An Interview With David Gray
Mike Ragogna: Draw The Line seems like a return to the sound of your earlier recordings. Was that a conscious decision?
David Gray: I think it's a degree of going backwards in order to go forwards. The music has been quite inward looking for a while with the last few records anyway. Suddenly, that's changed, and rather than filming intimate interiors of my own emotional landscape, I suddenly kicked the door down and I'm like a roving reporter sort of taking snapshots of anything and everything I can find. That's what's happening through the lens of the songs. That's how I started, trying to be more ambitious, trying to sing the world almost. Sort of paint a picture of a panorama. In spirit, it is like I've gone back, and I've also gone back to the style of taking a record where you play live, where there's no click track bulls**t going on. It's just the band playing in the room, and if possible, singing to the track as well. More than half the record was done live with the vocals and the whole thing. It's got a real human element to it--it's more real. The production is stripped down, but of course, there is the odd track where it's absolutely produced, like full-steam ahead.
MR: You can feel the naturalness, like on the song "Breathe." The twelfth-note intro sounds so precise even without mechanical help.
DG: And there's no click on that.
MR: You start "Nemesis" as a breakup song, but then it goes into a list of Graysiologies that expand on the concept before it concludes. Were you keeping track of where you were going with the song as you wrote it?
DG: [Laughs] Yes, it was like a sack of images I found buried in the back garden and I managed to find the one silver thread that would tie them all together for the last line of the song to make sense of the whole thing. It's got something special, that song.
MR: As a songwriter, what excited you about creating the material for Draw The Line?
DG: I love to catch songs very fresh, like when they're just being born. The act of becoming is more interesting than having become something. It's like catching that moment when it's instinctively taking shape for the first time. You punch out the lyrics and fight your way through it. I love those moments, I treasure them. So I was in my own studio as much as I could be in it, with the band around as much as I needed them, and I was able to push on and on and on to get more and more and more of this incredibly fresh material. Writing completely new songs in the studio was necessary to capture what was in the air, this magic, and we captured it again and again. So there's a real freshness to a lot of the recording. The overall story of making this record was the pushing for these magic moments.
MR: What kind of inspiration came from the recording process itself?
DG: There was a lot happening, there was a new chemistry among the band, so there wasn't a sense of repeating myself. It was like something new. "Draw the Line" itself was that sort of moment when the whole new identity for the music was forged. The song came out of a jam when we were trying to record "Breathe" and we weren't getting anywhere. That song was from the bass playing, then the guitar, and the drummer started hitting, and I thought, "This is good, let's record this!" So I took it home that night and just started to write lyrics, wrote it all night, and got in there in the morning a bit ragged. I said, "Forget about everything we were supposed to be doing, we'll just do this one," and we managed to catch it before my head exploded. When I heard it back through the speakers, I said, "This is it, this is what I've been waiting for, this is why I changed everything...changed the band, changed the whole thing." It was so the new thing could happen.
MR: It seems you were extremely energized by what was going on creatively both inside the studio and inside yourself.
DG: It's only when you're 100% awake and present and in the moment, firing on all cylinders and loving it do you really know what you've been missing. There's a sort of passion, a directness and energy about this music that I've been looking for, well, for a while.
MR: Normally, what's your writing process like?
DG: It's first the music, and then the words. After I write the music, I try to find the words that fit the feeling of the music and then write the lyrics from there. I'll find a key phrase or way into the lyrics. Or sometimes I write the music and it's not completed until I find the right lyrics to go with it. Just occasionally, I write the lyrics, then put music to the lyrics, but not very often. I've done it less than five times so far.
MR: Do you feel there was a similar magic in making Draw The Line as there was on White Ladder?
DG: There was something special going on in the air this time. It's what you want every time you try to make a record but it doesn't always work out that way. But this time around, there was something going on.
MR: Years have passed since "Babylon" was a hit. How do you feel about it these days?
DG: It's really come back to life. It's very different at the moment than the template that I started out with. I was having to perform it so many times, I lost contact with that song, and it was only when I started to play it in a different way at acoustic dates that I got it back. I started to play it gently, very, very gently on acoustic guitar and that's it. On acoustic guitar, I found a new way to sing it, I put the emotion back in there. So the song is very much alive and kicking at the moment.
