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British singer-songwriter David Gray is out with his first new album in four years. You might remember him from the song “Babylon” off his 1999 album “White Ladder,” which sold 7 million copies worldwide and earned him a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 2002.
But his next album didn’t do as well. He’s released a number since then. His new album, “Mutineers,” is his tenth.
Gray sat down with Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to talk about his new album, which he says is actually uplifting compared to his other stuff. He says melancholy music is what comes out when he plays.
“I don’t know what my beef is exactly with existence, but somehow when I’m singing it comes out in this way,” he told Hobson.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
Remember this song...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABYLON")
DAVID GRAY: (Singing) Let go of your heart, let go of your head and feel it now. Let go of your heart. Let go of your head and feel it now. Babylon.
HOBSON: That is "Babylon" off of David Gray's 1999 album, "White Ladder," which sold 7 million copies worldwide and earned David Gray a Grammy nomination for best new artist. Well, the British singer songwriter is out with a new album - his first new album in four years. It is called "Mutineers." We sat down with David Gray to talk about the album. And we started by asking him to play us a song.
GRAY: This is "Back In The World". (singing) Every day when I open my eyes now it feels like a Saturday. Taken down from the shelf for the parts of myself that are packed away. If it's love lifts us up from the dark is it God by another name. Who's to say how it goes, all I know is I'm back in the world again. Like the lift of a curse got a whole different person inside my head. No more trudging around stony eyed through the town like the living dead now. If it's love, lift us up from the dark is it God by another name. Who's to say how it goes all I know is I'm back in the world again. Back in the world again. It's the only way to be. The only way to be. I'm naked like a tree. It's the only way to be. I'm naked like a tree, it's the only way to be.
Less than sand on the beach staring into the reaches of space and time. I'm singing out words with the voice that I hear it seems barely mine. If it's love puts the song in my heart is it God by another name. Who's to say how it goes, all I know is I'm back in the world again. Who's to say how it goes. All I know is I'm back in the world again. Back in the world again. It's the only way to be. The only way to be. I'm naked like a tree, it's the only way to be. I'm naked like a tree, the only way to be. It's the only way to be, the only way to be. The only way to be. The only way to be. Every day when I open my eyes, yeah, yeah. Every day when I open my eyes, yeah, yeah. Every day when I open my eyes, yeah, yeah. Every day when I open my eyes yeah, yeah.
HOBSON: You've still got it David Gray.
GRAY: You got an extra chord there. That was a bit of added value for the avid listener. You've got something well jazzy - I'll be exploring that on another album sometime in the future. They've taken the cavernous reverb off so I don't sound, you know, quite as ridiculous as I did before.
HOBSON: No, you sound. And you sound - you know I've talked to musicians many years after the songs that they became famous for. And sometimes they've lost their sort of great thing about the voice. But you sound just like you did with "White Ladder."
GRAY: I think, you know, touch wood - I think my voice has sort of strengthened over the years, you know. I don't know why because I treated with disrespect. That's my formula for success. It's always a bit of a battle when you're doing this stage of the journey for me. Because I've got the mountain of years touring in front of me. The psychology of the whole thing is kind of - it's just my voice standing at the bottom of it all. And, you know, the promo and the incessant interviews - I'm just using it all the time. And it's suffering from a bit of wear and tear these days. It preys on my mind. But, yeah, touch wood, it seems to be getting stronger with age.
HOBSON: Well, the other thing that I noticed that is similar about this album and previous albums is there is a real melancholy feeling. And I wondered when I was listening - is this guy always sad or?
GRAY: Jesus, I think this record is upbeat by my standards. It's just the way that - that's the flavor that my music has. You know what I mean? It's like where would music be without sadness?
HOBSON: I mean I've gotten through breakups listening to your songs.
GRAY: Yeah, I think just the melancholy just feeds in there. There's something fundamental about - that's my - I don't know what my beef is exactly with existence, but somehow when I'm singing it's like - it comes out in this way.
HOBSON: Well, you say you think this one is more upbeat. What you trying to do with this album?
GRAY: Well, it was just a radical overhaul really of where I was at. I think I sat down at the piano to write a new record in 2011 having been on the road for a good couple of years and, you know, I hit a few, sort of, moody chords and started some moody lyrics up. I said, I don't want to be some moody, middle-aged man. I mean I'm bored of that. I've done that. I've done that one. What else - I want to say hallelujah is what I want to say. But how am I going to get back to that sort of feeling? So I just started looking and started choosing the path less traveled in terms of the way that I was working. So working backwards in my processes, trying to work from lyrics into music. Anything to just refresh the thing. And those successes gradually accrued. I could see that I was starting to strike on something else.
HOBSON: We're speaking with British singer-songwriter, David Gray about his new album "Mutineers." Stay with us. This is HERE AND NOW.
GRAY: (Singing) You know the way it is. You start to mutineer. Trying to shake the monkey off my back. So beat the island drum. As steady as she come. And all the stars are closing for the land.
HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. And if you're just joining us, were talking with British singer-songwriter David Gray. He is out with a new album called "Mutineers." And we were just hearing from David before the break what he's trying to do with the album.
