David Gray Draws the Line

Question: Are you excited to tour with Draw the Line’s more energetic songs?

David Gray: Yeah, because sometimes you offer the music out as some sort of fragile bloom into a hostile space and you’re like, “Please like me. Don’t heckle in the middle of this one.” It’s like church music in an inappropriate setting. Sometimes it is very sensitive, or there’s a lot of sort of emotion to it, and a couple of my recent records have been very emotional and sort of inward. And so it’s harder to take those songs out to the crowd in a way. You need them to be on your side because obviously it’s often a bit more challenging then that live.

These [new] songs are very outward. They are very direct; they’ve got a bit more pace and a bit more attitude. And it’s fantastic to have that in the engine room. All this different gearing. But it’s also the way that I’m feeling. I am looking the world squarely in the eye and I just can’t way to sing out all this stuff. And I’ve already seen it have an effect; we’ve done a few shows already. I can see the music registering. It’s very direct. So, yeah, that’s very exciting.

I’ve had a break as well. You know, I was a bit toured out. So, I am full of beans in that sense. I’m longing to play the shows. So, yeah, its great having this record and what it’s got on it.

Question: Lyrically, does Draw the Line better represent your personality than other albums?

David Gray: I think it shines a light on more facets of my writing and my head than previous records, which were pitched in a certain place. I’ve been in quite an inward zone while I was post-fame and post a few deaths, and the strain in my private life and the strain of just being away all the time and having young children and all this stuff going on and trying to work out how best to deal with it all. I’ve suddenly freed [myself] and it reminds me a bit of my first record. This record, it’s very divergent. There’s not one song that typifies it, there’s lots of different types of stuff. But in terms of the ideas that it presents and the wit of some of it, I think its far more reflective of me as a whole, because people talk to me sometimes and they—I don’t know what they’re expecting—can’t believe I’ve got ideas or I give a fuck, or I might punch someone in the face. It’s like, well of course, I’m a human. Are you offended? It’s like; life is hard to swallow, isn’t it most of the time? It’s like; you can’t move an inch without salesman pitching you on some fucking bullshit they’ve dreamt up. It’s like, it’s a constant struggle just to stand still and not be overcome by a sense of loathing. And yet it’s completely wonderful as well. I don’t know. So, I guess, yeah, I’m delighted with this record in that respect. I feel that it’s a work of greater maturity in terms of the writing and I do think there are songs on there that are very like things that I have written before. Like Jackdaw: ballads that people can probably latch onto immediately.

And all of the songs on there, I’ve written some things sort of similar-ish too, but it’s just better constructed. And then there are things like Nemesis on there, which I thinks sort of transcend anything I’ve managed to do so far. I think they are much more elegant constructs than what I’ve tried to say—[which is] the same thing, but I’ve not said it as well. That’s all we’re up to: saying the same thing in different ways.

Question: What are the plusses and minuses of working with a producer?

David Gray: Well, I’ve had a few records with producers and various entanglements with them. Working with Marius on Slow Motion was a very successful project and at that point, I just bought this big studio and I really needed a little help in learning how to use it or to think within the scope that it offered me because I had just basically been making records in a very sort of bedroom way. And that’s how I found my sound finally. Or learn to relax in the studio. A producer gives you objectivity. He’s not actually playing the music, he’s sitting their listening and obviously whenever you get someone like that, it can be very, very helpful in all things.

[Marius] supposedly helps people to express themselves or relax within the whole thing, or try something they wouldn’t have tried or has ideas. I mean, some artists are pretty clueless and they need somebody to do everything to do everything for them. And then you get – well I think pretty much all of the interesting artists will have very strong ideas about how it should be, but some people aren’t very practical or they’ve not got very good people skills, is a polite way of saying they’re rude fucking twats. And they need somebody who can sort of get everybody working together. So, they think that they are some sort of divine presence that’s going to come in and sort of create magic. So, it’s like, anyway, sometimes it feels like you need some external influence, some objectivity and a little bit of magic from somewhere, a little bit of guidance.

I’d heard that Marius had made lots of interesting records and quite grand. He was obviously quite baroque in his sort of soundscapes, and that was completely running contrary to the way that I would normally do things. So it made for an interesting combination. But this time around, I think if the magic is happening in the band then that's what you're looking for the producer to create, and that I knew exactly what to do with this and it was right up my alley. Fun, you know. My music. But I mean, it was, you didn't have to do much with it because we were getting a live tape, which has a certain sort of thing to it. Everything glues together in a certain way when you record like that. And you don't need to [add] loads of stuff on it to make it sound convincing. It is convincing; it's the real thing. It sounds good just as the naked truth of what is. So [with] overdubs and all that, it was obvious when the big gestures needed to be made production-wise.

But I guess I gained a lot of confidence slowly over the years about my own opinion and being able to express it. I think the big problems I had in the studio when I was younger was I couldn’t really articulate what I wanted. I couldn’t speak drummer language, or engineer language; I didn’t know what all the knobs did on the desk, or whatever. But slowly I’ve gleaned little bits of important information and terminology down the years, and I can just about express myself without pissing everybody off. So, it’s often people would get pissed of when you’re not trying to piss them off, you’re just trying to explain what it is you want. All they know is you don’t like what they’re doing right now. It might be that they’re only seven inches away from the thing you actually do want. And you can’t quite get them there.

Question: Are you thinking about ideas for future work at this point?

David Gray: Yeah, but I’m wary of these phantom thoughts because really I know I’m not going to get a chance to do anything for a while. So, you think, wouldn’t it be good if, or I’ve got all that stuff going on all the time. I sort of take notes and usually I stop writing completely when I’m on the road but for some reason I haven’t this time—the writing, the words part of my brain hasn’t turned off, so I’ve got a couple of songs I’m sort of finishing. So I guess there’s quite a lot of stuff left over from this mammoth recording session we did over the last few years. And a few unresolved things too. And I’m trying to resolve some of those. So, it’s always ongoing and I think that seems to be the way that it is. It just keeps coming.

Recorded on:  September 21, 2009

David Gray’s new album, "Draw the Line" strikes a more energetic and upfront tone than any of his previous work. He told Big Think why he’s excited about the album, how it represents his personally better than earlier work, and why his new ideas won’t stop coming.

A map of America’s most famous – and infamous

The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity

Image: The Pudding
Strange Maps
  • Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
  • And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
  • If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist

Chicagoland is Obamaland

Image: The Pudding

Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.

Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).

The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.

The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.

How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."

‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'

Image: The Pudding

Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.

That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.

The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.

The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".

Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.

Royals and (other) mortals

Image: The Pudding

There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.

Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.

But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.

Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).

Freaks and angels

Image: Dorothy

The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.

It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.

Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.

As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...

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Average waiting time for hitchhikers in Ireland: Less than 30 minutes. In southern Spain: More than 90 minutes.

Image: Abel Suyok
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  • However, as this map shows, thumbing a ride still occupies a thriving niche – if at great geographic variance.
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