MR: Did you first become popular internationally with your single "Shine"?
DG: My first song on my first album was "Shine," it was my second single, and it created a cult following in Ireland where the video got played a lot by a certain video jockey on a certain music channel. That's where I got some action with "Shine," it didn't really register anywhere else. But it's always been a bit of a flagship song for me. White Ladder is what broke me internationally. It was a big breakthrough with "Babylon" everywhere.
MR: How did you record White Ladder?
DG: We made it all in my house with very little equipment. It was mainly myself, the drummer and the engineer who was the producer, engineer, and sound wizard who came in with all those electronic noises and made them sound convincing. So we pretty much did it ourselves.
MR: Why did you record Draw The Line in a studio as opposed to your home?
DG: Five years ago, I bought a big recording studio off Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. It was called The Church and it's a big place, like 5000 feet. That's where I made Life In Slow Motion and where I recorded this record.
MR: There's another Eurythmics connection, Annie Lennox performs a duet with you on "Full Steam." What's the story behind that?
DG: I wrote a duet and then we had to find someone to sing it with me. I had this vision of the song being a kind of Righteous Brothers song. I was originally thinking along the lines of another man--I thought maybe Chris Isaak or Michael Stipe or someone who could play the other lines well. Then my manager suggested Annie. We basically sent the tracks to a few people and she got right back to us and said, "Yeah, I want to do this, I think it's great." So we got her in the studio and she didn't just turn up and sing it, she put her heart and soul into it. Now that she's sung it, I can't imagine anyone else doing it. I think the song would have sunk under its own weight had there been another wordy voice singing next to me. She makes the sentiments of the song lighter somehow.
MR: You saved that big finale to the end, with an orchestral sendoff for the project.
DG: That's a huge orchestra at Abbey Road Studio. We've had to upgrade our own sound banks to try and replicate it live.
MR: Do you have any advice for young artists just starting out?
DG: Understatement is always the key, and whispering is louder than screaming. Don't forget, you can turn the fader up, you don't have to sing louder. Let the PA or mixing desk do the work. It took me a while to figure that one out. The softer you can hit the song and really make it connect, the better it will sound.
David Gray - Draw The Line
Draw The Line
Stella The Artist
Full Steam - with Annie Lennox
Pearl Jam - Backspacer
So this is what Pearl Jam would sound like after hanging with George Thorogood. Backspacer is so quick and dirty that by the end, you feel like you've witnessed your cousin's band playing KROQ's Dysfunctional Family Picnic. It's great to hear the guys trying on old school rock 'n' roll and putting their moniker on it, it being exactly the right thing to do after an unnaturally prolonged angst that became irrelevant a couple albums ago.
FYI, if you weren't alive during the era of IBM Selectric typewriters, the "backspace" pad was the equivalent of today's "delete" key, and some might say the group just took a big step backwards with this 37-minute retro-trip. But it's more like Pearl Jam jumped a giant space into their own future by stepping back into the barroom. With Brendan O'Brien overseeing the sonics, Eddie Vedder almost has never sounded this good, and the album's more thoughtful tracks, such as "Got Some," contemplates with an edge. And if you thought you'd never see that day, here it is: "Just Breathe" seems destined to be the group's first overplayed classic love song. Really, who knew. Start Here: "The Fixer" or "Got Some"
1. Gonna See My Friend
2. Got Some
3. The Fixer
4. Johnny Guitar
5. Just Breathe
6. Against The Wave
7. Unthought Known
9. Speed of Sound
10. Force Of Nature
11. The End
JUST FOR THE FOLK OF IT:
The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You
These North Carolina grunge-grassers cover a lot of folk-rock territory on I And Love And You, living up to the promise of their previous album, the award-winning Emotionalism. You can track this new project on your Wilco/Son Volt/Uncle Tupelo radar because of its roots 'n' roll instrumentation, but the songs are written a lot deeper than some of that tribe's best wordsmiths. Lines like "There was a dream, one day, I could see it, like a bird in a cage, I broke in and demanded that somebody free it" seed the record, and its well-produced energetic intimacy makes it a very nice Fall listen for fans of all that is acoustic. Start Here: "Head Full Of Doubt / Road Full Of Promise"
