Ray Lavender was born an entertainer. Armed with a silky, soulful voice, handsome baby face and southern charm, he’s got all the makings of the next big thing. Along with his upcoming self-titled debut (Kon Live/Geffen/Universal), this Louisiana native has inked a modeling deal and even has plans for hitting silver screen. Clutch caught up with Ray to talk about his new album, unconditional love for family and why sexy R&B music is here to stay.
Q: How long have you been singing and performing? [I've been] singing and performing in front of people ever since I was four years old. Professionally, about eight or nine years. I started singing when I was a little boy and once my mom found out I could sing, she put me in the choir. I’ve been doing leads and solos ever since.
Q: You’re currently signed to Kon Live, which is Akon’s distribution label. How did you meet up with Akon and his team?
I met up with ‘Kon after my father passed away. My folks moved to Cobb County, GA (suburb of Atlanta). I went to high school there and while I was in school, this guy met me and said he heard I could sing. He told me about a producer who loved for folks to come over and demo records to his songs. So I didn’t think it was anything big or serious, but I’d go just to go see. When I get over there, Akon opens the door. Back then he was just regular old Akon, a lot of people didn’t know who he was. He played some tracks for me and I feel in love with the tracks. I thought, “An African doing tracks? This is great!” And we’ve been together since that day.
Q: Did you ever think of working behind the scenes in the industry as a songwriter or producer or was it your dream to sing and perform?
I’ve always known that I was going to be a recording artist. Watching all the R&B artists that I listened to growing up and watching them on TV, it made me want to be just like them. Just watching them move, doing videos and having girls scream, I said, “I have to do that!” I had my mind made up.
Q: We hear that you’re a big R. Kelly fan, but who are some other artists that you look up to?
R. Kelly is one of the key players. He made me believe I could do it. I look up to Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Freddie Jackson, Troop, Bell Biv DeVoe and Babyface. I was on the airplane coming to LA listening to this XM Satellite radio station called Suite 62, and they play all the R&B oldies. All of my favorites were on this channel! It took me right back to when I first heard these songs. That is the reason why I want to do what I’m doing. If I can be moved like that, remember the exact spot I was in when I heard a song for the first time, I have to be a part of that kind of movement. Have people listen to me and feel that way.
Q: Your album title has been changed from X-Rated to a self-title. What was the reason behind the change?
The reason I self-titled my album is because I want people to get to know me. I want people to know that my name is Ray Lavender—get familiar with it because I’m an artist that’s going to be a force for a long time. I’ve studied the game and I love the game. I love music. So I’m going to be here regardless.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the recipe for a perfect R&B album?
First there has to be love in your R&B album. Everybody wants to be loved at the end of the day—regardless of who it is. After that, there has to be sexy all over your album. When a lady’s coming home from a long day of work, to calm herself down she wants to feel sexy. If sexy isn’t on your album, you don’t have the elements for a great R&B album. When you want to wind down with your significant other, you have to have that kind of music playing. Slow and sexy to chill with your loved one. After that, you have to have a party. You gotta have a party because people want to dance and move. If you have movement on your album, they play it in the clubs too. That’s key, because some people don’t know about your album unless they hear it in the club. After that, there has to be something influential. Like Marvin’s “What’s Going On.” You have to talk about what’s going on in the world right now. We’re going through a recession, which effects our economy, is effecting our housing, our government. So of course, you have to talk about that and give listeners some inspirational music. So that’s my opinion of a perfect R&B album.
Q: You’ve been on the road a lot lately. What has the fan response been like?
Man, they lose their minds like I’m somebody; like I’m famous or something! I give a great show. People come to be entertained, so I entertain them. I watched people like Michael Jackson, Gerald Levert, R. Kelly—they’re great entertainers. And, I think you have to have a great show for people to go crazy over you. It’s one thing to hear a song on the radio but then it’s another thing to interpret your song.
Q: What keeps you grounded working in the crazy music industry?
My family. Ever since my father passed away I think my family has been relying on me to be the next top guy. They all look up to me and if anything ever happens to me or if I get too cocky, too big-headed, it trickles down to them. My mom always calls me. She called around 5:00 a.m. one morning playing one of my songs sky high telling me how much she loved it and was proud of me.
Q: After the passing of your father did you ever want to give up on singing or feel like you needed to reevaluate your priorities?
Actually, the death of my father made me want this more. I can remember him telling me, “Son, if I could sing like you, we wouldn’t be living like this. We’d be in a better place.” He wasn’t saying it was all about money, but we would’ve lived more comfortably. Our family could see each other a lot more. We could enjoy the fruits of our labor. I took that with me after he passed and went full force with my music. If he was here now I know he’d be bragging. I played basketball growing up, and whenever we had a game and I’d score all these points, he’d go back to work telling his co-workers about it. So I know if he was here now he’d be smiling and telling folks about me.
Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a recording artist?
Stay humble. If you don’t stay grounded this can be taken from you at any time. There are a lot of people out there who can sing. And they’re trying to take your spot. So stay grounded and work hard, because there’s another guy who can work just as hard as you. Just stay focused. There was one point when people didn’t know who I was, but people know now. So I’m taking somebody’s spot.
Q: There are a lot of male singers fighting for that R&B crown. But what makes you stand out from other artists?
I think I study music a lot. I listen to a lot of music, not just R&B. What I do know . . . it’s kind of like the new guy in high school. You can tell when someone’s the new guy. He can be lame or he can be the coolest guy in the world. But I’m the guy that’s very, very cool and I know what people like. That means, I know exactly what they want to hear and I’m going to tell them because I study it. I listen to every R&B artist and say, “I gotta come better than that.” I say things how it is. Plus I’m on some grown man stuff, too. So it gets real sexy when I open my mouth and start singing.
Q: What can we expect to see from Ray lavender in the future?
I got some movies and modeling stuff going on. I don’t know what it is, they think I’m cute or something! I’m the spokes model for ‘Kon’s Konvict clothing line. So I’ve been doing my pushups and taking my shirt off a lot (laugh)! ‘Kon also bought the rights to a film, Cocaine Cowboys, so I’m squeezing my way in it. I’ve got some more movie stuff coming, so I’m expanding my horizons a bit.
Q: Last question: tell us the first thing that comes to mind when you heard these words:
Home: Monroe, LA
Sex: Ladies (laugh!)
Ray Lavender: Sexy