In a quirk of fate, David Gray’s latest album, which came out on Friday, was released exactly 20 years on from This Year’s Love, one of the first songs that brought him to the public’s attention.
A lot has changed in the music industry since March 8, 1999, when This Year’s Love was chosen as the first single from White Ladder.
Rarely in the time since has an album had such a slow build and gone on to achieve the monumental success that White Ladder celebrated: 10-times platinum in the UK and on the album charts for three years.
Further singles like Babylon and Sail Away ensured Gray’s place in the mainstream but coping with worldwide success after struggling for years to have his music noticed wasn’t easy.
“There was an inhuman aspect to what I did for a while,” David admitted. “I shouldered that burden like a good soldier but I ended up with the thousand-yard stare.
“It’s something that’s a wonderful job, and I should have been loving every minute of it, so I asked myself why I was wearing a frown.
“I was trying to fulfil my obligations to everyone, when I should also have been taking time off for myself.
“I have a more balanced life now but I’m not happy unless I’m creative.
“It’s important to take time to reflect but I have a growing sense of urgency if a couple of months go by without that creativity.”
And that creativity comes to the fore on Gold In A Brass Age, David’s first studio album in over four years.
In making it, he says, he approached everything differently, pushing himself into unfamiliar terrain in a bid for a fresh outcome.
“If you continually use the same technique, you’ll end with the same song. I’m also self-conscious about the quality. Why should this song be more important or as important as others I’ve written?
“Rather than saying, ‘I feel this emotion so I’ll turn it into a song’, now I start the other way around, finding sounds, words, notes, working backwards and seeing what music they produce.”
Writer’s block isn’t an issue, but the speed with which the songs produce themselves does ebb and flow, and requires hard graft.
“I don’t find it difficult – music bubbles away, waiting to come out, but writing a good song that stands the test of time for both you and the audience is a whole other game. If I work really hard over a couple of years, there will be a moment or two when a song just falls into my lap. Other times, it will take a couple of years of work, like Tight Ship on this album, before you finally get the eureka moment that comes through perseverance. My Oh My, the third track on White Ladder, had so many different versions and in the end we sorted it. You wouldn’t know from listening to it because it seems to flow without a problem. But it’s always hard work.
“The more time you spend at the coal face, the greater chance you have of uncovering a diamond.”
The music industry has changed beyond belief in the past 20 years and David is thankful he was established before those huge shifts took place.
“Touring is what kept me going when the music business fell off a cliff,” he continued. “Now it’s a great time to be in the business side of things, but will that filter down to the artists?
“Streaming of music gives a phenomenal amount of money to the record companies. They have stripped away all costs and now it’s a boom time.
“It’s a major problem for artists and I count myself lucky I’m doing my own deals.”
But as David points out, industry workings are not his job.
“My job is to make sure the music is vital and connects with the audience. Ticket sales are going phenomenally well, which is great and feels empowering.
“I’ve made so much effort on social media and built that sense of connection. But the sense of excitement about putting out a new album is always there.
“It’s thrilling but nerve-racking, too. What mitigates the tension is, I’ve putting the music up since November.
“It’s not how it used to be, where you took a deep breath and put it all out at once.”
David Gray, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, March 31
Gold In A Brass Age, out now