Back to basics: Graham Colton glad to be on a slow track
By Wayne Bledsoe
Posted November 3, 2011 at 10:49 a.m.
Graham Colton is somewhere between Fort Smith and Little Rock, Ark. Although he's just about to turn 30, he's a road veteran.
"I've spent two Thanksgivings broken down at gas stations," he says in a call while driving.
In a way, Colton has had a career that has worked in reverse. He practically started out on a major label and performing at big venues opening for Counting Crows, Kelly Clarkson and Better Than Ezra. He's currently headlining small venues promoting his independently released "Pacific Coast Eyes, Vol. 2."
"Where I am now feels like starting over in a good way," says Colton.
Raised in Oklahoma City, Okla., Colton was first turned on to music listening to his father play music.
"My dad still plays in the same cover band that he started in college, and when I was a kid they would always practice at our house," says Colton. "Fortunately they played cool music. It was always stuff from the '60s and '70s ... It was always guitar-driven classic rock. And three-chord rock 'n' roll is really what I like."
Colton says it wasn't until after the grunge movement passed that he heard contemporary rock music that he liked.
"It was like, 'Oh, Counting Crows kind of sounds like The Band and Tom Petty.' Bands like Oasis, obviously, reminded me of the Beatles and then I started writing my own songs."
Colton began performing locally and then in Dallas when he moved there to attend college.
"There was such a scene in early 2000 when Napster was created and everything. With guys like John Mayer and Howie Day, there was definitely this kind of acoustic rock college scene that developed in and around the computer. I kind of fell into that by accident. My friends had some of the songs that I'd recorded in high school online and before I knew it I had people e-mailing me asking me to come play at their college or in their town."
He says it felt like everything happened fast, although he never really has a big breakthrough.
"I got to experience some really great career milestones and I'm really grateful," says Colton. "Being with a big record company for seven years was a great experience. I'm able to look back and see what a blessing it was to not have 'broken.' I was able to release two albums that were kind of quietly successful. I still feel like it's building."
He says there's benefit in being able to look back and reassess, including songs that were maybe a little more innocent or inexperienced than what he would write now.
"There's one song in particular called 'Cellophane Girl' that I wrote in high school that I used to play at this Mexican restaurant every Saturday night. My friends would only come out if I played Dave Matthews, so that was a challenge because I couldn't play guitar like that and I sure as hell couldn't sing like Dave Matthews, so it was a weak attempt at that. But I always wanted to throw in an original tune. So I just used the only chords I knew and played that song. The funny thing was when I decided to give music a shot as a job, I changed that song. A guy who was producing me said, 'Oh, you need to change this and change that.' So I did and released another version. But since then I guess I've learned to appreciate the honesty of when you first write something and you really don't know any better. Now I play that song every night and it's kind of a crowd favorite."
He says you don't always know what song will hit with an audience, but he knows what he's striving for.
"My thing has always been, 'What can I say or sing about that
can be, not necessarily better than what somebody else can sing, but
maybe the most honest. What is the song that only I can sing —
that nobody can do it better than me? Something that's coming from
that genuine place?' "