SONGWRITERS can attest that keeping the creative juices flowing in new directions is difficult. Even the most accomplished songsmiths can easily fall back on trusted processes to mine creative gold.
English singer-songwriter David Gray believes he's found a different way forward. A task not easily achieved when you've become synonymous with folktronica - a genre he helped popularise with his breakthrough fourth album White Ladder (1998), which spent 175 weeks in the UK charts between 2000 and 2003 and sold 7 million copies worldwide.
The album's hit singles like Babylon, Please Forgive Me and Sail Away and their blend of acoustic guitar, folk melodies and electronic rhythms have clearly influenced the likes of Ed Sheeran and James Blunt.
The 50-year-old old has never climbed the commercial heights of White Ladder since, but his 11th album Gold In A Brass Age, released earlier this month, has proven Gray remains a potent songwriter.
"It's an independent record that I've pretty much done myself," Gray tells Weekender while on tour in the UK. "It takes some balls and commitment. It's a struggle, but a worthwhile one and very satisfying."
Gold In A Brass Age and its predecessor Mutineers (2014) have been particularly satisfying for Gray, because he's turned his songwriting process upside down.
While he once began with a simple chord progression or rhythm on a guitar, he's experimented with taking snippets of conversation, written words or visual art and extracting their musicality.
"Mutineers was definitely a turning point in rethinking my music and I've turned that corner again and I still see the realms of possibility beckoning me on," Gray says.
"I see more opportunities for creative expression and doing things differently.
"You can't just go hard at the truth all the time. You've got to find ways to traverse the mountain and come from a difficult angle. It's not possible to stay in the same vein."
It's a level of experimentation Gray says was impossible during the height of his success in the early 2000s.
"The problem in the wake of White Ladder was that something that happened so innocently became so universally successful," he says.
"To try and re-conjure this innocence in the reverse scenario - where you're thinking about everything too much and people are desperate for you to make the same record again - that was a difficult moment.
"It was a difficult time. My father died and my wife nearly died giving birth to our child. I was incredibly famous suddenly and successful and all these tumultuous events happened in quick succession.
"It was overwhelming, and it wasn't just the success of the record, it was everything that came with it. More feelings than anyone could put into a song."