How A Love Story Very Close To Home Inspired Gavin DeGraw’s Seventh Studio Album, “Face The River”

Gavin DeGrawPhoto Credit: Jason Goodrich
In late May, multi-platinum recording artist Gavin DeGraw released his seventh and most personal studio album, Face The River, via RCA Records. On the album, the Grammy-nominated singer recounts his late parents’ most meaningful memories and valuable lessons as he stitches together a timeless tale of his own soundtracked by a signature fusion of pop, soul, country, folk, and funk.

“Elements of Face The River are definitely my parents’ story,” says DeGraw. “There are also moments of me watching it. This was the record I felt like I had to make. I got to bear witness to the greatest love story of two people who would do anything for each other and their family. They were very loyal and committed. They didn’t have money, but they gave me something way better than money. I saw the pinnacle of what love should be.”

Well said. Below, we spoke to the singer about Face the River, eternal love, and the beauty of finally being able to perform live again.

Gavin DeGraw Photo Credit: Jason Goodrich

How is this album significant to you in ways that your previous albums may have not been?

It’s written from a different place that factors in the things that were happening in my personal life at the time, which was the loss of family members … watching my dad’s condition deteriorate and then amplify that with the album being made during the height of COVID. All of those factors created an equation that was much different than the environment of the other records. On top of that, I’m older than I was then. I’m in a different stage of my life as a whole and prioritizing different things. There’s also been such a huge gap timewise in the making of the last record and this record, so I felt like I needed to make something that was much more special and more personal. It had to be genuine. You can’t follow up something as significant as the events that happened around the world or in my personal life for so long and just go about business as usual. That would have been disingenuous.

Where did the title come from?

“Face The River” is named after one of the songs on the record. It’s a title I felt was a good summation of the context of the album and how it feels. When you’re facing the river, you’re facing your problems. You’re facing that thing you need to cross – some challenge or something up ahead that there is no avoiding.

Why did now feel like the right time to release this album?

It was the right time because I personally needed time to get over the gravity of the things that happened. I needed to be in the right place emotionally and mentally to deal with it, on top of the fact that I wanted to personally go out and play this music for people in a setting where I can tell a story about the songs. Also to have a real intimate connection with fans. This is the right time now because the world is getting back to normal. It’s taken a long time for that, but people need to go out and celebrate life and this album is about celebrating life.

Did your parents play any music while you were growing up that influenced you both as an artist and on this album?

Big time. Both my parents were musicians. My dad played music for a living when he was younger and my mom played music at church. They both sang, played guitar and even a little piano. They also wrote songs so there was a lot of that in my house growing up. Obviously, they did other things for a living as they got older and responsibilities grew, but they were both very musical. There were a lot of classics we listened to as well. It was Hank Williams, Roger Miller, and Marty Robbins to name a few.

Do you believe in great love because of your parents?

My parents had a great love story. They were high school sweethearts, but life interfered with their relationship. My mom went off to college while my dad was drafted to go to Vietnam (fortunately he didn’t get sent there. He was stationed in Germany) … But they were separated for quite some time and then ended up getting back together years later. They were yin and yang as well. They were very different, but also had a lot in common in that they were both dreamers. They wanted you to pursue your destiny and, in that way, they were both fearless. That dreamer’s mentality they shared was the most beautiful thing about their love story.

How do you think your parents felt about inspiring your album?

I’m sure my dad was moved by it. I was fortunate to be able to play him the songs before he passed. I think he was moved by being honored. He was feeling the gravity of the material. I also think he felt how necessary it was for me to make the material as well. He was in a particular place towards the end of his life and he knew I was witnessing that. I hope he could see that he and my mother were being memorialized and it was coming from a pure place.

Gavin DeGraw Photo Credit: Jason Goodrich

Do you have a favorite song off the album? Why? What lyric did you get a chill writing?

I’m not really sure…. If I were to pick, maybe it would be “Freedom (Johnny’s Song)” because I put so much of my parent’s biography in that song – line by line. It reveals so much of our family life from the day-to-day grind and what each of my parents were doing and why they were doing it. It also talks about the hopes they had and what we as teenagers were trying to wrap our head around. I feel like it’s such an accurate blue collar snapshot of the culture that doesn’t get paid attention to enough. Your parents working their asses off and being completely uncelebrated. I just wanted to document and pay homage to that.

How has performing for a live audience again been?

Great. It’s how I get normal. It’s been my job since I was a kid and having that taken from me was really hard because that was me being told I can’t be normal. Removing my job from me was also removing the thing I did as a hobby. It was a lot to lose, but to be able to go do it again is like “home cooking” – it’s what I need and what I’m used to. It’s been nice to see people reacting to the music and getting back in touch with the audience.

Is there a new song from the record that has become your favorite to perform for fans?

It’s hard for me to pick a song just because I’m so close to it. I am however really liking how “Ford” is connecting with audiences because I like the meaning of it. I like that it’s about simplifying your life and seeking advice – getting past that pride issue of having to impress the neighbors (having to have the nicest and newest things). When you wake up one day and you realize your stuff owns you and you don’t own your stuff – that’s where that song is written from.

What do you hope people take away from listening to the album?

II want them to enjoy the therapy that is music. I want it to make them feel good. I also want to make music that connects with people out there who feel misrepresented, unrepresented, or underappreciated. Maybe they’re going through something and they need to hear some stranger’s voice out there that goes, “hey I’ve been there” or “I am there and I get it.” Sometimes that’s enough.

What are your hopes for the album?

I want it to speak to people. For me, it’s been therapy writing it and performing it. It’s my shrink. It’s like having a shrink, but not having to introduce myself.

What to you is the greatest luxury in life and why?

Your health. Second to that is your time. So if you’re healthy and you’ve got time, boy you’re lucky.