Mike Ragogna. Radio Personality on Solar Powered KRUU-FM, Music Biz Vet
Hi Infidelity: Chatting With REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin, Graham Colton and David Berkeley, Plus The Box Story's New Video
A Conversation with Graham Colton
Mike Ragogna: Graham how are you today?
Graham Colton: Doing great, Mike.
MR: Good to hear. Is Pacific Coast Eyes is your third album?
GC: That's a fantastic question because it depends on how you define it. (laughs) But, yes, I believe this is my third full-length album.
MR: Does that number include the self-made album that got you all of your initial attention?
GC: I guess not. Maybe I should include that. I also have a bunch of EPs that are home studio demo sort of things. In this day and age, it's not just about the 11 or 12 song albums anymore. So, this is the third full-length album with a lot of stuff in between.
MR: Now, you've done something very interesting with Pacific Coast Eyes in that you've chosen to market it yourself, moving on from your major record deal. Can you tell us more about that?
GC: Well, I think there're a lot of reasons why I chose to do that. In all fairness, I had a great run with the monumental music company that is Universal Records. I had some great opportunities there and wouldn't have changed anything. However, as I was signed in 2002 and that was the tail end of the, well, let's call it "old music business" and at the forefront of the "new music business," it was a very interesting roller coaster ride over the course of two albums.
When I first signed, I already had songs on the internet and was lucky enough to go on tour with my heroes--bands like Counting Crows, The Wallflowers, and Better Than Ezra really took me under their wings. That was really the life-blood of what I did, and quite honestly, we sold the majority of our albums out of our van. All of this was happening right around the time that iTunes was being unveiled and there was such a scene for college rock and acoustic music. That was also right around the time when John Mayer was coming out and I did a lot of touring with him. So, it definitely seemed like there was a shift from my first to my second album, though it's kind of hard to define what that was.
Like I said, it's just been a whirlwind. But for this new record I chose to part ways with Universal because I think that it was probably not in their best interest to make another album with me. I had a record deal which was signed in 2002 and that was a very different era in the music industry than it is now, you know? Then when it came time to look for another label, I got impatient and realized that all of the songs were ready now and I have people that want to hear them. I believe in myself and I don't think I need major marketing, I just need people to listen.
MR: Wouldn't you say, though, that Universal Records provided you with some opportunities beyond your means as a self-promoted artist? Was it because of that affiliation that your song "Best Days" become the closing song for American Idol?
GC: Well, it's interesting. Most of my biggest opportunities happened through happen-stance and didn't really happen through someone at the record company pushing a button, and I mean that with all due respect. If that were the case, I would be totally honest and say that I was given the gas pedal through major marketing, but that just wasn't the case. American Idol happened through a friend of mine who knew the producers of the show and sent the song over. Then Ruben Studdard, the former winner, was slated to sing a Kenny Loggins song and we sent ours over because we thought it would be a nice song for the show, but they told us that they were already in the midst of getting the rights to the Kenny Loggins song. A little while later, we came to find out that they had a bit of a disagreement and Ruben said that he wasn't recording the song. So, I was sitting in my living room watching the show, having already been told that they weren't going to use my song, and lo and behold, my song came on. (laughs) So, thank you to Ruben for having that disagreement, I guess. (laughs) It was good fortune for me.
MR: That's a great story. Now, tell us more about your new album.
GC: Well, the title song "Pacific Coast Eyes" was the last song that I wrote for the album and, strangely enough, tipped the whole album into more of this breezy, warm California vibe. This is one of the first songs that I've ever written about characters that I've never met before. One character in particular I had in my head was this girl who drives from Oklahoma to the Pacific Coast. I just wanted to have a bit more fun with this album. I was definitely in a place where I felt free and, kind of, open I guess. This song just kinda came out. I wrote this in my rental car and sang the lyrics into my cell phone..I didn't even have my guitar with me.
MR: That's a great way to write. Can you tell us a little bit about your musical background?
