Gavin DeGraw on Losing His Mother to Pancreatic Cancer: ‘I Was Too Overwhelmed with Sadness to Complete Anything’

Multi-platinum recording artist Gavin DeGraw has had a difficult fall following the loss of his mom.

DeGraw reveals to PEOPLE that he experienced a “horrible time” when his mother died in September after a battle with pancreatic cancer. DeGraw says he felt inspired musically when she was sick, yet he couldn’t finish a single song he tried to write.

“I was too overwhelmed with sadness to complete anything. Everything I was writing was just sounding like a hymn, and it was making me so sad,” DeGraw tells PEOPLE at the finale of the 2017 Project: Aloft Star competition at Aloft Long Island City in New York on Tuesday.

“I was just crying all the time, and I was basically writing a gospel record.”

The “Not Over You” singer adds that singing at piano and playing was “therapy” for him. He wasn’t writing the songs to sell them.

“I began feeling conflicted in even trying to complete anything because I didn’t want it to feel like I was trying to market something so sad. It felt like it would be disingenuous,” says the 40-year-old singer. “I was writing and I was recording it, but I was feeling like it could only live in the moment as it stood. None of it was coming out as organized.”

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DeGraw is unsure whether anything he wrote during his mother’s passing will make it onto his next album because he “hasn’t been able to get past the emotion of it all,” but says he “can still feel those melodies.”

“I don’t know if I can wrangle all those feelings and organize them in a way that would allow me to feel like I’m doing my mom justice,” says DeGraw. “I’m very apprehensive to even delve into it because everything seems kind of second best to her.”

Although it’s unclear whether his mother’s death will influence his songwriting for DeGraw’s upcoming album, the album will reflect the singer’s recent RAW TOUR: Its songs will be “very raw” and “acoustic-based.”

“So much of the music scene has been oversaturated with production, and I believe in the copyright more than I believe in the technology of music. I think the writing is the most important,” says DeGraw. “The song should sound good coming out of the worst speakers if the song’s good. It’s all about the song.”

DeGraw recently shared his songwriting and music perspectives when serving as a celebrity mentor to finalists of the 2017 Project: Aloft Star competition, which identifies the hottest emerging music talent and lets them compete for a chance to kickstart their careers. DeGraw mentored the competition’s winners: Brooklyn-based indie-folk duo The Bergamot, and its runner-up: pop-soul singer Gigi Rich.

DeGraw says he advised the young artists to “have success on their own terms.”

“We spoke about musical direction, about being true to yourself, about the importance of authenticity over marketing — it’s more important to be real than to spend all your time trying to get the word out,” says DeGraw. “If you’re authentic, and you spend your time being authentic, the word will get out all on its own.”

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