The soulful First Nations singer from coastal British Columbia drops a new video for a power ballad that pays tribute to the breathtaking archipelago where she was born.
In the finest tradition of the best folk music, Indigenous Canadian singer-songwriter Carsen Gray has come out with a meaningful, pressing message disguised as a musical gift. “Each Moment” — the new lead single and titular tune off of an upcoming EP — comes wrapped in melodic purity and deep compassion. And it’s delivered without preachy judgment — just unaffected talent and refreshing earnestness.
Gray, who is Haida, says her Indigenous roots play a large part in her music. “Each Moment” is a case in point. The brand-new video, which we’re proud to premiere here, puts beautiful visual exclamation on the ballad and pays tribute to her island home off the west coast of Canada.
The video provides a couple of minutes of the best soul-rebooting forest bathing with similarly healing musical accompaniment.
Gray hails from the Haida Gwaii archipelago, and she taps into the power of nature and her heritage for an uplifting trip into the lush woods and waters of the breathtaking, untouched land where she was born and continues to live.
Besides being a cool melodic song, it’s also a heartfelt and poignant plea to save the world and humanity. It’s so full of beauty, truth, and sincerity that you should prepare for tears spontaneously streaming down your cheeks even as you sing along in hope-filled joy.
Even if she’s a new voice to your ears, it’s no surprise that Gray is a rising talent. She won Best New Artist at the Indigenous Music Awards and scored nominations for Best Pop Album and Best Radio Single for her 2017 self-titled debut album. Now signed with Nettwerk Records, she has an EP, Each Moment , coming out January 28, 2022.
We talked to Gray about the new song and video and her Haida roots.
Cowboys & Indians: For people who aren’t familiar with you and your music, what’s the quick summary?
Carsen Gray: I’m an Indigenous Haida singer-songwriter from Haida British Columbia, Canada, and I make singer-songwriter/folk music with a hint of soul.
C&I: Much of your inspiration comes from your late uncle Bobby Taylor of the famed Motown group Bobby & the Vancouvers. I’m told he was instrumental in discovering and mentoring the Jackson 5, even introducing them to Berry Gordy. When and how did you get involved in singing and writing?
Gray: I’ve been singing to myself ever since I can remember at around age 5. My dad also enrolled me into a choir at age 7. It wasn’t until my mom encouraged me to record a demo of a cover song in a studio at Canada’s Wonderland that I discovered singing was something I could pursue professionally. They played it back to us out loud for everyone to hear, and that’s when I feel like I heard what I actually sounded like. Later on as a child, I often performed cover songs at different events in my community, like the local Christmas concert. I was also invited down to Vancouver at age 11 to join my late uncle and family friend Bobby Taylor. We performed together at a restaurant called Rossini’s that also featured live jazz performances nightly. I met my husband in 2014, and he was the one who really encouraged me to start writing my own music. Together we wrote an EP, which later became my self-titled debut album in 2017.
C&I: How was music part of your upbringing?
Gray: My father was always very musically talented. My family on my dad’s side is extremely gifted musically. Most of my aunts all play piano and sing very well. My dad is a classically trained pianist who also encouraged and influenced my love for music as a child. He arranged piano lessons for me and had me join a kids choir. Both of my parents early on encouraged me to sing and perform for people. My mom would always have my little sister and I sing “Truly Madly Deeply” by Savage Garden together when we were little on quite a few occasions.
C&I: As an Indigenous native of the Haida Gwaii archipelago off the coast of British Columbia, your First Nations roots play a large part in your music. How does your heritage influence your life and your music?
Gray: I’m definitely very blessed to come from such a supportive community. They’ve been cheering me on since I was 11 years old. I’m very proud to be Haida and grateful for my people’s support over the years. I think everyone should be proud of their heritage, but I try to make my music universal for everyone as we all share similarities in our cultures.
C&I: Your new single, “Each Moment,” is an uplifting power ballad that pays tribute to the breathtaking, untouched land where you were born. Tell us a little about growing up there.
Gray: Haida Gwaii is a very down-to-earth place. It’s very special. A lot of people don’t know where it is or have ever heard of it. Everyone on the island knows each other and is supportive of one another. I’m so grateful for the peace I have living here. Growing up on the island was awesome. We were so behind the times. When everyone had cell phones, we didn’t. Haida Gwaii didn’t get cell phones until around 2007 or 2008.
C&I: How did the song come to you?
