Rising Stars [Issue
With the release
of his first album Chariot, on J Records, 26-year old Gavin DeGraw seems
destined to be talked about. He's been featured in magazines ranging from Teen
People to Elle. He's appeared on Late Night With Carson Daly, played at this
year's South By Southwest music festival, and was singled out to perform at
Clive Davis's annual pre-Grammy Awards party. Gossip columnist Liz Smith remarked
on DeGraw's resemblance to Tom Cruise and predicted a movie career in his future.
Critics have compared the intimacy of his stage act with Billy Joel's. And even
American Idol grumpus Simon Cowell has been quoted as calling Gavin "All
class, man. All class."
's first single "Follow Through" has already been praised by Billboard
for its accessible pop sound. The album's 11 songs stake a claim in Adult Alternative
territory with catchy melodies, unusual lyrics, (from the title song: "Your
favorite fruit is chocolate covered cherries/ and seedless watermelon/Nothing
from the ground is good enough"), and surprises like the heavy metal hook
that interrupts the otherwise bouncy "Crush."
Gavin DeGraw grew up in South Fallsburg, New York. His father was a prison guard,
his mother a detox specialist, but both were musical. Gavin, who claims he "sang
in the cradle" learned piano at the age of 8. He was inspired by soul singers
like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye - and by a remark made by his older brother that
he should be writing songs of his own.
But formal music study didn't enthrall him - he quit both Ithaca College and
the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. After shuffling around in
service jobs, he moved to New York City and took a leap to promote himself -
he claimed to be a professional in order to get booked into the open mic night
at Wilson's, a popular New York club. The gamble paid off when Debbie Wilson,
the club owner, heard him - and immediately offered to become his manager.
After that, things happened quickly. DeGraw played regularly at New York hangouts
like Joe's Pub and built up a reputation with his live sets. "I kept having
small successes," he says. "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." In homage to his early influences Gavin would
play soul classics in between songs of his own. But it was his originals that
led to a publishing deal with Warner-Chapell Music, and eventually, to a contract
with Clive Davis's J label.
And since then, the media buzz has been going strong. But Gavin DeGraw dismisses
the glamour angle. "I'm not that interested in being liked for the wrong
reasons," he says. "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."