In the early morning hours of Aug. 8, singer/songwriter Gavin DeGraw was assaulted by a group of unknown men in Manhattan's East Village, not far from the bar he co-owns with his brother, the National Underground. DeGraw, 34, was then hit by a taxi following the assault, and rushed to New York's Bellevue Hospital after a passerby called 911.
The incidents left DeGraw with a broken nose, a concussion and several face lacerations, among other injuries, and forced the singer to miss 11 of 21 scheduled appearances on the Maroon 5/Train summer tour. The story was picked up by national media outlets including People and VH1 and came while "Not Over You," the lead single from his new album, "Sweeter" (arriving Sept. 20 on RCA), was playing on AC radio and just beginning to be worked at mainstream top 40.
Fortunately for DeGraw, he rapidly recovered and was able to do a promotional run in Europe earlier this month. "Not Over You," which was sent to adult top 40 radio in June and supported later that month with a video release and a July 20 appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," saw an upswing in sales a week prior to the attack and closed out August on a strong note, taking its total to 118,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
RCA intends to stick with "Not Over You" through the album's release. "Even though it has been out there for a while it is still developing," RCA VP of marketing Nick Pirovano says. "The increase in radio adds and digital track sales say the single is connecting. It's not at a tipping point."
DeGraw, too, is in a period of transition, bringing in new elements to his songwriting while he works to reconnect with a fan base that made "Chariot (Stripped)" a hit in 2004. That project, a repackaging of his 2003 J Records debut, "Chariot," with a bonus disc featuring acoustic versions of the album's original songs as well as a cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," peaked at No. 56 on the Billboard 200, but spent more than 100 weeks on the chart and has sold 819,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "Chariot" also featured the hit single "I Don't Want to Be"-the theme to CW drama "One Tree Hill"-which climbed to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
"Sweeter" is DeGraw's fourth album in eight years, and the first he hasn't written himself. According to the singer, inspiration arrived from multiple sources-Elton John's first album, the Rolling Stones' balladry, Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman"-but it was experimenting with co-writers that had the biggest impact. Andrew Frampton, who's known for his work with Natasha Bedingfield and the Script, and OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder both co-wrote two songs with DeGraw, and Butch Walker produced three tracks on the album.
"I want people to see what I do musically and the meeting of the minds affiliated with this album," DeGraw says during a stop at Billboard's Los Angeles office in late August. "This isn't just a solo album for me, and I think that's why it feels more special. There were others who brought their gifts to the record, gifts that I didn't necessarily have. It's better than I could've made on my own."
Pointing to Walker's work on the songs "Soldier," "Radiation" and "Candy," DeGraw says, "He was able to listen to the songs and come in with the right arrangements, bring in the right players for the songs and the right gear for the performances.
"You don't always have a magic moment in the studio," DeGraw continues, "but you want those moments to happen. I remember when we were tracking 'Soldier,' in the second verse I was digging in hard, the groove was so good and everyone was jelling. I heard Butch go, 'Woo!'-a primal scream that said, 'This feels so good.' You can't fake that. We kept it because you can't re-create the performance that makes you do that."
Overall, DeGraw says, "This album feels like it has a freshness similar to the first album. It's just more mature. Not completely mature, not too highbrow-there is still a lot of that discovery element to this album. [But] there's more risk-me as a person being willing to expose more of my own feelings and accepting the fact that not every song has to be romantic or fit into the image you want to convey about yourself. Artistically, I have to put romance aside at times and put reality at the forefront."
The result is an album that places vocals and piano in the foreground rather than the band sound found on earlier releases "Chariot," "Gavin DeGraw" (2008) and "Free" (2009), all released on J. Neither Pirovano nor DeGraw would comment on a second single-DeGraw is slated to perform "Not Over You" on NBC's "Today" and "Live! With Regis and Kelly" the week of release-but one should be out by the time he starts a 22-city co-headlining with David Cook on Oct. 9. "A lot depends on how pop radio responds," Pirovano says.
As for the rest? DeGraw, who grew up in the Catskills in South Fallsburg, N.Y., says that once he had recovered from his injuries and was gearing up for Sweeter's promotion, the No. 1 question he was asked was whether he would leave Manhattan. "Of course not," he says. "In New York I've had a thousand great nights and one bad one. Why would I leave?"