Five years ago, British troubadour David Gray was getting billed below the menu. "It was like, 'Barbecued ribs sold out. David Gray, 9 o'clock,' " says the 33-year-old singer-songwriter of a forgettable appearance in Rock Island, Ill. "It can be a grim experience. I'm still not sure whether I cracked America or America cracked me."
It took salesmanship as well as musicianship. When the Manchester, England-born Gray released the now-platinum White Ladder—recorded at the home he remort-gaged to fund the project—in 1998, he couldn't give it away. "No one was taking it off my hands," says Gray, who sold CDs out of car trunks while tirelessly touring the U.K. and the U.S. in the 1990s, to the chagrin of his wife of seven years, Olivia, a lawyer. "That's enough to strain anything," says Gray. "In the end I just become a monosyllabic zombie: 'Point me at the stage. Where's the audience?' "
Thanks to the success of his breakthrough single, "Babylon," and the new collections of his previous efforts Lost Songs 95-98
and The EP's 92-94
, Gray's audiences of late have expanded beyond barbecue seekers to include Prince Charles and Gwyneth Paltrow
, whom he met during a Saturday Night Live
appearance last year. "She was being very elegant and refined," says Gray. "And I went into this tirade about something or other. By the end of it she was pressing against a wall, trying to get away from me. Perhaps she thinks I'm some poetic type."