“There’s even a sample of my daughter slamming the door. That’s the joy of home recording…” - hmv.com talks to David Gray
Just over 20 years after the release of his all-conquering fourth album White Ladder, David Gray is back once again.
His new album Gold In A Brass Age, the 11th LP of his career, is out now and available in hmv stores across the country.
It marks a change of direction for Gray, who is embracing electronics and loops on this new collection, rather than the warm acoustic folk of his last LP Mutineers.
We spoke to Gray about the making of Gold In A Brass Age and why he’s in a creative purple patch...
It’s been five years since your last studio album, can you talk us through what you’ve been up to?
“Mutineers came out in 2014 and then I toured for a year and a bit with that. After that, I did a Best Of, which had a few new tracks and then I toured that. I’ve made this album and another album which will come out after this. I’ve been busy, but I have been taking more time out to have a life. You need to stop sometimes and have some fallow periods."
"You can’t just keep drawing water from the well, you need to stop sometimes. Lots of people have picked up on the gap, but I haven’t stopped being creative. I’d actually say I’m as creative as I’ve ever been. I’m making more music than ever. The tip of the iceberg is coming out now and a lot more will follow.”
Was releasing a ‘Greatest Hits’ clearing the decks for something? Is this the start of a different chapter for you?
“No, it was more just timing. I’m trying to run a record company in a time where people are buying fewer records and sometimes you have to make business decisions. The collection allowed me to finish the contract I was in and move on to a new chapter. It made sense to do it. It’s not easy navigating the music business now, things have changed so much.
“I manage my own label, I’ve got running costs and staff to look after, it has to keep pumping out stuff. I didn’t want to rush a record out, but I needed to keep going.”
That said, this is quite a change of direction for you, this is a much more electronic record...
“I never want to come off the back of a record and just do it again. It is more markedly obvious on this album, but you always want to get out of your comfort zone. You need something that will surprise you and really light your mind up. You want to catch your heart off guard and you can’t do it by working in the same way. You need to take chances and go down the path less trodden.”
You did the record this time with a producer called Ben De Vries, why did you decide on him for the record?
“We hit it off. I tried working with a few young producers. I was looking for someone who could match my ideas and someone who could tune into my frequency. I needed someone who wouldn’t be intimidated by me. Ben was that. He was right there, immediately. I played some stuff, some early demos, some really ham-fisted early attempts and he knew what I was trying to do. He’s a very musical producer, he loves to play and we really gelled. It was a joyous process and we got a lot done very quickly.”
At your stage of their careers, a lot of artists are self-producing, but you still see the value in a producer...
“I don’t have the skillset to do it. I know what I want. I could produce somebody else’s album, but I’d need someone to work the computer. I could record myself just with a piano and a guitar, but if you’re looking for ways to explore, then you need collaborators. There are chopped up guitars here, strange samples, we made our own sound, we sampled everything. There’s even a sample of my daughter slamming the door. That’s the joy of home recording.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“I think it’s a document of my life. It’s metaphorical and I tried to avoid narrative where I could. I didn’t want to talk directly about anything. It’s a record of everything I was thinking about. I’ve been around for 50 years. I’ve watched people die and people be born. I’ve seen good luck and horrible bad luck. I think it’s a celebratory record, for me anyway…”
When did you settle on Gold In A Brass Age for the title? Was it an easy pick?
“It’s never easy. I liked the brightness of it. I also feel like this is a brass age, but it has an uplift to it. It’s such a musical phrase too. I had 50 album titles, but they seemed too pre-conceived. We’d been working on this song, working for four or five hours and we needed a name to save it on the computer and I said ‘Gold In A Brass Age’. It just fitted and felt natural.”
You’re about to head out on tour, what’s your live set-up going to be this time?
“It’s really exciting. We’re in rehearsals now and it’ll be a very different set-up. On the last tour, we had seven or eight people on stage and everybody was singing. We did everything live, no clicks, no backing tracks. This record is much more electronic and I want to show that off. I’ll be sampling my own piano, guitars and vocals. Ben is going to come and sample the band too. It’s more like a live studio on stage."
How’s your set coming together? You’ve got 11 records to pick from…
“A lot of the old stuff will be passed through that setup. A lot of the early records are quite electronic, especially White Ladder. ‘Sail Away’, ‘Babylon’, songs like that were all done to a click and they’ll work really nicely. There are a few songs I have a hankering to play. I won’t touch base with all the albums, but I’m excited to re-configure a lot of the tracks and bring them back to life…”
David Gray’s new album Gold In A Brass Age is out now in hmv stores.