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Play It Again, Gavin

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The affable singer-songwriter can’t get enough of performing in New Orleans

In just the past few years, Gavin DeGraw has established himself as a vibrant, soulful and enthusiastic contemporary singer-songwriter. Through his platinum-selling breakthrough album Chariot released in 2003, the affable New York native invigorated the music-loving masses with three hit singles, “I Don’t Want to Be,” “Follow Through” and the title track, “Chariot.” He saw his popularity rise to new heights as his energetic music was sung on American Idol, and “I Don’t Want to Be” was chosen as the theme song for the CW Television Network show One Tree Hill. In 2008, DeGraw’s self-titled sophomore album included the bold “In Love With a Girl” and “Cheated on Me.” The Berklee College of Music attendee’s impassioned songwriting took on a more rock-oriented flavor yet was still delivered in DeGraw’s trademark poetic and emotionally resonate fashion.

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Photo by Eric Ogden, Courtesy of J Records

DeGraw’s authentic charm and style also resonated with designer Tommy Hilfiger. The world-renowned fashion mogul joined the heartthrob pop balladeer for a whirlwind tour of several Macy’s stores to promote the Hilfiger brand. In October, the pair appeared for the exciting grand opening weekend at Macy’s Lakeside Shopping Center to sign autographs and pose for photos with shoppers, and an adoring crowd was treated to a special live performance from DeGraw. It’s obvious that DeGraw can’t get his fill of New Orleans. He was back in town for a show at the House of Blues in December, and he’ll return for another concert on February 14 at Family Gras in Jefferson Parish at Festival Plaza in Metairie, located on the neutral ground at Severn Avenue and Veterans Boulevard in front of Lakeside Shopping Center. New Orleans Living sat down with DeGraw in October at Macy’s Lakeside right after his dynamic show and chatted with him again recently after he rocked the House of Blues.

Gavin, it’s great to talk to you here at Macy’s Lakeside Shopping Center! Thanks so much for your time.
You’re welcome, Christine. It’s always great to be in New Orleans!

You couldn’t make it to Macy’s cocktail gala last night because of your schedule. Did you get to do anything fun in New Orleans after you arrived late last night?
I don’t remember what I did last night. But I do remember I woke up in the middle of the night and got some food. That’s all I remember! Which means I had a lot of fun last night! [Laughs]

This isn’t your first visit to New Orleans …
I’ve been to New Orleans a handful of times to play some shows around town. There is a Louisiana artist I’ve done some shows with named Marc Broussard, and one of my favorite artists is from New Orleans—and he’s a real part of your culture—and that is Dr. John. I know he’s big-time around here.

Oh, yeah, Dr. John is part of the musical fabric in New Orleans.
That’s a good thing! And I’ve played at the House of Blues and the Saenger Theatre.

Unfortunately, the Saenger got whacked during Hurricane Katrina. But it may be making a return …
That’s sad. That was a great-looking place. I hope it comes back. The House of Blues has always been good to me, and the New Orleans society has always been open to my music. It’s a music town, and I think it really responds to people who make melodies and have a little bit of soul.

True! So how did you come to partner with Tommy Hilfiger for this Macy’s appearance?
I had met Tommy’s brother Andy a handful of years ago, and Andy suited me up with some clothes. I was like, “Hey man, I’m doing this photo shoot and I don’t have any decent-looking clothes!” [Laughs] And I knew Andy was a music fan and that he played some music. And at the time they were outfitting the Rolling Stones for a tour, or at least Mick Jagger, and Andy hooked me up with some threads and I never forgot that. And I bumped into Andy and Tommy in New York City just a few months ago on a red carpet, and we were just hanging out and talking a little bit. I became pretty well acquainted with them over time and with their nephew Michael Fredo who is a musician. They mentioned they were putting something together and I told them I’d love to be involved.

You have been visiting some Macy’s stores around the country with Tommy Hilfiger to promote the Hilfiger brand, and you’ve played concerts for the Macy’s crowds. How much fun did you have playing for the crowds at Macy’s Lakeside Shopping Center?

