Shawnee, Kansas-based artist Harlan Ray is a musician, producer, designer and humanitarian who uses art to instigate global change. A composer of hip-hop and electronic music, Harlan is the co-founder of the Kansas City-based record/media distribution production company Deflekt Records. He also created the Up the Ante Project, a non-profit fundraising organization geared towards helping those in need through the selling of clothing he designs. In our interview, Harlan discusses his creative pursuits and why knowing his limitations and listening are crucial to making art. It is a pleasure to welcome Harlan to Listen Local.
Introduce yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
My name is Harlan Ray, I'm an artist from Shawnee, KS. I currently live in Kansas City, KS and I'm in the freelance art & design field. A "typical" day is non-existent in my particular life/lifestyle. I've been fortunate enough to be able to wake up to a truly new day. Get introduced to new experiences and have the ability to constantly learn and grow. The only thing that's typical I suppose is the need for food and water...
According to your website, you have many projects going on: music, acting, clothing design, philanthropic ventures, in addition to running and building Deflekt Records and Rikkachet Productions. How do you maintain a creative focus with everything you do?
First starting out in all of this at the age of 13-14 I was always focused too much on the "big picture," and when you do that you can become extremely overwhelmed in thinking that the entirety of your work needs to be accomplished the very moment you thought of it. Anything creative, dealing with art or performance, etc. is intertwined with the human condition therefore it takes time, sometimes quite a bit. After realizing this, the older I became, I learned to take everything one day/one moment at a time. There is never a right time for anything, procrastination is a killer!
Of course I'm not alone in regards to the building of Rikkachet Productions and especially Deflekt Records. Mikhail Marchenko, Serge Nevsky, Sean Calhoun & Alexander T. Buettner have been a very supportive and creative help with these two facets. Artist' Mikhail Marchenko & Serge Nevsky are the force & face of Deflekt as far as I see it. They bring definition to the name and brand.
Like the wide variety of projects you are involved with, your musical styles are all over the map. Describe your creative process with songwriting and composition. What tools do you use? How does collaboration with other artists figure into this process?
Well, the process of a song and/or composition is not always the same, at least not with me. It can change with who I work with or the type of track it is. Generally though, especially lately, it'll begin with a word, phrase or title. Then I start attaching my own experiences and feelings with that, then I head straight to the Pro Tools rig and start working immediately on the track, Pro Tools is my main DAW. As soon I start hearing something that provokes any type of emotion through the speakers I start writing lyrics, the composition doesn't even need to be done. I write till the lyrics are complete, record it (lay it down), then start adding more to the track to give it a better blend with the vocals and lyrics. However like I said, the process can change, that's a workflow used if it's just me working on something solo.
There's only so far I can go with music and/or art, knowing my limitations is crucial. So, bringing in other artist' who know what they're doing better than me can make for an overall better product.
How do you break through creative blocks?
I believe that barriers or blocks are caused somewhat due to trying to rush the creative process. What's known to have worked for me is to step back from the piece, allow myself to relax and get back to a state of enjoyment that I had when I first initiated the idea then the barriers start to lower and dissipate on their own.
What can you tell us about the science fiction novel you’re working on with Mikhail Marchenko?
It's just been a lark...for now anyway. That project in-particular has been a slow work-in-progress. The novel was already initiated by Mikhail, then I got invited into it after the main idea had already been established. There's not much to discuss right now, it's too fragmented story-wise.
Who or what inspires you the most?
People. Human beings are remarkable. Filled with so much pain, contradictions, stories, passions, egos, sympathy, empathy, hate and LOVE. I don't think I can pigeon hold my answer to this into one thing. You can also get inspired by anything and everything by simply listening. At a very young age I noticed that I didn't talk a lot. That's hindered me in some ways because I have a difficult time sometimes speaking my mind. However, my not being vocal was due to me constantly listening. I absolutely love listening, you have no idea how much one can contribute to a conversation or fixing a problem just by taking in others points of view. Listening is powerful. It's the one common tool in our arsenal as humans that is the most overlooked and ignored.
Do more listening, you'll figure it out...
Words Like Loaded Pistols by Sam Leith
The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
Wild At Heart by John Eldredge
Songs of the Doomed by Hunter S. Thompson
House of M by Brian Bendis
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien