100% Saya Gray: the free-spirited songwriter
The renowned bassist once toured the world with Daniel Caesar’s band. Now, she's exploring her own sound.
Saya Gray enjoys being a bit of a nomad, or “a vagabond”, in her own words. For much of her adult life, the 26-year-old Japanese-Canadian musician hasn’t stayed in one place too long, touring regularly with the likes of Daniel Caesar as a bass player and crafting her own music in Airbnb’s around the world.
“I live very non-committal – I haven’t had a lease in years,” Gray says, Zooming in from her native Toronto. “I have a lot of energy, and the momentum of that suits me.”
But around 2019 and after a particularly gruelling touring stint, Gray reached crisis point. “I was in a really exhausted state,” she says. “I remember being like, ‘Is this all there is?’ It was this internal process of dealing with my mental health and having no home, just living out of a bag. Eventually, it gets to your brain.”
This inner turmoil culminated in Gray’s single, If There’s No Seat In The Sky (Will You Forgive Me???) – the second original song she’s properly released. “I’ve never felt so misunderstood,” she sings delicately on If There’s No Seat… while birds tweet in the background before the song morphs into a cathartic call to arms: “I’m the image of your enemy, a reflection of a friend or a temporary lover.”
“I was struggling with having relationships, being back and forth all the time,” Gray explains. “There’s no grounding, and that’s what the song’s about. Constant movement, internal struggles, and depression, really.”
Gray has been in the biz for over ten years, producing and making music for others, and now she’s ready to release her own debut project, 19 Masters. It’s a folky, experimental and lightly psychedelic body of work that’s bursting with energy, and it’s dropping soon via Dirty Hit – the label that’s also home to Beabadoobee, Rina Sawayama and The 1975.
As you familiarise yourself with the magic of Saya Gray, get your 100% fill below.
10% Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you now based?
I was born and raised in Toronto, I’m a Toronto kid at heart and I’m proud to say it. I now live between Toronto, Japan and the UK.
20% At what point did you realise you’d be able to do what you love for a living?
I’ve been so lucky! My parents are artists and I’ve been gigging since I was 13 or 14. That’s how I made a living. It was never like, “I’m going to do music now.” It was just something I did and money came with it. Once you get to a certain level in Toronto, people want to hire you around the city, like clubs and stuff.
30% Is Toronto a good place to be for emerging musicians?
There’s a lot of funding for the arts, which really helps. There aren’t so many venues anymore, but when I was growing up, there were lots of clubs and so much live music where people would just hear you. It’s all about communities here, movements, and people are all friends within that. It’s similar to London in that way.
40% What’s a piece of advice that changed your life?
Minding your own goddamn business!
50% What kind of artist do you aspire to be?
This question is hard for me. I don’t reference any music because my body doesn’t resonate with that. When you’re writing a song and you want it to sound like something else – that doesn’t work for me.
60% What kinds of emotions and experiences influence your work?
I observe a lot. I take a lot from nature and my environment and the vibration of the climate in general. Interviews are hard for me, because when you feel things in your body, it’s difficult to verbalise them. I can probably play instruments better than speaking.
70% If you’re cooking food to impress someone, what will you make?
I secretly really can’t cook, it’s embarrassing. Maybe I’d make mochi balls or something hilariously simple.
80% You rule the world for a day. What went down?
I’d be doing the exact same thing: sitting with my cats. I just take care of cats. At the moment there are two I’m looking after for a friend. I don’t know what my life would be like without them.
90% What’s the strangest DM you’ve ever received?
I’m not really on socials – to me, it’s like the forbidden forest over there. Do not venture! It’s not real life and I can’t get my head around it.
100% How have you evolved creatively over the last couple of years?
I think I’ve gone a bit crazy! There’s a dense frequency in the air and I think a lot of people are figuring out how to internally and externally get through it. I went so insular. Everyone had to, but I was already doing that. Being on my own island has been OK and it’s helped me stay on my own path creatively.