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gavin degraw (interview from 2004)

Some musicians debut with a big bang -- only to find their newly found fame fading as fast as the last fad. Then, there are those rare talents that hit the scene and you know they're staying put. Billy Joel, Elton John -- gifted musicians, living legends. Gavin Degraw is ready to join the ranks as the latest piano man.

Lindzi.com: How are things? Where are you right now?

Gavin Degraw: They're going real well. We're in Allentown, Pennsylvania. We were San Francisco last night. We left this morning. We went for one day to do this radio thing. They flew us out there to play and, I guess, hang out on the air.

Lindzi.com: Do you get a chance to see the cities you visit?

Gavin Degraw: That's the joke of it all. I don't get an opportunity to do that. It's funny. You play and you think you'll get a chance to walk around. You don't see much from backstage. Sometimes you'll peek a view of the city from your hotel window. You don't get enough of an opportunity to hang out in the town. It'd be cool to do half the dates of playing and hang out so that I could see the towns.

Lindzi.com: I understand you spent some time at Ithaca College and Boston's Berkeley School of Music. What was missing? Why'd you leave?

Gavin Degraw: I got a hang up with the scientific breakdown of the art. I felt almost as if the schools were teaching me to become a music teacher rather than a musician. It wasn't good for a creative environment. It seemed like a technical environment. Like, "Hey. Look this is Mozart and this is how Mozart feels. Look how Mozart does this." I was like, kay. Really, I just wanted to listen to it.

Lindzi.com: But, do you think knowing the history of music helps when writing music?

Gavin Degraw: You still have influences. You don't pull it from our of the air from nowhere. No doubt about it that your past musical experiences help manipulate whatever creativity you have. It's not necessarily helpful to see it written down on a piece of paper.

Lindzi.com: Where does your creativity come from?

Gavin Degraw: People, society, relationships, politics. Um, not being able to afford stuff. That's always a prominent factor. It'll always be a prominent factor. In general, you feel like you don't have enough. Even when you have a roof, but it might not be what you want.

Lindzi.com: I notice you use the moon as a symbol in both Follow Through and Chariot. What does the moon mean to you?

Gavin Degraw: It depends on the context of the song. Let's see... Follow Through. I use the moon as a reference point. "I haven't felt like this in so many moons" is the lyric. It's the cycle of the moon -- waiting and relaxing. It's a duration. It's a different time. Some people live between the cycle of the moons. It is between one emotion that you have and how you have to have emotions some time later.

Lindzi.com: Okay.... so...

Gavin Degraw: But -- wait -- we didn't get to the context of the other song... It's similar. It's not a clock. It's just you seeing [a change] happen and noticing it for the first time. The actual first line of the second verse is "Remember seeing moon's rebirth / Rains made mirrors of the earth / The sun was just yellow energy." It's supposed to be the vision of a child -- the purity of the first time. Just simple.

Lindzi.com: So, what does "Chariot" represent in the song?

Gavin Degraw: Chariot is a metaphorical vehicle for getting to a place in your mind that is a more broken down and laid back. It's somewhere to be just for a moment -- instead of being wrapped up and living wherever you're living and consumed with what you're doing. It's a place to release and chill out.

Lindzi.com: That's probably hard to find these days.

Gavin Degraw: {laughs} Yeah.

Lindzi.com: In Don't Wanna Be, you sing, "I don't wanna be anything other than what I've been trying to be lately." What is it you've been trying to be lately?

Gavin Degraw: A better person while honoring how I was brought up. You want to continue to improve without losing your roots. Whatever that is. It's like anything else. I don't have as much time to be as I normally would be. I don't have even time to myself to think about what I need to improve, but I'm trying.

Lindzi.com: On a side note, do these interviews get annoying?

Gavin Degraw: What's good about them is that it actually gives me a chance to think about myself.

Lindzi.com: What's your favorite childhood memory?

Gavin Degraw: Oh, wow.... {long pause} Multi-RBI's. All Star Game. Little League. Little kid. That was awesome.

Lindzi.com: How difficult was it when you were first trying to make it in New York City?

