Sitting in his home, a plush yet quaint house on wheels, Gavin DeGraw looks out onto the outer-edge of the Del Mar Fairgrounds where a giant hot air balloon is slowly rising up into the sky. He reminisces about a terrifying experience in which his brother abandoned him on a similar-looking basket ride where he remained scared and surrounded by a family whose overexcited child rocked the not-so-sturdy basket-to-and-fro.
“Yeah, I hate those things. I mean, you’re seriously using a barbecue grill gas system to power it. It’s just a propane tank. It’s essentially a giant wicker picnic basket. It’s truly terrifying,” he said in our exclusive interview with him at KAABOO Del Mar on Friday night.
Although he may not be fond of flying high in a shaky, unreliable basket, he has no issue putting on a show for thousands of people. He smiled at the plethora of adoring fans present at his set on the Trestles stage at KAABOO Del Mar, day one. He ran from each side of the stage to the other, in between killer piano solos, belting both new and old tunes. He was entirely in the moment and eager to connect with his fans who sung back the lyrics to “Chariot” as he opened the show with a bang.
The rock star has been on the road for the past few weeks on his North American tour with Andy Grammer. He reflects on his past, his present and his brand new album that dropped Sept. 9, titled “Something Worth Saving.”
“Andy and I had been on the road together in the past, and he’s from an area in upstate New York relatively close to where I grew up. Our first stop on the tour was fairly close to his hometown and close to mine - it was the original Woodstock site from 1969. I mean, my parents were there together in 1969. It’s incredible; I lost my innocence on that field when I was a teenager,” DeGraw said. “I remember being a wild child out there with my friends, camping and doing teen things. It was cool to go back. That’s definitely been the most important and most personal stop so far. It’s part of my DNA as a musician.”
The New York native has seen a majority of the world, but still seems to be entirely rooted in where he’s from. While he is aware of how his past has shaped him, it is who he is now that feels most connected and secure with the man he sees in the mirror. Safe to say, DeGraw himself has evolved and is, dare I say it, almost all grown-up.
“Every time I write a record, I think it’s the grown-up one. You know, I look at it like, ‘Oh it’s soooo mature.’ This album is a bit evolved, and the show is a bit evolved. I am learning more about myself as a guy and as a musician. I do less to compensate for certain things and being okay with other things about myself. I’m more comfortable, really in general.”
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His single from the album, “She Sets The City on Fire,” depicts a woman who can’t be beat, Gavin explained. He and Greg Waterberg worked on it together, which was a theme for much of the album, allowing others like Wallpaper aka Ricky Reed, Johan Carlsson from Max Martin’s camp, Max Martin himself, Dave Bassett and many more.
“A buddy of mine, Greg, told me to check this song [that would be “She Sets The City on Fire” out. I told him, ‘Man, this is really great. I want to be part of this. How can I get in on this?’ Greg’s like, ‘Uh, yeah moron - that’s why I’m playing it for you.' We got together at a place called Criteria Studios, which is the old Hit Factory, to record. It’s a really great historic spot. I mean, James Brown recorded “I Feel Good” there, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors” was recorded there. It was cool to walk in there and get a feel of the place and feel like you’re tapping into a ghostly memory of history making,” he said.
Is it written about a woman in Gavin’s world? Maybe, he explained. “It’s mostly about someone being out-classed by a dime when you yourself, are like, maybe an eight,” he said.
“I’ve been out-classed before. Doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it before someone realizes they’re classier than you, you know what I mean?”
DeGraw seems to be modest, or at worst unaware, of his extreme talent, something that allowed him to play alongside one of his idols growing up, Billy Joel.
“I love watching Billy Joel play because he develops such a personal relationship with the audience. You don’t know him - but you do. That’s the most beautiful element of his shows. I would watch him play, continuously, and it’s done so genuinely which is what makes them feel like they have a relationship with this man, even if the relationship is one-sided,” he said.
DeGraw, like Joel, demands attention not by being over-showy, but because he gives such attention to the crowd that he is in front of. He absorbs their energy and spits it back in their face, tenfold. He lays it all out on the table at the live show. From covering the fun Twenty One Pilots song, “Ride,” to thanking all of the soldiers who have served, not a second was not animated. Even when he was sitting behind the piano, his chest folded into the keys as he confessed his identity to the audience, DeGraw seemed to be in a good place, and everyone could see it, too.