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Gavin DeGraw speaks out on life and music

His ‘I Don’t Want To Be’ is the theme song for ‘One Tree Hill.’
/ Source: The Associated Press

In a parking lot, singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw raced his newly purchased radio-controlled truck.

Wearing one of his many signature hats — this time a St. Louis Cardinals cap, then changing it twice before the show — DeGraw, who turns 28 Friday, killed some time driving his new toy over some broken concrete.

DeGraw’s career has been nearly as bumpy as the terrain his toy truck was negotiating. His album “Chariot,” released 18 months ago, was a slow starter before eventually topping the charts. Just days after his appearance in Raleigh, the album — which is packaged with a bonus, acoustic version of the album titled “Chariot Stripped” — was finally certified platinum.

DeGraw plans to continue touring even as he makes brief appearances in the recording studio to lay down the follow-up to “Chariot.”

AP: Do you always wear hats?

DeGraw: (Takes his hat off and smirks.) No, not always.

AP: What’s your take on the music world right now?

DeGraw: Some of it’s good, most of it isn’t. For people who like the stuff that isn’t any good, babies need baby food, that’s just the way it is. If it’s aimed at a less-educated listener and they don’t mind having music dumbed-down for them, then that’s what they have. If they want to listen to ‘Sesame Street’ everyday of their lives, even if they’re adults, then they’ll get ‘Sesame Street,’ and that’s fine. They are allowed to have that, that’s just not what I’m into.

AP: “Chariot” came out in the summer of 2003, but your mainstream popularity is just taking off. What do you think about that?

DeGraw: Things take a little more time when you’re not doing really obvious sales. I don’t have any nudity in my videos, or anything close to it, and I don’t have shootouts or explosions or car chases ... There aren’t a bunch of drugs in the videos and I am not wearing hot pants, and I don’t dance. So, as far as videos or anything visually is concerned, I’m not a very visually stimulating artist. So, it’s not going to have the immediate sale that most overnight successes have.

AP: How did “I Don’t Want To Be,” being featured on the TV show “One Tree Hill” affect your career?

DeGraw: It definitely brought a tremendous amount of exposure to that song. It created interest that wouldn’t have been there. It brought a different demographic to the shows. It brought younger people. It exposed them to the music. ... I wouldn’t be able to reach those audiences otherwise. The fact is, the drive-home-from-work radio audience isn’t the same audience that’s watching certain TV stations at 8 o’clock at night, or 9 o’clock at night.

AP: Are you worried the song will be more associated with the show than yourself?

DeGraw: That’s always going to be a legitimate worry for any artist being associated with a something other than just their own career. I think it’s worth the risk rather than going, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do that, that’s selling out because it’s big business.’ The fact of the matter is I’m signed to a major label. ... I am happy to be associated with something that will expose me to people and then it’s my job to reel them into the rest of the material.

AP: Do you have a favorite of your own songs?

DeGraw: They’re all sort of like I have children. You birth them, you live with them and you give them each time. Some of the kids will be bastards and some of them will be on welfare and you love them all for different reasons.

AP: Why “Chariot Stripped?”

DeGraw: I felt like the album that I had made, though I felt like we had done a good job on it, I didn’t think it captured all of the elements of what it is that I do ... So I wanted to give a more songwriter approach to the songs, so people who have the album could go listen to a different version of the album and go, “Wow, this take on this song brings me a completely different perspective on the music.”

AP: How do you like touring?

DeGraw: I’ve been out on the road for just about two years and I love it. It’s the most legitimate way to acquire and sustain an audience of people who are interested in your music. Touring allows me to play material that isn’t on the album and that they wouldn’t be able to hear otherwise.

AP: Do you have a favorite song to cover when you perform?

DeGraw: There are a lot of great songs out there and I think it’s important as a player every now and again to play something that’s influenced you as an artist just to expose the people to it.

AP: How do you feel about being a heartthrob?

DeGraw: Oh, I’m no heartthrob, man. Honestly, I am really happy that people are just giving me a chance and paying attention to what it is I have to say, because I certainly hope I have a lot more to say than I do to look at. That’s more important to me.

AP: Believe it or not, there is a debate over your ethnicity. People are swearing up and down that you’re Irish, or Italian, or Jewish, or Martian. Can you settle this?

DeGraw: I am the byproduct of an Ellis Island orgy, basically. I’m everything. I’ve got quite a mixture in me. I know a lot of it and I don’t know some of it. I’m pretty mixed up, but mostly Russian and Irish.