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Interview: Ray Volpe talks new EP, dropping out of school, workflow

We had the opportunity to chat with Ray Volpe before he announced his No Emotion Allowed EP. Ray came as a recommendation from Borgore, who shouted out the 20-year-old producer in a previous Pariah Reign interview. In this in-depth conversation, Ray shares his experience with being bullied in high school, overcoming his anxiety, breaking through creative blocks, and plans for the future.

Please enjoy this far-reaching conversation with Ray Volpe.

Enter: Ray Volpe

Pariah Reign (PR): Pariah Reign is all about telling underdog stories. What’s yours?

Ray Volpe (RV): I'm not really a good example of an underdog, but if I had to pick something, I would say this:

There was a time where when I was a junior in high school, and my Honors English teacher had us write a paper on what we wanted to do with our lives. She said we could pick anything, so I picked electronic music. I picked making music. I picked being a producer, an artist.

I picked that because, at that point, I had been making music from seventh grade all the way to eleventh grade. It already had been a few years, and things were starting to take off a little bit. It was when I was working on Rottun [Recordings] with Excision and all that, but after the “Thrift Shop” remix took off. It was after I was working with Kairos Audio, Dirt Monkey and Jantsen's label, and things were starting to go well for me.


 

So I wrote this two-page paper on it, and she actually failed me because of the subject of my paper. It wasn't because of the material. I did MLA format, worded it nicely--everything was fine. It was just the material, the subject that I chose. She didn't approve that I wanted to be an artist.

PR: Did you ever get the chance to tell her you now are doing the thing she thought was too unrealistic?

RV: I haven't even heard from her since. She actually ended up getting fired because she was a really bad teacher. But that being said, she told me that I had to pick something a little bit more realistic and I shouldn't expect to go anywhere with music. Now, music is something I can do full time, which is really incredible.

PR: Music has been a deep part of your life for a long time. Has your connection to music changed over the period of your career?

RV: It's changed in the sense that you open your eyes to more things about the industry. You see how things work and how they differ from one another. But the way that I feel about the music has not changed. I still love electronic music. I still love all music. I'm very passionate about it, and that's never gonna change no matter what. I'm going to keep making all the types of music I like making the most.

PR: You’ve mentioned before that in 2012, you fell into this group of producer friends. Can you tell the story of how you met them?

RV: Basically, it was back on this forum. I met this guy named Teknim and he was really nice, really cool. I remember him saying he had a Skype group, and he invited me into it. There were like maybe under 20 people, probably closer to 10-15 in there.

So I get into the Skype group and people are there. We had producers like Tucker Kreway, who's a really good friend of mine. He's a major underdog, up-and-comer; he's great. Dion Timmer was in there. Tisoki was in there. There was a kid in there who goes by Apriskah who's now putting out songs on Monstercat as of recent, which is awesome. There was a lot of talented people in this group. 

It's actually funny. I actually hated Tisoki and Tisoki hated me. We didn't get along really well. I was mainly close with Dion [Timmer] and Tucker [Kreway] at the time. But then, being in that group every day, Tisoki and I ended up talking more and became very close friends. Now he's my best friend. It's very interesting to think how well that group is doing now.

PR: Do you think that there's value in having a group like that to keep each other motivated and to keep working on things?

RV: I think it could help. I think it could definitely help. It's good to be around a solid group of people where everybody is determined and passionate about the same thing. You don't want to be around people whose idea of networking is just getting fucked up and partying every night. That's not going to get you really anywhere. It might get you somewhere short-term, but eventually, it's gonna screw you over.

You want to do things the right way. You want to make these connections the right way. You want to meet the right people. You want to be around people that want the same goals as you and have the same genuine passion for music as you do. Because there are so many people, especially today, that are joining the bandwagon of becoming a music producer or DJ because, "Oh, we can make money doing this," or like, "Oh, there's drugs here. Oh, there's girls here."

There's a lot of that and it’s starting to become a thing. It's not anything that's a main problem with any big artist, it's just like a lot of people are starting to join. They're like, little locals who are like, "Oh shit, this could be a thing." It’s not all new locals, of course, but it's just an ongoing problem that could affect things later on.

