The Welsh wonderkid who is HUGE in Ireland is back with a new album and a tour which will take him all around the country at least twice. Cat Hughes talks to him about new sounds and new styles.
Throughout history, the words singer/songwriter have struck fear into the hearts of any right-thinking people. There was the odd exception, but for the most part those words conjured up images of big hair and cowboy boots or socks and sandals. The singer/songwriter was traditionally a harmless beast, the rock equivalent of a grumpy Jack Russell. But from the freaked-out beats of Beck to the late Jeff Buckley's sublime crooning, a new era has dawned for these lonesome troubadours. And one man leading the pack and inspiring a generation is David Gray.
"I've spawned a nation of Grayites!" he chuckles over a mineral water. "We will take over. Forget the millennium bug, the Grayites, they're the ones to watch!"
Over the past five years, Ireland's pubs have been doused in David Gray-charm as our new-born singer/songwriters give it their all to be like their hero. "It's a complement isn't it? It's nice after all the years that I wanted to be like other people, it's weird to think that someone wants to be like me. You see people on stage and you think they're amazing but you never imagine that someone is thinking that about you. It's weird, man!"
Gone are the days of the mild-mannered-singer/songwriter cliché. From an overly festive hotel room, David tells of his plans to brave a mid-winter Irish tour. "I just like to keep the spirit of adventure going. We don't want to know what it's going to be like. It keeps you alive to the whole thing."
With plans for live mixing and sampling, this is nowhere near Roger Whittaker territory. These days, namechecking AIR and JURASSIC 5 as influences and still recovering from a childhood ska obsession ("I'm better at nutty dancing than they were!"), it was anyone's guess what the new album might deliver.
"WHITE LADDER" tackles house beats and computers, launching a brand new pop sound. "I started to see just what was possible. I've been experimenting with that kind of thing and just enjoying it. You need new stuff to come into your musical cocktail every now and again. I was just looking for some way to make it more interesting for me. In a way, it's more contemporary. I think it's lighter, more palatable. It's quite an intimate thing but the lightness shouldn't fool anyone into thinking that there's not as much nourishment in it. It's been framed differently so it's more accessible, not so intense. You could imagine it in clothes shops as you're picking out your new garment!"
With an all-new sound, David has returned with fresh confidence, giggling his way through interviews with amazing enthusiasm. "It feels really fertile now. I know that we're on to something and I'm dead excited by it. I'll stand one hundred percent behind what I'm doing at the moment. I know unflinchingly that we're onto something. I'm completely buzzin' about it."
The record closes with a cover of Soft Cell's "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye", not something you'd expect from a man who usually deals in acoustic angst. "Sometimes you sing a song and nothing really happens, but other times you get right into it. It's as if that one was written for me. It seemed to take on a life of it's own. And it seemed fitting with the whole mood of the record. It's a goodbye to that style of things 'cos that track's more like what I've been doing for the past five years."
But this is not simply a synth pop extravaganza. "WHITE LADDER" continues recent singer/songwriters' preoccupation with matters of the heart. "There is a melancholic feel to a lot of my stuff. I suppose it's a natural thing. If you sit alone and quietly pluck your knackered old, wooden guitar, sad sounds might usher forth. It is a sort of contemplative occupation."
Yet David Gray doesn't bow to any singer/songwriter stereotype. Dylan may have written the book, but it's time for a new generation to re-write it and David Gray seems like the perfect person to lead the way. "I've been doing this for long enough to feel relaxed that I make a good sound. You can't worry about it, you just let it come. Don't force it, don't over do it. Just let the f**ker happen!"
So, brimming with self-belief, David is unfazed by his mighty workload. He's doing what he loves and he's ridiculously excited about it. "At the moment I'm having a brilliant time. Making this record and doing our own thing has been fantastic. I'm completely reborn as far as my interest in everything. And the way we've done the record has kicked down so many doors as far as the possibilities of where the music could go. I've got so many songs lying around, I just want to get back in and do more!"
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