From Pizza Hut Delivery guy to recording artist overnight; that’s the story of Ray Lavender’s road to success. After a chance meeting with Akon while out delivering pizzas, Ray was able to forge a relationship in the music industry that still sustains his career to this day. Although his debut album never got a proper release, he got a boost from his appearance on Donald Trump’s “The Ultimate Merger” and is now back for another shot at his debut album. In this interview, we talked to Ray about his origins as an artist, what originally went into that debut, linking up with Akon, his new single “Tequila”, what to expect on his upcoming album, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take me back to the beginning of your career, how did you originally get discovered by Akon?
Ray Lavender: I worked at a Pizza Hut off of Atlanta Road in Georgia and I was a delivery guy. I’m around the place singing at my job and this guy was like “Yo listen, I delivered a pizza just the other day and I heard a lot of music coming out of this one building. Here’s the address, go over there and see what’s going on.” So I go over there to this building and I knock on the door and this African guy answered the door. He said “Oh no we didn’t order a pizza” and I was like “No, no, no. I know how to sing.” Then the guy was like “Our office hours are from 9 to 5” and it was like 11 PM when I went over there, it was really dark. I was like “You gotta hear me sing!” and he was like “Alright well, sing something. Let me hear you sing.” I’m standing at the door and I start singing and he was blown away. He was like “Hold up, real quick!” so he called this guy named Ali. This Ali guy comes around the corner and clearly they were brothers because they looked just alike. Ali was like “Who ordered a pizza?” and his brother was like “Nobody ordered a pizza, this guy can sing!” I started singing and they were blown away. The Ali guy that I’m talking about is who we now know and love as Akon. Now still to this day, we’re still working together.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Under his label, you released a couple of songs as singles. Talk to me about the song “Stay”.
Ray Lavender: Yeah I released “My Girl Gotta Girlfriend” first and then “Stay” was the second single. “Stay” was co-written with Tank. He’s one of the R&B guys that I always wanted to work with, so once I got with him, I knew we were going to make a timeless record and “Stay” is one of those timeless records. It just talks about the ins and outs of relationships and a lot of times, you tend to breakup over dumb things when you don’t really have to fight, you just need to talk it out. With our generation now, we don’t even talk it out and we just leave like “Forget about it, I’m just going to find somebody else.” That’s not how they did it back then like grandma and granddad, they stayed together. A lot of us don’t have that mentality anymore. We have one fight and now we try to start all over again with somebody new. All that song was saying is “Let’s find a way to stay, let’s find a way to fix it.” It came out amazing.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Eventually the album never got a chance to come out. Why do you feel the album never got a chance to come out?
Ray Lavender: The album didn’t get released for a couple of things. “My Girl Gotta Girlfriend” kind of got held up in some political things. At the time, a lot of stations didn’t want to play it because it was saying “My girl got a girlfriend.” That was to be expected because people don’t want to hear something like that. That was one and then after that, we came with “Stay” and it did very well on the Urban charts, but we didn’t want “very well”, we wanted a huge splash in the ocean. It just didn’t hit big enough, so we went back and re-strategized. It wasn’t that we didn’t put out an album because the records weren’t hot enough, that wasn’t it. We just wanted to make a bigger splash and we wanted to make sure it was strategically put out and every record was placed like it was supposed to be placed. I don’t feel bad about it at all. I was actually relieved because you only get one time to put your first album out and I want my first album to be perfect. It’s almost like a welcome back or a second chance type of thing. I wasn’t disappointed that it didn’t come out at all.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You went on to star in “Ultimate Merger”. Talk about that whole experience.
Ray Lavender: That experience I wouldn’t take back for the world, it was very fun. I was asked by my publicist to do a reality show and at first naturally, I was like “Nah I’m not going to do it, I don’t need it.” She was like “Well I don’t know Ray, it’s a big platform. We can do some marketing and branding on the network.” Even then, I was like “Okay, who is the young lady?” and they wouldn’t tell me who she was. I was like “Okay, I can’t do it because I don’t know who you’re talking about. I don’t want to waste her time or waste my time.” She was like “Well Donald Trump is involved,” and I’m a get money type of guy so I was like “Alright, let’s entertain it” and she put me and Donald on a conference call and we made it work, we made it happen and he flew me out to Las Vegas and the games began. I started working on this reality show and I wouldn’t take it back to the world. It took me on a grand platform and got me ready for this. What reality shows do is it puts you in the light of America and the viewers of the reality shows got to see a softer side of Ray Lavender and who was singing these songs. They got to see my many talents. I won a cooking competition on there and they saw how athletic I was. It was a good look for me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Even when you were doing the reality TV show, was the final goal to continue with your music career?
Ray Lavender: Absolutely, the whole goal was to brand myself while I was on TV so everybody knew what I was doing at the time. I want people to ultimately know that I’m a singer and songwriter first, everything else comes after. I just needed people to know who I was and not just be a here today, gone tomorrow type of artist.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the new single “Tequila” and how it came about.
Ray Lavender: I’m in the club and I’m watching everybody have fun. Every time you see a bottle come, there’s a sparkler on top of it. You know something’s about to happen when that sparkler comes and that sparkler comes to that big set of people and everybody starts having party. That sparkler kind of draws everybody. You know where the party is when you follow the sparkler. I’m sure you’ve been to a club and seen that. I got to thinking like “I should do a song like this. That should be a tequila song like a song about a drink like that.” It’s not the first time about someone sang about drinking, but I’ve never really heard one about a specific drink and a lot of people drink Tequila. We both know how tequila makes people feel once they get it in a party atmosphere. I just wrote a song about it and it came out perfect.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Along with that song, I know you’re working on your upcoming album. What kind of sound can we expect from it?
Ray Lavender: You can expect some great music, that’s all I can say. It’s going to be some dance music, and it’s going to be some R&B crooning on there. I’m going to be singing some love songs and also some party records. There’s also going to be some uplifting records. It’s going to be a nice album, it’s going to be a well put together album. You can expect to hear great music. I can’t put it in a box, but I can say it’s just going to be some great music.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Do you have a tentative release date yet?
Ray Lavender: No tentative date yet. Right now, we’re releasing singles to see what sticks. If one sticks majorly to the charts, we’re going to start putting together dates.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I know you wrote a lot of this album on your own. What is your writing process?
Ray Lavender: My writing process is simple. I actually dig a lot from my past because a lot has happened to me. I go to my studio, I turn my iMac, Logic and microphone on, and how I’m feeling is how I sing. I don’t use a pad or pen, I just sing. I turn the microphone on and I just sing. Whatever I’m feeling at that time, I will go back and dig in my past and go find a particular instance that happened to me and just sing about it. Anytime you hear a song from me, it’s about what happened to me back in the past or how I live.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Ray Lavender: Follow me on Twitter @DAREALRAYL. I’m with Global Artist Group now and we have a new artist on that record company and his name is Jordan Humphrey.