“I’m at the beginning of a birth of creative work, I think, that Mutineers was a founding stone of.”
Ahead of British singer David Gray’s appearance at the West Coast Blues N’ Roots Festival in Fremantle Park on Sunday, March 29, SHANE PINNEGAR discovers a highly driven artist determined to deliver a unique experience for his fans.
Since breaking through with the multi-million selling album, White Ladder, in 2000, David Gray has gone on to make a couple of more stripped back albums before last year’s Mutineers saw him returning to the layered soundscapes of yore.
“I don’t think we’ve gone backwards, only forwards,” Gray insists when comparing the two records, “but I think there are certain parallels that could be drawn. I think there’s a few electronic elements to it. It’s like a hybrid of an acoustic, piano-based record with a sound that is very much now.
“So that’s where the parallel is – I don’t think it sounds like White Ladder, really, I think it’s a different thing entirely. But it involves a similar level of collaboration, it was a joint effort in both those records – it wasn’t just my vision, it was sacrificing some of my ideas to let other people’s stuff in, and that’s what strengthened this record.”
Relinquishing control is something Gray finds difficult to do, but he realises it’s a necessary part of his creative process.
“It’s never easy to relinquish control. Never. It’s a constant challenge in every aspect. But I think you get kind of set in your ways, and that was one of the problems I had, so I stuck with it, and it was worthwhile. I think the element of risk is vital.
“When I sat down to make Mutineers,” he continues thoughtfully, “I was looking for the next thing and I didn’t quite know how to get there. I kicked a few doors open, and now there’s more opening in front of me again… so I’m at the beginning of a birth of creative work, I think, that Mutineers was a founding stone of.”
Making the album with producer, Andy Barlow from Lamb, was obviously a productive arrangement, but it wasn’t always a particularly happy working relationship.
“It’s difficult because of the things we’re detailing now, and also because of different working methods,” Gray states. “I’m very, very hardcore in the way I go about things: I don’t mess about, I sort of work ‘til I fall over – so it’s obviously not always healthy to do so, and Andy found he couldn’t work my way, it was overwhelming.
“So I found all that stuff, the chopping and changing of time and the lack of momentum, the slowness, I found very hard to take – because I’m a real pusher-on-er, I would just get it done. Normally I call all the shots and everyone starts running. But this didn’t work out that way. So any dramas were on a practical level – but on a creative level the thing that consoled me when I was getting completely stressed out was that the work we were doing was increasingly heading in a new direction, and I could hear that, and the wide open spaces that were being created were exhilarating – and that’s what I was working with someone else for, so I had to take the rough with the smooth.”
This intense and cathartic experience has similarly changed the way Gray will be delivering his live set.
“Yeah, well we try to do as much justice to the soundscapes – and the vocal parts, the vocal parts are just such a huge part of the record. We try to do justice to that as best we could by having a choir essentially with me – so there’s seven people playing and singing with me – and then the drummer.
“His job is just to drum,” Gray laughs, “it’s best that way! Yeah, so it’s very much shaped my approach to the live music is very much shaped by what we’ve done in the studio, and wanted to try and do it justice. We all felt very buoyant, so we rather ambitiously created this rather huge group of people, which financially and logistically is obviously a nightmare and makes no sense at all, but in order for us to celebrate the music in a way that it deserves to be celebrated, so that’s what we’re bring to Australia: the full thing, the eight-piece band.
“It’s quite a thing, and not only for the new music, but also the old songs as well: when they’re passed through this celebrational filter they take on a new life, really… but after this huge band thing, I need to find a satisfactory live incarnation that doesn’t have so many hotel rooms!”