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Graham Colton learns to appreciate life through his ‘Pacific Coast Eyes’

By Steve Wildsmith (stevew@thedailytimes.com)


Singer-songwriter Graham Colton never forgets the early days of his career, those nights playing for a handful of people at a Mexican restaurant when touring with bands like Counting Crows and Better Than Ezra and artists like Kelly Clarkson seemed like a distant dream.

Since that time, he’s made those dreams come true. He’s fronted a band that carried his name, been on a major label and written a song (“Best Days”) that many fans have come to feel a particular attachment to as an anthem of hope and promise. He’s heard his songs played on television show soundtracks and in film.

But he won’t forget that restaurant, he told The Daily Times during a recent phone interview. And his most recent album, “Pacific Coast Eyes,” is inspired by that time as much as it is the West Coast.

“Every album is different, and every project is different, and for this one, I just knew I needed to get back to basics and think small again,” Colton said. “It reminded me of before I was signed, when I was first writing songs and was trying to get as many people to come out to my shows on a Saturday night as a kid. These days, I try to treat every person who writes to me on Facebook or Twitter the same. I just want to connect with these people.”

From the outset, Colton has managed to do just that. In high school, he was a star quarterback; in college at Southern Methodist University in Texas, he started out on the coffeehouse circuit, making a name for himself as a heartfelt singer-songwriter before putting together the Graham Colton Band. A self-titled demo album caught the attention of fans and peers, and Colton was invited to open for the Counting Crows on that band’s 2002 tour. Signing to Universal Records, the band released “Drive” in 2004, a roots-oriented pop-rock record that took the group to the next level.

During the band’s tour with Kelly Clarkson, he wrote the bulk of the material for “Here Right Now,” an album that was released as a solo effort in 2007 after the breakup of his band. It was a success — the album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard New Artist/Heatseeker chart and No. 4 on the Pop Albums chart; the song “Best Days” was selected as an iTunes single of the week and earned him accolades as “Top New Pop Artist” of 2007 by iTunes editors; and Colton found himself making the rounds as the musical guest on a variety of late-night talk shows.

“Ironically, I wrote ‘Best Days’ during one of the darkest times I’ve ever experienced,” Colton said. “We were still on Universal Records, and most of that time was spent on the road — about three years of non-stop touring, and while it was great in so many ways, it was definitely difficult at times. Going five years and playing almost 250 shows a year is very tough on each individual guy’s personal life.”

The arduous process of making “Here Right Now” prompted Colton to break free for his subsequent releases, a handful of EPs and a full-length released earlier this year, “Pacific Coast Eyes.” The album’s title comes from the miles he’s driven over the past several years, and of his precious down time, when he’d often head toward Malibu and the cobalt waters of the Pacific to calm his mind.

“The album really became a California-inspired album; even songs inspired by Oklahoma (his home state) were filtered through California,” he said. “It was written about characters I’ve never met before, characters than live in Anytown, USA, and it really brought me back to where I came from.

“I’ve experienced so many things I never dreamed in a million years would happen to me, thanks to my music — all these big career milestones, but I’ve really learned to appreciate things at the ground level. I’ve really learned to appreciate the intimacy I get to experience every single night when people in the room are singing my songs back to me.”