It may have been 21 years since his first studio album but UK singer/songwriter David Gray has lost none of his spunk.
In fact in his tenth and latest album, Mutineers, Gray steers into unfamiliar territory, forging new creative ground in the process.
‘The process of writing and making the thing has changed quite a lot for me, but that’s really because you can’t hang around waiting for inspiration. Once you have made a certain amount of records and used up your ideas you need a new sound and you have to find a new way to do it or it becomes repetitive!
This time round I knew what I didn’t want. I wanted something different. I needed a key person to work with. I chose Andy Barlow from Lamb as the producer. For me that was the key in making this record. The band put a lot in but it’s very much Andy’s record in terms of the soundscape and the feel.’
‘You have to yield a lot of your precious space and that’s difficult! You let someone into your most sacred experience – the song you have written. I think the establishing of trust is difficult. There was a definite honeymoon period and then I struggled. When we got down to business he was knocking things down and we hadn’t built anything in their place.’
It was a process that Gray credits for pushing him into uncharted waters.
‘We had worked on it for a week or two and we had this big bag of songs. I said that we had 40 songs, and Andy wasn’t that interested; he asked what else did we have – and I replied that I had one from last week but I didn’t have lyrics. He said, ‘Go with it, Dave, go with it, Dave! I was getting in a fevered state – and he pushed me.
Andy instinctively knew that he was putting me in a level playing field. When you have a song pre-written and cast it’s much harder to break it open, and with something that wasn’t set we were able to work on it together to create an amazing soundscape.’ That song ended up being Beautiful Agony and ironically, it’s exactly what it was for Gray!
‘I was totally out of my comfort zone. I was very uncomfortable. Another time he took a song I already had written and he tore it up.
We listened back to the song that I had written and he said, ‘This is my favourite bit,’ and ‘lets’ work on it’. It was just a bit. I said that we didn’t have a verse or chorus. He got quite exhausted by the process, so he said, ‘Why don’t you find a new lyric for the chorus?’ and he went and rested.
Jesus Christ! Okay! I worked and worked and worked on it and then suddenly the chorus came to me, and then I had a guitar lick and the song came together, and after a day we were completely excited. We were working off the map; that was when we really bonded and I guess you could say he won my trust – I jumped out of the plane and it was worth every second!’
The producer/artist workshop may have clicked but that didn’t mean it was plain sailing for Gray.
‘I did have a couple of tantrums and that is very unlike me. I kept thinking, ‘this is fucking mental, this is crazy!’
The hardest thing beyond the creative thing was the way he got burnt out very quickly when we were working. It took longer than I expected and we got less done than we wanted to. He couldn’t cope with my intensity or my strategy so I had to play it his way. I found relinquishing control hard work because it wasn’t done to the beat of my drum; it was so hard to deal with because it was the process of giving someone else the reins!’
And in the end the results speak for themselves. Mutineers is a stunning musical offering. Gray was pleased.
‘It is very open. I feel like the record cracked open – there are no defences there. I needed someone to take me in hand, because I had got stuck in a rut, I had turned myself into a creative machine and you lose something along the way. Working for Andy I was looking all around; it was such an emotional thing, it fed into the record very well. The whole record was about regeneration and a rework, and more than a creative one, creative reworking.’
David Gray has put together an eight-piece band for the show he will bring to Bluesfest next year.
‘There are such big vocal parts and there is such a celebratory aspect to the sound and in the way we have re-interpreted the old songs. It needs seven people singing to do it justice and we have gone to great lengths to bring it together. We had a brilliant time last time we did Bluesfest and the gig was fantastic. It’s an amazing vibe. We had a wonderful night and a couple of days at the festival. It’s rare that I get on top of that – I am really looking forward to coming back!’
For program and ticketing information go to www.bluesfest.com.au.