1. I And Love And You
2. January Wedding
3. Head Full of Doubt / Road Full Of Promise
4. And It Spread
5. The Perfect Space
6. Ten Thousand Words
7. Kick Drum Heart
8. Laundry Room
9. Ill With Want
10. Tin Man
11. Slight Figure Of Speech
12. It Goes On And On
13. Incomplete And Insecure
Monsters Of Folk - Monsters Of Folk
A few years back, Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins recorded as a little roots-ish outfit called The Thorns that was a fine Americana-pop supergroup along the lines of Crosby, Stills & Nash. But the problem was that every one of their self-titled release's tracks seemed like they were auditioning for the top of the charts at the expense of a naturalness or appreciation of ambiance, something that the best groups of that genre-variant achieve. On the latest incarnation of supertalents to carry that folk flag, Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis, Jim James (from My Morning Jacket) and M Ward are simply playing together and off each others' parts resulting in a feel that's comparable to that of the Grateful Dead and The Band. Now that's not to say it's as "good," but it sure does feel as honest. And since there are so many Lennonisms scattered throughout the project, Monsters Of Folk might satisfy your craving for those Beatles box sets whose next ship dates--according to Best Buy--won't be until late October at the earliest. Start Here: "Say Please"
1. Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)
2. Say Please
3. Whole Lotta Losin'
5. The Right Place
6. Baby Boomer
7. Man Named Truth
9. Ahead Of The Curve
10. Slow Down Jo
11. Losin' Yo Head
12. Magic Maker
13. Map Of The World
14. The Sandman, The Brakeman, And Me
15. His Master's Voice
Orba Squara - The Trouble With Flying
New York singer-songwriter Mitch Davis (you guessed it, Mr. Orba Squara) already has seen his career skyrocket with his songs appearing in iPhone ads ("Perfect Timing") and the movie Wedding Daze ("Brand New Day," featured here). This album continues what Davis started, his wispy voice sprouting from a field of glockenspiels, accordions, harmonicas, acoustic guitars...you get the idea. He not only writes and sings the material, he also plays every instrument--except for some contributions on guitar and backing vocals by "The Stroke"'s Billy Squire. It's hard to pick a favorite because it all just blends together which, in less talented hands, might have resulted in a bland experience. Despite Davis' sounding like he needs a big, beefy burger or a B-12 shot to get him through a performance, his youthful, pseudo-asthmatic deliveries keep your ears perky on what would have been hailed as a pretty decent Cat Stevens album if this were the early seventies. Though The Trouble With Flying, with all its exotic instrumentation, may get a little too cutesy for those looking for more depth, there are songs like "Tomorrow" that should change their minds. And after hearing the title track, you just might want to watch out for birds with pebbles in their eyes. Start Here: "Come So Far"
1. Treasure Map
2. Come So far
3. All The Colors (Picture Perfect)
6. New Guitar
7. The Trouble With Flying
10. Tell Me
11. Brand New Day
12. Raining Again
13. Very Slow (Snow In June)
Jer Coons - Speak
This follow-up to Jer Coons' 2006 album Entropy sees the Vermontner just as cheery and folky and poppy as ever. Sonically, it's Don McLean meets Bob Hillman but coming from a smilier place. Most songs have young romantic storylines such as "Boxing The Cold" that reveals Jer and his lover "...were boxing the cold 'cause our zippers were broke, and we both fell in love with the smell of the smoke, and there was so much snow that we couldn't find the road, but I drove..." It's all sweet stuff, and for the most part, the production is economical, relying on the singer-songwriter's voice to layer the band with no frills. Speak also offers harmonized country pop like "Girl In My Head," and a slight experimental keyboard or reversed drumloop here and there. But it's mostly folky banter with girls of the moment who will swoon from Coons' smarty lyrics and aw shucks personality. Start Here: "The Only Trace"
3. Boxing The Cold
4. Girl In My Head
7. You'll Never Know
8. Wait (Just A Little)
9. Film Called Life
10. Ship Sank
11. The Only Trace
SOME THINGS FOR THE KIDS!
