Break and Remake
for a quick promotional visit on the heels of his first tour Down Under, English
singer/songwriter David Gray says he's ready to completely rethink his
constitutes a really good gig for you?
When you've lost yourself,
and you know that you've given absolutely everything, and it's added
up to more than the sum of five people playing instruments and three thousand
people in a room. When it's added up to more than the sum of its parts-that's
when you get to a higher place. You can't always get there. It happens
every now and again.
Losing yourself meaning you've
gone outside of yourself or become one with the crowd?
I think I heard
Thom Yorke [of Radiohead] describe it as a bit like driving at night, and I like
that description. You're in control but you're seeing a world in
your headlights. It's hard to describe it. You're not having to
make conscious decisions all the time because you're in a rhythm, you're
in a groove. You're at one with the band, you're at one with the
song, and you're at one with the audience. Something far greater happens
when you get rid of the self-then the self truly prospers. It's
like some strange "Star Trek" episode, but it's strangely
Some artists say that ever since they were small it was
their destiny to be on stage. Did you have any sense that this would be your destiny?
I did. From about the age of 16 I began to obsess about it. I remember even the
first time I was on a stage, I really liked it. And though I was shy, I was without
fear on stage. I had command of the audience at eight years old. I could feel
the cogs click. They want you to take them somewhere, and it seemed natural.
did you decide that it was going to be music?
Well, it was going to
be painting or music. There was just something about getting on stage and the
fact that it involved other people and an audience. I felt I had something to
say... I wasn't dying to get involved with the bullshit of the art world.
Something about music and the honesty of doing something on stage seemed more
You must have found plenty of bullshit in the music
industry itself once you reached a certain level of success
always there, always will be. The forest is thick with bullshitters, but so is
every walk of life.
What has been the most salient downside of
commercial success for you?
It's the moaning slot. Right. Okay.
I think the biggest thing has been how draining it has been on my creative energy-the
scale and pressure of the promotion. I went through some pretty harrowing promo
in order to get this whole zeppelin off the ground. And it's marked me,
scarred me in a way. I feel less and less comfortable when I'm not writing
and making new things. When I'm not doing that I feel more and more like
someone traveling around selling something. That is not the sensation that I want
to have. You have to learn to say no.
You said before that you
were a shy kid. Did songwriting evolve as a way to get around the shyness and
express yourself to other people?
I don't think so. In lots
of ways I still am very shy. But it's not as simple as: shy, release into
music, escape from shyness. There's an element of that. But, no, I wouldn't
say that. It's more complicated. But being on stage I find quite liberating,
and it changes you subtly going out there.
Do you work over your
lyrics very minutely, do you polish them? Or do they arrive as perfectly cut gems,
Sometimes it all comes at once and the first thing
I start to sing will lead directly to writing a verse, and then a chorus will
come and then another verse, and then before you know it, the whole thing's
done. Those songs often have something very special about them because there is
something instinctive going on. So yeah, the outpourings, the fast ones, are some
of my favorites. Yet some of the most successful songs were songs that took quite
a while to write, that I finished in dribs and drabs.
surprised by which songs became popular?
Well on White Ladder it was
like the whole record. There were certain songs like "Silver Lining,"
"This Year's Love," "Babylon," "Sail
Away," "Please Forgive Me" that were particularly popular,
but that's most of the record. The great thing about when we made it is
that we didn't have hang-ups about what was a single or not. Things hadn't
become important yet. Each song was just done, and then we moved on and didn't
think about it. I didn't think "Babylon" was the one, I thought
"Please Forgive Me" was, but I was wrong.
the new album, was there more record company input and people wanting to steer
you in certain directions now that you'd achieved commercial success?
was none. I didn't actually have a record company until I've finished
a record and they've decided they want to release it. It's a licensing
agreement. I make a finished product and they make a decision on putting it out,
and that's how it works. You don't want to exclude people-I
did let people hear things before the record was finished to give them an idea
of whether they should panic or not-so there was none of that. The pressure
was all internal. Suddenly after selling millions of a record that I'd
made in my bedroom, this was the absolute flip reverse situation, with the same
personnel in a totally different perspective.
another album with the band or something different?
This record is
a record that had to get made. And it felt that way at times because it was prioritized.
Everyone had a deadline, and before it was even half done there were tours around
the world. It was made under intense pressure. But I think-music is so
important, it means everything to me and I'd probably die for it-but
at the same time it's just bloody music. And when you're making
music, it should have a throwaway quality. It's often those moments that
are worth keeping. This record became too serious too fast, but it was a record
we had to make and that pressure always would have been there... The great thing
is, it's liberated me for what happens next. So I don't have the
answer to your question; obviously I don't know what comes next. But I
feel strongly that I've reached the end of a certain way of doing things.
And that maybe it's because I've played so many hundred shows, revolving
around 30 or 40 songs, I feel compelled to break and remake what I do. I want
to question the way that I write, the way that I record, the way that I think
about music, the way that I think about where the lyrics come from, what they
entail, what a song needs to be, which is something that keeps changing. I feel
I need to break and remake my music, and that's what I think is going to
A New Day at Midnight is available
on Warner Music Japan.
Warner Music Japan
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