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Oklahoma City singer-songwriter Graham Colton takes new look at ‘Eyes'
BY GEORGE LANG glang@opubco.com Oklahoman
Published: October 19, 2011

NORMAN — Graham Colton is sitting on a couch in Norman's Blackwatch Studios in early September while his voice comes out of a monitor panel six feet away. The Oklahoma City-born singer-songwriter is talking about his new professional independence while a burst of spontaneous creativity is taking place around him, and to hear him speak, this is the way it should have been from the beginning.


“I'm not on my label anymore; I fired my management,” Colton said, but then his polite sensibilities take over. “Parted ways with my management. Obviously, the band that I got signed with early in the 2000s, I'm not playing with them anymore. These guys are my new band.”

His new band includes Jared Evans, who co-owns Blackwatch with musician-producer Chad Copelin, and fellow singer-songwriter Brine Webb. A “scratch vocal” of Colton singing “You're on Your Way” continues to emanate from the monitor while Webb lays down a new bass part and Evans plays atmospheric chords over the top.

“The good thing is, Graham is a creative, open-minded guy,” Evans said. “He's willing to come from a place that's like, ‘Check this out. This is a different side of me.' I think we're consciously giving each song a different identity than it had, staying left-of-center for the sake of trying something new.”

The result sounds radically different from the version released earlier this year on “Pacific Coast Eyes,” Colton's first full-length album after leaving Universal Records. The new version of “You're on Your Way” that came together in an afternoon, along with two more revamped “PCE” tracks and three new songs, are available on “Pacific Coast Eyes, Vol. 2,” released Tuesday on GrahamColton.com and iTunes.

“I could have never gone to Universal and said, ‘I want to release the album again and offer alternate versions as bonus songs and maybe do some new ones,'” Colton said. “Right now is just a total experiment. I feel like I have the luxury to do whatever I want, when I want to do it.”

Taste of success

Colton's first time in the spotlight had all the markings of an epic win, the launch of the next Oklahoma superstar. A star quarterback for Heritage Hall, Colton made The Oklahoman's 89th annual All-State Football Team in 1999. After graduating, Colton attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he developed his songwriting and performing skills and recorded a debut solo album in 2002.

He and his band landed prime opening gigs for groups such as Train and Better Than Ezra, and that exposure led to being signed by Universal, which released the Graham Colton Band's “Drive,” produced by Brendan O'Brien, in 2004. Suddenly, the doors swung wide open, and Colton was playing in front of huge crowds, opening for the Wallflowers, Counting Crows and the Dave Matthews Band. He played on all the major talk shows, including “The Late Show With David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” “Today” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

To top it off, “Best Days,” a song from Colton's second Universal album, “Here Right Now,” was used in an “American Idol” sequence. But “Here Right Now” did not meet the label's sales expectations, and Colton felt frustrated, lost in the shuffle in Universal's stable of artists. In 2009, Colton parted ways with the label.

His first step after getting dropped from Universal was to pour everything into writing and recording new songs, releasing tracks on GrahamColton.com as he completed them and issuing his “Twenty Something” EP independently in 2010. Then, he got to work on “Pacific Coast Eyes.”

“Right after the time I was let go from Universal, I was kind of like, ‘Well, I'm an independent artist again,' but I didn't know whether to celebrate that,” Colton said. “I was making the album from the place of, ‘If the right label does come along and it's a really good deal, maybe I should do it.' But now, I'm celebrating the idea that I have this opportunity to do whatever I want.”

Natural evolution

What “Pacific Coast Eyes, Vol. 2” illustrates, Colton said, is the fluidity of songs. Before and after the initial release of “Pacific Coast Eyes,” Colton performed tirelessly, playing dates across the country and finding that those songs, when exposed to the give-and-take environment of live concerts, were still evolving. So now, songs such as “Everything You Are” sound quite a bit different from they did six months ago, and Colton said “Vol. 2” reflects that change.

Those songs will be given more opportunities to evolve when Colton begins a tour partially designed to change how musicians take to the road.

On Thursday, he begins his “Go Natural” tour in Baton Rouge, La., and will travel using a compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle instead of a conventional, diesel-burning tour bus. Throughout the tour, sponsored by CNGnow and Chesapeake Energy, Colton will report on his progress through video blogging and tour diary entries.

Everything that happened with his major label contract forced Colton to rethink how he approached his business, but the most altered aspect of Colton's new life as an independent artist is his connection to his music. He said that when he was promoting “Here Right Now,” he felt sealed off from the elements that mattered most to him.

“I had the best and the biggest career milestones for my last album ... but I felt more distant in that process in terms of truly connecting,” Colton said. “I didn't feel like I was on the ground. I am actively trying to reconnect on the ground level again.”