Dan Zanes & Friends - The Fine Friends Are Here! (DVD with bonus CD)
Former Del Fuego Zanes threw a party at The Jalopy Theater in Brooklyn and taped it, using just about every musical genre and exotic color in your kids' Crayola box to visually stimulate and splash as much joy as possible onto our flat screens and monitors. Beyond the interactive concert (between the performers and young-to-middle-aged audience), the DVD contains three surreal videos that are sequenced to break up the live event, and the whole shebang has interesting animation throughout. The music? A celebration of Zanes' "hits," all organic, culturally diverse, rootsy, and most importantly, fun. This is the template for how to do music right for little Johnny and Suzie that doesn't have you running from the room for your insulin. (By the way, the party continues in this Thursday's interview with Zanes.) Start Here: "Night Owl" with Aimee Mann
1. Let's Shake
2. The Fine Friends Are Here
3. Wabash Cannonball
4. Water For The Elephants
5. Pollito Chicken
6. Jump Up
7. Cape Cod Girl
8. Wonder Wheel
9. El Canario
10. Welcome Table
11. Thrift Shop
12. Monkey's Wedding
14. Catch That Train
15. Walking The Dog
16. Night Owl - with Aimee Mann
1. I've Just Seen A Face
2. Hush, Little Baby
3. The Bells Of Ireland
4. Goodnight, Goodnight
Los Lobos - Los Lobos Goes Disney
Did you ever own one of those ...Goes Disney albums, like the one by jazz god Dave Brubeck? Well, this cool kids album doesn't talk down to your young'uns, and it entertains them (and you) in just as sophisticated a way as the ol' jazzer while creating a variant of kids' stuff that's also pretty greasy. Start Here: "When You Wish Upon A Star"
2. I Wanna Be Like You
3. Not In Mottingham
4. The Tikki Tikki Tikki Room
5. Grim Grinning Ghosts
6. I Will Go Sailing No More
7. The Ugly Bug Ball
8. Cruella De Vil
9. Bell Notte
11. Bare Necessities
13. When You Wish Upon A Star
14. It's A Small World After All
GUILTY PLEASURES OF THE WEEK:
Ally McBeal - The Best Of Ally McBeal: The Songs Of Vonda Shepard
1. Searchin' My Soul
2. Something About You
3. Chances Are
4. The Wildest Times Of The World
5. Home Again (Live)
6. Sweet Inspiration
7. I Know Better
8. You Belong To Me
9. Hooked On a Feeling
10. I Only Want To Be With You
11. It's In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)
12. Tell Him
13. Baby, Don't You Break My Heart Slow
(release date: October 6th)
Harry Connick Jr. - Your Songs
1. All The Way
2. Just The Way You Are
3. Can't Help Falling In Love With You
4. And I Love Her
5. (They Long To Be) Close To You
6. Bedsame Mucho (Kiss me Much)
7. The Way You Look Tonight
8. First Time Ever I Saw Your face
9. Your Song
10. Some Enchanted Evening
11. And I Love You So
12. Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)
14. Mona Lisa
THIS WEEK'S NEW ALBUMS:
Alice Donut - 10 Glorious Animals
Animotion - Animotion
Animotion - Strange Behavior
Brian Auger & Trinity - Definitely What!
Brian Auger & Trinity - Befour
Basement Jaxx - Scars
Beastie Boys - Hello Nasty
Joshua Bell - The Best of Joshua Bell: The Decca Years
Dave Berry - This Strange Effect: The Decca Sessions / Volume One
The Big Pink - A Brief History Of Love
Billy Talent - Billy Talent III
Black Tape for a Blue Girl - 10 Neurotics
Bloodstone - Bloodstone
Bloodstone - Do You Wanna Do A Thing
Michael Bolton - One World One Love
Brother Ali - Us
Buckwheat Zydeco - Essential Recordings: Let The Good Times Roll
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - White Lunar
Ray Charles - The Genius Hits The Road
Guy Clark - Somedays The Song Writes You
Harry Connick Jr. - Your Songs
Elvis Costello - Spike
Elvis Costello - Mighty Like A Rose
Elvis Costello - Extreme Honey: The Very Best Of The Warner Bros. Years
The Cranberries - 20th Century Masters: The Best Of The Cranberries
David Crowder Band - Church Music
Alan Cumming - I Bought A Blue Car Today
Dawn featuring Tony Orlando - Candida/Dawn featuring Tony Orlando
Charlie Dore - Listen!