Gray: My producer sent it over and I immediately fell in love with it. I found the song to be very earthy and gave me an at-home feeling. I was inspired by my homeland and its peace and beauty. Haida Gwaii has some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Pacific Northwest. Its temperate rainforests are a dream for those looking to connect deeper with Creator and experience His creation in such a pure form.
C&I: You reference writing in a journal. Do words for lyrics come first? What is your process?
Gray: For many songwriters their journals are the songs. Sometimes it could go either way: Sometimes the music comes first or the concept. I try not to give myself any rules when it comes to the process. I like to let it flow organically.
C&I: The video for “Each Moment” was all shot on location on the island of Haida Gwaii and showcases the lush, natural beauty of your homeland. I read somewhere that the Haida have called Haida Gwaii home for at least 12,500 years. Tell us about the experience of shooting the video there.
Gray: I spent some time around the island with the director and my mom. My mom knew where a lot of the special gems were located on the island and was such a huge help! Some locations were difficult to get to. It was fun, of course, but also a lot of work. The director, Stuey Kubrick, pushed me to get that amazing footage and encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone quite a few times to get the epic shots we needed. Some of the locations were at different beaches, including Balance Rock, Hayden Turner Park, Meyer Lake, other various forests and a waterfall. The director went for an island cruise and also did some scouting for extra locations. The experience was a blast, complete with many laughs.
C&I: The words, music, and video are all so moving, and they work together to create something between a prayer and a hymn and a power anthem. The lyrics call for unity by asking to
Imagine a world where everyone is free
And the song that's sung had a perfect melody
Vivid as teal and orange on a big screen
Would we all get along if money was not king
How do you answer that question about getting along if money weren’t king? What do you think is needed to get along with each other and with nature?
Gray: I think everyone needs God/Creator in their life, and to realize we’re all not much different from one another when we remove the vices and devices! A lot of the corruption in the world boils down to humanity’s sin. It is the root cause, and putting your trust in our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ will give you the strength to turn from your sin to walk in newness and spiritual freedom. The beauty of nature was gifted to us by God/Creator not only for our spiritual healing but also to reveal His existence to us.
C&I: There are studies now showing that time spent in nature, especially among trees, is healing — even more than pharmaceutical medicine in some cases. What role does nature play in your life and your music?
Gray: Living in Haida Gwaii, nestled among the cedars and the lush forests, has definitely impacted me in an incredible way. The peace, beauty, and laid-back lifestyle for me are very healing and allow me the freedom and quiet space to create at a relaxed pace. My works that I'm most proud of were created right here at home.
C&I: What are the main things you hope people will get from “Each Moment”?
Gray: To get off our devices and realize our blessings. No matter where you are or where you live, God has blessed you. I think with so much time spent online and social media today, we’ve become wrapped up in “What’s next for me?” [We’re] constantly wanting something — material possessions or comparing ourselves to others. I feel like it’s important to unplug and reflect on the blessings we have and thank God for them. I don’t think people realize how instrumental God is in their lives, continually sustaining and blessing.
C&I: If you were to make a playlist of a dozen or so favorite Indigenous songs, who and what songs would be on it?
Joey Stylez – “Superpower”
DJ Shub – “Indomitable” (feat. Northern Cree Singers)
Ruby Waters – “Quantum Physics”
Buffy Sainte-Marie – “Starwalker”
Jason Camp and the Posers – “Gotta Get Back to Haida Gwaii”
Leela Gilday – “Rolling Thunder”
Fawn Wood – “Mommy’s Little Guy”
Lancelot Knight – “Pick Me Up”
Kinnie Starr – “Runnin’ Right Beside You”
William Prince – "When He Commeth"
Northern Cree – “Earth Angel”
Redbone – “Come and Get Your Love”
C&I: What are you working on right now?
Gray: I’m working on the follow-up to my Haida Christmas EP, Xaayda Christmas — classic Christmas songs all sung in the Haida language.
C&I: What’s something that might surprise people to learn about you?
Gray: I played Princess Tiger Lily in the 2003 Universal Pictures Peter Pan.
C&I: If we were to visit the coast of British Columbia, what would you have us experience there? Is there a good place to learn about First Nations culture?
Gray: If you came to my community, I’d say the hikes, fishing, and beachcombing. I think it would be an amazing experience to meet up with some of the very knowledgeable locals who know a lot of our stories and teachings as well as the rich history of the Haida people. One of my favorite blessed occurrences I think anyone visiting should experience would be coming across the orcas, grey whales, and humpbacks.
Photography: (All images) courtesy Gaetan Lamarre