ROCK N WORLD
Inside Track interview by Keavin Wiggins
Graham Colton doesn't just play rock and roll, he lives it. In an age where artists have forsaken the tried and true methods of establishing their career through winning over fans one concert at a time and instead rely on trend mongering radio singles and TRL appearances, the Graham Colton Band have opted to do things the old fashioned way; they made a real rock record and instead of going the easy route of compromising their integrity and jumping on the latest bandwagon for airplay, they instead recorded an honest to God rock album and have spent the past few years out on the road turning fans on the music. It's a story of a rock band making their name that was very common a couple decades ago, but is a rarity in the 21st century. Maybe that's why the music of the Graham Colton Band will most likely withstand the test of time and the band's popularity continues to grow with every show they do. The band's namesake is uncommonly wise for his 23 years; he understands the business like a veteran and he knows where he wants to go. Something that can't be said for many of his contemporaries.
The life of a rocker on the road is hectic, going from town to town having to win over the fans of the band you are supporting. Always on the go, but at the end of the day if you can follow your dream without compromising your vision and musical integrity, all the long hours on the road are worth it and your career may just have legs and outlast the artists that take the easy route. Sure those bands may have some success but it is usually short lived.
Giving the band's busy schedule over the past few years we were fortunately to catch up to Graham via telephone as he was in an airport preparing to hop on a plane.
In this special two part Inside Track we discover why the Graham Colton band is finding success by taking the road less traveled, are doing a public service by turning pop fans onto to real rock, and of course in the second part of this interview Graham will get to the heart of the matter and give us the Inside Track to the songs on his group's debut album "Drive".
Inside Track: When did you know that you wanted to do this for a living?
Graham: I don't think there really ever was, it sounds cliché, but I never really chose this. I kind of feel like it chose me. The first time I kind of knew that I could put thoughts and feelings on paper and sing it--put music to it was when I was 17, I had a friend of mine that was killed in a car accident and had my first performance, kind of an open mic night, the ask all your friends to come watch you kind of thing and didn't really know what to do or say or if I should do anything because I was gonna play cover songs. That was all I was really good at. So I ended up writing a song for my friend that passed away. It connected with me, it connected with people. It's actually a song that found its way onto the Intranet and started to connect with a lot of different people across the country. But that was when I knew I was comfortable and had a passion for writing and performing music.
Inside Track: What's the name of that song in case the readers want to look it up?
Graham: It's called "Matthew".
Inside Track:: Upon first listen to your debut it sounds like you come from a different place musically than most of today's bands that are chasing trends. In fact, you hear a lot of roots rock influence in your music.
Inside Track: So what are some of your biggest influences?
Graham: If I have to place myself in a time, we wanted to take a classic approach to making the album because obviously I'm a huge fan of a lot of the Americana kind of classic rock bands. The Band, and I've gotten into Dillon a lot over the past couple of years. But I really felt like the first connection musically that I was really influenced by was when I was 12 or 13 when The Wallflowers, Counting Crows, those hit. That revival of roots rock after grunge. It really connected with me. I really felt just like that was people that I feel like are reproducing, but making a modern sound of, music that I love. It was young sounding and just very eclectic pop music, I was very influenced by. Obviously I'm a huge fan of Brit rock as well, I think the Wallflowers, Counting Crows, Oasis were a huge influence on me and kind of the weirdest influence was Green Day. That was one of the first records that I got after grunge, cuz I was [didn’t come out on the tape] grunge, but I never really got. So Green Day was really a huge influence on me as well.
Inside Track: That's kind of a trip.. [laughs]
Graham: It is, but it's amazing you know because I really had kind of forgotten about them until they released this new album and I was like "Oh My God". The voice just kind of made me remember. I remember when I bought their first record, what I was doing. It's kind of weird that I hear a little bit of that now in my music, listening to "Drive" and I didn't even remember it when I was making it.
Inside Track: Yeah, people don't really pick up on the really melodic nature of Green Day typically.
Graham: I know.
Inside Track: Given that your music is not really what is the "mainstream" right now, do you think it was harder to get people to pay attention?