Deadmau5 - For The Lack Of A Better Name
Diamond Rio - The Reason
Orla Fallon - Distant Shore
John Fahey - Essential Recordings: Twilight on Prince George's Avenue
Five Finger Death Punch - War Is The Answer
Flying Machines - Flying Machines
Dan Fogelberg - Love In Time
Lisa Germano - Magic Neighbor
Girls - Album
David Gray - Draw The Line
John Hartford - Essential Recordings: Good Ole Days
Richard Hawley - Truelove's Gutter
Andrew Hoover - Chances, Stances & Romances
Reagan Hudson - The Boar Hog Twist
Islands - Vapours
Isley, Jasper, Isley - Broadway's Closer Than Sunset Boulevard
Joshua James - Build Me This
Etta James - The Inspirational Collection
Janus - Red Light Return
Sean Kingston - Tomorrow
ksm - Read Between The Lines
Larry the Cable Guy - Tailgate Party
Jeff Larson - Heart of the Valley
The Kentucky Headhunters - The Kentucky Headhunters Live / Agora Ballroom Los Lobos - Los Lobos Goes Disney
M - Pop Muzik: 30th Anniversary Remixes
Mae - (M)orning
Manassas - Pieces
Bob Marley & The Wailers - Best Of The Early Singles
Matt Maher - Alive Again
Barry McGuire - This Precious Time / The World's Last Private Citizen
Luis Miguel - No Culpes a La Noche: Club Remixes
Mika - The Boy Who Knew Too Much
Monsters of Folk - Monsters Of Folk (with Conor Oberst, Yim Yames, M. Ward, Mike Mogis)
Monty Are I - Break Through The Silence
Geoff Muldaur - Texas Shieks
My Bloody Valentine - Isn't Anything
My Bloddy Valentine - Loveless
Frankie Negron - Independence Day
Willie Nelson - Phases And Stages (Vinyl)
Bob Newhart - The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart/The Windmills Are Weakening
Bob Newhart - The Button-Down Mind on TV
Bob Newhart - Bob Newhart Faces Bob Newhart
Bob Newhart - This Is It!
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Speed Of Life
The Nite-Liters - A-Nal-Y-Sis
Noisettes - Wild Young Hearts
NOW - NOW That's What I Call Club Hits
Nuggets Where The Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968 (4 CD Box Set)
Gary Numan - The Pleasure Principle: 30th Anniversary Edition
Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - Between My Head And The Sky
Pearl Jam - Backspacer
The Persuasions - Essential Recordings: A Cappella Soul
Wilson Pickett - Essential Recordings: It Ain't Easy
Rain Machine - Rain Machine
Rescue Signals - Indecisions
Jonathan Richman - Essential Recordings: Vampire Girl
Riders in the Sky - Essential Recordings: Ghost Riders In The Sky
Roomful Of Blues - Essential Recordings: Jump Blues Classics
Sea Wolf - White Water, White Bloom
Skindred - Shark Bites And Dog Fights
Sonata Arctica - The Days Of Grays
Spiral Beach - The Only Really Thing
Jeffree Star - Beauty Killer
Adam Steffey - One More For The Road
Angel Taylor - Love Travels
Tears For Fears - Raoul And The Kings Of Spain
George Thorogood & The Destroyers - Essential Recordings: One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer
Three Days Grace - Life Starts Now
Thunderclap Newman - Hollywood Dream
J. Tillman - Year In The Kingdom
Times New Viking - Born Again Revisited
Shania Twain - Come On Over
Bonnie Tyler - The World Starts Tonight
Vertical Horizon - Burning The Days
Wallpaper - Doodoo Face
Mike Zito - Pearl River