myself; I want to make this place for us all to come into and to not be ashamed to be ourselves. Of course, I want to be one of the greats, ya know? Like, I want my sound and message to carry on with the greats like Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse… these big artists that I could go on for days about. I want to be everlasting like that. And not because I want to be great; it’s because I want to leave something behind that will resonate from generation to generation to generation. I want to become a tradition of people that when they’re going through something, they have to listen to that Ray Hodge song. And I want to convey this to the people and to the next person. I am tired of people having no one and being alone. Loneliness can be crippling, and I want to let my life be a light in the dark. I know that place; I have been there. And to this day, I still suffer with depression. It’s a battle for me every other day sometimes. And sometimes the sadness of everyday life impacts me, and I have to lay down here on the floor and let people throw their dirt on me and let me go that way. Or, I have to climb my way out and go into myself and find a way to help the next person. Ya know? I want to work with it to help other people. I have enough music to make a full-length album, but I think I’d do another EP and then full-length. I would love to tour – so far I do local shows – but I’m planning on a tour. I just don’t know when or where yet.
PO: I think the message is one that will cross generations because it is one we need to hear all the time. It’s not trendy, or hip, it’s not what the kids are doing. It’s timeless in the way that we all need to hear what is happening with this music, and we all need the words you produce. And to feel them all the time.
PO: So, as an artist that speaks to the people through his emotions and builds upon them to create art as they relate to the LGBTQ community, what specifically do you do to improve the lives of LGBT people?
RH: Well, really, the only thing I can say about that is by admitting that we exist, and that I am gay myself, I am existing in that space. I haven’t done anything specific or huge like I would like to for my LGBTQ family. I haven’t been in the community long enough to understand as much as they do; but, in saying this, I am learning.
PO: Ooh, I like that. I am sure you will have ample opportunities to do just that. Now, piggybacking on that, what is your opinion on the intersection of race, sexuality, gender identity?
RH: As a gay black man, I support all communities because at the end of the day, it’s all about equality and human rights. No matter your sexual orientation, no matter your gender, whatever you identify as, we are all human and deserve equal rights.
PO: That makes sense. One world, one love, one people kind of thing. Now, back to the music. What is your writing process like for the lyrics? Do the lyrics come out of the music? Do you have things written you haven’t released?
RH: I can tell you that right now. I have a lot; I want to give you my computer, two ipods, and my phone. I am working on things all the time for the next thing to come. And there is so much. The most natural process for me is to create a musical sense and listen to it, and then I start writing or randomly singing, and the things come out. The words go with the music organically like that. I write the lyrics from there. There are times when I play a song, and a concept comes to me in images, like a video or a situation, and I write from that and turn it into words. Or, I will let my friend throw a word at me to go with a song, and I’ll write from it and turn it into a song. I can write up a lot of songs in a day if I have music. I like to practice other things as well; I work with Mikey, he’s an EDM artist, and he’ll throw me a song over, and I can throw it right back to him. I like working like that and learning new avenues I haven’t known before or experienced. Music is like a garden; you have to nurture it, and you don’t want it to die. So, you have to practice and cultivate it in a way that helps it thrive. Ya know?
PO: I love it. The process when it happens organically and not forced is the best way to write. When it comes to your inspirations, you list a wide variety of people influencing you. Who influences you now?
RH: There are so many! I have been listening to Sia, Adele, Amy Winehouse, The Weeknd, Above and Beyond, Aurora, Coldplay, Corinne Bailey Rae, Florence and Machine, Cold, Atlantis, Japanese House, Meshuggah, Between the Buried and Me, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga… the list goes on and on and crosses all kinds of genres. I listen to everything.
PO: The catalog you pull from for influences is awesome. A lot of folks only pull from their own genre, but you really have everyone involved with your sound, and you can tell that in your music. And you’re undefined since you’re everything.
RH: Yeah, I play things as they come to me, and for some reason, I can’t keep myself in one genre. I still go through natural phases. I can write a jazz ballad one day, and then toss in some R&B, pop, or metal… I come from all that and love all types of music. I listen to folk and write a folk song that turns out to be pop.
PO: And then you’re like, “No, that’s not it!” (laughs)
RH: (laughs) Yea, that’s not what I was going for! It works, though. Every day I learn something new. I do something new, and something will come and inspiration is everywhere, really. It’s all in what I experience.
PO: And that’s beautiful. Thank you so much for your time; it’s been such a pleasure to talk to you.
RH: Oh my goodness, thank you, and you, too. It’s been great. Thank you.
Ray Hodge has so much love to give, and fans are only receiving a small portion of what he has to offer on Braveheart. He has a long, fruitful music career ahead of him, so be sure to keep an eye out otherwise you might miss out on a truly wonderful musician and human being.
Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed on our Artist Corner and Blog are exclusively of the author and do not reflect the views and opinions of Punk Out as an organization.