While he was touring to promote his 2003 debut album, “Chariot,” Gavin DeGraw kept hearing one thing.
“A lot of the comments I was getting from people when we were touring were like, ‘Oh, it’s even better than the album,’” recalls DeGraw, 31. “They’d say the singing is more soulful and the show is more energetic than they envisioned it, and a lot more fun.”
Being no dummy, DeGraw “figured I’d try to apply that to the recordmaking process next time.”
Next time arrived in May with “Gavin DeGraw,” the successor to the platinum-certified “Chariot” and its hits “I Don’t Want To Be,” “Follow Through” and the title track. “Gavin DeGraw” debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart, but more importantly it showcased the tougher, more muscular sound that fans reacted to so well at his concerts.
“I was really just focusing on satisfying my own taste,” explains the New York state-raised DeGraw, whose “Chariot” went platinum, taking off after the WB TV drama “One Tree Hill” chose the chart-topping hit, “I Don’t Want to Be,” as its theme song. “I was just gonna go ahead and make a record the way I felt like I should make a record. I thought it was important to just try to lay it out there as honestly as possible and ... not be overly analytical of my singing or anything.
“When you’re in a studio, sometimes it can feel very much like a laboratory. It takes a little bit of the heart out of it, and I tried not to overdo it too much as far as analyzing or secondguessing myself.”
But he does acknowledge the weight of expectations when he started to make “Gavin DeGraw” in 2007. “I wasn’t feeling any pressure until everybody started talking about it, and all of a sudden you start thinking about your eagles and your birdies,” DeGraw says with a laugh.
DeGraw did have several songs he had road-tested for the new album in hand. And with a sonic mission in mind he turned to producer Howard Benson, who established his reputation with hard rock bands such as P.O.D., My Chemical Romance and Hoobastank and was riding a new wave of success thanks to his involvement with the hotselling Daughtry.
And DeGraw found that Benson fit in with the casual, non-exacting process he wanted to follow for the album.
“He didn’t sit around the studio all the time and say a bunch of annoying stuff like ‘Maybe you should try this, maybe you should try that ...’” DeGraw recalls. “He just left me alone with the musicians and work the band over and then showed up during the vocal sessions and really put me through my paces.”
DeGraw agrees that there’s a loose thematic unity to the 12 songs on “Gavin DeGraw,” which are steeped in relationships — though not necessarily his own. “A couple are about my own situations,” DeGraw acknowledges, “and some are taken from people around me, relationships I’m watching or have watched, my own little observations and analyses.
“I think those are important factors in revealing things about you.”
But, DeGraw adds, he doesn’t always tie the songs strictly to the facts.
“Oh, I definitely twist it up,” he says. “You definitely go from biographer to someone with an imagination. You don’t just lay down everything exactly as it happened. There has to be some level of Mark Twain in there.”
DeGraw plans to tour as hard to support “Gavin DeGraw” as he did for “Chariot” — and perhaps even harder. Though he’s proud of his debut, DeGraw feels that the new album represents him better, and that’s led to a different kind of investiture in its success.
“I feel like I’m getting out a lot more musically than I did before,” he explains. “I don’t feel as limited. This is a pretty broad record, and it shows how many different directions I’m interested in.
“And I figured that since the second album is the make or break record, I may as well put MY ... name on it, y’know?”
Gavin DeGraw and Matt Wertz perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday (Sept. 1) at Clutch Cargos, 65 E. Huron St., Pontiac. Tickets are $26.50. Call (248) 333-2362 or visit www.clutchcargos.com.
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