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The Gray Havens Interview

Indie duo The Gray Havens just released their full-length sophomore album, Ghost of a King, so Jesusfreakhideout.com's Michael Weaver hopped on the phone to talk to one-half of the group, vocalist Dave Radford about the writing process, creating a different sound, and Star Wars...
This interview took place in May 4, 2016.
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  • JFH (Michael Weaver): It's been a little over a year since we last spoke in Orlando. Since then, you've had a tour, you've had your first child, and you've recorded a new album. So I'm just wondering… Do you guys ever take a break?

    Dave Radford: It's been a very big roller coaster for us, but one that we've enjoyed. There hasn't really been any "high" highs, other than, of course, having our first born, -- that was a "high" high -- but not super high or super low. It's been a rollercoaster in a sense, but we've just been steadily plodding on. Kind of the trick with this lifestyle of the touring musician is being able to function with a rapidly changing landscape from day to day. So just being able to deal with the reality that your life isn't going to have a lot of routine, especially for the season that you're out on the road, but even when you're back in town there's not a lot of routine you can get into. I should just stop reading productivity books (*Laughter*) because everybody's like, "Find a rhythm; find a routine," you know? There's some things we can do, but with a lot of things we can't live "normally." I think realizing that has been a helpful step for us to be able to be okay with it, but it's taken awhile to get there.

  • JFH (Michael): Yeah, I imagine it's hard to settle into anything with having a show here, something with the kid here, -- a doctor's appointment -- or whatever press thing is going on this day.

    Dave: Yeah, absolutely. It's not to say that we have to work harder; it's just a different life.

  • JFH (Michael): So, going off of that… How has your adjustment been going to being a dad? My daughter is almost 9 and I remember this fear of being solely responsible for a tiny little human, but somewhere along the line, it faded away and I never really noticed it. So, how's that been going for you?

    Dave: It's been great. I was telling somebody else: You think with loving your wife, you have kind of tapped out with how much you love your wife, or love anybody else, and then a baby comes along and there's an exponential increase in space created for you to love someone. And not only for your child, but more space is created for you to love your wife. It's an amazing thing. I've heard that it happens with every kid somehow; that you're able to love them just as much. So that's been kind of a joyful part of our lives the last 10 months or so. All the joys that come with being a dad; it's all true. It's been great.

  • JFH (Michael): No matter how prepared, or unprepared, you feel, it seems like you're always the opposite of what you're thinking. If you think you're unprepared, all of a sudden you're just doing it, but if you think you've really got it down, you don't know what you're getting yourself into until you're into it. *laughs*

    Dave: *laughs* Exactly! Thanks for saying that actually. That's helpful because we're totally, from day to day, second guessing a lot of things, but overall it's been really good.

  • JFH (Michael): Oh, it gets more "fun" the older they get. Transitioning over to the new album a little bit… How exactly did Ghost of a King go from a promised EP to a full-length record?

    Dave: The real answer is that it was me bugging our manager over and over again, asking if we could do a full-length record. At the beginning, he was all about the EP and wanting to spread out the releases, but I just kept pushing it. That coupled with… You know, we just found Ben Shive, the producer that we worked with on this record… We found his studio space, as well as just the relationship with him, to be incredibly creative and inspiring. So, we got into the studio and about three or four songs hadn't been written that are on the record and in the cracks, [so] on lunch breaks, when I wasn't with Ben, or sometimes on dinner breaks, he would let me stay in the studio and write if I wanted to. I lived 45 minutes away from him, so opposed to driving back home and coming back later that night, I would just stay and try to write. He was encouraging of that.

  • JFH (Michael): Can you talk a little bit about how the album title came about?

    Dave: That story is kind of interesting. I, about two years ago or so… Rewind… I write during seasons. I don't write all year round, at least lyrically, but I'm writing all year round melodically. So a chord progression or a melody will come much easier to me than a lyric idea. I'm capturing that all year round on my iPhone. So two years ago, I captured this idea of the guitar riff, just how you hear it in that title track playing, and then I just sang, "Met a Ghost of the King on the road," and a lot of gibberish after that that kind of matches the melody that you hear in the actual track, but I pressed stop on the record button and kind of just had it in the back of my mind for two years as something that I would eventually write. [I'd] maybe forgot about it from time to time... So when it came time to write for this record, that was a song that I had to scour through my voice memos and my emails and see where I dropped it. I think it was just called "Ghost" on the voice memo and I just took that lyric that I wrote -- I don't know why I wrote it -- and I just chased that idea. That's how I approach a lot of my song writing. I will often start with a chorus, or chords and the melody, and words that flow well together. It sounds weird to say -- and there's more to it than this -- but my approach to writing is that the song kind of informs me of what it wants to be about in a sense. That's not a mystical thing, or a deep spiritual thing. I feel like I just chase ideas and eventually inspiration comes from one of those things. Either it's the melody, the chords, the word flow, or some random phrase or word will present itself. So you're doing the hard work to find the inspiration and inspiration eventually comes.