You want to be friends with people that are cool. You want to be around people that share the same goals and have the same intentions. Because some people don't have the same intentions. There are people that will use you and take advantage of you at the first second that they can. You don't want that.

PR: Looking back at your career, what were the major stepping stones that have gotten you to where you are today?

RV: I’d say one of the main things was putting out this bootleg “Thrift Shop” remix back in 2012. It was the first year that I even started the Ray Volpe project--which is my real name. A lot of people think it's not, but it is.

So I put out that remix, and ended up getting like a million plays on Youtube, and maybe another million off of other uploads because the other uploads had multiple hundreds of thousands of plays as well. It was really crazy for me because I've never seen that many numbers on a song of mine.

The next main point I would say is when Jantsen and Dirt Monkey became interested in me and I started working with their label a bit. They’re such household names, classic names. Dirt Monkey has started to do really well now too, which is awesome to see.

Then, I worked on Excision’s label very briefly. I did an EP is called Skull Island and Excision was supporting me, which I think really helped as well.

It was just those three things that really shot me onto people's radars and it led me to where I am now. I ended up gaining support from other people like Dillon Francis, Diplo, and Marshmello.

PR: You’ve mentioned that contacting a bunch of friends at blogs was a pivotal strategy in your Bipolar EP’s success. But not many producers know how to build those relationships or contact bloggers in the first place. How did you make those influential friends?

RV: Well basically it started the same way as a lot of people start these connections, which is, I used to email my songs like crazy to blogs and YouTube channels.

I would just send my song. It would get rejected I would say, “Alright.”

But here's the thing a lot of people don't understand: just because your song gets rejected does not mean that they don't like you. It just means that they don't necessarily like the song. Maybe it doesn't even mean they didn’t like the song; sometimes the song just doesn't fit the blog or whatever the platform is looking for wherever their direction is going.

So keep sending your songs. When you have new songs, send, send everything you can.

I just kind of did that and eventually ended up becoming pretty good friends with the guys at NEST HQ. I became friends with the guys at YourEDM. You’re just getting the connections because you're emailing back and forth. When you start working with each other and work with each other on multiple releases, you end up getting to know these people--especially if you take the initiative to get to know them on a personal level.

To me, it's not just a business thing. I care about these people. I have my friend Jordan [Mafi] at Nest HQ, I have Matt [Meadow] at YourEDM. It's easy when you just actually care. If you're not just about blowing up and you actually care, you can make good friends doing this.

And I was like, "Yeah guys, I have this EP; this is what I want to do with it." And they were all really stoked on it, which was really cool. I'm very, very grateful for them.

PR: This question is a bit more tactical. Imagine you just down at your DAW. What’s the first thing you do?

RV: Probably go into another project that's a random work-in-progress and just drag that project in to tear it apart. I feel like I never start from scratch anymore; I'm always recycling work in progresses that no one's ever heard. I'm recycling stuff, but the viewers and listeners have never heard it, so it's not really that recycled compared to some people who will recycle stuff that you've already heard from them. But I just will go into a random project that I haven't worked on for like a year and I'm like, "All right, let's see what I have here. Wait, this sounds kinda cool!" And then I'll start messing with that. 

Then, I’ll go in and I'll add the drums and stuff. Usually, my process goes: drops, drums, and then intro, in that order.

PR: Do you have any tips for producers to make more interesting drums?

RV: Oo, I wish I did because here's the thing: people are very much sticklers about drum samples. But I just go in, find good samples and use those. When I make my packs, like when I made my pack for Splice, I'll actually create the samples myself.



But when I'm just making songs, I find good drum samples that sound good to me, whether that's a Vengeance [Sound] snare, whether that's a Cymatics snare. They get a lot of shit but they have good drums. It doesn't really matter where it's coming from. When it comes to your drums and effects, it doesn't matter. People get really crazy about it and yeah, I just find good sounding snares and claps.

I'll layer claps and I'll layer snares sometimes. I do layer more when I am actually creating snares, of course. To get a good transient in a snare, I'll use [Ableton] Operator, something that Tucker Kreway taught me. I can use this nice low-end from a snare and get a really thick transient through Operator and some processing. Then, I’ll add some noise for the tail. It creates a really nice snare. Everything I've learned about making drums is from him; so shoutout to Tucker Kreway.

