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The Lonely One
Forging a new way without a record label, Oklahoma City rocker Graham Colton finds his muse at home.
By Ryan LaCroix
Published January/February 2014
It was 2008, and Graham Colton had just completed a whirlwind of television appearances—The Late Show with David Letterman, Live with Regis & Kelly, The Today Show. Everything seemed to be going well, and then a week later, his record label, Universal Records, dropped him.
“I got dropped. I got let go,” he says. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an ego blast.”
Colton had been recording and touring for the better part of a decade, first with the Graham Colton Band, which he formed while a student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and later as a solo act. He’d opened for Counting Crows, Better Than Ezra, and Kelly Clarkson, and his song “Best Days” had been featured on American Idol. Suddenly, he found himself back at square one—and back in his hometown of Oklahoma City.
“Going back to the place where it all began was very important to me,” he says. “I needed to exhale and realize I could be creative in my own backyard.”
Some of the homegrown inspiration Colton was looking for came in the form of Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. Coyne played Colton some of his favorite albums, like the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. He also gave Colton a keyboard used in the recording of the Lips’ 1999 album The Soft Bulletin. Colton credits the gift with engaging a different part of his brain.
“I had to tear all my music down and build it back up,” he says. “I started with sounds that were unfamiliar to me.”
Colton took his new inspiration to Blackwatch Studios in Norman, where he collaborated with producers Jarod Evans and Chad Copelin. They encouraged him to take a new approach—less guitar, more keyboards and synthesizers. The trio drew from the synth-driven dream pop of Fleetwood Mac and recording techniques used by the Beach Boys and Arcade Fire. They also added vocal treatments that Evans says have a hazy, nostalgic quality.
“For the first time, Graham is seeing potential in this genuine, impulsive approach,” says Evans. “He’s trusting that over following a more formulaic, ‘let’s do this by the book’ record label method.”
Colton also began writing lyrics on a wider range of subjects. On one song, his subject is mass murderer Richard Speck, who killed eight student nurses in Chicago in 1966. He researched Speck’s story after Copelin told him his father hitchhiked with Speck in the 1960s. The result, “Born to Raise Hell,” combines pop melodies that contrast the dark lyrics.
The result of Colton’s Oklahoma-bred creative resurgence, Lonely Ones, is a breakthrough. He hopes his approach will introduce his music to a new fan base.
“This album could be a new first impression,” says Colton. “I’m looking ahead and thinking about what’s going to happen. That’s exciting—really exciting.”
Get There: Graham Colton’s album Lonely Ones is available now in stores and online. grahamcoltonmusic.com.