Gavin DeGraw is a known pop star and well-respected songwriter nationally, and he's well connected in Music City. Between collaborations with big-name country stars and his co-owned venture, Nashville Underground, with his brother Joey, the "Sweeter" singer admits a country album of his own wouldn't be too unexpected.

"If the market would have me, of course I would," he says of whether he would ever 'go country.' "Every time I'm invited to do something in the country world, I jump at the chance, because I love the fact that the song is the king — that's what they value here. They value the story, they value the realness of the material."

"That's a beautiful thing and that's the most enticing element of the country world of music," DeGraw adds.

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Nashville has been DeGraw's home for the past 10 years. He provided background vocals when Sara Evans covered his hit "Not Over You" on her Slow Me Down album and dueted with Martina McBride in Nashville on his hit "Soldier," as well as soul icon Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me" in 2014. He opened for Shania Twain during her Rock This Country Tour in 2015 and has in the past shared a stage with Luke Bryan and Craig Morgan.

These acts — along with Lady Antebellum and Jake Owen — are DeGraw's friends. But one of his most enduring relationships in the country community is with Brett Young, for whom DeGraw has been a longtime mentor.

"These groups of people in country, I just feel a certain camaraderie with them because I feel like they are genuine people, they're not just artists out there making product. These are people, and that's what's beautiful about the country world," he says. "It's just a very refreshing environment to be in. I don't see that sort of camaraderie in all genres of music. The country world really is a community world."

DeGraw helped define the mid-2000s radio scene with hits like "Chariot," "In Love With a Girl" and "I Don't Want to Be," the latter of which solidified its place in pop culture as the official theme song to One Tree Hill.

The connection this singer-songwriter has with the country music community is personal — DeGraw recalls his first performance at CMA Festival in 2018 when, plagued by allergies, the crowd supported him by singing along with every word of his songs, despite it being a mostly country lineup of acts otherwise. He feels a distinct sense of gratification when he walks down Broadway and hears one of his songs being played by a cover band.

"I can't say enough how lucky I feel just to be here and be part of something so special, this whole community," he admits. "I never chose my genres, I just wrote songs, and those songs were kind of put out there in those genres and those genres have been very good to me ... But I've always identified as a songwriter specifically and I think that the country world really still does honor the songwriter. So if that's where my love is going to be, then that's where I'll lean."

"If you'll have me, then I'll make the record," he concludes.

DeGraw is slated to perform at 2019 CMA Fest at the Riverfront Stage on June 7.

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