PR: Do you have any tips for people to go ahead and to fight creative block and hammer through their projects when they aren't feeling inspired?

RV: Do the opposite of hammering through that and just take a break. Get away from your laptop. Go take a shower--your mind does wonders when you're in a shower. It sounds wrong, but I mean it in a pure way.

Your mind is working subconsciously when you're not working on music. You're constantly thinking of things and when you're not forcing it, so it’s much easier to come back to you. There will be times where I'm sitting there, I'm like, “All right, I have nothing else.” 

So I'll just go on a binge, watch a show on Netflix or Hulu, and then I'll come back like, "Oh yeah, I've got this now."

So obviously just don't force it, or go ahead and stop working on that project and start a different project in a completely different genre. So if you're working on a riddim banger, go make some bluegrass. It'll help, surprisingly. If you're making dubstep and you're having trouble, go make a progressive house tune or make a piano melody that's soft and sad. Do something different than what you're already working on and it will help.

PR: Earlier in this interview you mentioned that people can get into the music for the wrong reasons. Do you think people’s motivations can change?

RV: It's not exactly black and white--it's all a gray area at the end of the day.

I love making music. I'm very happy that I can do this as a job, you know. But it's not why I initially signed up for this, and I think that's important. I think that as long as your primary goal, your primary love, your drive is for the music itself, I feel like it's okay. If the money wasn't doing it for me later on, I wouldn't quit. I still would make music. I feel like most of these artists would continue too because it's so much fun to do, and the shows are so much fun to play.

Yeah. I think people's motivations change. It's like a common conspiracy theory or something that when you go to L.A., you start to change as a person because you're around such a different music atmosphere. But I mean, I stayed there pretty often, and I feel like I'm the same annoying person I've always been.

PR: You’ve mentioned before that you skipped over being a local artist and went straight to touring. How did you do that? Would you recommend that for other people?

RV: It's funny because a lot of that was actually driven by anxiety. I have major anxiety. I know that sounds like the most relatable story ever, because everybody in 2018 does have anxiety, but it's something I've dealt with for a long time. I was bullied a lot in school. I had a lot of depression. I was anxious about most things.

I didn't have stage fright because I performed in the past for school stuff. But I was anxious just going out, travelling, and playing shows. Playing my music for people? It was something I was not on board with, at first.

On top of that, I was in a spot where I already had a decent fan base once I dropped out of high school. I knew that if I waited this out, I could be in a spot where I didn't need to be playing these shows where I'm playing at doors or I'm selling tickets to even play.

So, I waited things out as long as I could and kept building my fan base. I worked on music, put music out, and kept building those numbers. I got to a place where there was demand for me to play these shows: people were wondering why Ray Volpe is not on the lineups that they saw.

I felt like that was the best way to go about it. Thankfully, once I got involved with my management, they convinced me to start doing these shows, finally. And I was able to skip the line and start off most shows that at a direct support level.

PR: You also mentioned that you were very against getting management. Your manager Klint [Johnson], had to convince you several times until you said yes. Why were you originally against getting management?

RV: Klint definitely did. He definitely did. It took eight months, I think. It was like January to August or so until it went down.  

I didn't think management was necessary because up until then I did all of that myself. The Bipolar EP? I did all that myself. I did everything about the promotion myself, and it did really well for where I was at. I didn't think management was something I needed. I thought that I could just be independent the whole time. I'm still an independent artist still now; I don't release on any record labels exclusively. I just didn't think management was something I necessarily needed.

Eventually, Klint convinced me and was like, "Yo, we can do this trial thing."

And I was like, "All right, let's do the trial."

He came to me very shortly after like, "Okay, never mind the trial, but that's because we're actually partnering up with SLVYVLL."

I was like "Okay, fuck it. Let's do it."

The thing about Klint, all jokes on social media aside: that guy helps me get over the anxious tendencies I have. He will convince me to do things and push me out of my box, and that's something I will always thank him for.

I used to not be someone that wanted to get on the mic, and then I remember when I was in LA and played direct support at the Fonda [Theater] for Getter's “What the Frick” tour. Klint was just like, "Go, get on the mic on a bunch. Just do what you feel and go with it." The way he talked about it was really helpful.

I apparently did well and I was so excited about it. I was like, "Fuck yeah, this is great."

