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Graham Colton Band makes tour with Clarkson work well

By Steve Wildsmith

of The Daily Times Staff

He's buddies with Adam Duritz, front man for the critically acclaimed Counting Crows.

His band spent last summer opening for the Dave Matthews Band.

Why, then, did the Graham Colton Band sign on to open up for Kelly Clarkson, the ``American Idol'' winner whose made-for-TV career would seem to undermine the credibility of an up-and-coming rock band?

Don't be too hasty to judge, Colton told The Daily Times in an interview this week. There's more to Clarkson than meets the eye, and opening for crowds of thousands is nothing to sneeze at.

``Obviously, from our track record, we've been surrounding ourselves with bands that have been around for a while, so when we got asked to support Kelly, there were obviously question marks,'' Colton said. ``We didn't know how that audience was going to be made up or how they would react to us. We really didn't know anything about touring with her.

``We were obviously really flattered, because she picked us personally. Even though she was under a lot of pressure to take out certain bands with a higher profile, she picked us personally, and we have a lot of respect for her for asking us. I think she was digging our sound and wanted someone who was raw, because I think that's where she wants to go personally.''

Clarkson would do well to follow Colton's example. The Graham Colton Band evolved from Colton's college days at Southern Methodist University in Texas. Playing the coffeehouse circuit, Colton eventually drew guitarist Aben Eubanks, bassist Ryan Tallent, pianist John Lancaster and drummer Jordan Elder to the band. ``Drive,'' released in 2004, is roots-oriented pop-rock, full of tracks that get stuck in the brain and end up on repeat in the CD player.

It was made with legendary producer Brendan O'Brien, who's recorded such giants as Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Train and the Black Crowes. Working with O'Brien, Colton said, was a dream come true.

``We didn't interview anybody else to be producer,'' he said. ``He came out to see our show, and we were literally making the record the next week. He was literally the sixth member. We recorded that album while on tour with the Counting Crows, and at the time, there was definitely a big-brother mentality going on with both bands. Adam took me under his wing, and I think there's a definite Counting Crows influence on the record.

``Those two are quite a combination to have as your friends, and I think our CD sales are speaking for themselves. We've been really fortunate that our music has worked in so many different environments, and playing with Kelly gives us another environment. These are kids that aren't going to look for a band like us to come to the local bar or theater. We're getting to play for the MTV audience without being on MTV, and it's nice to know we can work in that format. And who knows? Maybe we'll shift their way of thinking that there is music out there other than what they see on TV.''

Obviously, Clarkson heard something in the band she liked. Colton this it's the band's raw, more roots-oriented sound, and he speculated that such a direction is one in which Clarkson herself wants to move.

``Once we got on tour and listened to her album, we could see and feel where she comes from, where she is now and where she's going, and I think there are obvious parallels with me,'' Colton said. ``I started to write songs when I was 17, and now I'm 23. Looking back on those learning experiences, I wouldn't change it for anything, and one thing you can't deny Kelly has is talent and vocal ability.

``That's kind of rare nowadays, to have superstars that big have true musical ability. She deserves to be where she's at. Every night, I watch her sign autographs, and she won't leave until the last one is signed. That's just a rare thing. I have the utmost respect for her, and I'm proud to be on the tour with her. She deserves to be up there with the Counting Crows, because she works her ass off.''

Hopefully, the tour will open more doors for the Graham Colton Band. Already, Colton is looking ahead to the next album. He's constantly writing songs, and the material he's penning these days has obviously matured from the subject matter on ``Drive,'' which he recorded when he was 20.

``I think `Drive' is a pretty straightforward record, and I think we could go a million different ways with the next one,'' he said. ``That's exciting, but it also scares the hell out of me, because what I'm writing now does sound a little different. Some of it is more rootsy, along the lines of Ryan Adams and Wilco. Some of the stuff is more rock, and some of it is more Brit-pop sounding. I don't know how it's going to turn out, but in the end, we're just going to get up there and play our stuff.

``We are who we are, whomever we play for -- whether it's two drunks at a bar or 10,000 people at an arena. We're not on MTV, we're not on VH-1 and we're not on the radio, so if opening for Kelly makes us credible, then so be it. We wouldn't go on tour with someone we didn't feel respected our music, and we think Kelly does that.''