By James M. GARREN
Mozart wrote his first symphony when he was 8 years old. Michael Jackson at 10 was signed by Motown with the Jackson 5. At 16, Taylor Swift released her first big hit, “Tim McGraw.” Now Ray Goren, 15 years old, slams the world with his EP “Songs for You.”
At 3 years old, he listened to Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, John Coltrane and J.J. Johnson and began playing the piano. At 7 he was already writing music for the guitar and piano. Now at 15 he’s been signed to Jay Vee Records by its founder, Grammy award winning Steve Jordan, a veteran musician who’s a former member of Keith Richards and the X-pensive Winos and a current member of the John Mayer trio.
It’s Wednesday, Sept. 9 at Clark Magnet High School and the students are wild with excitement as Ray Goren delivered an electric performance. The band begins playing before the bell even rings and the students flood into an already blooming song. We discover quickly Goren is a man of few words as he slides from song to song without pause.
“You might recognize this one,” Goren said as he began the guitar riff to Taylor Swift’s “Style.” The crowd went mad with recognition. I pondered how interesting it is that he played a song by a fellow child prodigy. Once he hit the chorus I’m impressed how it becomes groovy, almost sounding like a Jamiroquai song with jazzy chords and a relaxed yet soulful voice. Hearing Goren’s voice one discovers a melting pot of blues, pop, rock and soul.
His guitar solo bends his notes to the next pitch achieving a hair-raising visceral climax like a painful wail. He proved his worth at old-fashioned fast-note solo wanderings as well as funky rhythmic playfulness. He’s truly a master at the guitar, which is incredible at his age.
As I head to meet him I think it’s easy to assume someone like him would be over-confident and cocky. But I was happily greeted by an extremely humble and kind Ray Goren.
“Do you ever get nervous?” a student asked.
“Talking in front of you guys is pretty nerve wracking,” answered Goren. When asked if he’s ever bullied he said, “Yeah sometimes but I don’t pay any attention to it.”
He practices six to eight hours a day in the summer and five hours on school days.
“It’s fun for me,” he explained. “I want to get better. People say music’s not about competition but deep down inside everybody wants to be the best just like in any career. In order to do that you have to work and that’s what drives me.”
But what about the balance between a social life and his work?
“It’s not that hard,” he said about achieving that balance. “My work is social.” After graduation he plans to jump straight into the music business.
“No rest for you,” I joked as he ate his lunch during our interview because this was the only chance he’d get to eat. Ever since his EP came out he’s been performing nearly every day. He takes his high school classes online.
“It’s pretty tough. It’s like Siri’s teaching you but you can’t ask questions,” he laughed.
He shared his thoughts on performing.
“Hitting the stage is an out-of-body experience. You feel other people’s energy,” Goren said adding that he hopes his fans find encouragement in his music.
“Never be afraid to try new things,” he said. “Don’t try to be like the last guy. The last guy was already there.”
He’s completely self-taught in music and has never had a traditional teacher, and Goren said he’s happy he did with those decisions.
“I don’t want to be restricted by a book,” he said. “Some read music extremely well but when it comes down to them taking a solo, what do they do?”
Of his original song “These Days,” Goren said the inspiration came from what’s going on in the world today.
“So much violence [in the world] like with police shootings and Isis,” he said. “All that horrible horrid stuff. So much of it comes from money. I sometimes wish money didn’t exist.”
“Do you have favorite chords?” I asked.
“I try not to limit myself, always going C, E, A, F,” he replied. “You hear that chord progression a lot. There’s a reason so many use them. It’s easy to write a great melody to it.”
Regarding his composition process, Goren is straight-forward: chords, melody, then lyrics in that order though that process is becoming more flexible.
“Lately a hook comes to my head, a melody that becomes my foundation,” he said. “A song could take a day to make or it could take a few months. It’s a sea of possibilities.”
When asked who would be some people in history he would want to have dinner with he says “my grandfather. I would like to have dinner with him.” Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson were two other possibilities.
A correction was made to this article. Ray Goren had incorrectly been identified as a Clark Magnet High School student.