Carolina Sky to California: Local duo plans to head out West to launch music career
Gray Wise and Hayes Smith have been playing music together for the past decade.
It started when they were 15 years old.
They each had attended a Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds concert at Davidson College.
At the time, they were strangers. Gray was enrolled at Salisbury High School and Smith went to West Rowan.
It was the music that turned them into friends.
After that, the boys started playing regularly with various friends during open mic night at Las Palmas.
“It was kind of a rotating cast of band members,” Smith said. “We were trying to create the same thing they do in New York where if you don’t have somebody that’s a consistent member you just grab somebody there.
“If we were free, we just wanted to play music.”
Throughout the years, their friendship and music has continued to grow despite parting ways during college.
Wise headed to University of North Carolina at Wilmington where he started a band called the Bourbon Boys.
Smith went to Appalachian State University before leaving to attend the The Drummers Collective, a music school in New York City.
“We went out and pursued our own musical interests and then we came back together,” Wise said.
When both men found themselves back in Salisbury, they formed Carolina Sky.
It’s been about a year since they started performing their mix of alternative rock and county.
Smith said the music has a unique cultural sound.
“You can hear that we’re Southern even in my drumming, which is funny because I don’t really have an accent when I speak,” he said.
Wise, who does the majority of the writing, said their songs are personal and easy to relate to.
“I write mainly from experience and nostalgia,” he said. “I write very intently, I want every song to draw out something different in you.”
Hitting the road
The duo is planning to move to Los Angeles this summer to launch their music careers.
“We had to go someplace where you can play every night,” Smith said. “We also want to be around people who match our artistic want.
During their time in California, the men plan to work with Tim Lefebvre, who has worked with renowned trumpeter Chris Botti, to produce their next record.
“We’re working in a huge circle of musicians at this point, this is really on a different level than anything we’ve ever done before,” Smith said.
Their first self-titled EP, produced by Adam Baker of Annuals and Ryan Johnson of American Aquarium, will debut Monday.
The men also plan to dabble in producing by working with a hip hop artist and female vocalist.
“It’s fun for us to produce other projects and also be staying true to ourselves,” Smith said. “We get to work on a vibrant form of art while gaining different perspectives.”
Carolina Sky will have their first performance out west at the House of Blues in Hollywood on June 15.
Right now, Wise and Smith are working to get everything ready for their big move.
“We’re trying to get all our ducks in a row and figure out how we’re going to get our instruments there,” Wise said.
Smith said the duo is lucky because they have “great parents and supportive friends and family.”
The men know moving to from Carolina to California is a risky step, but they’re ready for the challenge.
“If this is something that I thought we had a slim chance at I would’ve given up a long time ago,” Wise said. “We decided to move to L.A. because we want to be in a city that has opportunity and California is always five years ahead.”
Wise said he originally planned to attend law school, but decided to chase his dream instead.
“I hated who I had become,” he said.
Hayes said that’s why he ditched school at Appalachian to study at the Drummers Collective.
“I always knew this is what I wanted to do,” he said. “I felt pressure to get a degree, but the reality is the decision that I’m making for my life now is a better one.”
The duo said they have no plans to become famous, in fact, they’d rather not .
“We just want to make a sustainable living doing something we love,” Wise said.
Smith said the pair wants to make an impact.
“One thing that we’re really trying to do is not create a Nashville record in L.A., but a Southern record in L.A.,” Smith said. “What we are basically going for is a big Southern sound with a city kind of musicianship vibe.
“It’s appealing to people on a more complex level, but the undertone is simple.”
The men plan to use KickStarter, a popular online fundraising platform, to solicit cash to market their work.
“Just having a Facebook page isn’t enough,” Wise said.
Finding their voice
Both Wise and Hayes have been playing music for as long as they can remember.
Wise sang in the chorus and played in band during middle school before learning guitar.
He decided to pursue a career as a professional musician after finding out his grandfather had passed up a chance to record in Nashville in order to support his family.
“That’s my biggest drive right now,” Wise said. “I didn’t feel this way that until my grandfather was on his deathbed. The first time he heard my music was in the hospital in 2011 and he started crying.”
Smith caught the music bug when he found his father’s snare drum in his grandparents’ attic.
“My dad always wanted to be a drummer, but he didn’t think being a musician was a viable way to earn a living,” he said. “He only played a couple of times.”
At first, Smith said drumming was a way to get out his frustrations.
“I turned this extremely negative thing into an exceptionally rare artistic form,” he said. “I can certainly say I sound like me.”
Wise said it’s taken a lot of dedication and perseverance to get to this point.
“It wears on you,” he said. “We do a lot of work, but we don’t get paid for it.
“Finding your voice takes a long time.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.