Graham Colton might be a living paradox.
Regular but famous; a musical jock; teen heart throb seeking change and progression; young but reflective; determined but at-ease. In only 30 years, he has already accomplished a great deal. As a successful high school quarterback, he led his team – alongside now famous teammate Wes Welker – to a state championship. But at football camp he realized he was meant to be a musician, and spent the following 10 years working with an eclectic group of high-profile acts, ranging from Adam Duritz to Kelly Clarkson.
And if that isn’t already interesting enough, we learned he is at a “tipping point” in his life – the moment where things change. It involves getting “weird” with his new album, thanks to borrowed equipment from The Flaming Lips, and inviting fans into his living room for a show.
What’s the story behind your living room show?
(Graham will play a live acoustic performance of the album ‘Drive’ from his living room on July 30. Limited slots available; sign up at StageIt.)
It’s an example of the new landscape of the music business. Some people say things have changed that make it a lot harder to be a musician, but this is one of those that makes it a lot easier. Thankfully, technology allows me to not only sit in my living room and play without leaving my house, but I think it gives the fans a different type of show and a more intimate experience.
I noticed it’s not costly to participate. Fans don’t have to pay?
Since I sell a product people can get for free, I try to build relationships with fans. People can pay whatever they want, or tip me whatever they want. I think it builds trust and a relationship.
So it’s just going to be you and your guitar?
There are always surprises. I’ve had Wayne Coyne barge in my front door during a living room show. There are always unexpected guests.
Describe your sound and how you developed it.
My sound is certainly something I want to continue to evolve. There is an organic element to it.
The album I’m working on now is more electronic, which has been interesting. I’m definitely at a place in my career where I don’t want to write the same songs anymore. Sooner The Sunset, which started out as an experiment, has sort of opened up another part of my brain. It’s not only fun for me, but seems kind of honest and authentic and it’s not really hitting the same spot I’ve hit before.
I used to think for awhile, I’ve got to have this one sound, but now I want to make a different kind of album. I like to keep people guessing.
So you’re working on a new album?
I’m in the writing phase. I’m attempting to write songs and make the album in a completely different way to connect with a different part of my brain. I haven’t written a single song on the guitar for the new album, which has been very uncomfortable and really strange to me. I’m just trying to avoid the usual tendencies I’ve had for the last 10-12 years of writing songs.
I borrowed a bunch of gear from The Flaming Lips just to try and get as weird and crazy as possible. I just plug all that weird stuff in and see what kind of sound comes out, and I try to write to that as opposed to playing chords on the guitar. It’s been really hard and so different. Different stuff comes out when you start from a different place. It will definitely be different.
What is your favorite song or collaboration, and how did it make a difference in your career as a musician?
Picking a favorite song is so difficult because it always changes. Right now, my favorite song is ‘All Because of You’ from the new Sooner The Sunset project. Talk to me in three months, and I’ll have a new favorite song. It will be the latest thing I’ve worked on. I’m super impatient and I want things to happen immediately. So, anything I do usually becomes my favorite song ever written.
I think working with Lindsey, my partner in ‘Sooner the Sunset’, was the right place at the right time for both of us to try something different. That’s the great thing about songwriting and collaborating. You can meet somebody, write a song in an afternoon, and it can not only change your career, but it can change your life. It really is like a drug. It just keeps you wanting to write and write and write. And it makes me equally pissed off when it doesn’t happen.
Is it hard to maintain a music career in Oklahoma? Why have you stayed?
It’s a matter of how and what you’re inspired by. Wherever you are that is going to be most inspiring is where you should be. Certainly, the business is in Los Angeles, Nashville and New York, but great art can be created anywhere. Being around my family, friends and familiar places puts me in a better creative place. Creativity is everywhere in Oklahoma.
So you’re a high school football star turned soulful musician. Do you identify most with your sensitive artist or jock persona?
Football to me was always about Friday nights and being with my friends. I never had a love for the game as much as I have a love for music. Even if I wasn’t a professional musician, I would still do it. You couldn’t pay me to put on shoulder pads and a helmet again. It wouldn’t be the same. There was nostalgia with that time in my life, and that’s what I loved about it.
Do you ever have any Uncle Rico moments?
You know what’s strange, is that I have dreams about it. Sometimes I have a dream that I have one more game to play. But I’ll get there and I will have forgotten my jersey or brought the wrong one. There is always a sense of anxiety with it. In my dream, I’ve always done something wrong or I’m unprepared.
Was there a moment in your life where you realized you were meant to be a musician?
I always felt like in school that I didn’t understand math and science the way some people did. But, music just made sense to me. The melodies, chords and keys made sense to me even if I didn’t know how to explain it. The same way math and science made sense to some people.
I remember a huge moment for me. I was in LA at a football camp at USC. I had the worst experience at this football camp. That was where I really knew that I didn’t want to pursue football after high school. I was just surrounded by these players that were bigger, stronger and faster than me. I could tell I was out of my element. That night I went to see one of my favorite bands, Better Than Ezra, at the House of Blues in LA. They just happened to be playing that night and I was staying at the hotel next door. I used a fake ID to get in, and I was just completely enamored by the band and Kevin Griffin. I just knew in that moment, that’s what I wanted to do. It’s ironic, because he’s the first person I ever collaborated with. We wrote 6 songs on the album Drive, and we’ve been friends for over 10 years now. And I performed and toured with Kevin for years.
What’s next for you and your music?
It’s a lot of trying new things. I don’t know if it’s turning 30, or hitting the 10-year mark of doing this as a profession, but I feel like I’m at a huge tipping point — not only in my life, but in my career. And, it’s causing me to make different decisions. I feel really drawn to take another step creatively. I’m prepared for the consequences — good and bad — for what that might mean. The great thing is, I don’t know what that means yet. That’s the answer. It’s really challenging being vulnerable. We’ll just kind of wait and see what that looks like. I’m slowly kind of figuring it out.