Interview with Gavin DeGraw, coming to San Diego July 22
Singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw has had nothing short of a very prosperous solo career since he broke onto the scene in 2003. With an abundance of hit singles, two of his first three albums have reached platinum and gold status. His fourth album, ‘Sweeter,’ which is set to release on September 6th, features DeGraw taking some new routes in his own musical and creative approach, most notably co-writing many of the tunes with other musicians and friends.
DeGraw is now set to begin a two-month tour across the United States and Canada, opening for the popular bands Train and Maroon 5. The tour is set to make a stop at San Diego’s Cricket Wireless Amphitheater on July 22.
SDEntertainer had the opportunity to catch Gavin at his Venice Beach apartment to discuss the new album, the tour he’s gearing up to depart for just a week from today and of course, Bob Dylan.
SDE: What’s it like for you the week before a tour starts? Are you on vacation and relaxing before you head out or are you busy practicing and taking care of last minute details?
Gavin: It’s like wrapping Christmas presents. It’s basically about a weeks worth of Christmas Eve just making sure you are getting everything prepared, trying to get everything set and trying to do all the right things so that you go out there with your best foot forward so that’s just basically what I’ve been doing. You know, it’s funny stuff, stuff that you don’t consider to be work, like shopping for clothes, until all of a sudden you’re like, “Man, this is kind of starting to feel like work here.” You know, I never thought shopping for clothes would feel like work!
SDE: You’ve got to have an awesome concert T-shirt so yeah, I mean, that’s pretty hard work.
Gavin: Exactly man. I’m just trying to get the holograms exactly how I want them on my shirts!
SDE: So are you excited to get out there on tour? Are you nervous?
Gavin: I’m at a really funny spot right now because it’s one of those really exciting moments of my career. I’m feeling like it could go amazingly well or it could be disastrous. You’re always at the threshold of either a great achievement or a terrible failure. I think this is an amazing tour to be on. I happen to like both of these bands and I have a history with them. The tour is happening at such an amazing time in my career because it’s happening during the build-up of the launch of my album. So it’s really coming at just the right time. I’m feeling the most excited that I’ve ever felt during my entire career (laughing).
SDE: Take me back a couple of years. You were coming off your third consecutive successful album, you had a bunch of hits, but you decided to change things up for this next album and “challenge yourself.” What sort of challenges were you looking for?
Gavin: This album was about not interfering with my own creative process. In the past, in terms of the writing process, I would sometimes get in my own way. You know, editing while you are creating is never a good idea, and I would do a lot of that. I would go, “Ah, no, I can’t say this or that, the perception would be wrong.” But the process for the new album was less about the editing and more about the exposure. Just saying to yourself, “Ok, let me just tap into some of these things, let me put all of these ideas out on a table and then build from it.”
Typically my process has always been writing songs alone, so I think what helped was being in a room with a co-writer and challenging myself to try writing with guys like Ryan Tetter from OneRepublic or Andrew Frampton, artisits and writers who I really respect.
It really trained my mind, and when I went off and wrote alone again, I was in a different head space altogether. It just really allowed me to tap into that space of being creative versus editing. It taught me not to be completely consumed with the image of the song, but rather just be involved with the song itself and exposing myself within the song.
SDE: You got to record this album in some pretty cool places including a studio up in Venice Beach where Bob Dylan recorded back in the 70’s. What’s the vibe in a place with that sort of history? Do you feel more productive knowing someone like Dylan was there?
Gavin: Absolutely. Every detail that you know about the environment that you’re in, whether it’s miniscule or not, affects you. All of those little things I think eventually make their way into your psyche and affect you. In the studio I was working in with Butch Walker, the studio that Dylan worked in, that was definitely on my mind, no doubt about it. Jacob Dylan came by and it kind of got nostalgic, you know, being with him while we were in his dad’s old hang-out spot so that was kind of cool in that way. I played him some stuff and it was really just kind of a cool hang, the studio just kind of added to the hang.
SDE: Does that just help you sort of free your mind a little bit then?
Gavin: That’s exactly what it does. It’s funny, there’s one particular track that really felt like we had tapped into something sort of similar to the band. You know, Dylan’s old band? It’s a song I wrote called “Soldier” and you’ll hear it because there was just such a great sensation from that recording, the way Butch recorded it, and during the live performance in the studio at one point, you’ll hear him give a little “Woo,” because he just got excited from all of it. And we just thought that there was no way that we needed to re-cut that to get rid of the “Woo,” because that’s just how we were feeling at the time, just really excited. It was just a really good vibe, and you can’t fake that. Those are the moments that make a record special. Yeah, there may be some imperfections, but that’s where the feeling is.
SDE: Who are some of your all-time favorite bands or artists?
Gavin: Oh, clearly Dylan, The Beatles, early Elton John and Billy Joel. A lot of my parents’ generation of music. Those bands are sort of my foundation, a building block, for me. But of course you have to add on to that, you have to bring something else to it. And that’s why I think that Tedder was such a great addition to the project because he is so rhythmically savvy. Even listening to the little piano part in “Not Over You,” the part is real simple but the rhythm is so sneaky. It’s a tricky little part that’s not linear and it keeps you interested because it sounds so complex.
SDE: The piano on that tune really does bring you into the song.
Gavin: Yeah. Totally. And that’s part of his genius. I think he’s brilliant, both rhythmically and lyrically too. For me as a writer, being in a room with him, it really just freed my mind because it was a new approach. It was f—ing beautiful man. And I needed that. I needed somebody to rattle my cage.
SDE: Do you feel like you’re career is taking a new turn?
Gavin: It’s a new turn artistically. So whatever comes from that is cool. But this just feels so good, the direction I’m going musically with the people around me—my camp. My musicians, the guys I’m touring with, my tour crew, my friends, you know, this is my tribe. And it’s just a really good feeling. Because I feel like after being on the road or touring or making albums, this is sort of the culmination of all of that. We’ve finally built a team of all the right people who really like being around each other, doing something they love to do. It’s never really ever felt as right as it does right now.
SDE: The way you describe it, it really comes across just how stoked you are about all of it.
Gavin: Dude, I am so stoked about it! Every aspect of it, I just feel SO good about it. And whatever happens? It will not ruin the feeling that I have right now.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Frasier