Michael Ray Recalls His Make-or-Break Moment

"Her World or Mine" Star Leads CMT on Tour

You might have seen Michael Ray before, but he promises you haven’t seen him like this.

With the upcoming CMT on Tour, Ray says he’ll be shaking things up on stage.

“We always bring our best to every show, but with the CMT name on top of it, it makes you want to elevate what you're doing even more,” he says. “People that have seen us before, they're going to see a whole new different show."

He continues, "We're reconstructing the set, we're adding stuff, and I think that day four will be different than day one. I think every night we're going to go back to the set and see if something worked right, or how we can make it better every night. Every night is going to get better and better on this tour. If you've seen a Michael Ray show before, this isn't one that you've seen.”

During a visit to the CMT office, he talks about his pre-show ritual, his vocal ambitions, and the game-changer of his latest hit, “Her World or Mine.”

CMT: What goes through your mind in those moments before you walk out on stage and perform?

MR: Me and the guys try to have about 20 or 30 minutes together if we can, just us, shut everything off, make a drink. We do a little ritual prayer and take a shot and just kind of grasp what we're doing. I think that in those moments before you go on stage, whether it's an arena or club or whatever, you try to get your mind focused.

You're about to take however many people are in that crowd away for 75 minutes. And my goal in the end is for them to leave feeling exhausted and recharged -- all at the same time -- and ready to make memories and moments for them.

Do you love to be on stage, with all eyes on you?

Yeah, it's fun seeing the connection. It's fun seeing those moments where you go, “OK, they're in.” It's always a fun thing because it's like we're taking them somewhere else, but they're taking us somewhere else, too. It's this weird tornado of energy that happens. It's like: them, us, them, us. And then throughout the night it speeds up and at the end it's this big night. So, yeah, it's a lot of fun to see them excited about the music.

My first concert was Garth Brooks. I was 12 years old and he played “The Dance.” I don't know if he said anything, I think he just started the guitar lick, but the entire place went nuts. And I remember going, "I want that.”

At some point in my life, I wanted that moment when I can play a chord or hit a lick, and people just know, and they connect to that song so much that it fires them up. With “Her World or Mine,” we've been saying that's “The Dance” moment in my show, because it became about that piano lick.

We've played it in Australia, we've played it in the UK, we've played it in Canada and all over the United States, and everywhere it's that same reaction. ... All the travel, the tiredness, the not being home, everything that it takes to get to that show – in that moment you go, "This was it. It was all worth it."

That melody is what grabs me on “Get to You.” Why did that song interest you to record?

It was something for me to show vocals more than I had on the first album, to show what I could do, but also there's a bit of a message that that song had. The melody of it was great. It's a ballad but the chorus really drives. When we play that song, it’s a bouncer, and people sing every word to it.

What shocks me is how many guys connected to that song. When I recorded it, it was like, "OK, who hasn't been in that position? I'm trying to figure this out and you've got to help me here." You love somebody so much and you just go, "I don't know what it is, but I want you to find it, even if it's not me."

“One That Got Away” was big hit for you. What's it like as a performer to see a song that nobody really knows grow into a song that everybody knows?

This song was probably one of the coolest experiences of my career, as far as watching a song, because technically my album was finished. And I'd switched management, there was a bunch of professional stuff that was going on, but I had this album that didn't feel finished. And when I went to my new management, they were like, "We agree with you. What are we missing here?"

“One That Got Away” was a song that was on the table quite a bit throughout the recording process. Matt Ramsey and Trevor Rosen of Old Dominion are two of the writers on it, with Josh Osborne and Jesse Frasure. Matt was singing the vocal on the demo, and he has such a distinct, great voice, so it was hard to hear that not being an Old Dominion song.

As soon as we recorded it, it was like, “Yeah, OK, this feels great.” We started playing it live and it started becoming that part of the set where it was the energy that was coming up. And to see it start climbing the charts.... I remember calling back to my management and people on my label and saying, "This thing's connecting." Like, we're just kicking it off and people are singing every word.

To see this song literally come from something that wasn't even on the album -- the album was technically finished -- to being on the album, to being the single, to being the single that I needed for a show, for my live show, for radio, and to be the song that we needed to set up a song like “Her World or Mine” to be next ... It had a lot of pressure on it. [laughs]

It was a make-or-break moment being the first song from the second record. People could have asked, “Does he still have it or was that a fluke?”

Yeah, totally, it had a lot of weight on it. I needed that fun song. I haven't had one out like that since “Kiss You in the Morning,” kind of a fun, uplifting sing-along. I felt like the fans wanted it from me, and we found the song that we felt represented that.

And that song doing what it did, who knows if we'd have been able to have “Her World or Mine” out right now? I'm very grateful for that song, and very grateful for country radio and my fans and country music fans for embracing it like they have.

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