Gavin DeGraw Biography
Chariot, Gavin DeGraw's J Records debut, introduces the world to a vital, magnetic young artist whose abundant talent and charisma are already well known to New York clubgoers. The 11-song collection is a remarkably accomplished and compelling first effort, offering the same combination of raw emotion and eloquent songcraft that originally drew hometown fans to the 27-year-old singer/songwriter/pianist/guitarist's live shows. In a remarkably short time, DeGraw's effortlessly intimate, emotionally intense live performances have made him the toast of Manhattan's downtown music scene, building public anticipation for the release of his first studio album.
Gavin DeGraw has maintained a close and abiding relationship with music for most of his life. Growing up in a musical family in the Catskill Mountains region of upstate New York, he was raised to regard music as part of the fabric of everyday life rather than a remote show-business ideal. He began singing and playing piano at the age of eight; as a teenager, he experienced a personal epiphany when he discovered Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, whose combination of personal charm and emotional commitment struck a chord in the budding musician. In his teens, Gavin played in cover bands with his older brother Joey, and it was at his brother's urging that he first attempted writing his own songs. Gavin attended Ithaca College on a music scholarship, but found himself spending more time in his dorm room writing songs than attending classes, and dropped out after one semester. He then moved to Boston, where he attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music while singing in a rock band and playing solo gigs on the side. Still feeling restricted by the regimentation of institutional education, he left Berklee after a year and returned home, where he worked various manual jobs while hatching plans to follow his muse to New York City. After relocating to Manhattan in March 1998, Gavin almost immediately began making substantial career inroads, gradually and organically laying the groundwork for a musical career. "I kept having small successes," he recalls, "just things like applause from small audiences, or people saying they'd heard about me. Those tiny bits of recognition were fuel for me to continue, and made me feel like I was on the right track." Within a few months of his arrival, Gavin made his way into an open-mic night at Wilson's, the noted Upper West Side ballroom, and wowed the audience to such a degree that the club's owner, Debbie Wilson, signed on as his manager the following day. Almost immediately, word of the talented newcomer began to spread through New York's music community, and the quality of his performances lived up to the buzz. Alternating between playing solo at the piano and playing guitar in front of a rocking band, DeGraw augmented his impressive originals with impassioned covers of classic tunes like Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
"When I first heard Gavin perform, after the first song which was ?More Than Anyone,? I turned to Debbie (his manager) and said I need to sign this guy right now,? says Randy Sabiston, Senior Director of A&R at Warner Chappell. "Gavin is a truly special songwriter and as a publisher I didn't need to mull it over in my head; it was instant, a no brainer." Early on, Gavin was offered a deal by a major label. Rather than succumb to the obvious temptation, he chose to decline the offer and continue his development as a songwriter and performer, while paying the rent by working as a waiter and newsstand clerk. His reputation and his audience continued to grow, and he augmented his club shows with higher-profile appearances at larger venues like Irving Plaza (where he opened a special Valentine's Day show for Jonatha Brooke). He eventually signed the major publishing deal with industry giant Warner/Chappell and released a homespun six-song indie CD, Gavin Live, recorded on stage at his frequent hangout Wilson's.
In the spring of 2002, following a sold-out showcase at New York's Joe's Pub, Gavin signed with J Records and began work on Chariot with producer Mark Endert, whose extensive resume includes work with the likes of Fiona Apple, Tonic and Ours. Recorded far from DeGraw's East Village stomping grounds at Los Angeles' legendary Sunset Sound studio, the album finds Gavin fronting a solid, inventive studio band consisting of guitarist Michael Ward (Wallflowers, John Hiatt), drummer Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.) and longtime DeGraw cohort Alvin Moody on bass. Chariot's depth and focus attest to Gavin's clear vision of his identity as an artist. "I wanted to create something that was timeless rather than fashionable," he explains. "I was really concerned with developing a sound that wasn't disposable. I didn't want to have too much glitter on me." The adjustment from the immediacy of the live stage to the discipline of the recording studio was an educational process that gave DeGraw new insight into his own work. "It definitely made me think about making records differently," he says. "At first I felt out of my element, because you have to learn the language and the science of making a record. It's a real process to get to the point where it doesn't sound like it's a process. We really worked at making it breathe."
Looking past the buzz that's currently swirling around him, the level-headed artist is keeping his eye squarely on the big picture. "I'm not that interested in being liked for the wrong reasons," he states. "I'm more concerned with just getting something positive out there. And hopefully people will recognize that it's honest and respond to that, rather than feeling like it's something they've been told is supposed to be cool. I'd rather be judged by how it makes people feel when they hear it. Writing and playing songs and making a connection with people those things make a lot more sense to me than trying to be the Next Big Thing."