Singer-songwriter and Oklahoma City native Graham Colton released his latest record, Pacific Coast Eyes Vol. 2, this past October. This new volume of Pacific Coast Eyes includes three new tracks, “Hold Onto My Heart,” “My Resignation,” and “Wide Open Inside,” as well as alternate versions of three previously released tracks.
In support of his latest album, Colton partnered up with CNGnow as a way to advocate for the use of compressed natural gas versus diesel fuel. In addition to driving a CNG-fueled vehicle throughout the tour, the singer-songwriter has been documenting his experience on CNGnow.com.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Colton, who shared with me his decision to embark on a green tour, what keeps him motivated while writing new material, and the benefits of being an independent artist.
What was the inspiration behind doing this green “Go Natural” tour?
Well, I think it started with just the ever-changing landscape of not only the music business, but the touring business, which is how I made my living and connected with my fans for the last almost-eight years now. It’s really hard to not only tour the country by myself, let alone with a band: to pack everyone in the van, trailer, bus, train, plane, whatever you want to call it.
It really started with me trying to investigate ways that I can not only tour the country, but [do so] cost-effectively. And once I started researching, I started thinking about the environmental aspect, and I came across the CNGnow.com website and what natural gas can do for not only our environment and our alliance with foreign oil, and, really, my pocketbook. It’s been kind of a perfect marriage of the two things.
I would assume with any tour that challenges arise; have there been any specific challenges with doing a green tour?
Yeah, absolutely. I think the people at CNGnow.com have been really cool about this just being something to get the word out, because just like all alternative energy, the infrastructure’s not there, yet; it’s not where we need it to be. I’m trying my best to document even the tough part of trying to find a natural gas station in different parts of the country. Sometimes, it’s a real challenge.
The cool thing is, to be honest with you, with this process it was never my intention or their intention to make it be some huge, massive, publicized thing. It’s been an organic, viral process. I’ll pull into a station, and the station pump will not be working or it needs maintenance. Those are some of the things that I think will change in the coming years if people want this clear energy and advocate it.
How has the feedback from this tour been?
It’s just like any other tour that I go on. It feels like it’s early, daily. I felt like since I started back in the early 2000s, that it’s always, for me, been about connecting person-to-person and fan-to-fan. The shows, to be quite honest, are getting bigger and better, which is great. But again, marrying this idea and this concept to this big tour, I think it’s important. I’ve just kind of realized I want to stand for lots of things that I believe in, and I’m in a place in my life and my career where I feel like I do have a voice. It’s a great starting-off point for this concept.
Of course when I’m onstage, I talk about a lot of different things that I believe in. Some things are related to my music and some are just talking points before the show, during the show, and after the show at the merchandise table. I try to meet every person that comes to my show every night. I know I’ve done that 99.9 percent of the shows that I’ve played over the years. I think that’s why things feel like they’re moving at an organic growth rate.
I know you’ve supported a lot of acts in the past; how does headlining a tour differ from supporting the main act?
It’s totally different. In a way, it’s great, because you know that everybody in that room has found your music through their own personal way and connected with it, and it’s your show. But then, you have to stand onstage, literally and figuratively stand on your own two feet as a headliner, which is not the 30-minute set that you play when you’re trying to play as many songs as possible and make fans as an opening act.
As a headliner, there’s almost more pressure — I put more pressure on myself, I should say — to put on a great show and really connect with the existing fans that paid their money to come see you play. And you got to give them a reason to come back and stay with you. That’s the biggest challenge.
What is your favorite and least favorite part of touring?
My favorite part of touring is definitely the feeling of home away from home. I’ve about circled the country and almost hit every city. Most of my markets that I hit repeatedly really have started to feel like home away from home. There’s a large group of people that I text and email personally or Facebook personally and make sure they’re coming to the show; sometimes we’ll meet up before. So, I really have friends in every market, not only just fans.
And I have favorite coffee shops, my favorite lunch spots, my favorite hotels; there’s always a routine when I pull into a different city that I know. I think that’s also the hardest part about being on the road, just being away from my family and friends, but I keep a good balance of both. Just as much travel keeps me going, keeps me sharp. It seems like when the balance is off in any way, it kind of bums me out. But when it’s right, like it has been the past few months, it feels great.
Very cool. Switching over to the album; how long did it take you to record Pacific Coast Eyes?
The actual recording process was really easy, in terms of pushing a red button, but the writing process is usually what takes me the longest. It really isn’t difficult for me to sit down and write a song, but at this point I take a lot of pride and I put a lot of pressure on myself with raising the bar with each album. Sometimes that means a different kind of song [from what] I’ve done before. Sometimes it means that I can get 99.9 percent of the way there on one song, and it doesn’t feel right. So, that’s really what takes me the longest time. This one took about 18 months.
So, what’s something that keeps you motivated during that process?
I think the fact that songs are really cool, because I’ve had the great experience to write a song that goes off and does things and takes you places that you’ve never imagined. I’m in Eugene, Oregon right now; I’m going to play a song called “Best Days,” that I wrote on my last album. I’m going to play it at the PAC 12 Championship football game tonight, on the field. So, literally, I had this song that I wrote and it will take me to the 50 yard line in Eugene, Oregon for the PAC 12 Championship Game, and I’ll perform that surrounded by a bunch of football players who just won a conference championship. It’s just crazy, you know? This three-and-a-half-minute song that I wrote about my life can take me to places like that. So, I think that’s what keeps me motivated, which is the unexpected of what can happen. It’s a real adventure, which is cool.
