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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at and a music writer for and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the News Center Maine TV show “207” to talk of course.

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Posted: June 9, 2015

David Gray talks about finding songs in half-heard conversations & the music he grew up on

Written by: Aimsel Ponti
Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

British singer-songwriter David Gray is starting the summer leg of his “Mutineers” tour at the Maine State Pier in Portland, where he will celebrate his 47th birthday. “Mutineers” is Gray’s 10th album, and includes a duet with country singer LeAnn Rimes on the song “Snow in Vegas.” Gray was propelled into the spotlight in 2000 when Dave Matthews’ label ATO re-released the 1998 album “White Ladder,” with the songs “Babylon,” “Please Forgive Me,” and “Sail Away.” “White Ladder” has since sold upward of 7 million copies.

Gray is known for candid, unfeigned lyrics that map out the intricacies of the human heart and songs that are poetic in nature, such as “Gulls” and “Birds of The High Arctic” from “Mutineers.”

Opening for Gray is singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata. During a telephone interview from his home in London, Gray spoke at length about “Mutineers.”

This was your first time working with producer Andy Barlow. What would you say is the most significant contribution he made to the record?

His biggest contribution was the soundscape he created with the ingredients that I gave him. He has a great ear for the potential of a song to expand into a new form. He had a vision and he has the keys to a world of sound. That’s what I was itching for, something different. He managed to crack the songs open and allow something different to happen.

It seems you went to some different places vocally.

With “Life in Slow Motion” (his 2005 album), I used a lot of sort of groove harmonies that I did myself, but I took that idea much further on this record and I started before Andy got involved. I was layering harmonies and then he just took that and encouraged me to go even further and further. He had a great ear for all the sort of vocal subtleties.

The song “Birds of the High Arctic” – how did you come up with that phrase?

Just the music of the words themselves and the birds themselves. As I’m sure you do in Maine, in Norfolk where I spent a lot of time here in England, the birds come in from the Arctic in the summer or they come in the winter before they go back to breed. It’s just the sounds that they make. I was turning the phrase over and I just love the music of it. It became a song in my mind just through the sound of the words.

Are you a music-first or lyrics-first guy?

Until this record, primarily it’s always music first and then lyrics came after. But I experimented a lot more on this record with starting with words or ideas and working out toward music. Now my ears are tuned to the potential in even just the most throwaway things – from the sort of half-heard conversation on a bus, the music of language or on a printed page, a poem or whatever could be the starting point for a melody. So I’m investigating other paths less trodden.

Speaking of the live show, what can we expect?

I think we’re gonna mix it up more on this summer tour. The show in Maine is a stand-alone David Gray show but a lot of my summer tour I’m doing a co-headline with Amos Lee. For these first two DG shows there’ll be plenty of “Mutineers” and plenty of other stuff. We’ve got about 30 or 35 songs ready to go. It’s gonna be great fun.

Hear David Gray’s “Back in the World”

How many people are in your band?

We had eight for the “Mutineers” tour proper but I’ve cut it back to my usual band of five for this. Eight was a very expensive proposition.

You recently presented Yusaf Islam (Cat Stevens) with a Lifetime Achievement Award at The BBC Radio2 Folk Awards. What was this experience like for you?

I hate public speaking, but I realized I had to present him because I grew up with my dad playing his music a lot. More than that, my dad would just burst into snippets of “Hard Headed Woman” or “Wild World.” It’s something that permeated my life, and I think reflecting on it as I did when I wrote the speech, it’s had a huge effect on me because he’s very spiritual, he’s very real. He deals with the way he feels and his songs are very rooted in wonderful melodies. It was a real honor to give him the award and lovely to meet him and have some time to talk.

What did you grow up listening to, especially as a teenager?

I was bowled over by Madness and the Specials, the 2 tone mod thing in the U.K., so it was Madness, Specials, the Beat. That sound was my teenage sound.

What was the first concert you attended?

The first concert I ever went to was The Smiths, “Meat is Murder” tour (1985).

If you could see any musician who is no longer with us, who would it be?

I would love to see Nina Simone.

It seems like you’re a pretty avid reader. Who are a couple of your favorite authors?

I’ll give you a couple of my favorite books. “The Living Mountain” by Nan Shepherd and “The Peregrine” by J.A. Baker.

How come?

Those are two books I discovered within the last decade that bowled me over. They’re sort of unknown gems. There’s a huge resurgence into nature writing here in the U.K. and a writer called Robert Macfarlane, who has also written some great books, has championed some of these books that have been slightly lost over the last 50 years, and through him and his hard work, I’ve discovered them and they’re wonderful books.


WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Maine State Pier, Commercial St., Portland
TICKETS: $26.75 – $69.75


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