It seems appropriate that pop singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw’s fifth album released in 2013 was called Make a Move given he was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars the year before.
Not that the 37-year-old Catskills, N.Y.-raised singer-songwriter can actually shake a leg that well, placing ninth on the 14th season of the celebrity dancing competition reality TV show.
But other than raising his profile, it did improve his standing in one important area – literally.
“I think it really helped my posture to be honest with you,” said DeGraw, whose hits include I Don’t Want To Be (the theme for The CW series One Tree Hill) and Not Over You.
“I’m a natural born sloucher so ... it kind of helped fix me... And so that particular show, it helped in a way that I honestly wasn’t expecting it would help me.”
We caught up with the Nashville-based DeGraw in Toronto recently before he performs with Matt Nathanson at Toronto's Sound Academy this Wednesday to find out if he’s still in a New York state of mind.
You cut your teeth as a live performer in New York City and got your record deal there over a decade ago. Why did you leave?
One day I came back and I thought, ‘Wow, there’s not a lot of musicians here anymore.’ They are in Nashville and they’re in Austin, Texas, and they’re in Los Angeles. They’re some musicians in New York, there’s just not as many. It’s a place where the arts scene has almost evaporated. People say, ‘Oh, it’s in Brooklyn now.’ I say, ‘Maybe there’s a little bit of it in Brooklyn.’ I’ve been to Brooklyn and it’s great, don’t get me wrong. I still love New York, but I just remember it being quite active in the arts scene and the live music scene and now it’s just not. And it’s a shame. There’s still great venues there. There’s still Madison Square Garden, on that level it’s different. But a lot of those smaller venues that were really cool – or that I thought were institutions – they aren’t honoured.
The Roseland (Ballroom)’s gone, CBGB’s gone. They were places that were great places that are now either dorms or clothing stores or they became something else. And in my opinion New York had a responsibility to preserve those places because they’re cultural institutions and I think that those places are what made New York a mecca for art and with that gone it turns New York into a relic of art rather than a place where art happens. It turns it into a pop museum instead of a place where art is produced. And you know that’s great and, don’t get me wrong I love the MOMA, but I also want it to be a place where art is made, not just remembered. That happens in Nashville. Art happens in Nashville because people can afford to be there.
So it wasn’t the 2011 incident (when DeGraw was attacked by a group of men in the East Village on an early Sunday morning and then struck by a cab) that soured you on the city?
As far as me having an altercation with a group of guys, that’s not that big of a deal. I’ve been to many casinos in my life and you win a lot of nights, you have a good time, and sometimes you lose but you still go back to the casino. And that’s the way I live. I’m a ‘live at your own risk’ guy so that stuff’s neither here nor there. I’ve experienced that type of aggression many times in my life. I grew up in a prison town so being around aggressive people was not something new to me. Granted, that’s the worst I’d ever been hurt but you win some, you lose some. (He laughs).
Still, you got to open for Billy Joel on some select U.S. dates this year so you must still be in a New York State of Mind in some way, shape or form?
He’s been my idol since I’m three years old. And so I’ve been talking about Billy Joel since I’m a kid you know. I saw Billy Joel play when I was 15 and I left the concert and I said, ‘I’m going to do that,’ and I did. His office called and said, ‘Hey do you want to come out and do these dates with Billy?’ And I said, ‘Of course, I want to do the dates with Billy!’ Are you f---ing crazy? Of course! Yeah!’ ... I can’t tell you enough just what a dream it is for me. Especially as a New Yorker. There’s really nobody better. He has not lost a thing. Just a very, very special moment for me. I mean we played the Garden! You know what I mean? I’m playing his piano at the Garden!