photos by Manny Diaz
Over the past 30 years, many of those with stature within the music industry have asked to work with Ray Angry. Being a classically trained musician with roots in gospel and jazz makes him a force to be reckoned with. Like a puppeteer, he is a mastermind pulling the strings behind the curtain. He can do it all. His moniker “Mister Goldfinger,” is a testament to his skills on a set of ivory keys, Ray Angry is both, an accomplished producer and composer. He has collaborated with profound artists like Mick Jagger, Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill, Elton John, and too many more to list. He’s worked on TV shows like Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as a member of The Roots and created the soundtrack for Amy Schumer’s Life & Beth. But even after all the success his demeanor has remained humble and laid back, which makes it even more intimidating to talk to such a talented musician.
As I nervously wait for Ray to wrap up his previous conversation, I begin talking to his cordial rep Karine. I ask how she’s enjoining Chicago after her flight in from Ontario, she explains that she hasn’t had time to enjoy the city fully and is running on low energy, but that the people have been nice. I share with her a fresh can of cold brew coffee as a peace offering, Karine takes it and cracks it open making a disapproving squint after the first sip. Ray Angry waves us over to join him on a park bench. While I set up my equipment Ray asks Karine how the drink is to which she replies, “It’s not too bad if you like coffee. Needs cream and sugar though” – I guess she doesn’t all that much.
Ray Angry: That’s what’s up. Too bad I don’t drink cold brew.
Vidal Granados: Wait are you a coffee or tea drinker?
RA: Tea all the way!
VG: [Ray enthusiastically shakes his hand] My man! I don’t like coffee or caffeine either! I stick to herbal teas.
RA: [Smiling] My guy I’m the same way. If you haven’t tried it yet put some oat milk or almond milk in your turmeric or cinnamon tea. Phenomenal!
* * *
That icebreaker put my nerves at ease for a moment. But my hand begins to shake as I record our conversation. I only learned how to play “When the Saints Come Marching In” on the piano so listening to Ray’s piano solos beforehand made my brain and fingers cramp. Now he sits next to me with a smile on his face.
VG: Welcome to Chicago! Sorry that it’s gloomy, rainy, and soggy. But besides that how are you enjoying your time in the city so far?
RA: I love it! The food is amazing, the people are great and the energy is on another level. I love going out to eat at local spots every time I come here.
VG: And you have another connection to the city of Chicago because you helped produced the track “Peace” for The Chi – how was it making such an empowering track during a trying time for the city and overall, our country?
RA: [Clapping] Wow man that’s crazy thanks for reminding me! It’s a humbling experience to have any of my music in film or television. It’s always been my dream to do that. I love The Chi so working on that song was an honor. Shoutout to my friend Yolanda Ross who’s on the show she’s an amazing actress!
VG: Still sticking to TV shows, congratulations on doing the original soundtrack for Amy Schumer’s new Hulu series, Life & Beth
RA: Thank You! I’ve been blessed to be working with her since her show Inside Amy Schumer. She’s such a good person. She’s so sincere and wants to help people. It’s been a pleasure working with her, she’s such a great collaborator.
VG: Also I wanted to congratulate you on “TOYLAND”, a song you performed and produced, it’s a great track, dark and beautifully twisted. Is that something you always wanted to work on and update that track? [the song is originally from a 1903 Christmas-themed operetta about the exploration of the loss of innocence]
RA: Ah! Well right at the height of the pandemic, my writing partner on that project Catherine and I were working on a project called “Public Domain,” we wanted to change the narrative a little for artists, so taking a song like “Toyland” and reinventing the song was a pleasure. Going to the studio working with musicians like Marcus King, Questlove, Blackthought, Liv Warfield, and Pino Palladino on bass for that song was a dream, and I still can’t believe that it happened. Shooting the music video was something I thought I would never do. It was beautiful how the whole experiment came about.
VG: As you mentioned you worked with multiple artists on that track. Specifically, when it comes to Questlove and Blackthought, you’ve been working with those guys for years since becoming a part of The Roots. How do you guys keep the atmosphere fresh amongst each other after all these years?
RA: It’s funny you ask that. I think once you accept a person for who they are anything can happen. I’ve grown over the years. I’ve watched Ahmir (Questlove) grow over the years. We’re always reaching. Those guys inspire me. Blackthought has a lot of records he hasn’t released. He’s constantly recording and reinventing himself. They’re both always growing to become better human beings. To not be complacent is the magic sauce. That’s been my experience working with those guys.
