After four albums of mostly self-contained songwriting, Gavin DeGraw has discovered the joys of collaborating on his upcoming set, "Sweeter." But he admits it wasn't easy getting started.
"I was feeling stifled and that I needed some other influence to keep me motivated and kind of crack the whip a little bit -- to expand, really," DeGraw tells Billboard.com. "Prior to this album I was always so incredibly apprehensive about being in the room with another writer, and this time I was able to get in a room with a guy or two who I already really respected, and it really motivated me. It brought a new texture to the stuff that I do and brought things that I couldn't have done on my own. It made the album more interesting than it could've been otherwise."
DeGraw's collaborators on "Sweeter," which comes out Sept. 20, include OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, who worked on the title track and on the first single, "Not Over You," as well as Andrew Frampton (Natasha Bedingfield, the Script), while the production team features Tedder, Butch Walker, Eric Rosse and Ron Aniello. DeGraw describes the process as being "like speed dating," but says it added another dimension to his sound on the album's 10 tracks.
"When you hear that album, you don't necessarily feel like you're listening to some guy in his room anymore," DeGraw explains. "The stuff feels more collaborative. I still wrote most of the songs on my own, but even the ones I wrote on my own were strongly affected by having been in a room with someone."
DeGraw feels many of the songs on "Sweeter" "ride the vulnerability spot," a tricky balance that found him writing about emotion and hoping to get "a reaction from the female listener" without chasing the guys away. "There is always that risk," DeGraw notes, "and trying to get that correct is a fine line. Some people will hate you for sounding vulnerable at all, so you can't win 'em all, right? You have to accept that stuff... The things that make writing challenging are things that make it the most enjoyable."
DeGraw will be on tour with Train and Maroon 5 into late August and is also on the bill at the Orlando Calling festival in Florida during November. He also anticipates he'll "continue to go out and do some more touring," with plans in the offing to promote "Sweeter" not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, New Zealand and Australia. "The world is big, and there's different levels of success in different regions, and at different times," DeGraw notes. "So I want to embrace the markets that are starting to champion the record and make sure they know I appreciate it. I want to show up and pay my respects to them so I can continue this little dream job."
DeGraw and his brother, Joey, are also getting ready to open a second of their National Underground bars, this time in Nashville after a successful enterprise on New York's lower east side. "We want it to be like a neighborhood joint and a little musical joint where local acts can come through and feel comfortable," DeGraw says. "We're just doing what we like. We opened up the little barroom thing in (New York) because we like music. We're musicians and we like to sit around and play and be around people who like to do the same kind of thing. So this will be another place to do that."