His upcoming Australian visit has been a long time coming, so David Gray plans to grab the opportunity with both hands.
The 46 year-old Englishman is set to appear at Bluesfest at Byron Bay, as well as complete a run of theatre shows, but even after 25 years in the business the indie-rock veteran doesn’t take anything for granted.
“I love all the shows,” he says. “They’re all special. I’m more at home in an intimate setting, because so many of my songs tend that way, but I also have expansive songs, so I can deal with the outdoor situations. I’ve been doing it a long time, and I can sense that it’s finite these days. The commitment to make a record and tour around the world is one thing; it doesn’t come from an endlessly-replenishing well. You sort of have to leave everybody behind in spectacular fashion, friends and family and whatever. It’s a big commitment and I just treasure every opportunity. The last time I was at Bluesfest it was just a spectacular gig; everything just came together that night. There was a euphoria in the air that swept us away. If it’s anywhere even close to that this time we’re going to have a great gig.”
Gray last passed our way in 2009, so he’s keen to introduce Australian audiences to his new band.
“It’s great that we’re coming back to do a really meaningful tour this time, with what is a really wonderful incarnation of the band,” he says. “It features seven people singing, and in order to give voice to this new music, that is what I deemed necessary. As much as it is a financial and organisational nightmare, it’s quite something when it all cranks up and everybody starts singing away. It feels important that we come down and do something; it’s been too long.”
His 1998 breakthrough White Ladder has sold seven million copies and counting, and while much of that album still features in his show, Gray has a new approach to wowing crowds.
“When my voice is in the centre and the mass harmonies are happening in four parts, I sing my solo but everyone else’s is doubled in some way,” he says. “It gives it this big sound; like a bank of vocals. It’s special to be singing together and is a holy thing, I think; it’s as close to the bone as it gets in terms of the spirituality of music. To sing together is a really wonderful thing. That’s very much at the core of the show, and through the filter of this new band I’ve passed the older songs, particularly the ones where the big backing vocals can play a part; songs like ‘My Oh My’ and ‘Silver Lining’. Every time I have a band and go out, I try to re-jig the songs. I don’t just leave them as they are and drag them out of the cupboard, but I try to do something new with them.”
With a tenth studio album, Mutineers, released in 2014, Gray has a strong body of work to choose from and a wealth of experience in festivals and intimate shows.
“Big outdoor shows are different,” he says. “For an audience who might not be as familiar with my new record as they are with a lot of the older stuff, I’ll have to play a slightly different hand. I’ll just have to choose my moments and get my point home with the new music and a slightly different strategy. Also, you’re time-restricted. The current set is just over two hours, so it’ll feel really short to us. I’ll just have to make sure it’s peppered with the goodies from the new music, yet hits the right buttons in the right places. It’s a science when you play to lots of people outside; you can be dealing with the weather and all sorts of crazy stuff. A festival crowd aggregates out with different levels of interest; people are there to see you who perhaps aren’t such avid fans as those who came to see you in a theatre somewhere.”
A man who has been as successful as Gray could be forgiven for taking an extended holiday, but that’s not on the cards for the singer-songwriter.
“We have [single] ‘Snow in Vegas’ coming out in America, so if that hits it would mean more offers from promoters,” he says. “It could change the year if it does well. I’m intending to do some solo shows around Europe, and then there will be some festivals. I’ll be writing some new songs and maybe record a bit of an album; there are still several dozen songs from the Mutineers period waiting to be captured officially, so that’s about as far as I’ve got.”
David Gray tour dates:
State Theatre, Sydney – April 1&2
Bluesfest Byron Bay – April 4
Palais Theatre, Melbourne – April 5
Mutineers (Good Soldier Songs) is out now.