Success in the music world is like going through the rabbit hole, and like Alice, you won’t come out of Wonderland the same. That’s certainly the experience of Welsh singer-songwriter David Gray, who was catapulted into international stardom with his 1999 album, White Ladder, and its hit single “Babylon.”
“It’s like the world comes up and kisses you. It was an incredible and overpowering thing,” Gray says over the phone from Toronto, where he kicks off his North American tour. “It was a fairytale. I came from nowhere. I made the record in my bedroom … I wasn’t fated by the press to be important. It just happened because it connected with people.”
The whole experience upset Gray’s equilibrium, though. He released a few less successful albums before changing up his band and embarking on a prolific writing jag that produced many of the songs for 2009’s Draw the Line and last year’s Foundling. Collectively those two records represented a break from the introspective folk-pop that first brought Gray to mainstream attention.
Gray says he felt it was necessary to shake things up in order stave off sterility and staleness. Besides assembling a whole new backing band – which really got his creative juices flowing – his lyrics and themes changed focus, exchanging confession for narrative.
“What happened to me in my life was quite a profound change with the success and all the other things that came with it. I sort of turned inward for a little while,” he says. “The last couple records really achieved something for myself that I’ve been yearning to do. I satisfied a creative desire and it involved a lot of change.”
Gray achieved greater intimacy by simplifying his already understated piano ballads — a “less is more” approach. And though both Draw the Line and Foundling were written and recorded around the same time, they strike different tones. Draw the Line is more of an impassioned rock album. Its upbeat tempos and rootsy feel contrast with Foundling’s more somber, low-key mood. The latter is a spare and quiet record, but an immediate one, too. Like a hushed but urgent whisper.
The experience of making both records has been liberating for Gray, but it hasn’t dampened his desire for change. Gray implicitly understands the peril of standing still and wants new challenges. He says he has no idea where to find them, but he doesn’t give the impression that he’ll give up on the chase.
David Gray • Saturday, March 5, at 8 pm • INB Performing Arts Center • $29-$45 • ticketswest.com • (800) 325-SEAT