I have a lot to thank Klint for pushing me out of my comfort zone. A lot of people like to think, "Ray's changed on social media. He used to be quiet and stuff." No, I was never quiet. The way I act on social media is the way I've always acted in real life with my friends; I was just too scared to ever show it up until I joined SLVYVLL and they helped crack me out of this box I was in.

PR: When then would you recommend producers look for management?

RV: I would recommend for them to keep their options open and let management come to them. That's the best way, because if they want you, they will bend for you. You can ask for things, not crazy things like an Audi. But you can say, "Well I need time getting together some music.”

They'll wait for you, and they're going to work around you because they want to work with you. They believe in your project. If you're going out and seeking management, I feel like it’s easier for you to be taken advantage of, which isn't good for anybody at the end of the day.

I was six-and-a-half years into making music before I was finally picked up management. So that was when it was for me. It's different now. Everyone's in like kind of like this fast food drive-thru sense with music. There are people that are just jumping in left and right that are starting to do well because there are schools like ICON [Collective] that boost you through the starting process. There are not a lot of overnight sensations, but there are a lot of people that just kind of start really popping off out of nowhere because of repost groups and stuff like that. So those people might not need to wait six years to get management. But if you're doing it the old-school organic way, it will take longer.

Either way, just wait for management to come to you.

PR: Do you feel any more self-reliant and confident now that you’ve successfully sung over many of your songs?

RV: Yeah, I think so. I'm not nervous about singing anymore. I don't get anxious about it. I get excited about it if anything. I like being able to do that. It's not something I'm going to do on every single song, but it's something that I will be doing overall. I also wouldn't expect it during a set, just because I'm not a live act. I like just DJing the shows and getting on the mic and being stupid.

PR: How would you describe your vocal style?

RV: I would say very emo, post-hardcore-influenced. You have bands like Memphis May Fire, Of Mice & Men. Let's get really scene kid for a second: Asking Alexandria, The Word Alive, Miss May I. The way that those guys sing is the way that I think because that's where my roots are. I still fuck with metalcore very heavily. I love that kind of music.

So that's just the way that my mind goes when I'm thinking of vocal melodies and toplines in my head. I'm just singing like they would, because that's what I listened to throughout all middle and high school, and still do today.

PR: Would you rather feature your favorite hardcore vocalist on a Ray Volpe track, or be a Ray Volpe vocal feature on your favorite hardcore band’s track?

RV: I would be happy with either, but I really want to dive into other types of music. I don't want to start a band, but I would love to work with a band or be featured on a couple tracks. There are some people like Jason Richardson who have instrumental metal projects. He was in Chelsea Grin, Born of Osiris, and a couple other bands. Now he has this instrumental metal project, but he gets vocalists every now and then to do features on songs. I would just fuck with that.

Or, you know, just hop on a random song from a random band that I really enjoy. That would be something I would love to do. I want to dive into that world more and see what's going on there. I make shitty hardcore songs in Ableton with Kontakt expansions--I already just do it for fun.

PR: Do you have any favorite post-hardcore tracks that you like to sing in the shower or in the car?

RV: Actually, yeah. It's not as much post-hardcore, it's more just like emo bullshit like Attack Attack! "Reno, Nevada." That's a good song to sing in the shower. That and Of Mice & Men, "Second and Sebring." That's one of my favorite songs.

 PR: How do you record your vocals? Do you have any favorite techniques?

RV: I use Izotope Nectar when I'm recording; I don't use Melodyne. I also use [XFer Records] OTT on everything. I literally even use it on all my vocals.

But besides that, it's pretty basic. I’ve got a little bit of autotune, just like everyone uses a tiny bit of autotune. No one does not use autotune whatsoever. But, I can hold a tune, at least I'm told. It's pretty much that simple on my own recordings, but I think that’s

PR: The name “Pariah Reign” comes from actually from the founder’s story about bullying and music. You’ve mentioned that you were bullied in the past. Could you share a bit of what was that was like?

RV: I don't know if there's anything that stands out specifically because it was all pretty much the same stuff. I never got in any fights when I was younger; it was mainly just people that would make fun of my appearance for having long hair and being overweight, wearing all black. Bullying was something I always dealt with every day, multiple times a day. It was a lot. People made fun of me thinking I'm weird. People would make fun of my glasses. 

