David Gray apparently has a fondness for Florida.
"Last time we were there, we had a day off somewhere near Tampa," he recalls. "We got to swim and do all that kind of stuff. I love the bird life, the wildlife. It's quite an exotic, subtropical place, Florida."
Holidays aside, Gray returns to our environs with a particular purpose in mind. He's touting Mutineers, a new album which he says signals a turn in a new direction.
"This one took a bit of making," Gray says. "It wasn't just a case of going back in the studio and putting some songs out. I was thinking of something different. I knew what I didn't want to do. It wasn't enough to go about moaning about middle-age sentiment over a few chords.
"I was looking for a new way of expressing myself, kind of an epiphany, a way of saying hallelujah in a new way. It couldn't just be the same old thing. So because I was setting new parameters and going off into the unknown, it took a while to discover what that was."
Given Gray's previous success, the decision to suddenly change carried its share of risk. "It wasn't easy," he concedes. "I told my producer, 'Don't let me make the same record I made before. Take me out of my comfort zone.' By definition, going outside your comfort zone is an uncomfortable place to be.
"I was heavily vexed at various points in the process, because I was pushed into places I'd never been before. But I think by reaching into the void, with all that uncertainty and risk and vulnerability, that I opened myself up to make the record stronger and more vital. You've got to take chances sometimes. You can't just piddle along. Sometimes you've got to up the ante."
After more than a decade of relishing the afterglow of international smash "Babylon" and best-selling album White Ladder, Gray seems genuinely delighted to be embarking on this new phase of his career. Even so, it's clear that that the bigger challenge will be competing for attention in a cyber-centric world, particularly while recasting his own sound in the process.
"When something is made and cast and decided upon as a steady identity, it's hard to break it and remake it. But when something is more nebulous, it allows more room to maneuver, to push me around a bit. I'm not used to being pushed around. I'm usually the pusher," Gray laughs.
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Other factors enter into it as well. "The world today is about over-communicating," he suggests. "Something's happening every second, so unless you're exposing your naked buttocks or doing some sort of a Twitter feed, it's very hard to get anyone to pay attention. I really want to connect, so I'm trying to do everything I can to enable that. If you sing from the heart, maybe people will stick with you. It's given me a tremendous amount of pleasure to make this record and also to go out and sing it. I can't really ask for any more than that. How it's perceived and how many people will like it enough to buy it is not an easy thing to control. But I do have a following, and obviously if I keep making records that ring true for people, then that success should continue long into the future."
Accordingly, Gray says that his live performance has also undergone a change. "I've built a preposterously large band so it's a financial and organizational nightmare," he deadpans. "But it's a wonderful thing. There's seven of us singing, so when it comes off, it's so joyous and it really works. And I'm completely released up there. I feel freer than I've ever been on stage. I'm utterly unbound by any self-consciousness. I'm totally in my element. Sometimes I'm putting down my guitar and dancing and singing and being totally free, which is kind of a new thing for me. With this record that's what I wanted to so, to get out in front of the audience in a different way. I feel like Marvin Gaye up there at times. I got some moves!"
That's not to say the road can't be a grind. "I love doing shows and I cherish the musical part, but the lifestyle is gruelling on your family and it's not something to be taken lightly," he concedes. "After the next tour there will be another one.... And another... and another. On it goes I've been transported around the world over and over again. It takes a lot of energy and it's very tiring, but if the music is good and the shows are good then it's all worth it."
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David Gray. Tuesday, September 30. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The shows start at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $34.50 to $56.50 plus fees via livenation.com. All ages. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.
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