Her hands moving slowly and thoughtfully over black and white keys, Ray Duncan contemplates the melodies of her songs while sitting in her small, cozy home. She occasionally switches the instruments she plays, showing some love to her guitar.
“I’m in love with the piano and the guitar is my mistress,” Duncan said.
Duncan’s music is folk-inspired and uses both the piano and guitar along with her soulful voice.
The singer-songwriter practiced her musical talent since her childhood and had all the tools to do so. Born in Cambria to two songwriters, Duncan developed a natural curiosity for music. She received her first toy keyboard at the age of 11 and immediately caught on to the skill. Without any experience or formal training, Duncan developed her own way to understand the “new language” of music.
“I didn’t have the discipline or the patience to sit and learn how to site read,” Duncan said. “I learned partly by ear and partly by watching what keys were lighting up on the little Yamaha keyboard screen.”
From there, Duncan discovered notes and progressions and made her own music. Though her parents encouraged her to follow traditional styles, Duncan decided to create her own.
Duncan admires two-man bands, finding solace in the simplicity and sparseness of guitars and voices blending together. She takes harmonic and lyrical inspiration from the likes of Jillian Welch, David Rawlings and Bob Dylan, using their styles to shape her own.
Just as striking sounds have influenced Duncan, so has her environment. Her tightly knit community of small town Cambria made Duncan eager to expand her horizons. Duncan moved to San Luis Obispo in 2015 and sees the town as a stepping-stone in her journey.
“Being in SLO, there is a nice artistic community and incubator for expression,” Duncan said. “SLO sometimes feels really small. So small that you think, ‘I want to get out of here.’ But then I think, ‘What I’m getting here would not be available anywhere else, just because of how the community is.’”
In May 2016, Duncan released a seven-song EP album titled “This Road.” All of the songs on the album are originals, produced by Duncan and her father.
Duncan said that while many of her songs are about personal experiences, she also likes to write about things that haven’t happened to her, like writing stories.
“‘This Road’ was a recording and snapshot of where I was a year ago,” Duncan said. “I’m definitely not there now, but I’m glad it exists.”
Duncan plays in shows all over the Central Coast but mainly books gigs in Cambria and San Luis Obispo.
Though she doesn’t play live too often, she said that taking the stage always gives her a unique sense of thrill.
“You can only gain stage experience by being thrown into the fire,” Duncan said. “You can’t rehearse the type of feeling it gives you.”
Duncan’s music streams on Spotify, iTunes and Band Camp. In the future, Duncan plans to learn from fellow musicians and develop connections in San Luis Obispo.
For future plans, Duncan said she hopes to have a full-length album finished by the end of the year.
With her passionate love affair with art, as she worded it, Duncan’s pursuit of music is not dying away anytime soon.
“When I sit down at the keys or to play the guitar, the pinnacle word for it would be joy,” Duncan said. “There is nothing like the distilled sense of joy that music brings me. There is also frustration because I’m not exactly where I want to be yet, but I got to believe I’m going to get there.”