They would say just like the stupidest shit, but it would be every single day, multiple times a day. I'm talking like 20 times a day. It was walking through the hallways, people in my classes, people that that made fun of me for trying to do the music thing. It was weird.

I say this because I always want to be really transparent, but at the same time, I think I got bullied a lot because I think people knew who I was. I also had this popularity because of the fact that I was making music and I was also on the morning announcements at school. Everyone knew who I was, and they either liked me or they didn't. And if they didn't like me, they made it apparent by the end of the day.

No matter what anyone tells you, you can get a thousand praising comments on your SoundCloud but that one negative will fuck with you. It was like that but amplified. I was getting made fun of to my face daily. It made me just hate everything. It made me not feel good. 

It made me very depressed, but I was fortunately never suicidal or anything. I know that sometimes it's harder for some people to handle, and those feelings are something I will never be able to understand. I have friends that have had depression much worse than I had. 

But there was a really rough period of time where I would pretend like I was sick every single day of school. My mom luckily, thankfully, caught on to it very early on. She never brought it up at the time. I don't think she knew exactly the right way to. But she would, if I was faking sick, let me stay home a bunch of the time. She just knew that I wasn't happy, and she knew that there was that something going on.

I was being made fun of and it was, it was terrible. I would have major anxiety attacks just at the thought of walking into that school. It was not--it was not a good time. It wasn't a good period of time.

Bullying’s the main reason why I dropped out of high school. A lot of people think that I dropped out because of the music, but that's a very small part of it.

PR: Thank you for sharing that. It takes vulnerability and confidence to share a story like that. Do you have any advice for young people reading this who might be bullied at school?

RV: Keep being yourself. Don't stoop down to their level. Don't get in fights over it--it's not worth it.

Also, know that your bullies are probably not going to be anything later on because they're not even happy now. If they're bullying you, they're not happy. There's something going on with them and they're not happy. And chance are, they're not going to be happy in ten years when they are working a deadbeat job and you're working on your career--whether it's becoming a doctor or a lawyer or, you know, a music producer.

Also, know that they're not going to be important in just a couple of years. Once you're done with school, you're never going to hear from these people again, unless it’s a very rare instance when you're home, or they slide to your DMs because they want you to listen to their rap songs--which happens to me.  There is a very small minority of bullies who do something to get relevant. I hear Jake Paul and Logan Paul were apparently bullying kids in high school and were always assholes. That sucks there because that's a very small chance of a thing to happen.

But otherwise, you're not going to hear from these kids again. It's all temporary. It's very temporary. You're not going to be bullied forever. You're better than that. And dude, you exist on this planet: you got to be pretty cool for that.

PR: That’s great advice, thank you. Changing gears: you’re young but you’ve been doing music for many years. What keeps the spark alive for you?

RV: Ooh, it's probably meeting the fans, engaging on social media, and actually playing the shows. I have so much adrenaline when I'm up there. I love playing and performing, which is crazy because I was so scared of it originally. All the new trends that come through now excite me a little bit. I don't fully adapt what they do, but I do take and pull some of influence from the trends.

I think that's the best way to do it because if you trend if you hop, you could easily fall off. But if you're really pulling influence, then you're safe, and you're still creating something different. So I always get excited because I'm like, "Oh, this is something new that I can pull from." I always enjoy hearing what the new trends are.

PR: Speaking of, do you have any idea what’s coming up next? What’s the next big thing in electronic music?

RV: The next big trend? I really want drum & bass to get popular in America, but I don't think normal drum & bass ever will. I hope I’m proven wrong on that. That being said, I think that jump-up in America has a shot because it's something you could jump to.

Happy hardcore--like the shit that Gammer's making--is starting to really pop off in America. So if people are jumping to this four-to-the-floor stuff and you speed it up a little bit, you can get that jump-up vibe just by getting a little heavier with it. So I think, I think that has a shot. I say, "Jump-up for America!"


PR: What can we expect from you in 2018?

RV:  I have an EP that I have finished up and am readying to announce. We'll see where it goes with that. It's exciting. I can tell you right now, it's all bangers, no emotions. The title is yet to be revealed, but it's something close to that. I love it.

PR: Sounds awesome! Thank you for your time.


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