David Gray

Climbing the Ladder

  By George Tsioutsioulas

Like most overnight success stories, David Gray’s star has been quietly on the rise for a while: Eight years to be exact. His new album 'White Ladder' has reached new heights: The top of the charts and critical acclaim.

Gray released his first album, 'A Century Ends', in 1993, after spending some time in art college. He followed that up with two critically acclaimed discs that barely anyone heard. Things were not looking good for our sensitive singer-songwriter with the sad earnest voice. ‘White Ladder’ would change all that. “It’s been an amazing struggle,” admits Gray as he twitches nervously rarely making eye contact. “I know what it feels like when your dreams don’t come true but I think it’s been all massively beneficial for me to have gone through those years so now I think I’m on a fairly solid platform.” As he says this he pauses to cross his fingers and then proceeds to let out a startlingly loud laugh that he throws his whole body into.

Ladies and gentlemen I introduce you to David Gray:
A study in contrasts.

David Gray was born in Manchester, England in 1970 or in 1968 depending on which source you want to believe. As a teenager he played in a few punk bands. That angry young man mellowed out a bit after he became a student at the University of Liverpool where he discovered and acquired a taste for folk music.

Those early influences can be heard poking through in his first breakthrough hit “Babylon”, but not in an Oasis-I-wanna-be-the-next-coming-of-the Beatles kind of way. Gray pays respect to his heroes while never once sacrificing his own vision. “I think I made a leap forward with this record in all manners of ways,” he said quietly. “I understated the performance and the writing. It’s not as over the top as I had been in the past. It’s more stripped down. I finally started to let go of the Bob Dylan-y sound and found something of my own.”

In an industry where talent is often overshadowed by who you know, Gray has picked up some friends in high places. Dave Matthews has called Gray one of his absolute favourite artists. To quote him directly he says Gray’s music is, “Beautiful in the purest and most honest way.” Matthews signed Gray to his own label, ATO Records, and released what would become White Ladder. It has slowly gone on to sell well over a million copies. Not bad for a record that was almost never made.

And speaking of a record that was almost never made, ‘Last Songs 95-98’ is an album of acoustic songs that is not so much a follow-up to White Ladder as it is a companion piece. “They were nearly lost,” Gray says matter of factly, “But I resuscitated their fragile lives.” It’s an album that should ride fans over until he gets around to releasing a proper follow-up. “My life has become so full with the commitments that success brings. Talking to people, doing press. What it does is use up all your energy and your head becomes vacant.” As he says this he quickly reminds himself of the flipside. “Just over a year ago I was humping my own gear in the back of a van and getting treated like shit, so I’m not complaining.”

In “Babylon” Gray sings, “Let go your heart, let go your head and feel it now.” So which one does he follow? “My Heart,” he answers quietly. But without missing a beat mischievously adds, “But a little head is always good.”