Gavin DeGraw: Make Do And Mend

Sep 23, 2011
Originally published on September 24, 2011 10:17 am

Gavin DeGraw charged onto the music scene in 2003 with his debut album, Chariot. It had hits that included the title track, "Follow Through," and his double-platinum smash, "I Don't Wanna Be."

He's gone through some hard knocks since then, but the 34-year-old singer-songwriter has taken it all in stride and has just released his fourth album, Sweeter. He tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon that his latest set of songs "straddles the line between sexuality and masculinity."

"This new album [is] really about branching out and seeking new ground," he says, "and at the same time embracing the things that I feel led me to having a career to begin with."

DeGraw first started performing in his hometown of South Fallsburg, N.Y., which he calls a "small prison town" in the Catskill Mountains. Beginning at age 15, he played in local bars with his brother, honing his craft for more than 10 years before breaking through with Chariot.

This summer in New York's East Village, DeGraw had a gruesome brush with danger. Walking home alone after a night with his friends, he was first attacked by an anonymous group of people, then struck by a taxi as he tried to find his way to safety; he woke up in the hospital with a breathing tube in his mouth. DeGraw says the incident hasn't left him too rattled.

"I don't even really look at it as a life lesson," he says. "I had a bad encounter with a few bad people, but that could happen in any place. I really can't allow it to affect my mentality too much. I just don't live in fear. There will always be the bad with the good. It was a bad night, but I got through it. I healed up, and I still look like my mother."

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Gavin DeGraw charged onto the music scene in 2003 with his debut album, "Chariot." It had hits that included "Chariot," "Follow Through" and his double platinum smash, "I Don't Wanna Be."


GAVIN DEGRAW: (Singing) I don't wanna be anything other than what I've been trying to be lately...

SIMON: He's gone through some hard knocks since then. But today, the 34-year-old singer/songwriter is back with his fourth album, "Sweeter."


DEGRAW: (Singing) Well, I go out and I sit down at a table set for two. And finally I'm forced to face the truth. No matter what I say, I'm not, not over you.

SIMON: Gavin DeGraw joins us now from the studios of NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

DEGRAW: Thanks for having me. A pleasure.

SIMON: So, what did you want to do with this new album?

DEGRAW: Oh, this new album was really about branching out and seeking new ground.


DEGRAW: The title track, "Sweeter," I actually wrote with a really wonderful songwriter and musician, producer named Ryan Tedder from the band One Republic, who I highly respect. And the song "Sweeter" was our first go at trying something together. We were really happy with it - sort of straddling that line between sexuality and masculinity.


DEGRAW: (Singing) I just want to take someone else's holiday. Sometimes the grass is greener, and someone else's sugar, someone else's sugar, sweeter...

SIMON: I (unintelligible) pretend I didn't hear you say you were looking for the line between sexuality and masculinity, because I didn't know there was a line between the two. Tell me what you meant.

DEGRAW: Well, oftentimes in pop music that is most sexual, is maybe a little bit delicate. And this was moving in that direction and it has enough rock and it had enough masculinity in it to sort of satiate what I was looking for. It was really hitting sort of - for me - when I look at the song, it has a little bit of a Sly and the Family Stone sort of approach.


DEGRAW: (Singing) I'm a recommend, you take that body to the other end, I really like you but I can't be friends, not with these hands of mine.

SIMON: You've been performing from an early age, haven't you?

DEGRAW: Yes. I started playing in barrooms when I was about 15 or 16, going out playing shows with my brother...

SIMON: In New York?

DEGRAW: ...on school nights? In my small town, my hometown, in the Catskill Mountains, in New York state.

SIMON: And where are you from in the Catskills?

DEGRAW: I'm from a small prison town called South Fallsburg that used to be a resort hotel area back in the '50s and '60s, like the movie "Dirty Dancing." And since that era, it's become a prison town. So, there's three prisons in my hometown. And you kind of grow up with inmates' kids and officers' kids and that's part of the environment. Or as some of my friends, I tell them that and they think it's the strangest thing that they've ever heard.

SIMON: Well, it's quite a combination: inmates' kids, correctional officers' kids...

DEGRAW: Exactly.

SIMON: ...and you. So, do the inmates' kids and the correctional officers' kids get along or?

DEGRAW: Some do and some don't. My dad was a prison guard, my uncle was a prison guard, my other uncle was a prison psychologist. And you've got other dudes you grew up with whose dad was an inmate or a guard. There's other jobs up there, just not too many.


SIMON: You've said in a couple of interviews that the song "Radiation" is one of your favorites on the album. Why is that?

DEGRAW: There's something about that song that I think is so honest. It admits that it's not always about romance when you're writing songs. Especially because I'm often called a singer-songwriter, there's certain things that people expect you to sing about and then certain things they expect you not to sing about and certain sounds they don't expect you to have on your records. And I wanted to break out of that particular box, you know?


DEGRAW: (Singing) If you really don't, if I never want to see you again, I won't. If you get an invitation, well, I'll be drunk. It's just as hot as radiation. But I'm in this situation.

SIMON: So, people expect a singer-songwriter to be more sensitive.

DEGRAW: I think that's often been the issue, you know. I've found that to be the highest hurdle that a musician - often would be the element of music business called branding. My favorite artists tended to be people who always stepped outside of what we thought was their box and took risks. And those tend to be the longest careers. You know, if you look at a Bowie or the Beatles or Elton John. These are people who continually reinvented themselves throughout their careers.


DEGRAW: (Singing) You might really be the very best woman to ever suit me, but I can't expect you to see how I see 'cause sometimes I don't see a thing...

SIMON: Can I get you to talk about the events of August 8th. You had to cancel some tour dates...

DEGRAW: I did.

SIMON: ...with Maroon 5 and Train.

DEGRAW: Exactly, yeah. I'd been on this wonderful, wonderful summer tour. And I had a night off in the New York area, which is really mostly my home base in New York City. And I also own a music venue in New York City with my brother called the National Underground. So, that night I went down to my place and I had some drinks with my friends, you know, and I left the place, and I walked a few blocks and bumped into some people and all hell broke loose. Essentially, I suffered a concussion, and some fractures and I woke up with a breathing tube down my throat.

SIMON: Sounds like you had a really close call.

DEGRAW: I had a really close call, exactly. Honestly, just seeing more of my family's torment over it is far worse than, you know, anything physical. That's more devastating than the actual, like, any kind of physical pain, you know. Because concussion is something that happens to, could happen to just about every NFL player every weekend. So, it's ultimately almost an unfair amount of attention I've even gotten for it. But I wish I would have had a helmet on. I'm a medium, thanks.

SIMON: Working on a next album already?

DEGRAW: That's funny you should ask. That's exactly something I've been thinking about this week. You know, I have a batch of material that I've been writing, of course, stuff that I've writing even. But, yes, definitely always working on the next thing.


DEGRAW: (Singing) I got troubles that I can't hide, so many and it's turning on me inside out...

SIMON: Mr. DeGraw, thanks so much.

DEGRAW: Oh, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

SIMON: Gavin DeGraw, singer, songwriter, piano player. His fourth album, "Sweeter," has just been released.


DEGRAW: (Singing) You got two tickets but the one way, and I went with it so I can't say no...

SIMON: To hear more music by Gavin DeGraw, go to And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.