Nothing short of a hurricane can keep Graham Colton off the road.
Playing over 400 shows since heading out on his first big break opening
for Counting Crows in 2002, Colton's life has become the road. It's
the only job he's ever known as prior to fronting his own pop-ready
roots-rock band the Oklahoma native performed in the coffee house circuit
around Dallas while attending Southern Methodist University. Deciding
to drop out of school and form a band the moment Counting Crows came
calling, Colton's never looked back, letting the road, and opening slots
for other big-time bands like Dave Matthews, Maroon 5, The Wallflowers
and Guster take him where it will. He even documented this path, and
all its personal twists and tribulations, on his debut album, Drive,
released last year. While his success thus far has come from opening
for household names, he's a fan of friends he's made on the road like
Charlie Mars and Kathleen Edwards who've earned considerable accolades
but have yet to break into the crowds Colton plays for every night.
Now playing the second leg of one of his biggest tours to date, opening
for Kelly Clarkson, Colton spoke with Recoil via phone a few days after
his tour missed two dates in New Orleans and Pensacola, only to avoid
the devastation of Hurricane Dennis last month.
Recoil: Other than the hurricane, how's the current Kelly Clarkson
tour going so far?
Graham Colton: Oh, it's great; it's kind of like summer camp. Both bands
get along so well. We made friends really fast with both Kelly's band
and crew. We did the whole spring tour together as well so getting back
on this one has been pretty easy and we haven't skipped a beat.
R: It seems like a ton of big bands have decided to give you
a shot on your way up, starting when you got picked to open for Counting
Crows before you even had your band. How did all that happen?
GC: Well, Adam [Duritz], the lead singer of Counting Crows, has kind
of been known as a tastemaker. He loves music, obviously. He had his
own label for a while. I think he likes finding new bands and helping
out the bands that he's into. Fortunately, I think he heard about us
either through the Internet or through managers or whatever and he liked
our record and he invited us out.
R: Just how big of a Counting Crows fan were you before that
and how much of a dream come true was it for you just to be touring
with them at that point?
GC: That was the first CD that I put in my car when I was sixteen. I'm
not lying when I say that either. I'm the ultimate Counting Crows fan.
I thought it was a joke at first, but now, Adam's on my speed dial and
we talk once every couple of weeks.
R: So what was the first thing you wanted to do once you got
on that first Counting Crows tour?
GC: I was too nervous to even go and meet them or anything. The first
day we got there Adam just came into our dressing room and said that
he was excited to have us and asked us to come out and join them for
the encore, which I thought was incredible.
R: Did doing that big tour first make it easier for you to
move on and tour with so many other bands like Dave Matthews, Maroon
5 and The Wallflowers?
GC: Yeah. You get one tour and then something else comes along. We've
fortunately been a band that's been able to work in a bunch of different
scenarios and with different bands. We're playing the same set with
Kelly that we did with Dave Matthews last summer. So fortunately it
just works with different musical genres and environments.
R: What's the main thing that keeps you on the road so much?
GC: I don't know. Some bands are just considered recording artists,
like they just release records and don't tour. We think of ourselves
as a road act. It's our most honest form and since we don't have a song
on MTV or VH1 or a huge radio hit, we're able to do most of our damage,
wait, bad word choice. We're able to, I think, be in our most honest
form playing live for people. I think if you want to see an exact representation
of what the band is, come see us live, because groups change and evolve
from when the record was made and released. We love our album and we're
having a lot of success with it, but we're growing past this record.
R: Just how different was it for you writing songs while on
the road? How different was that from when you first started songwriting
GC: Mostly it was really inspiring. That's why the album's called Drive,
because it was written on the road. I mean you think about dropping
out of school and going on the road with a rock 'n' roll band –
it's quite a change from being a college student, so there's a lot of
stuff to write about.
R: Have you continued to write as much as you can? What are
some of the changes you've seen in your songwriting?
GC: Oh yeah, definitely. It doesn't stop. I'm twenty-three now, compared
to twenty when I was making the album. It's just like anything else.
We've lost girlfriends, we've made girlfriends. We've lost friends and
made some friends. It's all part of the bittersweet experience of being
on the road. We wouldn't change it for anything – it's what we
do, but it does take its toll on your personal life and that's a lot
of where my inspiration comes from, how to deal with that.
R: You've said that a lot of your success so far has been because
of the word of mouth power of the Internet. What's your opinion of the
whole downloading debate?
GC: Now being a 'signed' artist with a record label it's a little different
for me because labels want results and they want you to sell albums.
I would hope that anyone that downloads our CD and burns it or shares
it is going to come to a show and buy a t-shirt or tell a friend. I
think it's a give and take, but I'm still for it. I can't turn my back
on what made my career.
R: Now you've toured a lot pretty steadily. Do you think you'll
be able to keep on playing almost every day of the year?
GC: I can play like four nights on and then get a night off. But we're
on a bus this tour, so we can work a little harder now. Normally it's
us driving ourselves in the van, so we finally broke down [laughs] I
don't want to use the term 'broke down.' We finally subsided and went
with a bus this tour because I think the whole tour is like sixteen
thousand miles, so we need a little help.