As a kid growing up in the Catskills, Gavin DeGraw dreamed about making the world a better place through his music.
The success of his first album, “Chariot,” in 2003, suggested to Mr. DeGraw that he might be able to fulfill that dream, at least in some measure. Now, with the release of his follow-up effort, the self-titled “Gavin DeGraw,” the singer-songwriter said in a recent e-mail interview conducted while he was on the road in Europe that he hopes his work will continue to inspire his fans.
Composed mostly of love and relationship songs, the sophomore album’s sound is edgier than on his first effort, but his trademark piano and guitar stylings still remain familiar. Most important for Mr. DeGraw, he said he feels that his music continues to do its job: making people feel good.
“I didn’t grow up in a place that was pretty and great and safe … There were aspects that were great, of course, but it wasn’t a privileged upbringing,” the performer from the hamlet of South Fallsburg, New York, wrote. “So I think I wanted to make things nicer through my music.”
On Sunday, April 20, Mr. DeGraw will do his best to bring a little sunshine and warm fuzzies to the East End when he makes his first appearance at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center in Westhampton Beach.
“We are thrilled to continue bringing young and emerging artists into the PAC, engaging the younger audiences,” PAC Executive Director Clare Bisceglia said on Monday morning.
Mr. DeGraw, who sings, plays guitar and piano, and writes his own songs, has often been compared to “Piano Man” Billy Joel. He said that he is happy to be likened to a man he respects, both for his music and as a person.
“I would only be flattered if someone compared me to Billy,” he said. “I’m just a really huge fan who’s trying to keep this style of music in the public eye because I think it deserves it. Plus he’s an incredibly nice guy.”
Mr. DeGraw did admit some trepidation about being compared to such a famous Long Islander, particularly since he will be performing on the legend’s home turf. “I certainly wouldn’t want to put that kind of pressure on myself, especially in Long Island of all places,” Mr. DeGraw said. “But I owe him a lot for inspiring me so much.”
Mr. DeGraw said that he will be bringing his “A-Game” to the PAC and that his show will be a can’t-miss experience for those who attend. “I think people should come to the show because I breathe fire and shake the earth,” he joked in response to a question about his potential appeal to East Enders.
Taking a more serious tone, Mr. DeGraw said that touring is a great opportunity for him to travel to places he was never able to visit when he was younger, and also provides him the opportunity to make new connections with his fans. The next stops after his show in Westhampton Beach will be back in Europe, including Great Britain, Norway and Sweden.
And bringing his music to people all over the world has its benefits for the young singer. “I also love the feeling I get when a crowd rewards me with their applause,” he said. “It’s such an amazing feeling to have any stranger appreciate your music that much.”
People who aren’t strangers appreciate Mr. DeGraw on a different level. “Personally, I’m thrilled to be able to work with Gavin because of the sincerity in his music and the honesty in his approach,” spokesman Patrick Confrey of Mr. DeGraw’s management firm, Rogers and Cowan, said on Monday. “He truly appreciates every single one of his fans and would do about anything for them. He believes in what he does and busts ?his hump to entertain and make each show the best he can … makes my job easier.”
Mr. DeGraw honed his ability to connect with an audience and his performance style by singing and playing his songs in smaller New York City bars before hitting it big with “Chariot.” That album, released by J. Records, founded in 2000 by industry veteran Clive Davis, contained the hit single “I Don’t Want To Be,” which became the theme song for the CW Television Network series “One Tree Hill.”
Counting among his early influences such artists as Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson and the O’Jays, Mr. DeGraw confessed that his first musical love was soulful love songs and ballads.
“When I listened to Sam Cooke the first time, it changed my life,” he said. “He was a master vocalist, and those kinds of songs, the emotional love songs, they bring out the ‘singer’ in a singer.”
It took Mr. DeGraw about a year to create and record his latest album. Produced by Howard Benson, who has also worked with My Chemical Romance, Daughtry and Motorhead, “Gavin DeGraw” focuses on a more rock-oriented sound.
“Classic rock … [has] always remained my main foundation,” the Berklee School of Music educated artist said. “You don’t always want to be pigeonholed as the ‘sweet and nice’ guy singing ‘sweet and nice’ songs.”
Mixing the two genres of popular music seems to fit Mr. DeGraw’s style, both as a person and as an artist. He reported that his all-time favorite performers are well-known classic balladeers with a rock edge. “You’re talking to a guy that listens to Billy, Elton, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers … plus John Mellencamp and Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band,” he said. “Pretty much anyone who’s ever ended up in a Chevy truck commercial.”