On Tuesday, September 20, Gavin DeGraw will release his fourth studio album, Sweeter, on RCA Records.
Mixing it up for this latest effort, the talented singer-songwriter collaborated with other songwriters for the first time, including OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder. Together they co-wrote DeGraw’s current hit, “Not Over You,” as well as the album’s title track.
Last week, DeGraw took the time to speak with me about his latest music endeavor, and we covered everything from his attack in New York City last month to his upcoming Fall tour with David Cook.
I know you’re probably over being asked about the incident in NYC from last month, but how are you doing?
I’m doing good, thank you. I’m mostly all healed up. Everything’s kind of settled; the bruising and the swelling’s all down. I think I’m basically back to normal.
Were you worried that your voice could be affected after what happened?
Oh yeah, of course. That’s all connected, you know? Being that there was an injury to the nose that affects the sound of your voice. But, I think I got that all squared away. It could have been a lot worse than what it was.
You returned to your tour with Maroon 5 and Train on August 24 in Columbia, Maryland. How was that first show back?
It was amazing. The crowd was incredibly supportive, really receptive, and I felt like they really showed up for me, you know? They were definitely, like encouraging me, so I felt like people were rooting for me. It was a great feeling.
Something terrible happens and people can really make you feel good, lending their support, and being genuinely concerned. There’s always that silver lining.
Well, let’s talk about this new album. Did you have an overall concept in mind when you first started working on it?
Absolutely not. [laughs] No, definitely not a concept record. Some people can make concept records; I’m not that guy. It was definitely me wanting to do two things: One, kind of reach new ground, musically. And of course at the same time, number two, which is first rule of medicine, do no harm. I didn’t want to do damage to the career I had already established, and I wanted to make sure that the music that I made paid some homage to what I’ve already done, while it moved forward and evolved, and continued to experiment with a few dozen things. Whether they be sound-wise or subject matter.
So by working with other songwriters for the first time, it was a conscious decision to mix it up and bring something new to the table on this record?
Yeah, definitely a conscious decision. It’s something I thought really needed to happen. I always in the past have done the writing on my own. I was happy with the way the writing was going; I just felt like I needed someone to rattle my cage and try different things. That’s why I reached out and got together with other writers, guys like Ryan Tedder and Andrew Frampton, who I knew were really talented and work [hard]. They are kind of some of the elite as far as songwriters go in these genres that I’m affiliated with, you know? I’ve been fortunate enough to have the chance to do that.
I think that it was the best thing I ever could have done. Not only was the writing kind of like just venturing out, doing a little bit something different here and there when I was working with them, but even after I had worked with them, I still continued to feel creative and inspired. I feel like I had tapped into their processes and their sounds, and kind of absorbed their own mentalities, as far as music was concerned and songwriting was concerned. It really added to what I do. Even independently from them, I felt like I got so much.
With Ryan Tedder having this specific sound for OneRepublic and Andrew Frampton having a specific sound with The Script, was there ever a concern that their sound might overwhelm what people would consider to be the Gavin DeGraw sound?
Oh, that’s a completely valid question. I think that’s a completely normal concern, but you know, when we put this together, I was looking forward to working with them. And it was that sort of [mutual feeling]. When you’re doing that, you’re kind of wanting to exchange styles with that person, and I think that they’re thinking that same thing in a way, you know? They’re conscious of what you already do and the type of career that you already have, and what your own fanbase is looking for from you. So, all those things are definitely kind of included.
I think with someone like Ryan, who works with like a million different people and he’s used to working with people from a lot of different areas of music, he’s smart enough musically to keep in mind that it’s a Gavin DeGraw record, you know? I give him that respect, and I think that he comes into that situation with that kind of hat on, keeping in mind that it’s a Gavin DeGraw record. It’s not a Rihanna record. It’s not a Kelly Clarkson record. It’s just a different thing, you know? He’s careful of that in that sense.
That being said, I want his influence, I want him to bring what he instinctually feels works with an artist like me. So, the best-case scenario is that you have people who are already kind of strong-minded stylistically in what they would normally do. It’s where you meet in the middle that really ends up being kind of unique.
I know when I heard “Not Over You” for the first time, I thought it sounded like you. When I learned that Ryan wrote it with you, I could definitely pick up on his influence, but I like that the song still has that Gavin DeGraw sound.
Thank you very much. I really felt strongly that it really was a nice blend of what both of us kind of do musically. It didn’t feel like, “Oh, this is Ryan writing for a side project.” I felt like Ryan was writing with me, you know what I mean? He was really bringing what he does stylistically and was blending with what I do stylistically. Essentially, we had really similar tastes as far as what we like to sing when we were working together. That was refreshing.
Because, you know, it could have been the complete polar opposite. It could have been, “Hey man, such and such has to happen in the chorus; it has to be there.” And I could have been like, “Well, I think that really sucks.” “No, no, no. It has to be that. That’s the only way. That’s the best thing that we all get behind the song.” You never know, you could end up in a situation like that and it really wasn’t like that at all. I felt we were really both getting exactly what we were hoping to get musically from the songs. It was really best case scenario, honestly.
You can really hear, “Oh, I hear the Ryan Tedder thing on that,” without the performer or the artist disappearing from the track. I loved his influence on the record. The two tracks that we worked together on I think are really strong.
I want to talk to you about that other track, because the album’s called Sweeter, which is also the title of the second track you collaborated with Ryan on. Do you feel like that song encompasses the overall vibe of this album?
