Conan Gray: “I want this album to be a reminder that you can be so many things all at once” 

Conan Gray became known for the pared-back, indie-pop style popularised by a generation of up-and-coming singer-songwriters online. His track, ‘Heather,’ off his debut album ‘Kid Krow,’ found success on TikTok. But Gray’s third album breaks away from that well-established sound.

“I definitely knew I wanted the album to sound different,” Gray tells NME. “My first two albums, I think [of] as siblings. They very much are the natural repetition of each other. But [with] this album, I just wanted to do the last thing that I would have thought I would do.”

‘Found Heaven,’ arriving April 5, is an all-out technicolour pop record. It opens with a choir singing and is filled with echoing percussion, bursts of energy and bright synths. “It’s my third album,” Gray says. “I never thought I would ever be able to make three albums. With this album, my main assignment was to surprise listeners and surprise myself.”


With his new record, Gray trades in the sound that defined the early 2020s for the ‘80s. “When I was making the album, I was really obsessively listening to music of that era,” he explains. “I think also, because it was a deeply emotional time, I was almost hiding from reality. I didn’t listen to a song from the 2020s during the making of this album.”

That heightened emotional state can be heard in the way the songs build dramatically, but it’s also reflected in the title, which Gray points out alludes to both joy and death. “It was about my first time falling in love but also my first breakup and about all these crazy emotions all around it,” he says. “I felt really different when I was making the album, so I wanted a title that encapsulated a little bit of death.”

Gray joins NME for the latest instalment in the In Conversation series, delving into ‘Found Heaven,’ the importance of music videos and the locations that shaped the record.

Photo Credit: Elizaveta Porodina

I thought a good place to start would be with the title track, the first track. It’s a really bold opening and it introduces us to this new sound that you have. How did that song come together?

“‘Found Heaven’ was the first song that I wrote for the album. I wrote the beginnings of it right off the tail of my last tour. To me, it was kind of the thesis statement of the whole album because it’s a song about finding your own sense of happiness. Even if it disappoints everyone in your life or disappoints all the listeners, you have to do what you want to do, or else you end up wasting your entire life, which sucks. That’s much scarier than just dying. It very much set the pace for me. I wrote the song, and then I actually added the intro when I finished the album because I was like, ‘I have one last thing to say.’ It just felt like the whole album in one song.”


I also wanted to talk about your music videos. I know that you’re really hands-on with them. How did you come up with the concepts for them?

“I really miss the music videos that I grew up watching. I don’t think people really realise this, but music videos are dying. They’re fully a dead art form currently, because of short-form media. No one’s investing in music videos. They’re just not good anymore, which sucks because I love music videos, and I feel like music listeners love music videos, but it’s just not as useful of a marketing tool as it was during the MTV days. So I was like, I just want to make at least two music videos for this album that feel like a music video you would have watched back then. It was a huge challenge. I really pushed myself to do something weird. And I learned how to dance.

“This whole album was a practice of, what are all the things that I never thought I would do and what would happen if I just did them and saw? Because what a huge pleasure it is to have been able to make three albums and have all these opportunities. So why not just try them and see?

“If I never even tried to dance one time, I’d be pretty mad at myself. If I never tried to make a full pop album even one time, I’d be pretty mad at myself. This album is all the things that I’m like, ‘I just have to try this before I die’.”

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Did you choreograph the dances yourself?

“For ‘Never Ending Song’, I didn’t. But for ‘Lonely Dancers’, I did choreograph [it] myself. I was working with this guy named Max Pham and I do have weird dance moves that I just do naturally. I think everyone has their own weird way of dancing… I didn’t want you to watch them and be like, ‘Wow, he’s a dancer!’ Because that’s not how I dance. I wanted to make dances that felt like how someone would dance in their bedroom alone. Because that’s how I dance to music.”

I think I heard you say that the music video for ‘Never Ending Song’ was inspired by a trip to Tesco.

“When I was seeing this person, our first date happened in a grocery store. So, I thought it would be pretty funny to put it in a music video. But I also think the grocery store is kind of a magical place. It’s truly liminal. When you go outside, you’re like, ‘What the fuck? What just happened?’ It’s a space where time freezes; everything’s manicured, people have to act a certain way. I love grocery stores.”

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We’re in London now. So, I was wondering if there were any other ways that London informed the album? 

“London informed the album a lot. I wrote a lot of the songs about London and about my time here in London. I think that British pop, and especially British pop from the 80s and the 70s, was a huge influence on this album. I spent so much time here that it was just going to leak into the music… I’m singing in a fully British accent in some of the songs, because I think it’s funny. It makes me smile. There’s no other reason. I think also there’s a mentality here, that British people actually don’t take themselves too seriously, and I like that. It reminds me of home. I’m a very sarcastic person and a very crass person and I think the album is pretty sarcastic and pretty crass. I’m having fun. I’m just joking around.”

It does feel fun and it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s dramatic and exaggerated at parts. There are moments of darkness with some moments of real lightness together.

“The very, very last song that I wrote for the album is a song called ‘Alley Rose’. The song was originally called ‘Abbey Road’. I’d been dumped, and I was in London, and I was heartbroken. London is a great place to be heartbroken. It’s the best because you can be so miserable here and really seep in it.

“But then I was like, I can’t fucking name the best song on this album after the greatest album of all time. That’d be really dumb. I had to come up with a name that sounded like Abbey Road. And so that’s how ‘Alley Rose’ came to be.”

You’ve also said that you have a favourite song on the album. Is it ‘Alley Rose?’

“It is ‘Alley Rose’. When I wrote it, I was like, ‘Thank God’. I have that with every album, and it’s super funny. It’s always the first song and the last song that defines [the album]. Everything that happens in between is a journey.

“I was like, ‘This is my favourite song.’ And I just knew that the album was done. It’s really weird. It’s almost like hindsight is 20/20. You finish the album, and you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s why I needed to do that.’”

Photo Credit: Elizaveta Porodina

You also worked on the album in Sweden. How was that experience?

“Stockholm was perfect and really cool, and my best friend is Swedish, and now I have all these amazing Swedish friends. I got to be a little bit of an adoptive Swede for a year of my life. It’s incredible. I wrote a lot of the album here in London and then recorded a lot of it in Sweden and then a little bit in LA. And I think it really did inform the album; I think it sounds so different because I made it in such a different place and different world, and the tastes of people in Sweden and London are so different from the tastes of people in America. It was pretty magical, I’m gonna be honest, pretty awesome. Summertime in Sweden is crazy. You literally feel like you’re in a Disney movie.

“When I wrote that first half [of the album], I was just the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. And then the second half, I was the most depressed, the most heartbroken, and I was sick for six months of the rest of the album, so you can kind of hear it towards the end.”

What do you want listeners to take away from the album?

“I really want listeners to not compare it too much to the previous work and just take it as what it is. And I want people to know that I was having fun and goofing around, and I want you to smile and I want you to feel like you can just be yourself. I just want the album to be a reminder to people that you can be so many things all at once. You can be the most depressed you’ve ever been in your entire life or also the happiest you’ve ever been in your entire life at the same time, and you can change your clothes, and you can change your hair, and you can do anything all the time. I think there’s so much of a rush for people to find out who they are and know who they are and stick to it. I want this album to be a reminder to people that they don’t have to know and that you can be a lot of things all at once.”