Graham: Yeah, I think with the temporary nature of the Internet, just with what's going on with music right now.. I'm only 23 and I'm still learning but this is my first impression of how we got signed and what kind of happened. Everybody wants you to do it right here and now, they want to be shot out of the cannon, they want it to be huge and that's it. Everybody forgets that Springsteen, Prince and all these people were given two, three or four records to develop and find themselves within those records. U2, the same thing. That's why Brendan [O’Brien] our producer was such and amazing match for us. He told me when we were making this album that "this is an album that is going to age really really well. It doesn't have a place and a time, you're gonna be able to mature beyond this album but it's always gonna be a great foundation for you. People are gonna listen to this 10,20 years down the road and not know when it was." We just wanted to take a classic approach to making the record and I think that fortunately we've had success on both fronts. We've had a lot of Internet success with young kids, we've had a lot of people that love the Counting Crows and The Wallflowers that are 30 something, so we've been able to attract various different types of people considering that I'm 23. It's interesting, we can go out and tour with a Kelly Clarkson and turn around and tour with Dave Matthews and go on tour with Country Crows, Train, Maroon 5. You wouldn't think that there were differences in the audiences but there really are severe differences between a Dave Matthews crowd and a Wallflowers crowd or a Kelly Clarkson crowd, a Counting Crows crowd, or a Train crowd. So hopefully our album will continue to age gracefully and we'll see. Right now we're kind of loving it because it's amazing. Every time we come to a city the crowds get bigger, the show's a little bit more intense. It's fun to watch it kind of grow. It's amazing from where we started, from where I've started from basically writing these songs in my bedroom and later going to being on the road for three years and watching not only what's happening for the record but what's happening for me and the band.
Inside Track: Do you think that Strummer Music is different from most major labels in artist development? Are they more into that?
Graham: I don't really know because I haven't had experience with other labels but I will tell you, you always hear about the label ins and outs, would of, should of, could ofs with certain artists, left turns vs. right turns, you always have questions 'what it would be like elsewhere', we got courted pretty heavily by other… but I will say this, I wouldn't change anything right now. We're able to tour and sell albums. We never had anybody from the label come into the studio while we were making the record, we just delivered it and that was it.
Inside Track: Wow!
Graham: We never had anybody second guess it. They've been very supportive and you know that's kind of amazing.
Inside Track: Definitely.
Graham: That's definitely not the case with most 20-somethings especially. I was able to do what I wanted to do, with the people I wanted to do it with and haven't really stopped since.
Inside Track: What would say was the biggest surprise with you, with getting the deal and all that, that turned out different then you thought it would be?
Graham: I think that was the biggest surprise. We signed a record deal in New York City when we were touring with Counting Crows, signed it, when on stage, woke up and went to the next city. Everyone always says that getting signed is this huge, amazing, wonderful thing… it is, but our deal is "what is the next step, what are we gonna do with it?" So that's the biggest surprise, cuz growing up everyone always dreams of having a record deal, but once it happened to us we kind of said this is the reality of it; the reality is that the deal doesn't matter, it's what you do with it.
Inside Track: So what would you say the hardest thing you had to overcome to get where you are right now?
Graham: I'd say just being in a real band on the road, getting dirt under our fingernails has been the hardest thing. When anybody says, or tries to say what we are. Are we pop, alternative or whatever. But the one thing that I think that we are is a real band and hopefully I'm a real artist in that taste will change and my sounds may change, but I will say that the types of hours and the miles that we've logged on the road over the past three years, I don't think anyone can discount the amount of work that we put into it. That's been the hardest thing. We've had people that were in the band that are no longer in the band because of it, we've had relationships lost, relationships made, friends lost along the way and that's what I really think about being in a real rock n roll band is about. I dropped out of school to do this, giving up everything just for the chance of being able to play your music in front of people and having a little-tiny-small part of this whole thing that is rock n roll. I think that's been the hardest thing to overcome, just ourselves—really getting in the van every single day, sleeping in a new hotel every single night. Playing is the easy part; it's everything else that is the toughest.
Inside Track: People don't realize how grueling that can be.
Graham: Yeah, most people are like "oh my god, the bus must be so hard to sleep in every night." And I'm like, you know, we're not even in a bus, we're in a van.
Graham: A bus would be like the Four Seasons for us.
Inside Track: Going back to what you were saying before, what is the most important thing you want people to get out of your music?
Graham: I just think honesty is the main thing. I'm saying I've got it figured out right now. I'm not saying this is the best album we're gonna make or the worst but I think it's just a work in progress. I think that nowadays that a lot of people buy into a movement, they buy into the hype, they buy into "the cred", they buy into the cloths, and they buy into one song that's playing on the radio or MTV. I'm not saying that I wouldn't like to have a hit song on VH1 or whatever, but the one thing that I do know is that the fans that we have made along the way, the fans that come to our shows, the venues that we've sold out across the country, it's real because we don't have a song on the radio, we don't have a video. People are buying into the band and the album, and the songs that we play, it's not one thing.
At this point Graham had to go through airport security so we had to hang up and resume the interview 15 minutes later. We will end the 1st installment of this two part Inside Track to give you a chance to buy go buy the Graham Colton Band debut album "Drive," give you a few days to get to know the music so you can come back next week when we'll post the discussion with Graham about the actual songs on "Drive".
