Back to Graham Colton Band

Road trips drive Colton's career

April 8, 2005


Singer Graham Colton and I suddenly found ourselves with a lot to talk about. And not just that we both hail from Oklahoma City and discovered we went to the same high school.

Colton was in Tulsa, Okla., last week, gearing up for the first evening of the Graham Colton Band's tour as the opening act for "American Idol" wunderkind Kelly Clarkson. Having just relocated to Chicago from Tulsa, I had to ask how the ol' hometown looked.

"Looks good," he said. "It always looks nicer than flat ol' Oklahoma City."

But Colton hasn't seen much of his home soil in the last three years. He's been on the road nonstop. Before Clarkson, his band was opening for the Dave Matthews Band, Counting Crows, John Mayer, Maroon 5, Train, Guster, on and on. Small wonder his band's current Universal Records album is called "Drive."

Q. Your post-high school ambitions focused on another kind of drive -- on the football field. You were a starter after the fourth game of your freshman season, right?

A. Yeah. I rarely talk about my athletic background because I don't think people want to hear it. Growing up in Oklahoma, you have no choice: You play football. But really, I always liked the Friday night cheerleaders better than the Thursday afternoon practices.

Q. What led you from the gridiron to the concert stage?

A. After high school, Wes [Welker, now a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins] and I were highly recruited, kind of as a package deal. I went to Southern Methodist University; he went to Texas Tech. I was planning to walk on as a quarterback for SMU, but I started playing music around Dallas, I got the bug and I never went back. It was just a matter of our different passions. Wes was always the guy who would play football even if no one was in the stands, and I was the guy who would play songs with no one in the crowd.

Q. Was there a turning point -- a moment when you realized you could score with this music thing, after all?

A. I never thought it would amount to anything. But I started playing right around the time when Napster was happening. I had some songs out there [on the Internet] and I was getting all these e-mails saying, "Where can we get the album?" And I said, "What album?" Then the Counting Crows called. Adam (Duritz, lead singer-songwriter) had heard some of my stuff and wanted me to open for them. That first year was a real whirlwind. I want to call it a reality check, but it was all so unreal.

Q. And you've been on the road since?

A. We did six tours with the Counting Crows, then Train -- the list goes on and on. We've gone through three vans, four trailers and a lot of flat tires. We've circled the country countless times. But we've started seeing that work pay off. We finally had our own headlining run last year, and we were starting to sell them out. ... The last time we played Chicago, we sold out almost a thousand people. And that's without a song on radio or MTV.

Q. So if the touring ever does stop, where will you crash?

A. [Laughs] I don't know! I'm so used to the road now, I don't even have an apartment anymore. We signed the record deal, and I got a car and a loft in Dallas. Three months later, I got rid of the car and the loft. It's all so new and exciting still, but I've been on the road so long I feel like a seasoned vet.

Q. So the songs on "Drive" were thoroughly road-tested by the time you took them to a recording studio?

A. Yeah, the title "Drive" is not exactly full of secret meanings. The whole album is full of road imagery. The songs are fragments and ideas written in scrapbooks, the majority of them in hotels, backstages and before sound checks. That's all the time we had to write. Brendan [O'Brien, producer] got that and really managed to get it on record, so it continues to grow with us and inspire us.