Beloved by fans for his blue-eyed soul vocals, freewheeling melodies, and earthy charm, singer, songwriter, and musician Gavin DeGraw has already enjoyed considerable success since breaking through in 2003 with his debut album, Chariot, which sold over a million copies, earned platinum certification, and yielded three hit singles: “I Don’t Want To Be,” “Follow Through,” and the title-track, “Chariot.” He followed that up with his self-titled second album, which debuted at No. 1 on the digital sales chart and at No. 7 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart in 2008 (earning Gavin his first Top 10 album and spawning the hit singles “In Love With A Girl” and the gold-certified “We Belong Together.” After releasing 2009’s Free, a gift to die-hard fans clamoring for recorded versions of his live favorites, Gavin decided it was time to shake things up.
“Not only do I love a challenge, but I also wanted something new to sing,” Gavin explains. “I’ve listened to my favorite songs 5,000 times, and I love them, but sometimes it’s hard to go home and put on that album and listen to it for the five thousand and first time. I needed to write something I found interesting both melodically and rhythmically, and that meant stepping outside my wheelhouse.”
On Gavin’s new album Sweeter, the South Fallsburg, NY, native experimented with new sounds, thanks, in part, to collaborating with a host of top-notch producers he’d wanted to work with for a while, including fellow groove-minded piano player OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder (Beyoncé, Adele), Butch Walker (Weezer, Avril Lavigne), Eric Rosse (Sara Bareilles, Tori Amos), and Ron Aniello (Barenaked Ladies, Matt Nathanson). “The creation of every song began with an interview to select the right producer,” Gavin says. “It was like speed-dating. I’d play them the songs I was working on and ask which ones they liked the best, then ask them to produce those they were most passionate about.”
Gavin took another departure from his usual way of working, enlisting co-writers for the first time, such as Tedder, who co-wrote and produced the album’s vigorous first single “Not Over You” (about the struggle to let go of an old flame) and its title track “Sweeter,” as well as Andrew Frampton, who has worked with The Script and Natasha Bedingfield. “Co-writing with other people changed everything for me,” Gavin says. “Not only did it open my mind to new ideas, but it changed the way I wrote on my own. Playing all these different styles with other musicians led me to think about things differently when I was working by myself. I was able to tap into things I do live, dabbling with some of that late ’60s, early ’70s R&B stuff, and record all the styles of music that I like and put them on one album. It was great to take the leash off and experiment. Although it doesn’t stray too far from what I’ve done, I think Sweeter is the first album I’ve made that has caught my true sound, and that was the result of taking risks.”
Recorded in several locations, including Tedder’s studio in Denver, Blackbird Studio in Nashville, Walker’s space in Venice, CA (where Bob Dylan recorded some tracks in the ’70s), and the legendary Henson Recording Studios in Hollywood, Sweeter finds Gavin in a provocative mood, which infuses several songs with a potent, swaggering strut on sexually charged songs like “Sweeter” (on which he sings about wanting to hook up with another guy’s girl) and one of his favorite tracks, “Radiation” (about knowing a lover is bad for you, but every now and then, you can’t resist making that late-night call). “Those songs are designed to be fun while also being truthful. I think a lot of people can relate to the lyric, ‘If you get an invitation, I’m probably drunk,’” Gavin says with a laugh.
“This is the first album I’ve made where I felt ready to explore the more sexual side of my nature in my music,” he continues. “It’s not only about my feelings of being in love, although I do tap into those elements on this album on songs like ‘Solider’ and ‘You Know Where I’m At.’ I just really needed to embrace sexuality a bit more as a songwriter and as a singer. This is the funkiest, sultriest record I’ve ever made. It satisfied a lot of things for me that I wanted to have satisfied musically.”
Sweeter’s racier moments are balanced out by more emotionally transparent moments, like “Run Every Time,” which addresses a reluctance to commit to a relationship, as well as romantic, uplifting songs like “Soldier” and “You Know Where I’m At,” which convey a vulnerability while still managing to feel distinctly masculine. “The question for me became, ‘How do you expose your vulnerability without seeming like somebody who gets kicked around, and, at the same time, describe your ability to get past something without sounding cocky,” Gavin says. “That’s always tricky, because you know you’re being judged on the lyrics and they’re all very personal.”
That willingness to explore what’s meaningful to him and express it in a universal way is what has made Gavin a compelling artist, one who connects with listeners not only through his recordings, but also through his live appearances. Gavin has toured the globe, performing sold-out headlining shows as well as festivals with a variety of artists. This summer he will hit the road with TRAIN and Maroon 5 for an extensive North American tour in support of Sweeter, and is looking forward to playing the new songs. “I want to take people from the beginning to the end of their emotions, for however long they’re with for me,” he says. “I want to woo people. I do. I want both women and men to love it, because I feel this album satisfies in a masculine way while still having a feminine touch.”