After 'Ladder' of success, new climb for Gray

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If you go

What: David Gray in concert.

When: 6:30 p.m. Aug. 23.

Where: McMenamins Edgefield, 2126 S.W. Halsey St., Troutdale, Ore.

Cost: $42 to $79 through Cascade Tickets, 800-514-3849 or www.cascadetickets.com.

Information: 800-669-8610 or www.edgefieldconcerts.com.

David Gray reached the heights of stardom with his 1998 album “White Ladder.”

He knows he might never experience that level of success again. After all, the vast majority of artists never sell seven million copies of their entire catalog of albums — much less reach that worldwide sales total on a single album like Gray did with "White Ladder."

But at least on an artistic level, Gray feels with his new album, "Mutineers," he returned to a place he found himself when he started work on "White Ladder."

" 'White Ladder' was an unself-conscious record. It just spontaneously happened," Gray said in a late-July phone interview. "I opened the music up to other people and other ideas. And ("White Ladder" became) something that sounded still very much like my music, but it had a slightly different sound. It sounded like a record of now when we made it. That's what we ended up with, something even stronger than I could have done on my own. And that was because I let go. I let other people in. And this record ("Mutineers") has been the same in that way."

Gray openly admits that while the success of "White Ladder" was thrilling, the aftermath wasn't always pleasant, as he dealt with commercial expectations and sought to move forward musically.

"It was a difficult experience as much as a wonderful one, and a powerful experience, a profound, life-changing experience," Gray said, looking back on the time after "White Ladder." "You can't reverse it. You've got to go with it and find your own way through. I didn't want to start playing stadiums or that stuff. I didn't know what I wanted, to be honest. For awhile, I was just completely overwhelmed, not while we were going there, but when we got to the top, that rarified plateau."

Gray continued to release albums to declining levels of success. "A New Day At Midnight, his 2002 follow-up to "White Ladder," was a big hit in the United Kingdom and sold respectably in the U.S. But 2005's "Life In Slow Motion," 2009's "Draw The Line" and 2010's "Foundling" delivered diminishing returns — and not just in sales.

After releasing "Foundling," Gray sensed he had grown bored with his musical methods and had reached a creative crossroads.

But it took Gray a couple of failed attempts to start recording the new album before he realized he needed to push further to find ways to make his music feel fresh again.

"Something else was needed, somebody else, a collaborator, a producer in the true sense of the word," Gray said.

He found that person in Andy Barlow of the electronic-leaning duo Lamb.

"He was somebody who took me on creatively in a really strong and robust way. He really stood up to my ideas," Gray said. "He pushed me into areas where I didn't really know what I was doing or where we were going."

Gray knew he was in for a challenging experience early on. He brought in some 40 songs for Barlow to review, and the producer rejected all but a handful of those song ideas.

"He preferred to have me go off and look and try to create something new, something different, which I just thought was an act of madness because there were so many things I already had in the bag," Gray said. "He sort of sensed that there was more joy to be had going toward ideas where I didn't have the lyric, where I didn't have the full song. And he could throw ideas and sounds, crazy ideas, at me because I would be slightly off balance just trying to even figure out what it was myself. So that was how we worked."

For all that was different in the process of writing and recording "Mutineers," the album will sound familiar to Gray fans. His songs remain in the burnished pop-folk mold of his other albums and possess the gracious melodies and literate lyrics that characterize his best work.

The differences are mainly found in the margins of songs, with creative choices of instrumentation (the tinkering tones that introduce the title song, the lovely violin that provides a soothing bed for "Birds of the High Arctic"), smart and less-than-obvious instrumental parts (the rolling beats of "As the Crow Flies" and the organ and electric guitar that tastefully wash around Gray's vocal on "Snow in Vegas") and deftly applied production touches (the scratchy textures that accompany the sepia-toned piano of "Beautiful Agony"). The songs are immediately appealing, but it's the nuances that help give "Mutineers" the ability to surprise after several listens.

The varied sounds — and especially the layered backing vocals on many of the songs — have prompted Gray to bring out a large, versatile band to tour behind "Mutineers."

"There are eight of us, and everyone's playing an instrument and singing," Gray said. "There's quite a bit of layering of instrumentation on the record, but it's the vocals really that I thought were the most key. So we had to get the power of them across."