Article by: Story by: Lucy Brook, Interview by: Brittany Joy Cooper | Posted: 10/25/2011
With several megahits to his name, Gavin DeGraw has become known as the talent behind the familiar chart-toppers “I Don’t Want to Be,” “Follow Through,” “Chariot” and “In Love with a Girl.” And while you might assume he’d tire of repeatedly playing his most ubiquitous hits to persistent fans, DeGraw has a theory about this.
In fact, it has a little something to do with hamburgers.
“If you went into McDonalds and you’re like, ‘Hey, I want a Big Mac’ and they’re like, ‘No, no, we’re only doing new burgers now because we’re sick of that old one,’ well, that’s the wrong approach,” the 34-year-old New Yorker says with a laugh.
“I think it’s exciting to have success. Some artists don’t want to be married to their past success. I say, ‘Hey man, play the old song because that’s why anyone cares what you’re doing right now. That’s OK – embrace it.”
The singer-songwriter who was raised in South Fallsburg, New York, and now resides in Manhattan, has tasted that success but still doesn’t shy away from his past hits, even in the face of his September 2011 release Sweeter.
DeGraw hit the commercial jackpot with his 2003 debut Chariot, which spawned three hit singles, including the certified double platinum teen angst anthem “I Don’t Want To Be,” which took off after becoming the theme song for the popular drama series One Tree Hill.
His second, self-titled album ranked seventh on Billboard’s Top 200 in 2008, and in 2009, he released Free as a musical “gift” to fans who were constantly asking for a live album.
In 2007, DeGraw and his brother Joey opened their music venue The National Underground on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
DeGraw describes his latest musical offering as a nod to his sexier side. He points out that it’s a deviation from his past work for two reasons: First, it was his initial venture into the waters of co-writing, and second, he hired a variety of producers to complete it.
“The songs are kind of gritty and sexy and masculine,” he says of the album, which debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200, selling 34,000 copies in its first week.
For DeGraw, writing with OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, who has penned hits with megastars like Adele and Beyoncé, gave his new material greater dimension – “When you’re writing with someone like him, you’re just going to get to another level” – and allowed him to lyrically let his hair down.
“Ryan and I were in Blackbird Studio in Nashville writing the lyrics for the song ‘Sweeter,’ and at one point I was like, ‘You went to school and found out you’re dumb,’” he remembers, alluding to a lyric that ended up in the song.
“I’m like, ‘What do you think, man? Can we say that?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Dumb. Yeah.’ I mean, who the hell would say that? It’s funny and it’s rude, but it gives the song character. Once you break down that barrier, you can really change your whole writing approach because you’re able to step away from saying all the right things. You can say the wrong things, too.” DeGraw says his decision to work with multiple producers had an equally positive influence on the project.
“You can’t expect one producer to necessarily capture all of the intended sounds of each song,” he explains. “Some producers have different fortes and there are so many different approaches. What really helped this album is that, for the most part, the producers chose the songs that they wanted to work on. That really allowed me to get their best work on my album.”
DeGraw, who has toured extensively with acts like Butterfly Boucher, The Allman Brothers Band, Jason Mraz, Maroon 5 and Train, became an instant headline and was forced to cancel a string of dates earlier this year after he was assaulted in New York’s East Village August 8.
After being struck by a taxi, he was admitted to a hospital with a concussion, a broken nose and lacerations to his face. Though it set off a chain of interviews and questions, the ordeal never fully felt settled since the attackers remain at large.
When asked whether the assault has influenced his writing, DeGraw is pensive at first.
“It’s hard to say,” he begins slowly. “I don’t think it’s affected my writing yet. I figure when you’re writing songs, your life makes its way in and your perspective on life makes its way in. I’m sure little bits of that experience will make its way in too. I mean, it wasn’t a life changer for me – it was just a rough night.”
Despite the setback occurring just a month before his album release, DeGraw says he has fully recovered. “I think I got it all back,” he assures with a laugh. He pauses and then adds, “People go through worse every day. I think I got an unfair amount of attention for it. So it’s onwards and upwards.” Now, he’s back on the road with Sweeter and says he’s looking forward to getting his new sound out to his fans.
“In November, I think we’ll plan on doing some holiday shows across the United States. Then I hope I can get back overseas and keep my fans in Europe and Australia interested.”
In addition to touring, DeGraw and his brother just opened a second location of The National Underground in Nashville, which just had its grand opening October 15. He admits he has a soft spot for the city and visits a few times a year to “kick around” with friends and musicians.
“I happen to think that Nashville is an amazing place,” he says, adding that his grandfather was forever telling him, “If I was you, I’d go to Nashville – that’s where I’d be!
“As a music lover and as a bar lover, I appreciate that town, and Nashville has so much talent,” he emphasizes. “I have an apartment there, and I really love being part of that whole scene.”
He says opening The National Underground on Lower Broadway has been monumental for him and his brother, as they both hoped to one day be part of the city’s cultural offerings.
Still thinking on what makes the city so endearing to him, he adds, “Nashville is a town that holds high the idea of the songwriter. It’s not just the face of the song but actually the pen of the song, and I think that’s really important. It’s not just the facade of the industry; it embraces the minds of the industry. You guys have got the Williams down there, for God’s sake! It’s Mecca for a lot of great players and songwriters.”
Now Nashville can count Gavin DeGraw among them.
"Not Over You" - Gavin DeGraw