Finally the US singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw is back in Switzerland. After releasing his album “Something Worth Saving” last year, he is now back on the road with an amazing acoustic show. Before his show at Xtra in Zurich, we had the chance to sit down with him and ask a few questions.
It were only 3 questions, really, as we ended up in a pretty interesting talk about the music industry and pop music. A topic Gavin DeGraw has very strong opinions about. But let’s start from the beginning!
Shortly after being brought to that famous room with all the old posters, Gavin walked in – dressed in a black shirt, leather jacket and his biker boots, that many of his fans love. After a short introduction, we get right to it…
Interview with Gavin DeGraw
Great to have you back Gavin! How has Zurich been treating you so far?
Thank you! It’s good to be back. Zurich is great. Beautiful day today! Which has been a bit rare lately, we’ve been a bit unlucky on this tour. Pretty much every day we’ve been off, it was pouring down with rain. It felt good to spend some time in Rome where the weather was great.
Nice! Let’s hope for more summer weather in the future.
So… In the past, fans often got to see you perform and play the guitar. On the CD cover of “Best I Ever Had” you’re holding a guitar. Any chance we might get to see you play the guitar again soon?
Well I do play the guitar and I do a lot of writing on the guitar, just because when I’m travelling it’s hard to tow the piano around… It’s easier to show up and bring a guitar to the airport. Even though I still do some writing on it and play it, I’m much more comfortable on the piano – because, you know, I’m a piano player. The guitar I started playing more by default. When I was living in New York I was playing so many gigs and my buddy over there behind the camera (he points to a guy with a big, fancy camera – recording all of this) We were roommates; we remember going to gigs where he helped me bring my gear over, just walking… There were gigs that I’d be playing that were 40 or 50 blocks away that we were walking to with gear on a hand truck. So it was just easier every once in a while to show up with a guitar because it was such a pain in the ass to carry stuff for a keyboard set up. So it was easier for transport purposes, but I felt bad for the listeners because I was just the worst guitar player (laughs).
Talking about song writing. Your earlier work were mostly written by just you. Recently, you’ve been co-writing quite a lot. Since your songs are usually very personal, how does that work when writing with someone who doesn’t know what you’ve been through or hasn’t experienced that thing you want to write about? Isn’t that a bit tricky at times?
Well yeah, when you write with someone else, it can be a little bit uncomfortable sometimes. Elements of your life are coming out in the lyrics and it feels like you might be revealing too much when looking for the right lyric. You go like: and the such and such and such happened. And the other person just goes: oh man, really? You’re going through that? At that point you’re thinking, maybe that was a little bit too much information. But then again, when you co-write, you can always defer your subject matter and just say “aaah no, that was the other guy’s life, he’s going through some serious stuff, I feel bad for the guy” (smiles and laughs)… But that’s just the nature of it.
Writing alone though, is still my preferred approach. It’s just the most sincere and I think moving forward, there’s going to be a lot more solo writing. Just as I move further and further away from this pop branding, that’s been kind of handed to me, which was never my desire. It’s not me. I’m from a prison town… There’s nothing pop-friendly about that. The music business probably saw that as ‘a good sell’ for a singer-songwriter.
That might be it. The music industry has changed a lot in the past years…
Oh yes, especially the marketing of the singer-songwriter brand has been a bit weak in the last 20 years; that’s kind of embarrassing. Artists like Springsteen or Billy Joel were marketed like men. Why can’t authentic music that’s actually coming from the heart, from people with real stories and real lives and work ethics be made out to be more masculine… When did the blue collar element not become cool anymore?
These new branding approaches are the worst; that’s pretty weird. Assumptions like, if you play sports, you must like hip-hop. Which is not necessarily true! I play sports, but personally, don’t like hip-hop. I just want to make good music, but the marketing has been more masculine for a brand like hip-hop. Music like that’s got nothing to do with tough and athletic though.
I’m kind of tired of being in the business of ‘liking everything’. In general, that’s what everyone wants you to do these days: like everything. Because the branding is so friendly in songwriting, but real songwriters are very discerning about what they like or dislike… And they’re very honest about their content when they’re writing their songs, so let’s just be honest about our feelings, about when music actually sucks! But there are some good artists out there who are doing really well in the singer-songwriter category. It’s not production based, or photography image based, it’s actually about talent. We don’t sell ourselves like that. We sell ourselves based on talent and we don’t need to have everything look a certain way. Music is supposed to be invisible. It’s supposed to be a great song, a great singer, a great performance instead of this strictly auto tune culture.
