In his home country of the United Kingdom, David Gray has landed nine top 40 hits and half a dozen top 10 albums, proving himself to be one of the most successful singer-songwriters of the past 20 years. He broke out and made a name for himself all around the world with the unstoppable pop tune “Babylon,” and audiences cemented their love of his music after they heard songs like “This Year’s Love,” “The One I Love,” “Fugitive” and many more.
Now, Gray has just recently released his eleventh proper album Gold in a Brass Age, which sees him shifting slightly, bringing electronic elements into the fray and mixing them perfectly with his piano playing and expert songwriting. I had the chance to ask the chart-topper about what has changed for him sonically over the years and what keeps him going a quarter of a century into his career.
Congrats on the new album! What separates Gold in a Brass Age from the rest of your albums? What's different this time around?
David Gray: I was looking for some new sonic terrain this time around. There’s more electronica on Gold in a Brass Age than on any album I’ve made for quite some time. Lyric-wise too, I looked to take a less direct approach towards telling the story.
What keeps you inspired to create more music after decades of this?
Gray: I think that making things is an essential part of who I am and I can’t see it stopping any time soon. The seemingly endless possibilities of words and music just keep calling me on.
We were surprised to hear electronic elements on this record. What inspired that decision?
Gray: I love the freedom with which a lot of electronic music makers play with sound. Hearing new and strange sounds is like an invitation into another world. With this album, I went looking for a sonic vocabulary that would let these songs speak in a new and different way. Sampling and processing and editing played a huge part in that.
In addition to a new album, you've also started exploring working as a painter as well. Tell me about your work in that field.
Gray: I studied fine art at college and painted avidly from childhood all the way up to signing my first record deal. I have only done a handful of paintings since then. If I’m honest, I miss it terribly. I keep telling myself that I’m going to take up my paintbrushes again, the problem is always making the time.
How do you feel painting is similar to creating music? How are the two completely different?
Gray: All the arts are closely related. Whether you’re dancing, painting, singing or writing poetry, you’re trying to give shape to the unsayable. The discipline and commitment required are common to each as are many of the rules that govern the success or failure of a given piece of work. One great difference between painting and music is the solitary nature of painting as opposed to the group or communal activity of making or sharing music. It’s one of the key reasons why I moved towards music and put my painting aside.
The tour that just started is huge--what has you most excited to tour once again?
Gray: The Gold in a Brass Age tour is short but incredibly intense. Usually, I’m on the road for at least a year with a new album but this time it’s more like four very intense months. From show one in March, the tour barely takes a breath until we finish in Cork in early July. Playing your music in front of a passionate and appreciative crowd is one of the highest highs that there is.
Aside from the tour, what else does 2019 bring for you?
Gray: I’m building a contemporary house out on the coast. It’s a project that I’ve poured a huge amount of time and energy (and money!) into for several years, and is finally due for completion later this summer. I’m very excited to see it finished and finally live in it. I’m also intending to complete overdubs and mixing on a new album of songs that I recorded in Scotland last year. It’s quite different in style to my current album. The working title is Skellig.