British singer-songwriter David Gray is celebrating his 25th year in the music business. Gray is known on this side of the pond for his 1998 album White Ladder which includes the hits “Babylon,” “Sail Away” and “This Year’s Love.”
Gray is out supporting the release of his Greatest Hits album which also includes two outstanding new tracks: “Smoke Without Fire” and “Enter Lightly.”
He will be making a stop at Express Live in Columbus on May 20th for a solo acoustic performance. This will be his only appearance in Ohio this spring.
Mr. Gray recently spoke with NEO Music Scene to talk about his career and his upcoming appearance in Columbus.
GD: Congratulations on your Greatest Hits CD. Does it seem like you’ve been doing this for 25 years?
DG: Yeah! It does seem like that. I have a few grey hairs and my forehead has a few more lines than it needs to have! It’s a long time. Looking back at the video’s, it’s hard to believe that a quarter-century has gone by, well almost a quarter of a century since my first single came out.
GD: You started out as primarily a folk-rock artist’ what made you change your sound on your 3rd record?
DG: It was album number four, really. It was just the air around it. I’ve always aligned with new possibilities moving to places I haven’t been before. To shine a different light on the songs that I sing. In the end, it happened quite naturally and quite organically. On that album, we didn’t have room or a microphone to set up a drum kit. So we used a drum machine. When I moved to London, there was a scene of electronic music and dance music. When I went out, it got into me. Although it’s never going to be the kind of music I want to make, the sound fascinated me. It ended up being a hybrid of all of my musical adventures.
GD: Right, it’s an excellent combination. You make it work out well. Looking back on your career, who were some of your musical influences?
DG: Well the obvious one’s are Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. I picked up on bands that I absolutely love like The Cure and Madness when I was growing up. The whole ska thing that happened in the U.K in 1978, that had a huge effect on me. Then the indie sound of the early and mid ‘80s, The Cure, The Smiths, The Cult, Thompson Twins, all of that stuff. It really got under my skin. Those are the most powerful influences, I’ve been listening to them since then.
GD: Who was the first person you saw in concert?
DG: (laughs) The Smiths! The Meat is Murder tour. I bumped off school with my best mate and his brother was stationed in Edinburgh (Scotland) from where I lived in west Wales, it’s the equivalent of being 420 miles away. He said “I have tickets to see The Smiths, will you come up?” But he was lying, he didn’t have any tickets at all! We bumped off school and went all the way to Scotland, got there and rang him on the ship. He couldn’t believe that we turned up and furthermore, he had no tickets to the concert whatsoever! So we all ended up getting different tickets instead of a pair. But that was my first proper gig!
GD: That’s a great story! When did you know that you wanted to make music as your career?
DG: I guess when I formed my first band. Me and my friends formed a band at school around sixteen or seventeen and we started playing gigs. Something about playing in front of people and writing songs. I love art, I love painting, I love writing. But playing about with music is more direct. I guess I could be alone but music brought me out in front of a crowd.
GD: What was it like working with Annie Lennox? You guys sound great together, so how did that come about?
DG: I bought a studio from Dave Stewart, the other half of the Eurythmics. So having a connection there, I had written that track and I wanted a powerful woman voice to sing it with me. I sent it out to a few people and Annie was one of them. She said “Yep, I love it. I want to do it.” She was great to work with. She had all of these ideas when she was in the studio and she was not shy. But there was no diva kinda stuff, she fit right in.
GD: What is your favorite song to perform live?
DG: I switches around. I’ve had several songs that have looked after me well. My favorite recently would have to be “Nemesis” off of Draw the Line. That song live has real potential. It’s one of those songs, when you come out of the end, there’s a whole lot of open space and you don’t quite know where it’s going to go. I love that because you can lose yourself completely and I guess that song is the most generous in that regard.
GD: Your new CD has two great new songs on it, I really like “Enter Lightly.” What inspired you to write that song?
DG: Actually, it’s a line from a book that I read that I paraphrased. I read that line in the book and I thought: “I like that!” I sat down and turned it into some music then took it a bit further.
GD: You’re doing a solo acoustic tour this time out, what can fans expect from this show- is it like a storytellers type show?
DG: I never pre-prepare any schtick for the arena. I just feel it each night. The beauty of the acoustic show is that I can change the setlist as I feel it. And it changes quite rapidly sometimes. It might sound different night after night, depending on how I feel. That freedom and that lack of constraint is inspiring to me. The best gigs are played in this setup is that I don’t quite know what’s going to happen next. I need to be present with the audience, I need to talk to them. Because it’s just me and there is no band to hide behind. I have to be present and I have to engage with them. It’s an indepth look at all of my music from the very, very beginning right up to the present day. That’s what the gig is and it’s been a real joy so far!
GD: Thank you so much and will so you in Columbus soon!
DG: Thanks, I’ll see you there!
David Gray will be performing a solo acoustic show at the Express Live in Columbus on May 20th. You can purchase tickets at www.ticketmaster.com