GC: Well, there was always music in my house growing up. My dad used to play, and still does, in a '60s and '70s cover band in Oklahoma, so I was always around what I consider really cool music. And in High School, I started playing guitar and went to play at a Mexican restaurant on Saturdays when I was free. Oddly enough, I used to play mostly Counting Crows and The Wallflowers and Better Than Ezra tunes. Luckily, later in my career, I became friends with and got to tour with all those guys. The biggest thing, though, was in high school, I paid a guy $50 to record a bunch of my own songs and I think one of my buddies put them on Napster. Then, by the time I got to Dallas for college, I set up a little website for my gigs around the city. Then I started getting emails from kids around the country asking how they could buy my album and when was I coming to town. That was certainly an eye opener for me. After that I got asked to go on tour with the Counting Crows, which was my sophomore year in college, and I told my parents and college professors I had to take a semester off to go on tour and here we are.
MR: I particularly connected with the song "Love Comes Back Around," can you talk a little bit about that song?
GC: Well, a friend of mine had recently lost her mother and I found myself wanting to offer something to the family, but I didn't really know what to say. I spent a little time with the family before the funeral and they were really inspiring to me because they were all about celebrating that this person is still with them in spirit. I just feel really moved about writing how, in any relationship ending, whether it be by death or a break-up, those people leave a lasting impression on our lives. I first recorded that song on an EP that later became the Twenty Something EP, which was really a precursor to the album. That song has now pretty much taken on a life of it's own. It's been adopted for a film that will be coming out in 2012 called The United States Of Autism. That's one of the greatest rewards as a songwriter - to watch these creations come to life and connect with people and go on to great things. And I've been very fortunate in the past few years to have a bunch of songs go out and be connected to some amazing causes and projects that have really moved people. So, that's been really exciting.
MR: Nice. Alright, I'm going to throw song titles at you, and I'd love to hear the stories behind them as well. How about "Graceland"?
GC: That song is very important to me, and I definitely feel like it was a big step for me as an artist. This is another song in which I never actually met the characters that I wrote about. A friend of mine came over to my house and we were just chatting, not really thinking about writing a song, and he was telling me about a couple of his friends who were planning on packing up their car and going to Graceland in Memphis. I started to inquire about their journey and apparently, that was where they had their first, sort of, magical trip together. The relationship had since gone a bit sour and they thought that if they went back, they could rekindle things. I thought to myself that it was such an interesting and quirky story that I fell in love with it. So, I immediately knew that we had to write this song, and the song came out in about 15 minutes and has since become very personal to me. I think I see myself in the story, you know? I mean, I write about relationships, love, and loss a lot. This was just a fun way to write about these characters because I saw all of the pictures in my head. I just thought it was a really interesting and unique story.
MR: Do you find yourself writing more in the first person or as an outsider looking in?
GC: Usually, it's been first person, but now, as I'm growing as a songwriter, it's become more of an interesting process. Now, I definitely want to follow what I'm feeling because recently, I have gravitated toward not having it be first person all the time. I've always felt that in order for something to be 100% honest and truthful, I had to be in the story, you know? I have to draw from direct personal experience. But with this album, there's a lot more of me just being inspired by someone else's story, and, in a way, I kind of get in the middle of their story somehow.
MR: One of your songs, "Twenty Something" is the story of, sort of, waking up and realizing that you've grown older and have reached the next point in your life which is, I think, something everyone goes through. Can you share a little about your journey up to this point in your life and how reaching this point has affected your life?
GC: That's a great question. I found myself in the spot of having had all of this good fortune and, after my second major album came out with Universal, I felt as though the rug had kind of been pulled out from under me, and I didn't really know what to do and I found myself a little afraid, but kind of excited about the future. I was having these thoughts that I wasn't quite where I wanted to be yet, but I was well on my way. I feel like a lot of twenty somethings nowadays feel that same way. What I try to do in a lot of my songs is really boil things down to what I really want to say...sometimes it's not poetic or cool, but it's truthful. This song was one where I had the lyric before I had the music because of my experiences.
MR: You also wrote a song on this album called "Cigarette" with Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra.
