Music: David Gray: Full steam ahead

When David Gray released White Ladder in 1998 he couldn't have imagined the effect it had on his life. Eleven years later, and with a UK tour starting, he discusses his latest album release Draw The Line as well as the problems he has faced as a popstar.

He was one of the biggest artists in the early Noughties. Now, after four years away from the music scene, David Gray is ready to explain his disappearing act.

The Manchester-born musician, 41, may now love his job, but this hasn't always been the case.

After years of toiling away in the music industry, creating three albums which passed the world by, Gray released White Ladder in 1999.

Including the singles This Year's Love, Babylon and Sail Away, the album gradually gained attention. Some 18 months after it was released, it hit the top of the UK charts launching Gray into the spotlight.

Two studio albums followed (A New Day At Midnight and Life In Slow Motion) and Gray swapped playing pubs and small venues for arena tours. Yet the success came at a cost, both physically and mentally.

"I've been away for a long time - as everyone keeps on mentioning to me. It's four years since the release of the album Life In Slow Motion," Gray begins.

"I think a lot happened to me and I turned a little bit inward away from the spotlight and the things that were hurting me a bit in my life. Losing my dad and the stress I had trying to keep my life on track with the pressure I felt upon me was hard."

After White Ladder was released, three years of touring followed. Away from his family and friends, life on the road took its toll.

He explains: "Before White Ladder, whenever I was on tour, I was able to write music all the time. I didn't have anything else to do as no one wanted to speak to me. I didn't have to go to radio stations because no one was playing my records."

Suddenly he was doing radio interviews at 6am then onto press all day before playing gigs in the evenings. Gray struggled with the attention.

"If you're feeling vulnerable, the last thing you want is a continuous incursion into your personal space - it felt like people were just probing," he says.

After years on the tour bus and subsequent releases always being compared with White Ladder, Gray had fallen out of love with the industry.

"I didn't want to be there enough. I was torn, I thought I should be with my family. And there was suddenly something jaded about the band and the set up and people's attitudes and egos. You could see the slightly ugly side to it. It's the best job in the world and if you're not loving every moment of it then something isn't right. So it was time to stop. That was one of the reasons I took some time off with my family, just to relax," he admits.

Suffering with exhaustion, he retreated to his family home and spent some quality time with wife Olivia and daughters Ivy and Florence. The rest and recuperation seems to have worked wonders for Gray and his romance with music is definitely back on.

He returned in September with new album Draw The Line and it seems the record's title has become the singer's motto.

"The title of the album Draw The Line is significant, it highlights the end of one thing and the beginning of another. There's a slightly confrontational element. Enough is enough, something else is happening now."

So how has he changed? "I basically took a wrecking ball to what I had and got rid of the old band and a lot of other people as well. I changed labels, publishers, started all over again. It's given me a new lease of life, there's a new sound and a new passion about the music."

Looking back Gray explains: "I'd be pigeon-holed as this one thing and I found it hard to compute. I have an inclination to take it all too seriously. Suddenly I seem to have just got over all of that and I just don't care. I think it's just reconnecting with music completely and utterly. Just the joy of the whole thing. Regardless of how dark or serious the songs are, the joy of just making the music comes shining out of this record."

The album has proved to be a success, reaching number five in the UK charts. To celebrate, Gray is now heading out on a five-date UK tour. He'll also release the single Full Steam featuring Annie Lennox on December 28. Gray, it seems, has got his music mojo back.

"This album isn't just about personal heartaches and existential woes, it goes way beyond that. The whole record feels like it's directed outward rather than some sort of painful searching inward and it meets the world head on.

"It just felt so right to do the recent album. It's left me feeling so bullet-proof. I know these songs are the real deal. You can turn the hoses on them and you're not going to move them out of the road. These things are here to stay. They feel great to play live and only now am I firing on all cylinders completely. I'm 100% awake and in the moment - which is how I felt throughout the whole making of the record."

The last time Gray felt this confident was prior to the release of White Ladder. "That album was the sound of me escaping my demons that had probably accumulated throughout the first eight or nine years of my career. I was shaking loose of the struggles and soul searching. Well, Draw The Line is the sound of me escaping the last 10 years post-White Ladder."

The past few years have seen Gray learn some important lessons in life. The biggest? "You can't hide from life, you've got to deal with it completely," he says, before he laughs and adds: "So I'm back basically and I mean business!"

Extra time - David Gray

Before releasing White Ladder, David Gray released the albums A Century Ends, Flesh and Sell, Sell, Sell.

White Ladder was the UK's second biggest-selling album in 2002 and it's the biggest-selling album in Ireland ever.

Gray studied at the University of Liverpool.

He has been married to wife Olivia for 16 years.

Gray has previously won two Ivor Novellos.