DAVID GRAY After selling millions, singer says: 'Music is first'
His album 'White Ladder' is the best-selling album ever in Ireland.
By JOHN BENSON
Singer-songwriter David Gray vividly remembers his opening slot on Radiohead's "The Bends" tour of 1996.
Sitting in the sweltering Odeon Concert Club during a summer some time in the mid-'90s, he aspired to be an artist of relevance. It may have taken him a decade, but the Wales native has finally reached that point with the release of his latest album, "Life in Slow Motion."
"It's not like I have a master plan but I'm pleased at where I'm at now," said Gray, calling from London. "It's like failure has it pitfalls, and they're very easy to see, but success has them too. I feel like I've survived what was a very unlikely episode of becoming a multimillion-selling pop star. And now, I'm back in the groove of the music is first. It all just sort of makes its own sense."
One person's failure is another's steppingstone, which is how Gray went from a relatively obscure British artist -- with numerous forgettable albums -- to slow-brewing breakout success with his 1999 album "White Ladder." Recorded in his apartment, the gentle material was nurtured by wistful ambience with an electronic folk motif. Off the radio success of hit single "Babylon," the album finally garnered stateside acclaim, thus giving Gray -- Grammy Award winner for Best New Artist -- his first big break.
Has top-selling album
In fact, the world fell in love with Gray. In particular, Ireland's best-selling album ever is the 14-times platinum "White Ladder." Take that, U2.
"Exactly, got to give those boys a bit of a wake-up call," Gray said. "They have it a bit easy if you ask me. Yeah, that's a bit of a mind-blower. I still don't know what to say about it. What happened there was just crazy, it went beyond anything."
Having watched the music world from the side of the stage for nearly a decade, Gray was well aware of the ebb and flow of music industry careers. He knew replicating the success of "White Ladder" was perhaps a fool's errand so he eschewed the easy follow-up by releasing 2002's "A New Day at Midnight," which was a more heady experience, lighter on glitz and heavier on substance.
While not as commercially successful, the album succeeded in culling the transitory fan from Gray's audience, which then opened the door for "Life in Slow Motion."
"It's a change, it's a new start," Gray said. "Things come in cycles, and this is the beginning of a new cycle, I think. So, basically sort of anything goes. That's the approach I sort of went into this record with. I wanted it to be more about playing rather than playing along to a click track. I reached the point of confidence where I was welcoming other ideas, welcoming other people's interpretations, rather than defending my own."
Inspired by more conceptual artists of the day -- Gray mentions Sigur Ros' new album "Takk..." as an influential soundscape -- the 37-year-old musician looks forward to his return to Northeast Ohio tonight at the Palace Theatre. Without the spotlight of commercial success blinding his craft or misleading his audience with ubiquitous radio success, Gray finds himself enjoying life in slow motion.
"That's not what my career is going to be about," Gray said. "I'm an album person. Basically it boils down to a listener that is a bit more involved. Those are the listeners that I treasure. I'm not going to push away the casual listener but they disappear anyway the moment you're not the next big thing. It's the people who are more involved with your music and involved with music in general, those people are the ones who you treasure."
XDavid Gray will be at the Palace Theatre, 1615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, tonight at 8. For tickets, go to www.tickets.com or call (800) 766-6048.