British singer/songwriter David Gray once told an interviewer he was looking for a world where there’s less communication. It was an odd statement coming from a man who has built a career communicating with the world through hits such as “Babylon” and “Please Forgive Me.”

“Obviously, music is a form of communication,” Gray said from his hotel room in Louisville, Ky. “It’s a slightly more sacred one, in my opinion, and one that obviously takes a greater deal of time and precision and thought to execute properly. It’s a bit like fine wine, you know. The good stuff is distilled over many years in our bodies and minds, bursts out into song, where it’s captured and then other people can enjoy it.”

When he says he wants less communication, he’s talking about what he says his friends call “digital worry beads” – like cell phones and Twitter.

“People say, ‘Why aren’t you Twittering?’ Well, I don’t want to,” the 41-year-old said. “ ‘I’m going to the shop.’ ‘It’s a nice day.’ ‘My hotel room is lovely.’ Who (expletive deleted) cares? Just (expletive deleted) enjoy it. Leave everybody else alone. Who’s got time to absorb all this paltry nonsense?

“I’m a grumpy old man, in many respects.”

For a grumpy old man, Gray – other than his aversion to digital communication – has been acting very much like an energetic young man these days.

After completing his 2005 album, “Life in Slow Motion,” Gray felt he would be drowned like an albatross caught on a longline fishing hook if he didn’t make a big change. So he did.

He stopped working with the band he’d been with for years and with whom he’d had many successes, including 2000’s multi-platinum album, “White Ladder,” which became the best-selling album in Ireland.

“We had some great times and we had some heady success,” he said. “People just want to relax and enjoy it. They don’t want to have to prove themselves every single time all over again.

“But when you make a record, that’s what you’re doing. You start from scratch. All you take with you is a little residue of knowledge and experience of the techniques that you might need in the studio, but, in terms of what you can – the life you can breathe into the music – that has to start again. You have to challenge the form that your music’s taking, and everything needs to be scrutinized and justified each time.”

Changing his band fired him up, he said, and the result is his eighth studio album, “Draw the Line,” released in September. The first leg of his U.S. tour in support of the new album sold out. He’s currently on the second leg of the tour, and his show at Merrill Auditorium in Portland Wednesday also is sold out.

“Draw the Line” is Gray’s first studio album since “Life in Slow Motion,” and critics are saying the new passion in Gray’s music is palpable. The disc peaked at number 12 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart, and its debut single, “Fugitive,” reached number 30 on Billboard’s Rock Songs chart.

The songs on the album causing the most buzz, though, are duets. Gray, not known for collaborating with other singers, found himself with two songs he said ached to be sung as duets.

“In each case, I wrote the song and then realized that it needed another voice. Not my own,” Gray said. “In previous records, I’ve done a lot of the backing vocals and I could have sung the other parts myself to some extent, but it just wasn’t what the song required.”

The two songs are “Kathleen” with Jolie Holland (one of the founding members of the band the Be Good Tanyas) and “Full Steam” with Annie Lennox.

Writing duets wasn’t part of his plan to try new things with his new band and the new record, Gray says.

“I wasn’t trying to be different from things I’ve done before. It just so happened that’s what happened this time around.”

He’s finding that his willingness to take a risk and change things is paying off.

The new band, working with Holland and Lennox on the duets, and the new album have all been fantastic experiences, he says.

Right now, the focus is on the tour in the U.S., and that couldn’t be going better – not just because he’s been selling out shows, but because the audience is right there with him on his new adventure.

“The thing I dread most is the audience that just reacts to the big hit songs from the past,” he said. “I don’t find that audience very often anymore. (It) seems the people that are coming to the shows are aware of my work on a sort of broader level and also the new material. They embrace everything with a sort of passion, which makes a gig, you know, much more interesting from my point of view.”

 

Staff Writer Stephanie Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6455 or at:

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