David Gray’s Songwriting Survival Kit

David Gray’s Songwriting Survival Kit
David Gray's Songwriting Survival Kit

David Gray’s Songwriting Survival Kit in our Winter 2018 edition

As he releases a new album, the esteemed British singer-songwriter explains why he relies on both low- and high-tech accessories

Sharing is caring, which is why we’ve been encouraging you all to share your #songwritingsurvivalkit with us on social media. Whether it’s the tatty notebook that’s attached to you or your trusty old guitar and amp, we want to see those pieces of kit that are essential to your songwriting life and will be re-posting all of the images that you hashtag.

For example, within the pages of the latest issue of Songwriting Magazine, the enduring British singer-songwriter, David Gray, takes us through the cherished items he can’t possibly do without…

It’s hard to get around the fact that a small electronic device, quite aside from its main connective functions, doubles as both a tape recorder and a notebook is going to be invaluable to any songwriter. From a melody and lyric writing point of view, it has become completely indispensable. In the dim and distant past before this kind of technology was available, if you had an idea that came to you in rehearsals or in sound check, you had to do your best to remember it by lodging it in your brains and fingers through repetition. Now you just take your phone out of your pocket and press record. Likewise when endless rhyming schemes come to you in the middle of the night, whereas previously you’d be stubbing your toe as you searched around in the dark for a pen and paper while trying not to wake up the rest of the house, these days everything you need is sitting right there waiting for you on the bedside table. There are undoubtedly drawbacks to this kind of insane convenience, I just can’t think of any right now.

One definitely needs an instrument close at hand to help progress the emergent song/idea as it ventures forth into the world. The guitar is wonderfully portable and in this regard has a huge advantage over the piano. Quite aside from how good it sounds, this must be one of the main reasons that the guitar has shaped the sound of popular music to the extent that it has.

Having my Infinity Looper and FX pedals is like having an instant studio at my feet. Since I put my looping set up together a few years ago it has lead to dozens of ideas and songs. Apart from the fact that you can create an instant soundscape, the most wonderful aspect from a writing point of view is that it enables you to work incredibly instinctively and at a faster pace than your self-consciousness can intrude upon. Once you begin working over the groove of your initial loop, the creative and sonic decisions are made in such a pure and reactive way that within minutes you have arrived somewhere that you frequently just couldn’t have foreseen. Anything that delivers you into the arms of the unexpected with such regularity, is worth its weight in gold.

Once the music has begun to take shape, one always hopes that the lyric is following close behind. My typing skills are abysmal so there will never be any replacement for the humble pen and notebook in my songwriting universe. I usually just buy a set of coloured A4 notebooks from the stationers up the road. For ease of reference, I use Post-it notes to mark the pages of different ideas within each book. I’m usually working on numerous song ideas at the same time so this helps me find different lyric ideas quickly when I’m beginning to really focus in. Pen-wise I usually favour the Uniball Eye and will normally have a few of them scattered around the studio for when the lyrics start to flow. Writing lyrics is without question the trickiest part of the songwriting gig, and blessed is the day when the perfect words come falling from the sky.

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