  • JFH (Michael): Gotcha. This album sounds like The Gray Havens, but it's also distinctly different from Fire & Stone, or Where Eyes Don't Go. The music is bigger and so is the production. What lead to that change in approach of writing and recording?

    Dave: We came into the studio with the songs and at the beginning we said, "Maybe let's keep it scaled down to a duo sound." We tried that on a couple of songs that were bigger and it just didn't work. The songs seemed to want a bigger production. So after that experience, we just kind of gave ourselves permission in the studio to chase down what would be best for the songs -- regardless of us being a duo or not. I mean, we tried to be sensitive to that along the road, but basically, the short answer is that we tried to give ourselves a free pass, or license -- if you will -- to go big. I've heard it said, and I think I agree with it, by an artist, it might have been Sara Groves or somebody that said, "An album should be viewed by an artist as a movie and the live show is the stage adaptation -- the play. So make the movie, and worry about the play version later." So that's we did. We made the movie and now we're trying to figure out the play part of it.

  • JFH (Michael): That's an interesting theory though. I've never really heard it put that way as far as crafting an album. Would you have ever thought you were capable of writing something as poppy sounding as "Diamonds and Gold" in the past? Nothing you've recorded before touches that level.

    Dave: So that's another example… Trust me. We tried the organic approach to recording that song with maybe strings or piano, or even electric guitar or just acoustic guitar and none of it felt right. We kind of just put on some tracks and records that inspired us in the pop realm and we chased down this synth based pop [sound], but that's speaking to the production. The actual poppy-ness of the song came from me borrowing a friend's electric guitar -- I've never really played electric guitar. He let me borrow his guitar and another friend let me borrow his amp and all of his geeked out effects pedals. I was just like a kid in a candy store for about a week, waiting for our son to be born, in my office playing around with all of this stuff. To answer your question, I think it was me being presented with a new sound when writing music. The poppy-ness of the electric guitar and playing around with a new sound bred a different type of song. I think that's what happened. It still felt "us," but it's definitely more poppy. I think that's true whenever I switch instruments. If I start to pluck at the mandolin, or sit down at an upright piano, the difference in inspiration between an upright acoustic piano or a grand piano keyboard sound through my headphones is vastly different. With the same chords, I would write a totally different song I think. For me, that's how important the instrument I'm writing on is to the process.

  • JFH (Michael): I'm not as musically talented as you, but I understand that if I sit down with an acoustic guitar and start playing around, coming up with something, it's going to sound different -- I'm going to have a different idea -- than if I'm playing an electric. Through all of that, it seems to work. Through all of the pop trappings you can still hear The Gray Havens; it's just kind of an interesting track that stood out to me.

    Dave: Yeah. Thanks!

  • JFH (Michael): In all honesty, I was not a fan of "At Last, the King" when you released it on YouTube to start with. After listening to the album, really just a couple of times, it became my favorite song on Ghost of a King

    Dave: *Laughing* That's funny!

  • JFH (Michael): Knowing, from last time we talked, how you approach song writing, I'd really love to hear about the writing process on this song.

    Dave: So, over the summer -- so about 10 months ago or so -- we had just signed on some new management and our manager asked me if I had any Christmas songs, or had written anything. I said, "No." He said, "How about you write one that's cool and different." *laughter* Him saying that in his twangy, Nashville southern accent, *with a southern accent* "Write something cool, man!" So I was like, "What in the world?" I think what he was trying to get at was, "Try to approach the Christmas story from a different angle that maybe has not be explored a lot in conventional Christmas liturgy or music." So kind of following my -- I don't know -- neurologically ingrained approach to songwriting, I tried to frame it in the story. I kind of imagined this conversation that I see in the scripture between God and Satan with regard to what God is going to do to redeem man. You know, visiting the garden in Genesis and visiting the desert where Jesus is being tempted; those two scenes. There's not a lot of scenes in the Bible where Jesus and Satan have a dialogue, so these two scenes were kind of picked out as promise and fulfillment for me. I just tried to craft that dialogue. It just kind of happened from there. I don't know if that answers your questions or not.

  • JFH (Michael): Oh yeah. I'm kind of curious a little bit more on the musical side as well. Did you have that guitar part in the verse; did that come first? The picking on that is kind of unique; I like it. It stands out.

