We chose The Gray Havens’ first full-length album, Fire and Stone, as a “Pick of the Week” in early 2015. Now, a short year later, the duo returns with Ghost of a King, a delightful follow-up focused on themes of longing. The project finds husband and wife David and Licia Radford exploring a myriad of metaphorical worlds against a dream-like folk/pop/Americana landscape. We asked the couple five questions, and David’s answers gave us insight into the couple’s memorable band name (a nod to Lord of the Rings), the new record and their unique creative process.
1. Where does the name of your duo come from?
When we first started out, The Gray Havens was a band name offered to us in a moment of desperation for a band name. We had recorded our first EP and were on a two week deadline to submit artwork to the CD manufacturers. The only problem was we didn’t have anything to call ourselves! We reached out to our Kickstarter backers for help, and one of the suggestions that came back was “The Gray Havens.” It is inspired by the last chapter of The Lord of the Rings triology. “The Grey Havens” is a harbor in Tolkein’s Middle Earth where passengers set sail for the undying lands. A lot of our songs had themes of eternity, and we had a song at the time called “Gray Flowers,” so we went with it!
2. One of the themes of your new record is longing. Did this overarching theme come from personal experience?
Definitely. The first song, “Ghost in the Valley,” is a personal testimony of deepest longing met and fulfilled in Jesus. I would say the rest of the songs are sub-categories of longing about other things (like doing something meaningful with my life, or avoiding being caught up in chasing riches, etc…), though I didn’t really plan it like that.
3. You’ve said that the songs on Ghost of a King were all written recently. In what ways do they reflect the season you’re currently walking through?
Yes. I wrote most of the lyrics for the album in a very condensed period of time last summer. They are, I would say, an accurate portrait of our lives right now–what’s been on our minds, what we’re hoping for, struggling with, etc. From marriage, to trusting that God provides, to hoping that we spend eternity with our closest friends–these songs were probably the most “journal-entry-esque” we’ve written to date.
4. What does your songwriting process look like?
Good question. I typically start by trying to find a chord pattern I like on the guitar or piano, or some kind of “riff” I can repeat. A riff is a more memorable, patterned series of notes that plays over and over. From there, I will try singing different melodies (using jibberish for words or “la la la”) to go along with the chords. After that, I might try and string a few words together that flow well with the melody. At this point in the process, syntax (or mouth feel/wordflow) is almost always more important to me than what the song should or shouldn’t be about. Often times it will be a few well-strung words together that inspire the heart of the song. From then on, I’m just chasing down different lyrical avenues and rabbit trails until I’m able to say or describe the pictures in my head. I almost never go into writing a song with a clear lyrical idea or concept.
5. Where do you find inspiration for writing and creating?
Novels have been somewhat inspiring, but to my detriment, I’m not a very patient reader and don’t finish a lot of the books I start. Movies have also been somewhat inspiring in the past. I wrote a song called “Music They Call Me” after watching Avatar in IMAX 3D (though the song has nothing to do with blue people). My main inspiration for songs, though, probably comes from listening to great preaching and teaching of the Bible from men like John Piper, Tim Keller, Jerram Barrs, Joe Rigney, and others.
For more info, visit www.thegrayhavensmusic.com.
Download the duo’s new album, Ghost of a King, here.