Interview: Gavin DeGraw talks Taylor Swift, Jakob Dylan and ‘Sweeter’

Gavin DeGraw seems a little young to have life regrets, but at 34, he already has a big one: not getting to duet with Solomon Burke.

He met the soul legend and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer a few years earlier, and had subsequently asked him to sing on a track. “He was like, ‘Baby, baby, c”mon. I would love that Gavin. That would be wonderful”,” DeGraw recalls, imitating Burke”s deep drawl.

Months passed without the pair going to the studio. Then  DeGraw gets a call in the middle of the night from Burke. “I was just dog tired from the studio. I forgot to call him the next day when I got out of the studio,” DeGraw says. Before he could return the call, Burke died in Amsterdam.

“One of my biggest regrets is not having had a chance to record with him or put him on an album because he”s one of the most important singers from that era,” DeGraw says, as recalls “freaking out” when he met Burke and L.C.Cooke, Sam Cooke”s brother.  “That”s my silver and gold right there, being in the company of my idols.”

Although DeGraw never got to record with Burke, his influence can be heard on “Sweeter,” which comes out today, Sept. 20.

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On it, a previously hidden soulful, sexier side of DeGraw emerges, whether it”s on the title track, where he”s about to be a very bad boy or on first single, “Not Over You.” 

 The album also marks the  first time that he”s co-written with other songwriters. Coincidence? DeGraw thinks not. “Working with someone like [OneRepublic”s]Ryan Tedder really helped me tap into [that side] because his production style and feel and his ideas can lend themselves to that.”

The liberation of working with others extended beyond their actual time together. “Just being in a room with another writer improves your own writing even when you”re not writing with them because it just opens your mind,” DeGraw says. “I was really moved by that experience of being in a room with someone else i thought was incredibly gifted…I”m picking up tips accidentally that [are] influencing me when I step out of that room.”

In addition to working with Tedder, who also produced some tracks, DeGraw collaborated with producers Butch Walker and Ron Aniello.

He had high praise for all, including Aniello, who is working with Bruce Springsteen now. “Ron”s really great at capturing the organic stuff,” DeGraw says. “He brought this [ability] to get the most sound out of the simplist arrangement possible.”

When DeGraw worked with Walker, they recorded in Bob Dylan”s old studio in Santa Monica, which Walker now owns. “There”s a couple of things still on the wall from those days, it”s really vibey,” he says. “If you listen to the tracking, to a lot of the drums, bass and guitar stuff, you can hear how live the room is. You”l hear some of that older sound, just sonically.” While Dylan Senior did not drop by,  Jakob Dylan paid the pair a visit. “I want[ed] to watch this dude come in and get nostalgic in his dad”s old studio and hang out,” DeGraw says. “He spent a few hours there, we have lunch.”

DeGraw knows the album comes at an important time for him. It”s been seven years since he broke through with “I Don”t Want To Be” and he”s eager to expand his audience.  He is “fully aware” that this is make-it-or-break-it time. “I”m so excited about [the album] because I”m looking at it for the potential,” he says, adding that the hopes the variety will “reach out and grab audiences who are typically far outside my style range.” 

He recently got a nice bit of exposure among Taylor Swift fans when the performer wrote the lyrics to DeGraw”s song, “Belief” on her arm for all to see during a concert.  DeGraw, who thanked Swift via Twitter, was delighted with Swift”s good taste. “She could have picked a song of mine that I was less proud of and I could have been like, ‘ugh, I wish she hadn”t picked that one,” because there are some that I would like to rewrite, but she picked one that I”m legitimately proud of as a songwriter. I”d stand behidn that tune any day of the week.”

After touring with Maroon 5 and Train this summer,  DeGraw heads out for a co-headlining tour with “American Idol” champ David Cook in October.  As important as the time on stage is, DeGraw says the time off it is just as paramount when it comes to picking tour mates whom you like. “That just adds so much to the experience,” he says. “Otherwise, you could be sitting backstage, just incredibly uncomfortable, like ‘Who can I talk to?…Such and such doesn”t like when I look at them.” That”s the worst case scenario.”