A lot of people want to sell music like that but if you don’t want to sing that chorus, it’s not great, you know? A lot of artists who are being sold to you nowadays literally can’t really sing, can’t play, can’t perform. But they’re willing to do anything to be famous. Sort of like homemade reality stars on Instagram or Twitter. Or tv-shows of their own lives on their phones. Everyone’s quite self-infatuated now, culturally. I saw a child with a selfie-stick the other day; it was so strange to see that level of vanity. People are more consumed with their self image now than perhaps ever before. Some artists don’t even sing at shows, they just plug in their laptops. That’s the performance. They can’t sing! I’m sometimes boggled that our culture is celebrating that. We’re becoming more and more stupid, musically. That’s like saying you don’t want to go to a good restaurant because this really crappy one is the popular one.
Horrible music and lack of talent shouldn’t be celebrated. There are so many talented people out there, but many don’t have the audacity to say when something sucks. A song that’s really big right now? Well, it sucks! But people are more consumed with being famous than making great music. What a crime.
Wow, ok, this was interesting. I can see you have a very strong opinion on this topic… Since your tour manager just gave us a sign to wrap it up, we’ll quickly go to our next question. For our interviews, we always ask our fans/followers to send in some questions too. We’ve got a bunch for you today.
Fan Questions (or turns out to be only one question due to lack of time)
Ulla ask: What’s special or different about touring in Europe?
First of all, just the age of the cities. Since most of these cities are so old and historic, they tend to be more walkable. Things are closer together. It’s a much bigger bicycle culture here too. The tipping culture is also very different. A tip that’s being considered normal in the US, makes people here kiss you and thank you nonstop. (starts making kissing and hugging noises while laughing through it).
When it comes to the fans in Europe, it seems like a very melodic culture. They sing, every song, every word. Singing along, real interaction. I don’t know why that is specifically, but it’s beautiful! I notice that fans in Europe listen to the entire album and learn all of the songs, not just the singles. I feel like perhaps they find it more interesting to learn all of the b-side material because they feel like they’re really getting to know the artist. They have an interest level that perhaps taps more into “oh it’s US culture, let’s learn more about that culture” – I’m not sure about that though, this is just conjecture. But it is very rewarding, particularly when you go to places where, you know, English isn’t necessarily spoken by the vast majority of the people. But they’re still singing the words – it’s very very cool! Also, what I think is very cool: in a lot of these European countries, not all of them, they eat chocolate for breakfast (laughs loudly) I love it!
But wait, I had so many more questions…
Wow, these 20 minutes were over so fast. Gavin’s tour manager made us end the interview right after that question. We quickly got to say goodbye; as there was another interview scheduled, we had to finish ours. I had so many more cool questions prepared, also 4 other really great questions from Gavin’s fans. A bit sad I couldn’t get those in, but also very grateful I got this opportunity. I would have loved to talk more about the industry and discuss different angles with Gavin. It seems like he has a lot more to say about this particular topic. But I guess I’ll have to save that conversation for another time.
Gavin DeGraw at X-Tra, Zurich
The show later that night was great – just as expected! Two hours of incredible music. Gavin DeGraw, Mike Baker (drums) and Billy Norris (guitar, bass and vocals) performed this acoustic set and for sure got loads of new fans. The crowd was very energetic; the atmosphere was wonderful. I had seen this acoustic set in Frankfurt a couple of days earlier and I have to say, for once I was really proud of the Swiss audience. As we all know, Swiss people can be a bit reserved and tend to not really go crazy at shows. This time, Zurich definitely came in first, after Frankfurt.
Throughout this show, I often was reminded why I fell in love with Gavin’s music 9 years ago. His heartfelt lyrics, the beautiful melodies (especially the songs from his older records) and of course also his presence on stage. I’ve seen him live a lot in the past few years, in different constellations, but I must say, this trio thing is working really well. Might have been one of the best shows so far…