VG: Not only have you worked with some of the most renowned artists of all time, but you’ve also released some absolutely fantastic instrumental albums like One and that epic single “The Protest” – a powerful piece to listen to entirely because it perfectly captures the anger, the pain, and the madness felt during that time. What has the process been like going from behind the scenes to releasing your own music?
RA: The pandemic changed a lot of things for me. Like most people I had moments where I wondered, “What’s the point of all this?” Once George Floyd happened though I went to see the protest in New York City. I never left my house that entire time but I felt compelled to go so I rode my bike to Fort Greene in Brooklyn. The first thing I saw when I got there was a cop car on fire and people arguing with police. Witnessing that did something to me. I went home and created “The Protest”. At that moment it reawakened my creative side and made me come to the decision I need to release my own music. As artists, we hold onto music because we’re our own worst critics. It reignited the purpose of my company, started my record label Mister Goldfinger Music, and continued my series Producer Mondays. The purpose of everything shifted.
Now when I work on my own music a lot of the attention is focused on the creative process because I really want to connect with people. Being behind the scenes is cool but I want to give back and maybe give advice to others about the music industry. That’s why I started releasing more solo work. I want to do what I can to help the world. I feel like it’s my duty. Both my parents passed away. My two brothers passed away this year, which fucked my head up. So now it’s go-time! I really want to do what I can to help the world out through the music I’m making and it’s all a dedication to my family.
VG: [shakes Ray’s hand] My condolences. I appreciate you sharing that. I lost a close friend a week ago but same thing, I’m here today because I know my friend would want me to continue pursuing my art.
RA: You’ve got to keep going, brother. One thing the pandemic taught me is we’re all we got. Learning and growing you never stop doing that. I’m in the process of finishing my first symphony. I can’t even believe I’m saying that to you right now! I say all that because the only limitations we have are the ones we put on ourselves. When you have a loss it’s a reminder that time is not on our side. We can be gone at any moment. So we have to appreciate the time that we have here and make a difference before we leave.
VG: And tell your people you love them.
VG: That actually goes into my next question – when was the moment you felt like you made it? Or are you such a student of the game that you’re just too focused on the work that you can’t really enjoy the fruits of your labor?
RA: [Laughs] Oh man I’m still trying to make it. It’s funny because when I was in college I used to say, “I want to travel around the world and work with the best musicians”. I’ve done that. You’re constantly making goals and once you reach them you got to keep making more, which lead to my producer series and record label. That’s what keeps me driven. I want to create a music show that connects people. Not like a contest. We have enough contests. Fuck that shit! Why do we got to compete? Why do you have to lose for me to win? I want to change that. That’s my next goal.
VG: It’s such a competition in any field. In every avenue whether it’s music, writing, photography etc. And here you are genuinely wanting to make a positive change and help people. How was the scene like when you were coming up in your area, was it more collaborative or was it dog-eat-dog?
RA: I grew up in Miami around a lot of dickheads. But they really didn’t understand their actions. Some people live in a box so when they have to chop you down they can’t understand that it’s not serving them. They’re living life with blinders on. Years from now they’ll still be doing the same bullshit. For me, it’s about connecting and collaborating with folks because no one gets to any place by themselves. To learn and ask questions is the best way to be. Once you connect with someone else who has the same mindset then you both grow together. That’s how you change someone’s life. Those dickheads actually motivated me to work harder and got me to where I am now. [Smirks] Slow and steady always wins the race.
VG: Can you give any other advice to people struggling within their field?
RA: Consistency is key. Stay curious. Teach others what you’ve learned and be willing to listen. Also never give into fear. Use emotional intelligence because that truly brings wisdom. Sometimes we forget to enjoy the journey. We get upset if things aren’t going our way or believe we should be further in our careers. But you got to separate your emotions to come to another conclusion. Maybe it’s not your time yet. Timing is everything. Everything isn’t going to be great all the time. But when it is you got to seize the opportunity and appreciate those moments.
VG: What’s next for Ray Angry?
RA: World domination and music music music!
VG: Thank you for your time, talking life and giving advice Mister Goldfinger.