British singer/songwriter David Gray had already released three overlooked albums by the time White Ladder (and its international breakthrough hit, "Babylon") brought his mix of acoustic instruments and electronic samples to the mainstream.
Born in Manchester in 1968, Gray relocated to Wales at the age of nine before returning home to attend the University of Liverpool. While in school, he dabbled in several punk bands and began exploring new styles of writing, eventually uncovering his own poetic penmanship. Following a move to London, Gray signed to Hut Records in the United Kingdom and Caroline Records in the United States, releasing the debut single, "Birds Without Wings," in 1992. The next year saw the release of his first full-length record, A Century Ends, and Gray's trademark style of fiery vocals countered with folksy, acoustic songcraft began to find an audience, particularly in Ireland. However, despite frequent solo tours (as well as an opening slot for Shawn Colvin), Gray's edgy sophomore effort, Flesh, was met with an underwhelming response in 1994, and he was dropped from his label as a result.
Gray signed a new contract with EMI Records; meanwhile, the buzz in Ireland continued to build thanks to No Disco, an alternative music video program that showcased Gray every chance it got. Hanging onto that thread, Sell, Sell, Sell arrived in 1996 in limited quantities. Gray hitched up his touring boots and hit the road again, this time opening for such heavy-hitters as Radiohead and Dave Matthews Band, but a lack of mainstream response resulted in Gray's split from EMI. Recapturing and embracing his independence, he decided to self-finance his fourth album, White Ladder, and release it on his own label, IHT Records, in 1998. Recorded in a London apartment with an easy blend of samplers and acoustic guitar, White Ladder was a sublime leap forward for the underappreciated Gray. Ireland certainly recognized its merit, as the record immediately climbed into the Irish Top 30. Gray found other outlets for promotion as well, offering five tunes (including the elegiac title track) to the soundtrack of This Year's Love. The good fortune continued as former road pal Dave Matthews (who had taken a liking to Gray during their shared tour) made White Ladder the first release on his own ATO Records imprint in 2000. Boosted by this additional release, "Babylon" enjoyed a positive reception in the U.S. and peaked at number five on the U.K. charts. Its success coincided with Gray's performance on the main stage at Glastonbury, and White Ladder went on to enjoy multi-platinum sales.
Gray celebrated his newfound recognition by issuing a handful of albums in 2001, including a pair of compilations (Lost Songs 95-98 and The EP's 92-94) and two reissued records (A Century Ends and Flesh). Although his popularity remained greater in Europe, he maintained moderate success in the States as well, and A New Day at Midnight followed up his successful international breakthrough in the fall of 2002. Gray worked with producer Marius de Vries (Björk, Rufus Wainwright) for 2005's Life in Slow Motion; the reflective album debuted at the top of the charts in both Ireland and the U.K., giving Gray the highest chart rankings of his career. The singer then cobbled together his older material for 2007's Shine: The Best of the Early Years. The career-spanning Greatest Hits followed that fall, featuring two new tracks as well as Gray's most popular numbers.
Once again, David Gray found himself without a record label as he prepared to work on his eighth studio album. After setting up shop in his own London studio, dubbed the Church Studios, Gray began shaping his first set of original material since 2005. Vocalists Annie Lennox and Jolie Holland joined him on several songs, and the resulting Draw the Line was released in 2009 by Gray's new label, Polydor Records. "Fugitive" became a Top 40 hit in America, and the album itself charted well in multiple countries. Gray quickly returned with another album, Foundling, which drew its material from the Draw the Line sessions and hit stores less than 12 months after the previous album's release. His next record, Mutineers, was recorded at Church Studios and produced by Andy Barlow of Lamb. The June 2014 album was preceded by the single "Gulls," which displayed a change of direction for Gray, morphing from a minimalist, almost ambient, keyboard-led arrangement to a dark, noisy, powerfully haunting chorus. ~ Andrew Leahey & Kelly McCartney, Rovi