Lyric-centric hard rocker, CJ Ray premiered the cinematic video for his guitar-driven track “Death Valley” last month. The video features shots of CJ performing with his band interspersed with the story of a young man (portrayed by actor Rhett Wellington) driving alone through Death Valley while experiencing inner turmoil. Struggling, the young man pulls the car over and drops to his knees, looking skyward for salvation. “I pray if you hear me, crack open your sky,” CJ sings. He closes his eyes and hands are placed upon him. Briefly, CJ replaces the actor and looks knowingly at the camera, before the actor, relieved and filled with hope, walks past his car and down the road. While pursuing his desire to inspire, CJ Ray brings forth his collection of lyric-centered rock, pop and contemporary music. Inspired by the sounds of Train, Gavin DeGraw, Jack Johnson, John Mayer and Jason Mraz, CJ Ray combines hooks with intelligent lyrics of hope, contentment, love and forgiveness into each and every one of his songs. In this TCB Exclusive, CJ opens about his vision for the video, recalls the day the video was shot and talks about his measure of success for the video.
Congratulations on releasing the cinematic video for “Death Valley!” When did you first have the artistic vision for this video?
Thanks so much for sharing the video and for the kind words. I am so thrilled with how beautiful the video looks. It is just dripping with color and so visually stunning! As far as the artistic vision, initially I had an idea for a story to take place in Death Valley as a symbol of where I was in my life when I wrote the song. That was pretty much the core essence when we started. From there, the credit all goes to Nicolas Wendl (Director and writer), Kristin Juel (Manager and all-around amazing woman) and her team at Juel Concepts. They worked so hard on making the video match the intensity of the lyrics and subject matter. Fun fact, it’s actually a part of a larger story, which you’ll see in the next video I release.
Can you take us back to the day you filmed “Death Valley;” is there a moment during the video shoot that stood out to you most?
We were filming the video while trying to follow all of the COVI-19 social distancing guidelines. This made working in the desert, with temperatures around 108F, very challenging for the actors and film crew. I wasn’t in any of the early shots scheduled for the day, so I arrived on location right around lunch. I immediately saw the black Ford Fairlane, we had rented for the shoot, idling roughly alongside the road. I walked over to see why it was left running and immediately learned that if the car stopped running it may not start again because of some ignition issue. With more than half of the shots yet to go, we could not afford to have the car break down. I thought that maybe driving the car around slowly would help cool it down as air would flow better through the radiator, so I grabbed my manager, Kristin, and together we drove off slowly. It seemed like this approach was working as the engine was running more evenly. I glanced down at the temperature gauge to check my assessment and just as I was ready to declare a small victory, the near-empty gas gauge caught my eye. Here we were, out in the middle of the desert, in an overheating car that can’t be shut off, almost out of gas. Kristin held her phone out the window trying to get reception so we could map the nearest gas station. If it wasn’t so hot and stressful it would have been funny. After several dead-end roads, we ended up finding a gas station in an area where a gas station should not have been, and I must confess that I broke the rules as I pumped gas without shutting off the car. THEN, we had to drive the car back to LA on major freeways at not even 50 MPH. It was pretty crazy when I think back.
The theme behind the song and video are very personal to you. Were you worried at all about the reaction it may receive upon its release? Have there been any stories shared with you that have stood out by their impact?
I don’t think I ever worried about what people might think of the song, but I was concerned about capturing the intensity of my experience in the lyrics. To be so close to walking off the ledge, then to have God’s loving arms pull you back from the abyss is life-altering. I am praying for that person on the ledge, and yes, I have received some very encouraging responses to the song’s honesty and vulnerability.
You’ve been open with how faith plays a role in your life and music. How do you think your faith plays a role in how you engage with others through your interactions and music?
That is a tough question as I don’t separate my faith from who I am but see who I am through my faith in Christ. I would hope that I engage with everyone I meet with love, integrity and honesty, but that can’t be entirely true because I yelled at my wife a few weeks back, so maybe you should ask her. My main gig is being straight forward and sincere about who I am, what I’ve done wrong, where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, and why I love and need Jesus.
Success can mean many things to different people and situations. Have you thought about what success looks like to you for this video release?
I write and record songs because it allows elements of my soul, some shaped by God’s truth, a place to dwell physically for a time. Success for me is to be any vessel, noble or ignoble that God may choose for His glory and His purpose. Success for the video is to reach one person standing on the ledge with the message of God’s love and forgiveness.
2020 has been a year that no one imagined. What has been helpful to you during the year that you would like to share with those struggling with their faith during this pandemic season?
Knowing God’s Word has far and away been my saving grace in 2020! I am not talking about a particular verse popping to my mind, though that does happen, but about the power and peace received from faith in the character and promises of the Lord! I know that when I view my circumstances through Christ-colored-glasses, I see love and hope and meaning, but when I lose sight of Jesus, my flesh quickly latches back on to fear, doubt and mistrust. The secret of faith is in the doing of life, faithfully.
With 2020 coming to a close, can you share with us something you are looking forward to in the remaining months or even into 2021?
I am so excited about my next song and video release. The song is called “TODAY” and as I mentioned earlier, the video is a sequel to “Death Valley.” The single is scheduled for a November 20th release and we are just about to film the video. It will release in late December or early Jan 2021, but I would love it if you would pre-save “Today” now. If you are reading this, please take 15 seconds to ask God’s blessing on this song.
If today was my last day
Would I regret the life that I’ve led?
So lost in myself and my-selfish desires
Here in my brokenness, I pray
Today is the day
Today is the day
Today is the day
That I give my life away