    Dave: Yeah, thank you! I feel really insecure about this part, but I just learned to finger pick over the summer, so I was kind of "finger picking happy" at that point, just having learned a few basic scales. I think that was one of the first songs that I approached with a finger picking pattern. I think that what happened is I wrote that pattern first and kind of approached it from there. It is kind of a specific part, but sometimes the best parts come from musicians who are ignorant of the rules of what you should or shouldn't do.

  • JFH (Michael): *laughs* That's one I've been fooling around with and trying to get that opening part right. I don't think I quite have it, but I do like it.

    Dave: Aw, man. Maybe I'll have to tab it out or something and put it Ultimate-Guitar.

  • JFH (Michael): Works for me, man! I've told you about my favorite song. Are there any that stand out particularly for you? Maybe one that means a little bit more, or one you just like to play live?

    Dave: Hmm. I think I have three favorites on the record. I think I like listening to "Shadows of the Dawn." That was the most fun to make in the studio, I think. Just musically, I don't know why, but it just does something for me. "Ghost of the King" is a close second, the title track. That might be my favorite to sing. That was just a fun song to make in the studio. My favorite part of the record is probably the last chorus of "This My Soul." It just kind of takes on a meaning that hits deep with me. Setting up the first part of the song is the chorus being something that is more in dismay saying, "This my soul, you're born into, born into…" kind of a curse, but when it changes meaning on the third chorus, "You're born into a living hope" with Christ. That's my favorite part of the record and maybe my favorite lyrics on it.

  • JFH (Michael): That also transitions pretty nicely into "A Living Hope."

    Dave: Yeah. "A Living Hope," I can take about one percent credit for that song. That was all Ben Shive. Ben wrote that in about five minutes and we recorded it at night in his studio for about four hours. He had the "living hope" part worked out. Ben's just a genius. Just give him an idea and he'll help work it out. That was all him.

  • JFH (Michael): Is that you singing that part that repeats throughout?

    Dave: Yeah, that's me signing it, but he wrote it.

  • JFH (Michael): Maybe it's an effect or something, but it sounds a little different. I wasn't sure if it was something that was done in the studio.

    Dave: He probably put some effects on it or something like that; doing his little Pro Tools voodoo that he does.

  • JFH (Michael): Do you have any more tour plans here in the near future?

    Dave: Yes, actually. We're doing, in the fall, a Ghost of the King orchestra tour. So, we're going to play through the record on different college campuses across the country -- I don't know how many yet. We're going to play through the record with about fifteen to twenty people on stage to kind of try to bring the full effect of the record to the stage for a few select performances. There could be anywhere between five and fifteen of these concerts happening in the fall. We have some already booked and we're really excited about that. I've always wanted to tour with a band. Not only are we getting to tour with a band, but we're getting to collaborate with musicians from across the country and we're just real excited about this tour. It'll be called "The Ghost of the King Orchestra Tour," or something like that. Look for more on that as we get to the end of the summer.

  • JFH (Michael): That sounds like a really cool concept, especially with this particular album. It would really make it sound good live.

    Dave: That's our manager. I can take no credit. He's the idea machine.

  • JFH (Michael): Since today is Star Wars Day [*Dave laughs*] I have to ask… What is your favorite Star Wars movie?

    Dave: Oh, man, Empire Strikes Back!

  • JFH (Michael): You are the man! Thank you! *laughs*

    Dave: *Laughs* No hesitation! Hey, what did you think of the new one?

  • JFH (Michael): Um, I actually enjoyed it. I was kind of nervous that Disney would ruin it, and I know a lot of people are complaining about different things, but I enjoyed it. I saw it as a little bit of a throwback to A New Hope in a way. I was happy. I'm excited to see the next one.

    Dave: Me too, absolutely!

    ***Michael and Dave discuss Star Wars, fan theories, and Rogue One for several more minutes.***

  • JFH (Michael): I was hoping you weren't going to say, "I don't really like Star Wars." Some people just aren't into it…

    Dave: *laughs* No, I would never. I'm a fan. So, I really appreciate you reaching out again on the "Round 2" interview. Thanks for supporting us.

  • JFH (Michael): No problem! Anything you want to leave off with? Any information you want to leave the readers?

    Dave: I don't think so. Hopefully they give it a listen and hopefully they like what they hear. I don't know what to say.

  • JFH (Michael): Look at you, man. So humble… *laughs*

    Dave: I wish I had something profound to leave people with… So we say our mission is to, "Awaken wonder and joy for the Lord and His glory through song," and so we hope that's what this record does…



    The Gray Havens new album Ghost of a King is available now!

     

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