The same week the Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was telling the world she'd discovered how to express the "real her," singer-songwriter Graham Colton was telling Billboard.com the sa

The same week the Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was telling the world she'd discovered how to express the "real her," singer-songwriter Graham Colton was telling Billboard.com the same thing, only he was referring to his debut solo album: "Here Right Now" (Universal Republic).

For several years prior to the making of "Here Right Now," Colton was in a situation he likens to "having four girlfriends": he was in a band. The Graham Colton Band, to be exact. And being in a band, while certainly having its good points, didn't really gel with where Colton came from, or where he saw himself going.

Colton grew up in a musical household (his dad was in a '70s cover band) and he started singing and playing guitar as a kid. But Colton was also a football player -- apparently a pretty damn good one at that. As quarterback in high school, he helped lead his team to a division championship.

But Colton gave up the gridiron when he left his hometown of Oklahoma City to attend college in the sprawling metropolis of Dallas; once there he decided to dedicate himself more seriously to music. Though he had his doubts it would ever become a "real job," he doggedly set out from campus every Thursday night to do weekend "mini-tours," playing gigs all over Texas and getting himself back to school in time for class on Monday.

He recalls those days as his "Jack Kerouac period," and, indeed, he was on the road and on his own often. But what Colton didn't realize initially was that people were taking notice of his rootsy folk-pop. This was 1999, the year Napster started turning head, and many of his live solo acoustic performances were taped and then uploaded to the Internet. Colton's songs spread and his fanbase multiplied.

With help from his parents, Colton recorded and self-released a demo CD of his songs in 2002 and, within months, "random people like Adam Duritz [of the Counting Crows] had somehow found my music. That's when the whole thing became a lot more real," Colton recounts to Billboard.com.

In fact, Duritz asked Colton and his backing band to open for the Crows during their fall 2002 tour. "I just told my parents, ‘I think it's time to put school on hold,'" remembers Colton.

The Graham Colton Band ended up staying on that tour for two years, and, early in the process, the guys were signed to a major label. In 2004, they released full-length "Drive."

But Colton says being in the band eventually became a way to hide. "Things were happening so fast and it was hard to stay connected to who I was and where I came from. I didn't allow myself to be vulnerable. I was not as confident to let myself go."

As the years continued to melt away, Colton developed an urge to shed his armor, and that meant "going home and holing up in a bedroom. I didn't have a huge falling out with the group or anything. It was just a natural progression. I was ready to put myself out there and talk about stuff that had happened in my past, in high school, instead of just talking about the road."

So Colton struck out on his own. He spent time back in Oklahoma City and also in L.A., where he wrote the breakthrough single "Best Days (The Rest of Our Lives)." The track, a piece of stirring symphonic folk-pop, is the first single to earn chart ink for Colton, having worked its way up the Adult Top 40 chart to No. 28 where's it's been holding steady for three weeks.

Colton is particularly proud of "Best Days" because it captures the fear he initially experienced as he tried to "find his voice. I felt lost in L.A. I felt confused, vulnerable," he says. "Part of me was excited about making my first solo album, but I didn't have a clue what would happen next, without the band."

But Colton's sure now he made the right choice. "Things have come full circle for me. And this new album really represents who I am and what I've experienced. It's not earth-shattering or groundbreaking, but it's important to me. This album comes down to what I had to say. It's honest, and it's tough to be honest."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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