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All things geek – A love of 'Guitar Hero' evolves into musical journey

Matthew Lane • Apr 6, 2020 at 9:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Josh and Robyn Ray have long had a love of video games. It’s what brought them together in the first place. It was the couple’s date night for the longest time.

Their game of choice was “Guitar Hero” (later, “Rock Band”) and soon after, Josh turned his electronic hobby into a physical business in downtown Kingsport for a few years. Gamer’s League was a place where folks could come and compete head to head on games like “Halo,” “Madden” and, of course, “Guitar Hero.”

It was there the couple met Mikey Kinley, an eight-grader at the time, who was not only a die-hard video game enthusiast like they were, but also a big fan of the “Guitar Hero” games. Naturally, the three hit it off and over the years they became close friends. Today, Mikey is like a family member to the Rays.

In video games, characters typically evolve. They get stronger, more skilled and find bigger and better weapons. It happens in real life too. For Josh, Robyn and Mikey, they went from playing video game instruments, to learning and playing actual musical instruments, to forming their own band: The First Rays.

Now, the trio is taking it to the next level.

CROWDFUNDING A DREAM

Earlier this month, the trio launched their first ever Kickstarter, calling it “Taking it over with The First Rays” — a $500 fundraiser to cover the cost of producing the band’s first song. The plan is to work with Grammy-winning producer David Castle and release the song on various music streaming platforms by the end of April.

The Kickstarter was fully funded earlier this week and ends Sunday night.

“Our music career began as video game musicians. We won a ‘Rock Band’ tournament at a local music shop, got real instruments as prizes, and we started learning real music together,” the Kickstarter reads. “Over the years, ‘Guitar Hero,’ ‘Rock Band,’ and ‘Rocksmith’ influenced us to be a part of the music world.”

“We had been dabbling and wanting to play real music,” Josh told me earlier this month. “After all those years, with the different failures we’ve had, it culminated in us breaking out and maybe thinking we’re supposed to do this.”

Robyn, who sat next to her husband during our recent interview, briefly laughed when I asked her what she thought when he first proposed this idea. Maybe she needed a little convincing.

“I think it’s really cool and I’ve never been a part of something like this,” she said. “I like the creative process, to sit down and write down my thoughts and make it into a song. We’ve played together so much, we can just start a bass riff and (Josh) will jump in with guitar. It’s like second nature and we’re like a family.”

A FAMILY AFFAIR

Josh, 34, and Robyn, 37, have been married for 12 years as of March 1 and have a 10-year-old daughter. The couple are from our region (Josh from Kingsport and Robyn from Church Hill) and they both work in the health care industry.

Mikey was born and raised in Kingsport and graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School. He is married with two sons.

Growing up, Josh was always around music. His father dabbled and played guitar and bass, but for whatever reason, it never clicked for Josh. He didn’t pick up a musical instrument until he was 23. Robyn, on the other hand, does have a background in music. She played clarinet and saxophone starting in sixth grade and her father, like Josh’s, is musically inclined.

Today, it’s a much different story. Josh sings and plays guitar; Robyn sings as well and plays bass. Mikey is the group’s self-taught drummer.

I asked the couple about their first song, “Take It Over,” and what it means to them. They answered without hesitation.

“Whatever it is in your life, now is the time for change and breaking free,” Josh said. “It’s so easy to sit there and be complacent. Whatever hand is dealt to you, change has to start with yourself. Whatever hardships you go through, you can always take it over.”

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