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Four years ago, while touring behind his last studio album, Foundling, David Gray started to get fed up with himself. Audiences were still cheering his every move – hits like Babylon and This Year's Love were guaranteed crowd-pleasers, and even the new material was going over well. But the singer-songwriter was feeling a creative restlessness he had never experienced before, and he knew that he couldn't continue as he was.
"I just got tired of the sound of my own voice," Gray explains. "I was bored of the thoughts I was having, the sounds I was making. I didn't want to be the same mildly disenchanted, middle-aged man looking for redemption – the same line of inquiry. I wanted to change it all. So I had to cut off the main road I was traveling on and start off again by foot."
Gray enlisted Andy Barlow, one half of the electronic duo Lamb, as his co-conspirator on the upcoming album Mutineers. Setting up shop in Barlow's home studio, the two threw out much of Gray's tried-and-true ways of constructing songs ("We sort of worked backwards, starting with words and sounds and finding melodies from there," says Gray), and the result is a powerfully sustained piece of metaphysical mood music, one that evokes emotions from luxuriant pulses and textures that propel the singer's still-indefatigable resonant hooks.
Gray sat down with MusicRadar recently to talk about working with Barlow, the joys of happy accidents and why one of his favorite instruments is driving a bandmate crazy.
You don’t operate the same as many traditional singer-songwriters, do you? At least you're not anymore on this record, which is so bathed in atmospherics.
“I think we all work the same lines, but basically it’s one man’s meat is another man’s poison. As an artist, I’m drawn towards sound and the articulation of my ideas rather than the traditional piano-and-guitar thing. I’m looking for something else. I want to hear something I’ve never heard in my music – or anybody else’s – and I found it with Andy Barlow. We created this incredible sonic space, and it’s a wonderful world to be in.”
How did you and Andy hook up? What made you think that he might be the right guy for this?
“It was a real long shot, to be honest. I knew all of the things that I didn’t want to do on this record, but I didn’t know what I was looking for, either. I had a couple of test runs to make the record, but they didn’t work out. Like I said, I was itching to hear something new.
“My manager told me about Andy and how he was getting into the production game. ‘There’s something about him – I think you should meet him,’ he said. So I arranged to hook up with Andy in London, but the night before we were due to meet, he rang me up and said, ‘Dave, I don’t think there’s any point to talking about stuff. Why don’t you just come down to my studio and we’ll do a track? We’ll know straightaway if it’s gonna work.’ I thought, ‘Ah, a man after my own heart. Let’s get in there.’
“I shot down to his house near Brighton, and we worked on a track called As The Crow Flies. We got off to a bit of a difficult beginning, but as we worked through it, things started to really jell.”