LOS ANGELES — Gavin DeGraw is trading his homegrown roots for sexy models, flashy cars, and ... um, Zach Braff?
Apparently so. The habitually low-key singer teamed with Braff for his "Chariot" video, which he called "completely blinged out. The only thing it's missing is the baby oil."
The unlikely pair forged a friendship after they kept running into each other at industry events. "My manager approached him initially [about directing it], and he was interested," DeGraw said. "He said he already liked my music."
DeGraw was drawn in by Braff's unique vision for the video, which was inspired by eBay's shape-shifting commercials. In "Chariot," the sets — divided into four rotating turntables — similarly transform, creating new worlds around the singer.
The set rotations track DeGraw through his evolution as an up-and-coming artist. Beginning at an East Village nightclub, the singer draws the attention of a sultry A&R executive (played by Jamie King of "Sin City") who courts the artist into signing with her record label. She eventually draws the wide-eyed singer into a seductive world filled with beautiful babes, booze and, of course, bling. In the end, the camera pulls back to reveal it was all a façade of smoke and mirrors.
"The entire set is like a machine that spins him like the wheels of a chariot, pulling him through an evolution for which he's not quite sure he's ready for," Braff said about the treatment. The director's original vision to have the video as one long, continuous shot had to be scrapped at the last minute due to time constraints.
"It [became] too chaotic, so we broke it up into pieces," Braff said. "It was the kind of thing where we could have done it if we'd had a day of rehearsal, but in music-video land, you have to go so quickly. It was one of the more crazy, stressful days of my life — but I would do it again."
Braff also recruited friend and "Scrubs" co-star Donald Faison to play an over-the-top music-video director who tries to turn the down-to-earth musician into a hip-hop playa.
"There's definitely an element of poking fun at that whole aspect of the industry, because it so much doesn't suit my music," DeGraw said. "It's like, 'OK, let's work with this homegrown type of song, but let's make it [with] Rolls Royces.' It's about putting a formula on something it doesn't work for."
The inspiration for "Chariot" came from the singer's constant struggle to achieve normalcy in a fabricated world. "The song itself is about trying to maintain a sense of simplicity," he said. "When I wrote it in New York, I became very overwhelmed with what that city is. I found myself really caught up in developing my career and the competition of music and the competition with myself."
So one day, DeGraw decided to pack up his bags and return to his home in the country. "I just got back to the earth a little bit," he said.
For now, the singer is back on the road finishing up a college tour through mid-May, and then he'll join Avril Lavigne as a special guest on the last leg of her summer North American tour (see "Gavin DeGraw Remembers NYC Struggles, Knows His Place").
Despite mounting success, DeGraw remains his own worst critic, admitting he never feels fully satisfied with his work.
"It's really weird because I try as hard as I can and then I close my eyes because I don't want to see the results."