Keeping a positive attitude even while  taking a beating—literally  

“It didn’t break my will, but it did break my nose,” cracks Gavin DeGraw about the unwelcome experience of being assaulted last August in Manhattan. The native New Yorker was attacked by three men and then hit by a taxi as he stumbled away. His injuries forced him to cancel tour dates as he readied his new album, Sweeter, but he betrays no bitterness. “I had never really been hurt at somebody else’s hand before,” he says. “But I’ve learned there are beautiful people in the world, and then there are some really terrible people.”

Perhaps the optimistic outlook should be no surprise from the man responsible for upbeat pop radio hits such as “I Don’t Want to Be” and “Chariot.” In fact, his recovery gave him a renewed sense of purpose a decade into his career. After “I Don’t Want to Be” became a breakthrough hit in 2004, he found himself challenged by success. “It’s an insane amount of work, and it’s frustrating at times,” he says. “It can be really tough on you, so it feels good to see the results. At the time, I didn’t know my song was everywhere. I just kept showing up to more interviews and started noticing more people came to the shows.”

But the forward momentum stalled during the process of recording DeGraw’s self-titled 2008 sophomore album. Problems included a songbook that was stolen at a neighborhood restaurant and delay-causing disagreements with his record label. “That tremendous hiatus was really aggravating,” DeGraw says. “I had nearly completed the second album and was essentially told to start over. It was devastating. You take a lot of time off the road to make an album and sacrifice income. Essentially, I all but disappeared.”

Determined to make a fresh start, he changed his routine on Sweeter. For the first time, DeGraw worked with other writers including OneRepublic frontman and in-demand producer Ryan Tedder. That artistic experimentation paid off. The first single from the album, “Not Over You,” went platinum and returned him to pop radio. He was also selected as the opening act for the 2011 tour by Maroon 5 and Train, and performed with both acts each night. It’s that spirit of collaboration that DeGraw, 35, appreciates most about the music world. “In pop music, it seems everybody is so separate from one another,” he says. “In other genres, artists seem to collaborate a lot more. I enjoy working with others. I love the chance to create something and learn from what they do.”

Blake Boldt

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