Fay Ray is not a defunct new wave band. Okay, Fay Ray IS a defunct new wave band, but it’s also a very active eight-person funk-tastic soul-pop band out of Chicago. The band’s latest double single, “Restless Sleeper /Up & Away,” is effervescent, the perfect taste of champagne fizz on a hot, humid summer day.
Lead singer Mariel Fechik’s silvery vocals remain cool and calm on “Up & Away,” creating a nice dissidence between herself and the rest of the band: Noah Gehrmann (Guitar), Erik Opland (Bass), Tom Kelly (Drums), Rob Osiol (Keys) and Joe Meland (Organs/Synth). The changeup around 2:30 offers a satisfying release of tension, the kind of beat drop made to lure wallflowers onto the dance floor.
“Restless Sleeper” is about “the experience of watching a loved one have nightmares and night terrors, and the sense of helplessness that accompanies that experience”, according to Fechik. The tone is cooler, the vibe more laid back than “Up & Away”; the song may be about restless nights, but the feel of the music is afternoon magic, hours spent wandering city streets, the ice in a glass of cold tea melting in the sun.
We spoke to Mariel about what it’s like to write in an eight-person band and how the city of Chicago shapes Fay Ray’s funk.
AF: Where did the name Fay Ray come from? My initial google search popped up a new wave band.
MF: A couple of years ago now, we went through a name change. We actually used to be Church Booty. This was a name that served us well through college, but started to get a little tired once we moved up to Chicago. After a very long process of name brainstorming, I suggested Fay Ray because I liked the way it sounded, and it stuck! It’s based off of the actress Fay Wray (known as the original scream queen) of King Kong fame. It wasn’t until after I suggested it that my mom told me my family was related to her by marriage! Unfortunately it was also after we’d settled on the name that we found out about the defunct British new wave band with the same name.
AF: Fay Ray started out as a ten-piece band. How in the world do did y’all navigate songwriting? And has the process changed since members have left?
MF: It was a lot, as you can imagine. Typically, someone would bring something in and we’d go off of that. Our previous sax player and singer did the bulk of the writing. Since they’ve left, it’s become a little more group-oriented. Often, a smaller group of us will just hang out in someone’s bedroom and work on ideas. Once we have the bare bones, we’ll often rehearse in full, working on arrangements. It’s become a really enjoyable and collaborative process that’s led to some exciting stuff.
AF: Can you give us some insight into band dynamics? Who’s the foil?
MF: We’re one big dysfunctional family! We’ve all been friends for so long, and so many of us have lived together in various formats through college and after, we’re just kind of like a big group of siblings at this point. Up until very recently, I was the only girl in the band, and I’ve always been the little sister that gets picked on (but still supported). We all annoy the hell out of each other sometimes, but we’re all very loving and supportive friends. Hmm…the foil. Probably our guitarist, Noah. He’s a goof and a ham and will frequently quote songs like Inspector Gadget or the Imperial March in the middle of his solos.
AF: What role does the city of Chicago play in your music? Does the city effect the sound and subject matter at all?
MF: Since coming to Chicago after graduation, we’ve found a really wonderful community of fellow musicians. We definitely take inspiration from a lot of our peers around the city, and of course, Chicago has such a specific sound to so much of its music. It’s almost impossible for it not to affect our sound!
AF: What are your favorite Chicago music venues to play in?
MF: Part of the beauty of having so many members is that a lot of us are involved in many other projects, as well. Our keyboardist Joe Meland works under the name Uuskhy. I sing with Emily Blue and we have a band together called Moon Mouth, and I sing in Tara Terra. Noah, Tom, and Rob are in a band called Miss April. Erik is in a cover band called The Hitmen. So lots of us have played in venues that the others haven’t. Some of the favorites are The Hideout, Schubas, Sleeping Village, Tonic Room, Lincoln Hall, and Subterranean!
AF: Do you ever listen to music together as a band? What groups are y’all listening to? Any new music we should keep an ear out for?
MF: Since there are so many of us, we bring a lot of eclectic tastes to the table. We’ve often had albums or bands that we’re collectively obsessed with. A few years ago it was Hiatus Kaiyote’s Choose Your Weapon. And then I apparently ruined it by loving it too much. We loved Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. We love NAO and Louis Cole and PJ Morton and Vulfpeck and Stevie Wonder and a million other things. We even have a “listen to this” channel in our Slack! Some great Chicago bands we’ve been loving lately are Astro Samurai and Human Bloom, both of whom have some great new music out. Melvin Knight, our former vocalist, also has an incredible project and a brand new single called “Pass the Time.”
AF: I recently visited Red Rocks Amphitheater and was blown away by the setting. If you could perform in any venue, anywhere in the world, where would you perform?
MF: To be honest, mine would actually be Red Rocks! I’ve never been and it’s definitely one of my top destinations. I would also love to play at the Whiskey A Go Go in LA. It’s iconic. Some other thoughts were Austin City Limits, Madison Square Garden, and Tiny Desk.
AF: What can an audience expect from a Fay Ray show?
MF: We always try to bring the funk. Our live shows are loud and energetic, and we always love when a crowd gives us that energy back. Some of our most fun shows have been in tiny venues where the audience is practically on top of us. We always love to throw a surprising cover or two in there, too. Lately it’s been “thank u, next” and Thundercat’s “Them Changes.” We want to get people dancing!
FAY RAY TOUR DATES:
6/15 – Griffith, IN @ Rockopelli Fest
6/23 – Chicago, IL @ Ravenswood On Tap
7/11 – Chicago, IL @ Sleeping Village