You recently re-released your record as Pacific Coast Eyes Vol. 2; why the second volume, instead of maybe releasing an EP?
First of all, I think that the material, because I have three alternate versions, I think it still feels connected to the current album. I would have released an EP if I felt like it was a newer body of work, but somehow it just felt like it was attached. It felt necessary to connect the two. And I think it’s an example of the way I want to do things in the future.
When I have a new song, or I have a new video or an idea or a photo, I want to get it out there. I want people to know that it’s not just about 12 songs every three and four years. There’s a lot of in-between stuff, and I think that’s what I want as a fan of other people’s music. I wish some of my favorite artists would release stuff every week.
Oh, definitely. So, I went back and listened to Drive and Here Right Now after listening to Pacific Coast Eyes, and I felt like a similar theme could be heard throughout the three records, but this new record really shows a lot of lyrical and artistic growth.
Well, thank you. I’m very honored and glad that you picked up on that. I’m at the point now where I definitely have abandoned the idea that each album has to be better than the last one. It’s just not going to be possible. Certainly, albums are going to be interpreted and accepted differently from fans, and people are going to like certain ones better than the other, but that doesn’t mean that an album is better or worse.
I just try to release stuff that’s a snapshot of where I am in my life and in my music. When you look at it like that, it does take a lot of pressure off. But again, getting back to what I said about raising the bar, I think raising the bar, for me, just means challenging myself and trying to come from a new place, but still being really honest and have integrity with what I’m talking about.
What are you hoping that your listening audience takes away from this latest record?
Honesty, I think that’s the number one thing. I definitely pride myself on being a pop singer-songwriter; I love three-and-half-minute tunes that kind of seep into your conscience. My favorite kind of music has always been that. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel; I’m just trying to be honest as possible. I think when people listen to my music, I hope they realize that even though it’s pop music it does require a lot from the listener.
There’s a lot of stuff in there in my three-and-half-minute pop songs that I do feel like are unique, and I hope that people pick up on that. Just because I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel doesn’t mean that I don’t stand behind what I’m doing with what I feel is completely 100 percent my own.
You did the whole major label thing with your previous records and currently you’re going the independent route; what do you feel are some of the benefits of being an independent artist?
Well, certainly you don’t have any red tape with what you want to do. It’s a touch of a button and you can have a song, or a video. or anything that you want out there to the people, which is really great. But also again, it adds pressure, because it’s you, alone, just kind of saying, “This is coming from me directly to you.” There’s nobody else to point the finger at if it’s not well-received. But for the most part, it’s an amazing, amazing process being independent now.
Looking ahead, would you ever picture yourself going back to a major label?
I think I would absolutely go back to a major label, you know, if it’s a right kind of situation. I think we’re in the midst of a really revolutionary time in the music business, to where I think labels are already seeing that they’re having to adapt and change and really partner with artists. And as artists, we hold a lot of the cards. Not only creatively, but again, we could push a button and our music could be out there, and sky’s the limit.
So, I think that’s really what it’s about, finding anybody — whether it’s a label or it’s any group that wants to support an artist and their music — to come to the table as a partner. So, I wouldn’t be opposed to, call it signing, call it a record deal, or call it whatever, if it’s the right kind of situation and you can really partner with someone.
Being an independent artist right now, how important has it been for you to embrace social media?
It’s been really important. I sort of resisted it for awhile, just because I kind of thought it cheapened the music in a way. I didn’t understand what it was or what it could do, or how it could be used. But since I’ve really adopted it, I kind of learned how I can make it reflect my personality and how I could make it be about the music.
So, what do you think has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned throughout your career so far?
That’s a great question. For me, expect the unexpected, in a good way. My career is definitely about it being a marathon and not a sprint. I think that’s the number one thing. I feel like I’m constantly in the state of re-introducing myself, in a good way. I think it’s important.
For other artists and bands that are going the independent route, what kind of advice would you give them?
Well, certainly now, use the internet to your advantage. And the number one thing is it is a little bit of a balancing act, but I think to not be so pressured with the need to have every piece of music or song that you release be perfect.
I think it’s really easy now with computers and different things to make everything crystal clear, glossy, and perfect. And I certainly have been victim of that, just because you have so much of that recording technology at your disposal. I mean, look at some of my songs that are still my most popular, [they] were the ones that I recorded for 50 bucks that I paid a guy in high school to just put a microphone in front of me.
After the “Go Natural” tour wraps up, what’s next for you?
I have a few things in the new year. There will definitely be more touring, but I have a couple projects that I’ll just say that they’re on my mind. I’m not quite sure where they’re going to go, but I will just say, again, expect the unexpected — as cheesy as that sounds.
For more information on Graham Colton and Pacific Coast Eyes Vol. 2, check out his official website.
The remainder of the “Go Natural” tour dates are listed below.
December 10 – Easton, MD – Night Cat
December 11 – Wilmington, DE – World Cafe Live at The Queen
December 12 – New York, NY – Rockwood Music Hall
December 14 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Intersection
December 15 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
December 16 – Ann Arbor, MI – The Arc
Photo credit: Josh Welch