Courtesy of Rogers & Cowan
Photo Courtesy of Roger & Cowan

I ended up doing three appearances and performances with Tommy Hilfiger last year in New York, Atlanta and now in New Orleans, and the New Orleans show tonight was especially great because I had my band with me, opposed to the other two that were just me solo acoustic. I love working with Tommy and the Hilfiger brand for a number of reasons. Not only are Tommy and the Hilfiger family really great people, but Tommy Hilfiger is such a successful American brand. To get behind an American brand and to work with Macy’s, which was promoting that American brand, is just something that felt like the right thing to do, and I was honored to do so. Tommy Hilfiger has a book called Iconic America, and I can’t help to think that New Orleans is one of the most iconic cities in America. It was really great to be working with a brand that has displayed a consistent level of dignity in a town with such a strong culture.

Why do you think music and fashion dovetail so well?
Personally, I think that everything is fashion. I think that music is fashion, and I think in some sense it’s all a reflection of the time. I think that fashion is anything that’s timely, like everything that comes together in pop culture. So I think that naturally, music and fashion and clothing are all affiliated. And I think clothing helps define someone’s personality. Oftentimes, you can almost deduce what type of music someone listens to based on what they’re wearing.

Okay, what do you think I listen to?
Well, you like you some classic rock. And you don’t look like a huge country fan, but you might like a little modern country, just a little bit. You’ve heard a couple of Carrie Underwood songs and you were like, “That’s pretty good!”

Umm … you had me at “classic rock!” [Laughs]
Ha, ha! [Laughs] I think when people are just out and hanging around for the weekend, you get a pretty good idea of what they like. Look at me and what I’m wearing. You can pretty much figure out what I do for a living. If you see people walking around with football or sports jerseys, you assume they probably like a little bit of hip-hop. If you see cowboy boots, you’re probably like, “Well, hey! There’s a Merle Haggard fan!” So I think clothing is definitely a reflection of the type of music someone listens to. People often dress and reveal what they associate themselves with.

Do you shop a lot at Macy’s in New York City?
I go there every once in a while when I’m in town, but I don’t spend as much time in New York City because I really live out on the road. When I go to Macy’s it’s just such a trip for me, because we lived a couple of hours northwest of New York City in the country and I remember going there a few times when I was a kid. Every time I go back there to that store, all these childhood memories of Christmastime really come out. That’s probably the best part about it. And you are going to love this: When my uncle was in his twenties, he was a Macy’s elf alongside Santa. Isn’t that awesome! Now I’m just picturing my uncle wearing an elf outfit. It’s just making me laugh right now.

That is awesome indeed! And you do have an undeniable glow about you right now!
Ha, ha! [Laughs] That Macy’s retail glow! I can’t help it!

Hey, I often get that glow myself. [Laughs] I keep my credit card handy for when it happens! So what is your favorite aspect of your career?
I enjoy the writing process; it’s therapy for me. And the studio environment is neat, because you’re around a bunch of weird-looking technical equipment. But I certainly get my kicks mostly from the live shows. I think the sugar on the whole thing is that even if you wrote a song five years ago, when you go out and play it, it’s as present to your fan base as it was to you five years ago. It’s cool to see it continue to have its own life and to have people connect to it like that. It’s personal, even on a large scale, and hopefully it will be over a long period of time. As a songwriter, you want to have material that is present so people can connect immediately, but at the same time you want to have longevity in your song so fans can appreciate it for years. And I guess the same test will happen with fashion and clothing styles.

Yes, your music style is like Tommy Hilfiger’s fashion; it’s classic, yet it continues to evolve and stay fresh. So how much fun was your most recent trip to New Orleans to play the House of Blues show on December 16?
I love New Orleans because it’s an old American city with a ton of charm in terms of not only music but architecture and food! I never get as much time as I would like to explore the city. I take as much time to walk around as my schedule permits, and it’s always easy to see the difference in culture of other cities pale in comparison to New Orleans. The House of Blues show was a lot of fun. Like I mentioned, I’ve played that room a couple of times last year, and not only is it a great venue, but the New Orleans crowds are amazing music fans in general. It’s always great to play for a crowd that appreciates and gets what I am doing. There is still a flavor of the old pirate lifestyles that once inhabited those streets, and that really intrigues me. And I can’t wait to play again for Mardi Gras!