The Gray Havens is set to release their fourth studio album, Blue Flower, a stunningly crafted,12-track set inspired by C.S. Lewis's autobiography, Surprised by Joy, which explores a soul-deep place of mysterious, inconsolable longing and the search for its true source. Known for their unique blend of narrative-pop, frontman Dave Radford, along with his wife and fellow vocalist, Licia Radford, expand the reach of The Gray Havens into multiple genres with the thought-provoking lyrical poetry and music of their new release, available October 8, 2021.
The Gray Havens have a knack for creating a listening experience similar to paging through a favorite book, with richly textured compositions and multi-layered lyrics. Their songs are as likely to leave the listener pondering a deep mystery as celebrating a simple pleasure. Their new collection of tracks is no exception.
During a C.S. Lewis reading binge, Dave discovered that, although he'd heard Lewis' Surprised by Joy quoted through the years, he had never actually read it. He figured it was time to hear Lewis's story in his own words. The book finds Lewis's recounting his life story through his peculiar experience with Joy - an "unsatisfied desire, more desirable than any satisfaction." A few chapters in, a particularly intriguing reference to the Blue Flower became the seed for the album. Lewis describes one of his first encounters with Joy as a child overlooking the hills outside his window. "They taught me longing- Sehnsucht; made me for good or ill, and before I was six years old, a votary of the Blue Flower," he says. Blue Flower's thought-provoking lyrics and engaging melodies usher the listener from a long winter to a bright summer as they peer into the paradox of that singular desire that no experience in the world can satisfy.
"The reference to the 'Blue Flower' was intriguing when I first read it, but I didn't give it much thought before moving on. As the story unfolded, the idea for a concept album began to form in the back of my mind. Over time, the 'Blue Flower' became the symbol of Joy and the lyrical anchor for the album," says Dave. "Funnily enough, Surprised by Joy was a last-minute read for a completely different concept album I was planning. I almost didn't read it, but after the first couple of chapters I couldn't't put it down. It was as though a friend whom I had known, admired, and respected for over ten years suddenly walked over, sat down, and began telling me his life story. I was hooked. I dropped the concept I was working on and began exploring the idea of writing an album based on Joy."
Blue Flower catapults the rich and complex song-craft of The Gray Havens to new heights and explores new musical soundscapes. The opening line of "Endless Summer" hints at the sonic journey: "Have you ever missed somewhere that you've never been before?" The album moves with a sense of purpose as listeners make their way from song to song. The title track, "Blue Flower," launches from its ethereal opening into a driving, up-tempo anthem full of the bright, percussive pop energy that highlights many of the tracks. "Paradise" transports the listener to a vast and lonely desert beneath a star-lit sky, borrowing imagery from the Lewis novel, The Horse and His Boy. With lyrics originally inspired by Lewis's first trip to Oxford, "It's Possible," playfully captures the quirky energy and essence of city streets from around the world. Their latest single, "Pale Moonlight," which was featured on MTV's Teen Moms 2, releases today. Click image below to hear it first!
"Dave has always had the instincts of a producer," says Licia. "This time around he was able to step into the role of co-producer for the first time with help from Ben and others. As his wife, that was special for me to see unfold and I think it's one of the reasons the album ended up feeling so true to the spirit that the songs were written in. Personally, this was the most enjoyable project to sing on. We recorded my vocals late at night, Dave at the computer with me sitting in the comfy studio chair next to him. My parts had a ton of variety - some were quirky and weird while others were so intimate and soft."
These may simultaneously be the band's most scholarly and accessible songs. Like its source material, Blue Flower is an album of surprising joy. The pandemic-altered recording process without the pressure of a hard-and-fast studio recording schedule forged an even stronger production collaboration and made the recording process more experimental and natural. The themes are as strong in the music as in the lyrics, creating an engaging package that invites repeated listening. Dave and longtime producing partner Ben Shive balanced layers of instrumentation, establishing a cinematic place for each song. Supported by world-class players such as Will Chapman of Colony House on drums and Nathan Dugger of Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors on guitar, the band is in fine form.
Blue Flower is a breathtaking album; a collection of songs with the courage to be about complex, sweeping emotions, supported by a unique musical aesthetic that expands The individuality of The Gray Havens. The music is genuinely stirring and moves the listener forward on a journey of profound discovery and joy.