Gavin DeGraw Talks Bourbon Spots, Wasabi Peas and Bloody Lips in Bars

Ben Horton/Getty Images; Courtesy of The National Underground

The Nashville-based "Best I Ever Had" singer-songwriter takes THR's Taste Test.

While Make a Move was a highly anticipated followup to his third studio album, Gavin DeGraw first earned his stage chops by playing gigs in small clubs all over New York City -- and he never lets himself forget it. He opened The National Underground with his brother Joey to offer a stage to the next generation of singer-songwriters.

“The most difficult part is knowing you can’t help everybody,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter of booking the bars’ stages. “That’s one of the great frustrations in life -- thinking to yourself, there’s so many quality people, there’s so many people who might deserve a shot. You’re not even sure where to begin, because there’s so many who could use the help.”

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DeGraw says he never tests out material in his own spaces -- there are two locations, in Nashville and NYC -- but happily tosses back a few with some of Music City’s finest. And when asked who parties harder -- the singer or his comrade Ed Sheeran -- he laughed of his friend’s broken hand, “You’ll have to ask him that…but at least I’m not the one getting injured!” 


Current Fixation 
“I’ll drink either a Johnnie Blue or a Bulleit bourbon. Those are really my go-to’s. As far as a mixed drink goes, a Moscow mule cannot be beat. Don’t ask me how to make it; I think a wizard makes it.”

Known for Mixing 
“What am I known for mixing? Drinking with bad decisions. Can I recommend a good drink, though? Hendrick’s gin and soda with fresh ground pepper and cucumber, muddled. F--ing good.”

Destination Drink Spot 
“I don’t know if I actually go huge. Sometimes I like to go to members-only bars just to hang out and play pool and act like the Rat Pack. I like to go to ice hockey games -- eat dinner, kick it at the Rangers game, have a night out on the town, yell and scream, sit in the box, and holy shit, I’m sitting next to Liam Neeson!” 

Go-To Bar 
“Other than my own bar? Every once in a while I’ll go to the Hermitage Hotel, where there’s a place called the Oak Bar. It looks like an old speakeasy and has these weird-looking bathrooms. It’s small and charming and old school, and they have an amazing bourbon selection.”

Adventurous Sip 
“I’ve had some terrible drinks. There was an Esquire party in New York City a few years back. I won’t forget that night -- it was crazy, actually. I remember OneRepublic was playing; Sara Bareilles actually might have been playing that same gig. Anyway, they had this mixologist there, I don’t know who it was, but he made some crazy-ass drink. I don’t remember what the f--k he was making, but there were weird colors, and I don’t think I’ll ever find him again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

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Simply Won’t Drink 
“I don’t know if there’s a particular drink I wouldn’t have, no matter what. Don’t we all drink for the feeling?” 

Favorite Snack 
“My favorite bar snack is that weird spicy mix with those little green things mixed with the other stuff... [Wasabi peas?] Yes! it’s so good! That shit is designed to make you drink more booze to quench your thirst! That is a genius bar move right there. Here, have some of this! It’ll make you real thirsty!” 

Preferred Company 
“American Express!” 

Pet Peeve 
“Close talkers. Nothing worse than a close talker -- when they get right in your face and they’re talking, and you don’t know them, and they’re so close that you can smell what they’ve been drinking. That’s bad news bears.”

Big Wish 
“I want to see [The National Underground] in more towns with music scenes, yet I want us to be one of those places where local musicians want to go. ‘You know what, that place is legit, that’s where I want to be seen, that’s the place that understands people like us.’ I want up-and-coming musicians to go, ‘I want to be there, that Gavin’s one of us,’ essentially. ‘He’s a dude who played a bunch of little bars; that’s the path and he understands it.’ I want it to be a place that people can relate to, that people can come to see up-and-coming talent. There’s great talent out there, there really is. The world is saturated with great talent that just needs somewhere to be heard.”

Embarrassing Experience 
“I’ve had a lot of them onstage in bars. It’s one of my pet peeves too -- playing in bar rooms. The microphone, particularly because I would be playing the piano, would have a boom arm. People would walk through the bar when it’s packed and bump into the microphone stand, and it would swing at me at like a hundred miles per hour and pop me in the mouth every once in a while. Just swat me in the face! You’re a musician onstage, trying to be cool and whatnot, as your lip begins to swell up, and it’s like, ‘I think I just chipped a tooth.’ It’s funny! But at the same time, those are the things you look back on and say, ‘Wow, I’m so lucky that that hasn’t happened to me in like ten years.’”

Guilty Pleasure 
“Tequila. I’ll seldom drink tequila because for some reason when I have tequila, I’ll habitually lose stuff. Stuff like that happens with tequila.”

Last Drink 
“Probably a cup of coffee, right? I hope it gives me a couple extra ticks out of my heart, maybe an extra five seconds!”

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