Gavin DeGraw is known for his smooth vocal style, but on Dancing With the Stars, he’ll have to prove his hips can keep up with his lips.
The romantic singer-songwriter gained national attention when his song, “I Don’t Wanna Be,” became the theme to the hit TV series One Tree Hill, and he went on to release four albums including last year’s Sweeter. “Not Over You,” that album’s first single, has been certified platinum for shipments of 1 million copies.
DeGraw lucks out on season 14 of DWTS — or has a lot of pressure on him, depending on how you look at it. His partner is Karina Smirnoff, the professional dancer who won last year’s competition with Iraq war veteran J.R. Martinez. They’ll be strutting their stuff, alongside Gladys Knight, TV hosts Sherri Shepherd and Maria Menounos, actors Jaleel White, Jack Wagner, Melissa Gilbert, William Levy and Roshon Fegan, tennis legend Martina Navratilova, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver and opera singer Katherine Jenkins.
The new season of DWTS kicks off Monday (March 19) at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
But DeGraw is not quitting his day job for the show. He’ll still be touring throughout the competition with some select dates featuring country singer David Nail (“Let It Rain,” “Red Light”), a romantic balladeer in his own right. DeGraw called in to CMT.com to talk about the country connections behind that tour and his impression of Nashville as another young star choosing to move to Tennessee.
You’re a busy guy. What else have you been up to?
DeGraw: Just prepping for stuff right now, trying to figure out the next move. We’ve got a David Nail run coming up, and I’m looking forward to that. It’s funny, I was just online watching him. He was doing a performance of a song I put out years back called “I Don’t Wanna Be,” and I was like, “Wow, man. He is killing that.” He’s a really good singer, and that’s the biggest compliment you can get as a songwriter is to have somebody sing your tune.
Plus we did a European tour, just about three weeks over there. We landed about five days ago in New York and had a video shoot for the latest single, “Not Over You.” Fortunately, the single did everything we hoped it would do. Everybody worked really hard and it went platinum. But no matter how hard you work, it’s still always luck, you know?
When you were writing “Not Over You,” did you know from experience it could be a hit?
I think you do. It goes through your mind that it has potential. You think, “Oh, wow, this has a chance.” I guess it would be like seeing any high school or college ball player, you might say “That one might make it.” So you kind of look at the songs in that same light.
How often do you get that feeling?
I’m an artist, so I actually get that feeling all the time. (laughs) They say, “You wanna be the guy that the girls like and that guys want to be like.” And, in a way, you want your song to be that. You want your song to be the one where women say, “Yes, I feel that,” and at the same time, the guys go, “I want to say that” or “That’s how I feel, too, and I’m not ashamed to say it.” Sort of a balance between romance and reality.
I understand you have a place here in Nashville now. Being from New York and a much different scene, were you surprised with what you found when you got here?
When I first got down there, yeah. I think what surprised me most was the amount of night life. I was like “Man, these people like to hang out. I think I could do this more often. No, I think I could do this all the time.” It had a thing, you know. It had the types of places that I like to hang out at and the types of people that I like to kick it with.
What are those people like?
I think just people that accept the fact that they’re out having a good time, and it’s cool. They know that when they walk in the bar, they let their guard down, and you’re hanging loose, and everybody accepts that. You’re there to have a good time, and those people know how to have a good time. It’s something that exists culturally in Nashville. People like good musicians playing good songs.
What was your experience with the Nashville musicians?
That it was the highest per capita of good musicians that I’ve ever seen. It really blew me away. And my grandfather on my dad’s side, he always said to me and my brother, “If I was you, I’d go to Nashville.” And, of course, a lifetime later we end up in Nashville, and we’re like, “Wow, Papa Russell was right.”
Did you know David Nail before you decided to tour together?
No, we don’t have a personal story. I heard his single, and it’s so good. He’s a great singer. And, obviously, Nashville is close to my heart. Last time I was there, I was doing a really great event where Kenny Chesney had asked me to sing “Somewhere With You” with him for CMT Artists of the Year. So we had done this incredible event there with the who’s who of the country scene, and everybody was so cool, and there’s just a great community element. It’s very special and very unusual.
Do you think your music might be getting cross-pollinated with country?
I hope so. I’ve got a song that I wrote for this album that I think is really the type of song that has that potential to go in both directions. It’s a song called “Soldier,” and I really feel strongly that it could be received in that world. This tour is an opportunity for David and I to share audiences because he and I see through the different styles of music. We just like what we think is good.