The plight of a group of devout monks on a remote Atlantic Ocean island off the coast of Ireland in 600AD was the motivation for David Gray's 12th album, Skellig.
Unconventional? Yes, but that's Gray. The UK singer-songwriter who found fame with his groundbreaking album White Ladder and songs My Oh My, Babylon and Please Forgive Me has always walked his own path.
Skellig is a departure from the shimmering electronics of 2019's Gold In A Brass Age and instead embraces a sparser, communal soundscape. The songs are atmospheric and stem from six-part vocals, with Gray trading his signature gravel for a softer tone.
The album demands your undivided attention. It is not background music. To fully appreciate Gray's work you must close your eyes, listen and experience it.
"Yes, that's how it works. It's a record where you have to push yourself off the shore on a little rowboat and drift," Gray replies, pleased.
"It's a moment, that's what it's supposed to be like. There's no other way of encountering the music.
"It's good to know that you made that internal journey."
The multi-vocal layering weaving across Skellig came to Gray during 2013's Sounding Out Tour, where he recruited members of his live band - including Caroline Dale, David Kitt and Rob Malone - to experiment on his back-catalogue alongside him.
Years later, he called on Dale, Kitt and Malone, and with the addition of Niamh Farrell, Mossy Noalan and de Vries, ventured up to the Scottish Highlands to record this album.
"We couldn't afford to have any disruptions. It needed to be one mood from start to finish," Gray explains.
"It had been brewing for some time, it was more a matter of compiling enough material that I felt was coming from a similar place.
"Once I was satisfied that that was there, it was a matter of recording it. We recorded it in one place at one time, over five days."
Free from distractions, Gray let himself be guided by the music and the situation.
"It was a very communal activity, a bit like the monks gathered on top of that rock. We sat and sang together and it had a giddy spirituality, making music so intensely day in and day out while living, eating, sleeping together in the same place," he says.
"It was important to get out of London, to get out of my domestic space. I didn't want everyone going home at night to their own separate realities.
"We all needed to be in the one place together, to be part of it. To cut off from everything.
"Breathing the music. That's what this album required. We didn't let anything get in the way of that moment."
Skellig takes its name from the jagged rocky islands off the coast of County Kerry, the most westerly point in Ireland. Ravaged by the Atlantic, the seemingly uninhabitable location of Skellig Michael became an unlikely site of pilgrimage in 600AD for a group of monks, who left the distractions of the human realm to be closer to God.
"I think it was the idea of being so committed to the spiritual part of life, to being something so insignificant, to give nothing and let nothing be everything, that fascinated me," Gray says.
"Those rocks are so inhospitable. I can't imagine living up there in the Atlantic gales, exposed to the elements. There was literally nothing, just the howling wind and the sky, the stars.
"To be gulping down the universe the way they would have been out there, it would have been a heightened existence but also an incredibly difficult one."
Gray asks for no literal translation of the above, nor prescribes any religious allegiance - but the story, told to him by a friend, haunted his imagination and inspired it.
"My commitment is to the music, the singing, and I lose the world when I sing. I live just in that moment."