Music News & Reviews

Gavin DeGraw is a little bit country, a little bit rock and soul

Gavin DeGraw will be at Thunder Valley in Lincoln on Saturday, Sept. 17. “My earliest musical memories were country music,” he said. “But then … it was all classic rock.”
Gavin DeGraw will be at Thunder Valley in Lincoln on Saturday, Sept. 17. “My earliest musical memories were country music,” he said. “But then … it was all classic rock.”

A late August article in Billboard magazine previewing his new album, “Something Worth Saving,” referred to Gavin DeGraw as a “country ace.” That caught DeGraw a bit off guard.

“You say it was ‘country ace?’ Wow, that’s interesting,” the singer-songwriter/keyboardist said during an early September phone interview. “I’m flattered. It’s really fascinating.”

The country reference got DeGraw thinking aloud about his music and the connections he’s had to country music going back to childhood. Exactly how he landed in the magazine’s country section isn’t clear to him, but perhaps it had to do with DeGraw’s 2014 collaboration with country star Martina McBride on the Sam Cooke tune “Bring It on Home to Me,” for McBride’s “Everlasting” album. Or it could have been his stint opening for Shania Twain on her tour last summer. Still, even as he has dipped his toes into the country world recently, DeGraw is almost universally viewed as a pop artist – with elements of soul and folk mixed into his music.

But as he mused on the issue, DeGraw, who is set to play the Thunder Valley amphitheater in Lincoln on Saturday, explained that he’s never considered himself to be just one kind of artist – pop, country or otherwise.

“I guess I’ve always had a hard time defining ... what exactly is my style,” DeGraw, 39, said. “I just call it American at this point because I grew up with so many different styles of music. I mean, the first musical memory is being at my grandparents’ house and hearing Hank Williams’ ‘Hey, Good Lookin.’ I grew up on that record, period. I grew up on Roger Miller, you know (singing the “King of the Road” line), ‘Trailers for sale or rent.’ At the same time, one of my other earliest memories is the ‘Grease’ soundtrack. I mean, what was better than that?

“My earliest musical memories were country music,” he said. “But then in my adolescence it was all classic rock, strictly classic rock, strictly. Then in my late teens … I was introduced to older R&B and soul music, a lot of Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. I was learning that stuff. So it all kind of blended together – and a lot of Billy Joel stuff since I was about 4 or 5 years old – all that stuff.”

Whatever styles have found their way into his music since DeGraw came on the scene in 2004 with his million-selling debut album “Chariot,” he has no problem identifying where his newly released sixth studio album, “Something Worth Saving,” fits in the music world.

“I think that this (“Something Worth Saving” album) is clearly a pop record,” he said. “(The single) ‘She Sets the City on Fire’ is absolutely a pop record.”

The new album picks up where DeGraw left off on his previous album, 2013’s “Make a Move.” Like that album, “Something Worth Saving” finds him walking the line between creating songs that can fit into today’s commercial pop world, while still maintaining some of the more acoustic-oriented, rootsier pop that defined early albums like “Chariot” (which produced hit singles with the title track and “I Don’t Want to Be”) and his 2008 self-titled second album.

The aforementioned “She Sets the City on Fire” fits squarely in the top 40 pop world, with its bouncy R&B-ish beat and buoyant melody. So does “Kite Like Girl” (whose fusion of pop and soul would fit on a Pharrell album) and the perky “New Love.” But “Something Worth Saving” also has a few songs that connect back to his earlier sound, such as “Say I Am” and the title song, a pair of dramatic piano-centered ballads.

“It’s important that I, as an artist, continue to evolve and at the same time, to not forget what makes me tick musically to begin with,” DeGraw said. “(On) pretty much every record, I make it a point to put something on that album that’s essentially a real dedication to my original audience, so they know I haven’t at all abandoned the ‘Chariot’ version of Gavin DeGraw.”

DeGraw also thinks bringing a modern pop sound to his repertoire is enhancing his live show. He pointed to Billy Joel (DeGraw opened shows for Joel over a 2 1/2 -year period) and Paul McCartney as artists whose great songs allow them to deliver dynamic concerts.

“Look at Paul McCartney, what a variety of songs and styles and approaches and sounds,” he said. “To go from anything of the Beatles, to go from ‘Help’ to ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ to go from ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ to ‘I Dig A Pony,’ it’s crazy.

“That great variety of songs he wrote, that’s what makes his live shows so cool and so interesting, on top of the fact that obviously at this point, those are standards,” he said. “They take you on a great sonic journey. And I’m just looking at that and going, ‘Man, that’s the template. That is the thing to aspire toward.’ So that is, I’m attempting to be that guy. Will I ever get there? Who knows, man. Time will tell.”

Gavin DeGraw

What: The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter performs with Andy Grammer and Wrabel

When: Saturday, Sept. 17

Where: Thunder Valley Casino Resort & Amphitheater (1200 Athens Ave., Lincoln)

Cost: $27.75-$159.75