David Gray hit it big back in 2000 with the re-release of his album White Ladder and the hit "Babylon." Since then, the indie British rocker has had a steady, if unflashy, career — one whose sales have always proven better in the United Kingdom than in the United States.
But he's unfazed by it. "I've got a very strong fan base, which I'm thankful for; I've got a lot of passionate fans," he says. "I've spent a huge portion of my time coming over here to play music for them."
In advance of his latest stop in the Austin area, a July 4 show with Amos Lee at WhiteWater Amphitheater, Gray talked with us about his career, his latest album and what a co-headlining tour is really like.
CultureMap: You've been around for more than 20 years now. How do you feel about touring nowadays compared to when you first started?
David Gray: You can't quite be as excited as you are when you first started because you've not done any of it yet. There's a kind of insane amount of excitement and energy that you have when you're 20-odd years old and somebody's sending you over to America to go around.
You've never been to Texas, and you're just laughing continually at just how crazy everything is — how big the portions are and how much A/C is cranked everywhere you go. You're taking it all in; who can say that you could ever be that excited?
I know what a show is; I've done enough of them. That's what's most precious to me. The hotel rooms and the tour bus is all well and good, but it's what happens out on the stage that I look forward to; in terms of that, I relish it.
But it's more finite now. When you're younger, you don't think about how much of this stuff you might ever have to enjoy. But as you get on a bit, I don't take it for granted at all. I see it as a precious thing that I'm allowed to do.
CM: How did the idea for a co-headlining tour with you and Amos Lee come about?
DG: I think it works well in the summer with these big venues if you've got somebody of a similar caliber, and hopefully it's a good musical fit. I don't know Amos' music very well, I have to be honest; he's not so well-known in the U.K. I've heard a few things online and he seems to have a beautiful voice. He's obviously a popular artist over here, so I'm hoping it all fits together.
We had a tour with Ray LaMontagne five years ago which went very well, working along similar lines. So that's the idea behind it all.
CM: Will you have a chance to work with Amos at all before the tour gets started?
DG: We'll meet for the first time on the first show of the tour. That'll be the first time I get to take a measure of his band and his sound and his whole vibe really, so I'm hoping for good things.
CM: Do you think there's a chance that you'll collaborate onstage?
DG: We played The Beatles' "Dig a Pony" when we did the Ray LaMontagne tour; that was great fun. So if something like that could happen, I think everybody would enjoy it. We'll just have to wait and see.
CM: You were in the U.S. last year in support of Mutineers. Do you anticipate any significant changes to the set list on this tour?
DG: There's a time pressure; it's a much more condensed set. I would normally play for two-plus hours. When you've got an hour and 15 minutes, it doesn't feel very long at all. It'll feel like some kind of greatest hits package even with the new record thrown in.
The set will have a lot of momentum. I am going to change things around; we've worked up a load of numbers that I haven't played from previous records for quite a while. There's probably 40-odd songs to choose from, and within a revolving set it will change a lot night-to-night. But obviously the big numbers will turn up as they usually do to push the buttons where required.
I'm really looking forward to it. But co-headlining is obviously a different science, and on the few nights that I have to go on first, that'll be a different thing as well. You write your set accordingly; it's always changing.
This is a different band from the Mutineers tour; I stripped it back from eight people to five, and the backing singers are gone. So we're back to a slightly looser, slightly different set-up with five of us playing and everyone singing. It;s a slightly different beast than the Mutineers tour, and there will be a different set to match.
CM: You're playing here on Independence Day. Do you have anything special planned?
DG: No, we do the opposite of celebrate. All of us are clinging to the rags of the empire. We'll just sit in misery somewhere.