Gavin Degraw: It was border line impossible. My goal was to have the opportunity to get gigs. When you go in and ask for an opportunity to play, they seem like they are doing you the hugest favor in the world. It was a bit disheartening, but it makes you want it. I'm so competitive. It made me want it more. I began becoming numb to the word "no." It was a daily grind of walking up and down the street to the bars. "Need a musician?" You hope someone will give you the opportunity to play. I had to have enough pride to not worry about somebody telling me to get out of [their place]. You can't be afraid of the word no because you'll get it so many times. I wasn't worried that I'd never hear the word yes, but I kept hoping. I wasn't sure when I would. That was the scary part. I was like, "Wow. I'm going to have to work at this newsstand or walk dogs. I just want to play." I had so many terrible jobs.

Lindzi.com: What was your worst job during that time?

Gavin Degraw: My worst job? Bartending. Walking dogs is pretty bad. Waiting tables.

Lindzi.com: Did you ever feel like saying, "I may be walking your dog now, but you'll be listening to my song later."

Gavin Degraw: You want to have that attitude and maybe you have it a little bit. This one woman whose dog I used walk... She wouldn't let anyone handle her dogs. I had an interview in her apartment. She was telling me about her dogs and their personalities. She asked me what I do. I told her, "I'm a musician and obviously it's not working out just yet." She was like, "The other guy who walks my dogs is an opera singer." I thought, "There's millions of singers. Whatever." She's like, "Yeah. He sings at Lincoln Center." {cracks up} At that point, I was like, "This has got to be the worst thing I've heard in my life." Even if you think you're making it, you're not really making it. It was a rock in my stomach. Can you believe that?

Lindzi.com: That's horrible. How was the dog walking gig?

Gavin Degraw: I had to be there at 7 am. I didn't have any money for a train. I'd get up and run there. I lived Midtown. She was Uptown. I didn't even have money for a subway. Here's the amazing part. The dogs had a beautiful room. It was bigger than the apartment I was living in with my three friends. We were busted. One day, it was raining. She comes to the door. As I'm putting the leases on the dog, she says, "I know this sounds crazy. Make sure the dogs stay dry when you walk them. Don't let their paws get wet." I didn't understand. She says, "These are show dogs. If they get wet, I need to get their hair re-done." It's pouring outside. Of course, I was soaking wet from the rain and the dogs were too. She was out of her mind. I got fired the next day. It was so bizarre that people could be so crazy about their pets. Have you seen Best In Show? It's just like that. What got to me was I was doing so horribly and I couldn't believe I was working for her.

Lindzi.com: People are calling you Clive Davis' male Alicia Keys. How do you feel about this?

Gavin Degraw: I hadn't thought of it like that. I get the attention that Clive gives Alicia with her projects, but I'm not similar musically. I'm flattered by the interest. He has the ability to make an artists career happen -- more than one album, more than one year of success.

Lindzi.com: What makes you happy?

Gavin Degraw: Really nice, fun people.

Lindzi.com: What drives you insane?

Gavin Degraw: Stupid questions. I'm just kidding. What drives me insane is when you're driving in the car with someone and they talk continually about nothing to avoid silence. Like they want to break the ice and are uncomfortable with silence so they just keep talking... that drives me insane!

Lindzi.com: Well, that's it. Thanks for chatting.

Gavin Degraw: Yeah, you owe me a lot of money.

Lindzi.com: Something tells me you'll have a lot more than me in a couple years.

Gavin Degraw: Fine, you owe me a cup of coffee. You know what coffee I like? Dunkin Donuts.

Lindzi.com: I drink that every morning. In fact, I'm coming off a coffee high right now.

Gavin Degraw: Some guy came back stage. He must have drank a lot of coffee. Wait, was this yesterday morning? It's impossible to keep up. So, I'm exhausted before the show last night. I was like, "I'm so tired man. I had to wake up 3 am." This guy pulls out these packets of liquid ginseng. He's like, "Take one of these." So, I take a shot of it. I'm running in place like Flashdance. "She's a maaaaniac, maaaaniac." Then, I had to go sit down at a keyboard. My legs were tying themselves in knots in anxiety while I was playing. I had too much energy.

>> Check him out online at gavindegraw.com >> Photos Courtesy of J Records

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