GRAY: The whole thing was like a major upheaval. And a painful process as well. I think during the years of like touring and making records I've kind of dehumanized myself to some extent - compartmentalized in the extreme - to kind of survive the rigors of the process and having a family and trying to fit all this stuff into your life. I've just become some kind of a creative cart horse who treated creativity as a responsibility to fit in with all my others. And, you know, but that's no way - you don't hit the good stuff that way. You'll have a few successes but what I wanted was - I wanted spiritual renewal. You know, so somewhere through the intensity of this making process, anyway I found all of this stuff. People say there's a melancholy sound of the record. Of course. Yeah, because that's my flavor sort of thing. But for me it has a sort of - a joyous sense of being, to me as a listener, but I guess maybe I listen to some pretty miserable stuff. So in comparison, this is like listening to disco, you know, it's like Donna Summer.
HOBSON: What you thinking of when you sing?
GRAY: I'm just trying to sing it right. You know, I'm like a metalworker who doesn't see the liquid metal that's pouring through the machine. You don't deal in the emotion when you're writing songs. You deal with nuts and bolts. It's only when I occasionally stand back from it that you feel that what you're doing is trading in emotion. That's what music is. Sort of mathematics of emotion really. But most of the time when I'm singing, I'm concentrating on hitting the right note and I'm concentrating on execution.
HOBSON: We read that when you were a kid you wanted to play soccer. How did you veer so far off that path?
GRAY: Well, I still do.
HOBSON: You're in the wrong country. You should go to Brazil then.
GRAY: If they called me up, I'd cancel the tour - I'd be down there in an instant. But that isn't going to happen. No, I mean, like every kid wants to be a football player. I loved it - I played a lot of sports when I was a kid. You know, I was happiest outside just playing anything - any old game. But that dwindled. When I got into my teens and I was playing more, you know, with the men's team and all that, boys teams don't do quite well. You see the kids were going to go far. There's a the difference. And also it's just a weird world, football. I really wouldn't want to be inside it. It's a bit barren in many sort of ways. It's hardly an intellectual landscape. It's - I mean fair play to them all - week in, week out doing this stuff. It must be a thrill, but anyway, I could see the way it was going. And I tended towards things that obviously had more power for me then sport, even, and that would be making. Lots of the early photos of me are in the act of -by the building of some sort of weird sculpture or making a drawing or painting. It was something that from the very earliest age, I was drawn to.
HOBSON: Have two daughters, 11 and eight years old. What do they think of your music?
GRAY: You know, they tell me to jolly up. Jolly up dad, come on. Jolly it up a bit. Get Calvin Harris in, David Guetta. Get one of these guys in. Jolly up your music a bit. You know, they've got that sort of - you realize you're missing something when you look at your children because they've still got all that ridiculous zest. I can convince myself I'm back in the world but not as much so as them. They're absolutely full of it. So yeah, they think I need to jolly up a bit but they've given us record the thumbs up. They like it.
HOBSON: When you want to jolly up and just want to listen to somebody else, who do you listen to?
GRAY: Well, I wouldn't jolly up. I would probably jolly down, you know what I mean. At the moment I've got a favorite song. It's a song called "County Line" by Cass McCombs. Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane --I love that record. Frank Sinatra. I'm very lucky to have good friends who put things my way, so it's very much a word-of-mouth network in terms of how I pick up on things. And then you take it from there. But I think I probably read more than I listen to music in all honesty.
HOBSON: Well, David Gray, it is so great talking to you. I think we time if you can play us one more song to close out the show. What will it be?
GRAY: I'm going to do one called "Girl Like You." It's one my favorite songs from the record. And one of my favorite songs live with the new album too.
GRAY: (Singing). Shaking off the morning dew. No, I never met a girl like you. Trying to see land as it lies. Is like driving with the sun in my eyes. Not a thought of my head what to do. Because I never met a girl like you. Clearing your head when you sit in those sights. Fear in your bed when the loneliness bites. Trying to get rid, we'll be hitting those heights. I'm working on it. I'm working on it. I'm working on it. I'm working on it. I'm working on it. Yeah working on it. Someone left the door ajar. Now I've no idea who you are. I was talking with the king of days. Now my house is full of waifs and strays. Not a thought in my head what to do. Because I've never met a girl like you. Clearing your head when use sit in those sights. Fearing your bed when the loneliness bites. Try to get rid we’ll be hitting those heights. I'm working on it. I'm working on it. Well, I'm working on it. I'm working on it. I'm working on it. Yeah working on it. I'm working on it. Well, I'm working on it. I'm trying to fit one in the other but seven into five don't go. I'm trying to get along with my brother but my brother is so hard to know. I don't want no soul to suffer but it's not an easy line to tow. So I'm working on in. Yeah, working on it. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Don’t know what you are to me. Anywhere I want to be. Baby. Don’t know what you are to me. Anywhere I want to be. Baby. I don't know what you are to me. No, no. I don't know what you are to me. No, no. Don't know what you are to me. I don't know where I want to be.
HOBSON: What a pleasure. Thank you so much, David Gray.
GRAY: Cheers man. Thanks very much.
HOBSON: And you can hear David's in-studio performances with us and find out all about his tour at our website hereandnow.org. HERE AND NOW is a production of NPR and WBUR Boston in association with the BBC World Service. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.