Whether she’s on the stage or off the stage, Ray Stern, better known as The Universe Featuring Ray, is always embracing her creative side.

Her “Give It Up” music video reflects her high energy as she dances and sings through the forest.

Between painting the camera lens, discovering eyes floating in the forest, (the design of which she also uses in her merch) and wearing an outfit made up of stuffed animals, it’s clear the musican enjoys expressing herself through visual art as much as possible.

Origins of The Universe

The Chatham-Kent native has loved performing since childhood. She began songwriting at the age of 15 years old. Along with Chatham-Kent, she considers Windsor and London her “home bases,” as she lived and performed in all of those areas in the past decade.

Musicians such as David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O inspired her because of their avant-garde persona and drive to bring something unique to the music industry’s table.

Her musical influences, including punk bands, inspired her to have an avant-garde look.

The Universe Featuring Ray, aka Ray Stern, sitting at a patio in London, Ontario
Even when not performing, the art-rock musician likes to express herself by putting paint on her face. Photo by Emily Stewart

“Naturally, I just started painting my face,” she said. “And expressing myself in what ways that made me feel good, and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

After earning two nominations for the Forest City London Music Awards this year, it’s clear her commitment to establishing herself as an art-rock artist is paying off.

Pins, stickers, and a marionette (Oh my!)

In addition to her music, Ray also gets her creative juices flowing through visual art.

It all started with a backpack she created using a light-up painted boogie board. She wanted to stand out during Canadian Music Week and promote herself. With the backpack, she can play guitar while carrying the prop on her shoulders.

A sticker that says "I love music,," a sticker that says "The Universe Featuring Ray" and an eye pin on a wooden table. All are created by The Universe Featuring Ray
There’s no shortage of the Universe Featuring Ray merchandise, including pins and stickers. Photo by Emily Stewart

She is always working on new merchandise, like pins and stickers, while simultaneously working on larger art projects. Some of her bigger creative projects include a four-armed marionette, and light-up wings made from children’s toys.

“It’s hard for me to just to do nothing,” she said. “So I spend all of that time creating and stuff.”

Stern is looking to upgrade her skillset in electric work so she knows which light bulbs are the best to use for her projects, versus buying whatever is available in stores or online.

On the radar: More music, more shows, and a documentary

There are a lot of projects up Stern’s sleeve, including an album. Although no formal date has been set yet for the album, she said to expect everything from to pop, to rock, to punk music. She also said the songs will include some self-reflection.

A filmmaker is also working on a documentary about Stern. The filmmaker has accompanied Stern during her events.

“It’ll be neat to look back,” she said. “and see what I’m doing and from a different perspective.”

The Universe Featuring Ray in front of a rainbow banner that says "The Universe Featuring Ray."
Want to see what The Universe Featuring Ray is all about? Watch her perform at an upcoming show and be on the lookout for her projects. Photo courtesy of Ray Stern.

Stern also has a few shows coming up. She will be at Curley’s Brewing Co on July 13 at 7 pm. The show is all ages with no cover.

She will also perform at a Chainsaw Entertainment Productions show at Old East 765 on July 20 that starts at 9 pm. Other musicians on the bill include Small Town Leeches, Crown and Jester, Coaching for Sarah, and Wasting Time. Cover is $5.

She is one of the several performers at Musicians Raise the Roof, a concert raising money for those experiencing homelessness in London.

The cause is close to her heart, as she knows homelessness is a major issue in London, and has had family members who were close to living on the street.

“I’m not close to that,” she said. “But I think anyone is. It doesn’t matter who you are.”

Check out Musicians Raise the Roof on 6395 Parkhouse Drive in Melbourne, Ontario on August 10 at 12 pm. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Proceeds support  Life*Spin and Keeping Kids Warm.

Stern’s album is expected to be released in the early fall, with a pre-release in September.

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