Gavin DeGraw shares how his late parents inspired his most personal album
Gavin DeGraw wanted to make sure his father could hear his most personal music yet.
The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter from upstate New York recorded his latest album, “Face the River,” as a tribute to his mother, Lynne, who died in 2017 of pancreatic cancer, and his father, Wayne, who died nearly three years later after a short illness.
DeGraw, 45, says it was “a race against time” to finish the album before his dad’s death. He remembers the first time he was able to share three of the songs with his father, including the album’s poignant title track.
“The first song I played him was ‘Face the River’ and he immediately started tearing up when he heard me hit the first high note,” DeGraw said. “I remember him saying, ‘I wish your mother could have heard this.’
“I was in the hospital with him and my sister at the time, and I told him, ‘She wrote the record, Dad. She wrote the record.’ And he said, ‘She did. She did write the record.’”
The 10-song “Face the River,” out now, is the seventh studio album by DeGraw, who grew up in South Fallsburg in the Catskill Mountains, about 90 miles northwest of Manhattan. He says it honors his hardworking family, whom he describes as his “real-life, everyday heroes who don’t get celebrated enough.”
Several weeks after sharing those first three songs, DeGraw played the album in its entirety for his dad, who had returned home from the hospital.
“Listened to the whole thing, top to bottom, and my brother and I left the place, and a half-hour later the phone rang, and he had a medical emergency,” DeGraw recalled.
“I got to play it for him, in the nick of time, in all reality, a half-hour before I wouldn’t be able to play him the music. I felt like that was the one small, little blessing I got. I got to finish it, and I got to play it for him.”
The release of “Face the River” comes nearly two decades after DeGraw’s breakthrough debut album, 2003′s “Chariot,” which went platinum and yielded the mega-hit song “I Don’t Want To Be.”
The new album is the first since 2016 for DeGraw, who calls it the most personal project of his career.
“There’s life lessons throughout the record,” DeGraw said. “Just normal life stuff, man. The stuff that’s been missing, I feel like, in the current era of music. This album is written with a tint of the (Bruce) Springsteens and the (Bob) Segers, that 1970s songwriter approach of everyday life poetry. Just blue-collar poetry, man, and acknowledging so much of our society that just doesn’t have any songs written about it right now.”
DeGraw is in the middle of his “Full Circle” tour.
He says he loves doing shows in New York because he got his start performing at bars near his hometown.
“It was an unusual upbringing in that regard, a teenager playing in bars on a school night, but that’s how the start happened, so New York is always going to be extra special for me,” DeGraw said. “I mean, I’m a New Yorker. I’m not a New York City New Yorker, although I did live there for years. I’ll always feel like an upstate guy.”
DeGraw made sure his current tour included stops at Greenwich Village’s famed The Bitter End, which was the first New York City venue to offer him a gig all those years ago.
“We named the tour ‘Full Circle,’ because when I played this album to my dad, he said to me, ‘Full circle.’ And I asked him what he meant, and he said it’s because it sounds like he remembers me sounding when I was just playing in bars.”