Posted September 7, 2017 by Jeff in Tunes

The Real & Raw Gavin DeGraw

Photo by LeAnn Mueller
Photo by LeAnn Mueller

A multi-platinum selling singer, performer and songwriter, Gavin DeGraw cut his musical teeth on New York’s open mic scene before breaking through with the 2003 release of his debut album, Chariot, which sold over one million copies, earned platinum certification and yielded the hit singles “I Don’t Want To Be,” “Follow Through” and its title-track. Degraw’s subsequent albums established him as a singer-songwriter of significant stature. He constantly tours and returned last year with the studio effort Something Worth Saving. Dubbed Gavin DeGRAW Tour, his latest tour will include songs spanning his entire career. He’ll perform the tunes as a trio for the very first time in North America. He recently phoned us to talk about the shows.

This is the second leg of the DeGRAW Tour?
This is the first leg here in the U.S. We did this type of thing in Europe. I wouldn’t have called it this tour. We discovered that we needed to brand this thing differently and it should be called the RAW Tour. It’s not the typical thing. It’s not the typical five-piece band thing that has become an antiquated in the music industry. This is a trio vibe. I would call this more cred-oriented. It’s about getting out there and really playing. We don’t rely on technology to make up for instruments that aren’t on stage with us. That type of stage trick helps makes things seem bigger and more elaborate but I find it to be a vibe killer. I prefer the rawer approach. We’re musical animals on stage.

So it’s stripped down?
Some people would say that but I think we make as much noise as we did as a five-piece band. We’re just doing it as a three-piece. Rather than relying on someone else to pick up the slack, you just pick up the slack yourself. We’re all just going for it. It’s full on and energetic. It’s not a sleeper, this show. The form is much freer. It’s been more improvisational. I think the fans are really going for it. The more instruments you remove from the songs, the louder the songs speak for themselves. That’s one of the more interesting things about the tour.

How do you determine the set list?
I pick the ones that people are there to see. I want to make sure they’re satisfied. We play the hits, and that’s important. I don’t want to go to a Billy Joel show and have him not play “Piano Man.” You have to play the songs that got people there in the first place and then elaborate on that and take them for a ride. This tour is an opportunity to show my audience the songs I fell in love with. It’s not just me playing my songs. I get to reference songs I fell in love with while growing up. It’s the jumping off for me for my own music. We’ll play Ray Charles or Eton John or Billy Joel. We’ll reference things that we love whether it’s that or Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye. You name it, it’s a kitchen sink kind of approach. I want to show people where my music fits in with all that.

Talk about getting into music at an early age.
I started playing piano when I was 8 or 9. I got into playing because my brother started playing and my sister started playing. I was just jealous. I wanted to do what they were doing. We didn’t have money for lessons. When my sister quit, I picked up her slot.

What kind of music did you like back then?
I’ve always like the same kind of music. I liked old school stuff. I liked all that hippie baby boomer rock ‘n’ roll. I grew up about 20 minutes from Yasgur’s farm. The real Woodstock. Not that Woodstock they called Woodstock back in the ‘90s. I grew up around psychedelic rock and old school folk and songwriter stuff. That was big in the house. My brother brought home a Billy Joel album when [I was] about 4. I heard him say, “Here I am/feel like a fuckin’ fool.” I knew we weren’t allowed to say that. I thought he was so cool. That’s when I fell in love with Billy Joel’s music. Years later, I went to concert and realized that was what I wanted to do. It’s been a trip. I just did a show with him in Minneapolis. The biggest compliment of my career is being recognized by my biggest influence. I’ve played with the Garden with him ten times. We’ve played Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and that’s been a really wild ride.

I think you then hit the open mic scene in New York. What was that experience like?
I used to play everywhere from the Bitter End to the Sidewalk Café and the Living Room and CBGB’s Gallery. I played everywhere — no shit. I played on the streets and everywhere they would have me and places they wouldn’t have me. I played until they kicked me out. I was just trying to make a living.

Your latest album, Something Worth Saving, focuses on the “good stuff.” Talk about that approach.
I was sitting in my place in Nashville with a guitar in my hand many hours a day and at the piano many hours a day. I was trying to make lightning strike. For the title track, I had come up with the chorus. My sister came over, and she has a real head for music. I said, “Neeka, check out this chorus.” I played it for her. “She said, ‘I don’t know how you do it. Every song represents how I’m feeling.’” I thought that was a good thing. Music is a beautiful thing. Music is like time travel. It makes you feel like your heard it for the first time. I remember cruising in 2010. I was driving down one of those state roads that carves through the woods. I remember having the windows down and having Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” on as loud as it could go. Every time I hear that song, it takes me to that moment to that spot and back to that space and that age. Even the time of day. Music is special in that way. That’s my goal. I want to make music that can do that for someone who falls in love with it.

So your shooting to have that appeal?
Yeah, I’m going after the Seger thing and that Tom Petty thing and the true celebration of the American singer-songwriter. I’ll do the earthiest, rawest and absolute sincere songwriter approach to music that I could ever do. I want to represent the time period I fell in love with the most, which comes out of that era and into that songwriter era of musicians with the Bob Segers and the Billy Joels and the Tom Pettys. It celebrates the singer-songwriter authenticity that moved me so much.

Will it be collaborative?
I don’t know if that’s my next move. I want this next record to be all me and the kind of thing that sounds like it could have been made in my bedroom. Like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. I want it come directly from my hand to your stereo. I want to remove that other element from my career. It’s not that I don’t respect those other people but for myself and my satisfaction in my heart right now and what I need to do for my fans and for people who don’t like bullshit, I need to give them the most real thing. Right now, everything feels so fake and plastic. I want to be the guy who wipes off the makeup and reveals the true bone structure. We need more reality. That’s the reason I’m doing this tour. I’m just tired of the bullshit. There will be no phoning it in at Gavin DeGraw show, that I can assure you. There will be no fixing my bad notes.


Photo: LeAnn Mueller


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].