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David Gray is an English singer-songwriter. His most recent album is Draw the Line. Although he released his first studio album in 1993, he did not receive worldwide attention until[…]

David Gray’s new album, “Draw the Line” strikes a more energetic and upfront tone than any of his previous work. He told Big Think why he’s excited about the album, how it represents his personally better than earlier work, and why his new ideas won’t stop coming.

Question: Are you excited to tour with Draw the Line’s more energetic songs?

David Gray: Yeah, because sometimes you offer the music out as some sort of fragile bloom into a hostile space and you’re like, “Please like me. Don’t heckle in the middle of this one.” It’s like church music in an inappropriate setting. Sometimes it is very sensitive, or there’s a lot of sort of emotion to it, and a couple of my recent records have been very emotional and sort of inward. And so it’s harder to take those songs out to the crowd in a way. You need them to be on your side because obviously it’s often a bit more challenging then that live.

These [new] songs are very outward. They are very direct; they’ve got a bit more pace and a bit more attitude. And it’s fantastic to have that in the engine room. All this different gearing. But it’s also the way that I’m feeling. I am looking the world squarely in the eye and I just can’t way to sing out all this stuff. And I’ve already seen it have an effect; we’ve done a few shows already. I can see the music registering. It’s very direct. So, yeah, that’s very exciting.

I’ve had a break as well. You know, I was a bit toured out. So, I am full of beans in that sense. I’m longing to play the shows. So, yeah, its great having this record and what it’s got on it.

Question: Lyrically, does Draw the Line better represent your personality than other albums?

David Gray: I think it shines a light on more facets of my writing and my head than previous records, which were pitched in a certain place. I’ve been in quite an inward zone while I was post-fame and post a few deaths, and the strain in my private life and the strain of just being away all the time and having young children and all this stuff going on and trying to work out how best to deal with it all. I’ve suddenly freed [myself] and it reminds me a bit of my first record. This record, it’s very divergent. There’s not one song that typifies it, there’s lots of different types of stuff. But in terms of the ideas that it presents and the wit of some of it, I think its far more reflective of me as a whole, because people talk to me sometimes and they—I don’t know what they’re expecting—can’t believe I’ve got ideas or I give a fuck, or I might punch someone in the face. It’s like, well of course, I’m a human. Are you offended? It’s like; life is hard to swallow, isn’t it most of the time? It’s like; you can’t move an inch without salesman pitching you on some fucking bullshit they’ve dreamt up. It’s like, it’s a constant struggle just to stand still and not be overcome by a sense of loathing. And yet it’s completely wonderful as well. I don’t know. So, I guess, yeah, I’m delighted with this record in that respect. I feel that it’s a work of greater maturity in terms of the writing and I do think there are songs on there that are very like things that I have written before. Like Jackdaw: ballads that people can probably latch onto immediately.

And all of the songs on there, I’ve written some things sort of similar-ish too, but it’s just better constructed. And then there are things like Nemesis on there, which I thinks sort of transcend anything I’ve managed to do so far. I think they are much more elegant constructs than what I’ve tried to say—[which is] the same thing, but I’ve not said it as well. That’s all we’re up to: saying the same thing in different ways.

Question: What are the plusses and minuses of working with a producer?

David Gray: Well, I’ve had a few records with producers and various entanglements with them. Working with Marius on Slow Motion was a very successful project and at that point, I just bought this big studio and I really needed a little help in learning how to use it or to think within the scope that it offered me because I had just basically been making records in a very sort of bedroom way. And that’s how I found my sound finally. Or learn to relax in the studio. A producer gives you objectivity. He’s not actually playing the music, he’s sitting their listening and obviously whenever you get someone like that, it can be very, very helpful in all things.

[Marius] supposedly helps people to express themselves or relax within the whole thing, or try something they wouldn’t have tried or has ideas. I mean, some artists are pretty clueless and they need somebody to do everything to do everything for them. And then you get – well I think pretty much all of the interesting artists will have very strong ideas about how it should be, but some people aren’t very practical or they’ve not got very good people skills, is a polite way of saying they’re rude fucking twats. And they need somebody who can sort of get everybody working together. So, they think that they are some sort of divine presence that’s going to come in and sort of create magic. So, it’s like, anyway, sometimes it feels like you need some external influence, some objectivity and a little bit of magic from somewhere, a little bit of guidance.

I’d heard that Marius had made lots of interesting records and quite grand. He was obviously quite baroque in his sort of soundscapes, and that was completely running contrary to the way that I would normally do things. So it made for an interesting combination. But this time around, I think if the magic is happening in the band then that's what you're looking for the producer to create, and that I knew exactly what to do with this and it was right up my alley. Fun, you know. My music. But I mean, it was, you didn't have to do much with it because we were getting a live tape, which has a certain sort of thing to it. Everything glues together in a certain way when you record like that. And you don't need to [add] loads of stuff on it to make it sound convincing. It is convincing; it's the real thing. It sounds good just as the naked truth of what is. So [with] overdubs and all that, it was obvious when the big gestures needed to be made production-wise.

But I guess I gained a lot of confidence slowly over the years about my own opinion and being able to express it. I think the big problems I had in the studio when I was younger was I couldn’t really articulate what I wanted. I couldn’t speak drummer language, or engineer language; I didn’t know what all the knobs did on the desk, or whatever. But slowly I’ve gleaned little bits of important information and terminology down the years, and I can just about express myself without pissing everybody off. So, it’s often people would get pissed of when you’re not trying to piss them off, you’re just trying to explain what it is you want. All they know is you don’t like what they’re doing right now. It might be that they’re only seven inches away from the thing you actually do want. And you can’t quite get them there.

Question: Are you thinking about ideas for future work at this point?

David Gray: Yeah, but I’m wary of these phantom thoughts because really I know I’m not going to get a chance to do anything for a while. So, you think, wouldn’t it be good if, or I’ve got all that stuff going on all the time. I sort of take notes and usually I stop writing completely when I’m on the road but for some reason I haven’t this time—the writing, the words part of my brain hasn’t turned off, so I’ve got a couple of songs I’m sort of finishing. So I guess there’s quite a lot of stuff left over from this mammoth recording session we did over the last few years. And a few unresolved things too. And I’m trying to resolve some of those. So, it’s always ongoing and I think that seems to be the way that it is. It just keeps coming.

Recorded on:  September 21, 2009