Interview: On Gavin DeGraw’s ‘Make A Move’, He Doesn’t Want to Be Anything But a Co-Writer
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The whole music industry has changed since Gavin DeGraw made his debut 10 years ago with Chariot. In 2003, DeGraw was classified as a singer-songwriter, but he’s not too sure that’s how people would describe him today.
“When I put that [Chariot] out, what we called a singer-songwriter was a very safe sound,” he told Radio.com. “Even artists who were really gifted had sounds that if we categorized it now we would call it safe. At this point, I never would have been able to get away with the production that’s on my album now 10 years ago and been called ‘singer-songwriter.’ They would have said, ‘Oh, it’s too all over the place.’ Or, ‘Some of the songs are too edgy.’”
He added: “Something beautiful happened with the landscape of music in that we’re able to take much bigger risks with the production within every genre.”
While the music world continues to evolve, the power a song has on listeners hasn’t changed. “I Don’t Want To Be,” a song that DeGraw wrote over a decade ago, has survived the test of time due to its honesty and relatability. When Radio.com sat down with DeGraw during record release week for his fifth studio album Make A Move, the singer talked of embracing co-writers on his new LP and the story behind that infamous hit. The New York native split his time between Los Angeles and Nashville to write and record the album, but reminisced on beginning his career in the Big Apple.
“I still love New York. There are elements of it that I still romanticize,” he confessed. “Those bits of the struggle that were so tough because there is something beautiful about having to claw your way through it if you can do it. I look back on it and go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it was so difficult.’”
DeGraw says the reality of not having to do a “typical” job is amazing to him. He explained how knowing what he didn’t want to do helped push him to a career in music.
“What I didn’t want to do was all those other jobs that I had done. I don’t want to be someone’s dog walker and I don’t want to bartend and I don’t want be a waiter and I don’t want to be bellhop or work at a newsstand anymore, or any of those jobs that I was doing. Knowing what I didn’t want to do was enough fuel for me to keep pursuing what I wanted to do.”
Not unlike his pursuit for a full-time career in music, DeGraw took cues from the world around him when he sat down to write “I Don’t Want To Be.”
“When I wrote ‘I Don’t Want To Be’ I was hearing so many of the songs that were coming out at the time and so many of the new artists that were coming out in different genres. Essentially they would say, ‘My name is… I’m from some place, all my homies or all my people or all my friends are like such and such and I represent this.’ I thought, ‘It seems like such a simple way to approach it, but realistically it’s so smart to just write a song that is essentially stating your identity.’”
DeGraw said he wanted to write a song to share with the world what his identity was, where he was from and what he represented.
“To share my perspective in hopes that people would connect and go, ‘Oh, wow. That’s like me.’ Or, ‘Even if it isn’t about me, I like where he’s coming from,’” he said. “I think that is essentially the reason that the song has provided some long-term success, because it was so honest and people really just want something that they can say, ‘That’s real. I’m not embarrassed to like that. I feel like that is legitimate.’”
It also didn’t hurt that the song became One Tree Hill‘s theme song.
“By there being the affiliation with the show, with something affiliated with TV that fortunately became a bit of a phenomenon at the time, it really just helped me get my foot in the door in order to get another opportunity to follow it up at some point.”
And follow it up he has. DeGraw has since gone on to release four more studio albums. The success of 2011′s Sweeter, where he embraced co-writing for the first time, changed his entire outlook on making music. DeGraw co-wrote “Not Over You” off the album with OneRepublic‘s Ryan Tedder and credits the song as the resurrection of his career.
“It allowed me to see the music world really is wide open and the certain things you thought were rules, aren’t necessarily rules. Only four songs were co-writes on the last album, but being that it worked and I was lucky enough that it worked, I thought, ‘Wow, maybe this is the whole new type of career to go for. Try something different here.’”
DeGraw wanted his latest album, Make A Move, to be as diverse and interesting as possible. His lead single, “Best I Ever Had,” written with Martin Johnson of Boys Like Girls, DeGraw says was one of the most enjoyable writing sessions he’s been in. The song started as a crazy drum beat in the studio when Johnson told DeGraw, “sing something.” A stream of consciousness approach, DeGraw began to sing “Melt Antarctica, savin’ Africa/I failed algebra” when Johnson added in “And I miss you sometimes.”
“I laughed because it was so off the wall, but at the same time that was the stroke that it needed,” he said. “The nature of the song, it almost didn’t matter what we said. We had the freedom to say anything because the style and sound of the song, there’s a bit of a beatnik Americana thing happening in there even though it’s been modernized. It lets you be a little bit nutty as far as being a lyricist is concerned. It is very freeing.”
DeGraw joined forces with Tedder, Johnson, Benny Blanco, Busbee, Kevin Rudolf, and others to co-write every song on Make A Move. After over 10 years pursuing music, DeGraw continues to redefine himself with each release.
“They say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I think that it’s so key that you pursue the thing that you love because that will ultimately be what you become best at. It’s just the nature of it and the continual practice of doing that one thing that you really enjoy.”
Gavin DeGraw’s Make A Move is out now.