GC: Yeah, Kevin and I have actually written a bunch of songs together. The start of this song was actually written about five years ago. At the time it was written, it just didn't seem right. A lot of bands don't believe in going back to a song because they think the song loses something if it wasn't written in the present and I disagree. I think certain songs you have to live with, and when it's right, you'll know. This song just felt right to me because it's kind of the opposite of a song like "Twenty Something." I mean, it still deals with topics like the girl leaving, but this song is more light, and it was more about the recording and the way it sounded as opposed to me trying to make some sort of grand statement. On this whole album, I wanted it to feel lighter and real and honest, and I didn't want every song to have to feel heavy. So, that song was more about getting the guys in the band together and playing a three and a half minute rock song, you know? And I hope that comes through in the song. It's the sort of song that may not be everyone's favorite, but it's still a lot of fun to play live. I don't know, it just felt right for the record.
MR: Okay, "Waiting For Love."
GC: This was another song that was more about a feeling as opposed to the pressure that I felt being with a label to create a hit song. Though I do like writing catchy songs, this one came from a place of just wanting the song to feel good throughout. Maybe it will turn out to be a big radio hit, who knows. (laughs) We'll see.
MR: Nice. Graham, how did you get your band together?
GC: Well, I've got a great Oklahoma-based music community. There's a studio near my hometown called Blackwatch Studios, and they've really made a name for themselves primarily because my guitar player, Jared Evans, and my piano and bass player, Chad Copeland, have brought in some incredible acts. They are just making really great records. I recorded half of my album there and half in Los Angeles, but they've really become a pivotal piece of the puzzle for how I write my new songs and arrange them, along with my Producer Tommy Walter. It's nice because sometimes, you really just want to be a part of a band, and it's nice for me to have both. Whenever I'm out playing shows, I hope that people don't get the sense that it's just me playing with a backup group of guys, you know? I always want it to feel like a group.
MR: Can you tell us a little about your connection to Adam Duritz?
GC: There really isn't a grand story there. Now that I know Adam personally, I know that he has always been a guy who likes to search for new music and nurture and develop talent. He had his own record company for a while, and he actually may have his own production company now. Counting Crows and Better Than Ezra really were like big brothers to me and they still are.
MR: Graham, what advice do you have for new artists?
GC: Well, now, I think there's more opportunity out there to be heard than ever before, and I have to take my own advice and say that the key is just getting stuff out there. Regardless of how it gets out there and how it sounds, if it's good, people will hear it. That's certainly what I try to live by, even with my own material. I also feel that in this day and age, people want transparency--everything doesn't have to be perfect. In fact, now is the perfect time for things not to be so perfect. I think people really want that. So, I would say for anyone starting out that there's a big world out there with the internet making things so easy, use it to your advantage.
MR: And you've been doing that, haven't you?
GC: Yeah, I really have. You certainly want to do it in the right way, you know? But as long as you put the music first, I don't think you can go wrong with putting as much stuff out there as possible and letting people form their own opinions about it. I really want my work to be about quality over quantity. I've been very, very fortunate.
MR: Great. You'll also be touring for the remainder of this summer to promote this album. Where will you be playing?
GC: I'm going to be everywhere starting in the Fall. (laughs) I just finished up some time in the Midwest and California, then I'll take August off. But September through Christmas, I will be out and about. So, people should check out my website (www.grahamcolton.com) and Facebook and Twitter because I am really active on both of those sites. I really do have a great time interacting with my fans, and those are the best ways to find out what's going on with me, quite literally, minute to minute. (laughs) When I'm on the road I come across a lot of fun things and I like to talk about them and share pictures.
MR: Fantastic. Graham, thank you so much for taking the time to chat about all things Graham Colton.
GC: Thanks so much for having me, man. This is the kind of thing that really keeps me going. I just want to encourage people to do what they love, and if they're lucky, people like you will find them and keep them going. It's even more inspiring to me when I get to do interviews like this, so thank you so much for having me.
MR: Thanks so much, Graham. All the best.