I was just saving the environment with like a short word. [laughs] It was really about a couple things. I thought that that song was the embodiment of me stepping in another direction, which I thought was cool. It’s kind of sexy, but kind of masculine, that track. I thought that was kind of a cool song to have people bring their attention towards for the new record of mine.
I think it’s really cool to kind of equate the first track for the album, once you put the album in, and you go, “Oh shit, this feels really good.” I think particularly for the brand of singer-songwriter, I think it’s an unusual move to kind of go in that direction for a track, and I kind of really want to bring attention to that type of sound. On top of that, I just think the word itself is positive. I feel like if you could actually call a record Sweeter, it’s just a positive move.
A lot of people are saying that this record definitely shows off a sexier side of you this time around, and after listening to “Sweeter” and “Radiation,” I would agree. What brought out that side of you while making this record?
Well, I think that just in general I was looking at my overall sound and I thought it would be a good move to incorporate that into my catalogue, into my repertoire. The big part of making records is keeping in mind that you tour on those records. You put on live shows, you know? And I think it’s healthy for an artist to have a lot of diversity in their setlist.
I thought that having songs on there that maybe, you know, they stepped away from love and became something very different. But, I think you need those types of tracks in your repertoire, because they add to the show. They make the shows more exciting when you can go there.
That being said, I also think that it’s important for artists to remind their listeners that they’re multidimensional, just like the people who listen to them. You’re not any one thing. Nobody’s linear. We all have many different moods, many different moments in our lives, and we have many different types of behavior. I think that songs like “Radiation” and songs like “Sweeter” kind of embrace that; and embrace some of what would either be considered primal or imperfect, or what have you. For a moment it’s not bad to feature reality versus romance on a record.
You brought up your live shows, where you’ve been playing some of your new material this summer. How have the fans been embracing the songs that they’re hearing for the first time?
Oh man, the reception has been honestly amazing. The sets that we’re doing out with Maroon 5 and those guys, we were playing a few new ones. We were playing the single, “Not Over You,” and the title track, “Radiation,” and a sort of social commentary type song called “Candy” that I think is important, and a song called “Soldier,” which I think is a really beautiful sentiment. We’ve been performing all those at these live shows, and they’re going over so incredibly well. They’ve been going over as if they were singles that people had already heard. It’s just been the most amazing response.
That’s great! I know the album was pushed back a couple times. How are you feeling about it coming out now?
The release date? I’m stoked! Are you kidding me? I feel like I’ve been waiting to go to the water park, and I haven’t had the chance, yet. [laughs] I’m just waiting for the gates to open.
Typically on the actual release date, are you more excited or more anxious?
I think I’m just more excited. Of course, you know, you’re anxious. There’s always so much riding on the release of an album. It’s your year’s work or two year’s worth of work. And so you’re hoping it goes as well as it possibly can. I just feel so great about this album. And the people who’ve worked on it were talented, and they were so dedicated, and all the people that were around this project were so passionate about this project. I really feel like they gave me their best, really, like on every possible level; from the executive level to just production of the album, all the producers who were on here, guys like Eric Rosse, Ron Aniello, Ryan, and Butch Walker. It was such a passionate project, and they were all so dedicated to it. And we all feel so strongly about the results that we got from the album. Mostly, it’s just excitement. We just want people to hear it. I really feel that it’s the best piece of art that I’ve ever been affiliated with.
You know a lot of bands and singers don’t get to make album number two, let alone album number four. What do you credit your success to?
Wow. I take that as a compliment that you view it like that. I’m just lucky to have the opportunity to get to this point. You’re right. Most people, they don’t have a chance to even make a second record. This has been mostly a chain of lucky events. I think that one of the reasons that I’ve been able to have the opportunity to make so many records is because I have an incredibly loyal fan base.
I do my best to keep my fans in mind by knowing that I owe my career to them. I think that one of the reasons that I keep it on the forefront of my everyday life is because I had real jobs before I had this luxurious one. I remember them, and that’s why they remember me back, you know? I think that some people, they go out and they forget that their fans really don’t have to be fans of theirs. I think that’s the result of maybe those artists never [having] had a real job. They have to remember that playing music for a living is not a real job; it’s a dream come true. You have to thank your fans everyday.
Next month you’re hitting the road with David Cook and Carolina Liar. What can fans expect from this tour?
What can the fans expect from this tour? Well, I think what they’re going to get is as diverse a show as we can possibly provide. It’s going to be all about the music, really. We’re going to hit as many cities as we possibly can in as little time as possible. [laughs] I guess that the dream would be for people to begin caravanning and following our tour buses. If not, then they can take a plane. [laughs]
I don’t know what show David’s putting together right now. I’m not sure what his setlist is going to be like, but I can speak for our setlist. We’re going to obviously put songs in the set that are the ones we feel like our fans are really coming to the show to hear, the songs that they’re familiar with, the songs that they want to sing-a-long with, you know? That’s really important to put those songs in. Of course, include the songs that made your career. And then, of course, branch out and expand to the newer material, play a few songs from the new record and warm up my audience to the latest work and where I’m at in my life now. Tell them stories about how I live, where I’m from, all the things I’ve done wrong, some of the things I think I’m starting to get right; just sharing all that with my fans.
Sweeter, the latest album from Gavin Degraw will be released on September 20.
For more information on Gavin DeGraw, including his latest tour dates, check out his official website.