Part II: The Songs
Graham: The first song "Don't Give Up On Me," it's interesting to me how the album transitions from the first song to the last song but trying to keep the central theme of traveling and again my kind of evolution of life. My college experience is on those, kind of changing with the seasons, new cities and people I meet and so forth. But I think the first song "Don't Give Up On Me" is definitely just random images I had of you know journals and different experiences I had on the road, the van, driving all night to get to the next town. I think it comes out the gate and sets the tone for what the album is. Not only is hopefully a raw, basic rock and roll album but a lot of things that I witnessed town by town with different people that I meet etc. So that's what that song is about.
The second song, "Since You Broke It" is me playing to my more sarcastic side, my playful side. That was a song that was written in the studio, it was something that just kind of happened. Brendon was real good about nurturing that side of me as well. Not only helping me with the poetic side and being able to musically outline all of these places and things that I visited but also being able to say it's okay to have a playful song like "Since You Broke It" or "Cigarette". It's the same way, he said it adds a little color to album and shows that you have a little diversity and you don't have to be melancholy in every single song.
"First Week" is strange because I've done the song multiple different ways. I've done it acoustically and I've done it with the full band and that song started out more dramatic and much more dark than ended up on the album. So it's fun to kind of play it both ways. It's another song that ended up more playful than it started out. If you look at the lyrics it's about being angry with this person that you were infatuated with during the first week of the relationship is not only off of you but on to someone else.
"Morning Light" was a song that I wrote in New Orleans, it was one of a bunch of songs that I wrote with my friend Kevin Griffin from Better Than Ezra. Again that was a song that was kind of written on the road, it's amazing because I ended up finishing a lot of songs in New Orleans, which kind of became a home away from home for me to work. It's kind of interesting the songs that came out of those sessions and the colors that were added and not only the kind of the southern feel that were added to the songs that were demoed there but that was a song that was really close to me because it was written there, kind of walking around in that town. Whenever I listen to that song, I always think of New Orleans.
"Sending A Note" is basically more along the lines of what I was saying, leaving home for the first time and kind of reconnecting with my friends and family that are going one way and I'm going the other. Reassuring them that I'm alright but kind of inside questing that, being a little envious of the road that I didn't take. That's a feeling with me, I would trade my life with anyone in the world BUT a lot of times I am envious that my friends are getting married, getting jobs, buying houses and starting their lives.
Inside Track: So this is more about the self sacrifice you have to go through in your quest.
Graham: I think so, it's a song that is very very literal. Often times I wonder if this word should rhyme but that was a song where I said exactly what I wanted to say. I didn't try and make it sound pretty.
"Cigarette" again is one of those playful songs but also is song that when you play it acoustically, it's almost darker than it is on the album. The funny thing about cigarette is I don't even smoke. I've never even smoked a cigarette. How un-rock and roll is that?
It's a song that's just kind of is what it is. It's fun to play live and rock and get into it. It's easily digested but there is also a lot of literal lyrical content there that I realize it's dark and talking to someone about the sacrifices you made just to be with somebody that's not right for you. It's almost 'wanna smoke a cigarette, you wanna be somebody else'.
Inside Track: I think a lot of people can relate to that.
Yeah, I tried to keep it as plain and simple as possible but kind of literal as possible, cuz again I don't even smoke and sometimes the relationships I make and brake on the road are often times very dysfunctional. (laughs) just from where they begin.
"Killing Me" is a song that I wrote a couple years ago in my college dorm room. It was a song that we re-recorded for the new album. It was a song written about a long time girlfriend that I'd had kind of off and on, the decisions made to try new things and move to new cities, and having memories of things. Being 23, I've kind of transitioned with this one gal from high school, being 16 to college, to living with someone. The teenage to young adulthood thing, I've spent with this one person and this is a song about kind of losing that and the memories scattered around the place that you live and the places you know.
"How Low" is a kind of a playful song like "Cigarette" but is also song that was kind of influenced by The Lemonheads. I love the Lemonheads and that whole thing and the only part of the song I had going into the studio was that "Breakdown" part. There was something about that line, intertwined with that little guitar loop part that I really liked. Brendon was really about to craft that song musically around that dark kind of playful, sarcastic, I'm angry at you, kind of… It's also a song about me speaking to myself. It's a song talking about she and talking about you rather than me and I, but every song is sung to me. That song kind of feels like I'm preaching to someone else but it's really just me preaching to myself.
At this point we had to end the interview because Graham's plane was about to take off. So we will just have to leave the last three songs a mystery or catch up with Graham again in the future and see where things have progressed for his band and life. Until then if you are looking for a real honest to God rock album, you can't go wrong with Drive!