At the point I met David Gray, I had just read my hundredth "Irish David
Gray Interview". All these interviews constantly going over the same
territory. I wanted to ask him about his marriage and his relationships with his
parents and friends. The bloody nerve of me! At the end of a long day of
interviews, he answered all my questions and listening back to the tape, I'm
struck by what an honest bloke David Gray really is.
Has this new album, White Ladder, changed things in your life?
"Things are constantly changing, so this album is going to have a big effect on the way I think about things, itís been so successful. Thereís a little bit of pressure to follow it up which I donít think Iíve had before (laughs). So in that respect White Ladder will change the way I look at things. Iím going to have to be dead serious without being too precious about it all."
Youíve been very consistent: White Ladder is your fourth album. Have you ever gone through a writerís block ?
"Well, I havenít written or finished a song since September last year
which is the longest Iíve ever gone without writing a song. Before that I had
an unprecedented run of writing and writing. White Ladder was the fourth wave of
writing, on top of writing three waves before that. . . each wave getting me
towards what I wanted; each time thinking Iíve written too many songsÖ that
Iím pushing it too far. Iíd written forty-odd songs over a couple of years
but since then Iíve done absolutely nothing.
"One of the reasons is that Iíve been working setting up a record-company; for practical reasons Iíve been busy. I havenít been free to go into songwriting mode. Normally this gap in my songwriting would freak me out (laughs)Ö.but things have kind of changed. Iím watching myself more to see how I feel. How can I put it? You have to go through some stuff, to re-stock, in order to get somewhere else. Iím pregnant with a whole new wave of stuff at the moment so Iím starting to get broody and moody. Thatís how itís working at the moment."
I know youíre married: how is that affected by being on the road, travelling or being a songwriter?
"Itís not the perfect situationÖ.When I was touring in America, it was pretty hard, touring all the time, touring for ten weeks, coming back and going off again. It was really difficult for a while because you become kind of estranged. You donít actually see each other. In theory, youíre married but youíre not actually seeing the other personÖ it gets weirder and weirder. Thereís no custom built nine to five monotony."
How did you deal with record companies when you were signed ?
"I didnít deal with them very well. I didnít have a full picture of how everything worked and fitted together. I was innocent in that respect. I just wanted to make my record Century Ends. I was, like, let me in there. I want to sing my heart out. But now, because what Iíve been through, I have all sorts of opinions. You think Ďwoh! Iíve been given all sorts of money, this is marvellousí Ö but when you think about it, what was it based on? Nothing. It was a load of bullshit. "Thatís all theyíve got to throw at you: loads of money. Thatís all theyíve got: money, so it makes them feel better. ĎHeyí, they say, Ďhereís loads of money, letís buy some trainers and go to an expensive barí. Thatís all theyíve got to offer you but they ainít gonna build you a career. Iím well out of it. It works for some people; if youíre the trendy new thing, you can make it all work for you - if youíre clever - but itís a perilous thing."
Youíve got a certain level of success now. Would you like it to turn into Global Stardom?
"Yeah! (collapses into giggles). Iíve been looking at myself to find out what the answer to that is. Iím not quite sure. Yeah, itís going to get a lot bigger than this. Where Ireland is going like a steam-train, itís time to get somewhere else going because you canít tour here for very long. Itís no good doing four days, it doesnít really satisfy you. Weíve got something really good going on; what you want is more people to inspire you to inspire them. "Thatís what I want. I donít think getting bigger is the answer but you have to find a new challenge. At the moment, getting bigger is the objective. Weíve got to get some money in to sustain the whole thing. Itís a rather fragile situation. I mean I want to take it to its natural conclusion but you never know whatís going to happen next. I might fall over, trip up, and all this might be an irrelevant conversation."
Do you have friends in your life from way back?
"Iím a bit of a funny one with friends. I havenít really got anyone from childhood and I donít think now Iíve got anyone from school. I think Iíve "been set on my own thing" and that might be why I havenít kept any those early ones. "Iíve got a whole bunch of friends now in London. I think friends are very important. I think itís something Iím started to realise a few years ago, that I was missing out on a very valuable thing in my kind of solo existence. I was married but I just try and keep it to a minimum: a wife.- a soulmate! Thatís efficient friend-making (laughs). I donít know why it is. Itís a quirk of mine that I donít seem to be very good at keeping the friendship thing going. I tend to move on and be thinking different thoughts. I can be in a completely different place. I mean, I moved around a lot and when I got married, I fell in with a new bunch of people that my wife knew. So that was like starting all over again with a new bunch of people."
To be a singer, travelling around, outside of a normal 9-5 day job. Is that a strange thing?
"Yeah, but what isnít strange? Life is strange. My life is weird in its own way. Being a songwriter does remove you a little bit. I think fame is real remover because if you get famous, you get hassled and you have to live in the world of the famous people who donít seem to have that many feet on the ground, collectively. Itís just a different world."
What do youíre parents think of your success?
"I was very lucky - they were very encouraging. Iíve always been very into doing my own thing and they never said Ďyouíre not going to do thisí. They were delighted I wanted to do things. I cocked up all my exams at school. I got bored with things because I knew what I wanted to do. So I worked out the path of least resistance -Art School! Brilliant! A few dodgy paintings and Iíll be there: form a band and stone me ! It all sort of worked. "My parents have been tremendous. My dad has been pretty intense about it. Heís dead proud and he goes on about it and sometimes Iím like "shut up, dad!í because heís telling everyone whatís happening. But (grins) parents, theyíre embarrassing arenít they?!"
Tell us a story about being on the road in America?
"We had this strange experience being on tour in America. The record company werenít giving us very much money so we had this incredibly tight budget. So instead of having hotels we decided to opt for the sleeper buses and we basically got the crappiest sleeper bus in the U.S.A.; this thing had done nearly two million miles in twenty years. Going around and around America. "The driver had been in it the whole time, a sort of Hobbit type with really long hair and we should have known there was something really funny about him. He had contact lenses and he never took them out. He just squirted stuff in them early in the morning. This guy lost his mind on the tour. He fell in love with a woman and asked us if she could come on the bus for the rest of the tour, and I said, Ďabsolutely not!í. "So he decided to take matters into his own hands and faked the bus breaking down in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of winter. It was in a place like Hicksville. We pulled into some garage and he said, Ďthereís something wrong with my back tyre, weíll have to pull in hereí. And it was a little cafť with one guy behind the counter with teeth going everywhere. This guy in the bus had tampered with the electrics so all the power went off. "We were watching the video in the bus and we all had to go into the cafť and the moment weíd got into the cafť, he preceded to drive off into the distance. He took all our gear, everythingÖ. back towards Seattle. We were left open mouthed, standing in this service station and we had to call the cops. We had a full motorway chase over a hundred miles before we caught up with him. "And Iím not even telling you half the story. We missed three gigs because of that. The police couldnít do anything about it because it was a civil thing. That was the weirdest thing that happened."
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