David Gray, Beyond 'Babylon'

David Gray

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British musician David Gray made a name for himself in the 1990s with hits such as "Babylon." Now, Gray's moved from self-producing in small studios, to recording with a producer who's worked with U2 and Madonna. Steve Inskeep talks to David Gray about the sound on his new album, Life in Slow Motion.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The British singer David Gray made his name with lonesome lyrics and with the way he gives them voice.

(Soundbite of "Babylon")

Mr. DAVID GRAY: (Singing) Friday night, I'm going nowhere. All the lights are changing green to red.

INSKEEP: Many radio listeners know David Gray from this song, called "Babylon." It's a few years old, and the music behind that voice is different these days. The sound is bigger with a lot more orchestration, and there's a story behind the way that it changed. It has to do with the people around him. On this program, we've been hearing about the influence of record producers. Yesterday longtime musician and producer Al Kooper told us how they sometimes fail. This morning David Gray explains how he learned to collaborate with the producer. A former producer for the likes of David Bowie and Madonna--His name is Marius DeVries--was involved in David Gray's latest album. It's called "Life in Slow Motion."

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. GRAY: (Singing) Tell me something. Tell me something I don't already know.

INSKEEP: I feel like, listening to this and listening to some of your past music, that you've become a lot more expansive here in the range of instrumentation and the orchestration. What's happening to your music?

Mr. GRAY: Yeah. I mean, it's been a long time coming, but finally I feel sort of confident enough and secure enough in my ideas to incorporate a lot of other people's opinions. So I really opened up the process this time, but much more--I mean, I could sense there were big arrangements to be had in some of these songs. They seemed very broad-shouldered when I wrote them.

INSKEEP: Why did you need to feel more secure in order to go in that direction?

Mr. GRAY: Well, it's more just to incorporate the world of production completely and utterly, to surrender the music to it, in the faith that you will be able to cling on to the sort of integrity of the music, in spite all the sort of gilding and ornamentation. I was always terrified it was going to be compromised in some way.

INSKEEP: You'd end up with this big pop fake, basically.

Mr. GRAY: Yeah. Yeah. You'd just end up with something that didn't have the--it was missing the bottom line, the sort of gravely character that was going to sort of underpin it all.

INSKEEP: I'd like to play some of the music from this album. There's a song here called "Slow Motion."

(Soundbite of "Slow Motion")

Mr. GRAY: (Singing) Life in slow motion, somehow it don't feel real. Life in slow motion, somehow it don't feel real. Life in slow motion, somehow it don't seem real.

INSKEEP: You have this powerful visual line; it actually uses a film term: `While I was watching, you did a slow dissolve.' And then, rather than add another line onto that, you finished the verse basically by just repeating that line again and again.

Mr. GRAY: Yeah. I'm lazy these days, I tell you.

INSKEEP: Well, was there a moment when you sat there, trying to think, `Well, what rhymes with dissolve?'

Mr. GRAY: Well, no, because, I mean, the lyrics--I just understood that it was just going to be a repeating-each-line process, and it does that--pretty much it honors that throughout the song in all the verses until the very last one, where it switches to `Snowflakes are falling. I'll catch them in my hands.' And then the last line is `Snowflakes are falling, and you're my long-lost friend.' And somehow this--I don't know--epic nostalgia kicks in at that moment.

(Soundbite of "Slow Motion")

Mr. GRAY: (Singing) ...my long-lost friend. Ba, da, da, da. Ba, da-da-da, whoa. Ba, da, da, da. Ba, da-da-da, whoa.

INSKEEP: There's another song that you've written recently that made me wonder if you've been listening to a lot of old Bruce Springsteen.

Mr. GRAY: You must be talking about "The One I Love."

(Soundbite of "The One I Love")

Mr. GRAY: (Singing) Gonna close my eyes, girl, and watch you go.

It's this version of it. We did many versions, but this one ended up very sort of big and uplifting. It sort of has that, you know, slightly epic Springsteen style about it, like a sort of "Born To Run" type thing. We did--we literally threw everything but the kitchen sink at this one. I think there might even be a sample of a kitchen sink in there somewhere. I mean, I'm not joking. I mean...

(Soundbite of "The One I Love")

Mr. GRAY: (Singing) There's thing I might have said. Only wish I could. Now I'm leaking life faster. Then I'm leaking blood.

I just had an image of someone on their deathbed. I guess my stuff's just riddled with sort of mortality. It's the big issue, and it just seems to come up again and again. You mentioned the--you know, doing a slow dissolve, which is another sort of death image in "Slow Motion." You know, ever since my dad died, a couple of other people died around that time, so this--although you wouldn't tell, ostensibly, the song seems very upbeat, and it sort of is, I mean, that's sort of how it works. The dynamic is very much--the guy is dying, but he's choosing to see the glory of life at that moment rather than curse it.

INSKEEP: When did your father die?

Mr. GRAY: That was a few years ago, 2001.

INSKEEP: It continues to affect your songwriting.

Mr. GRAY: Oh, I mean, it's just--you know, I've sort of healed. The whole thing's sort of healed over, as these things do in time, but just what it did to me. I've seen people being born, my daughters; I saw him die, and he's just sort of standing at the gates. It deepens your appreciation of life and the fragility of everything. So it's not that I constantly reminisce about him fading away. It's just that it's affected me forever. So I see the world in a different light.

INSKEEP: Well, David Gray, thanks very much.

Mr. GRAY: Thank you.

(Soundbite of "The One I Love")

Mr. GRAY: (Singing) You're the one I love, the one I love, yee-hee!

INSKEEP: You can hear David Gray's live performance of songs from "Life in Slow Motion" at our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of "The One I Love")

Mr. GRAY: (Singing) Yee-hee!

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE (Host): And I'm Renee Montagne.

(Soundbite of "The One I Love")

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  • Album: Life in Slow Motion
  • Artist: David Gray
  • Label: ATO JV (David Gray)
  • Released: 2005
 

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