grandson Takes Us Inside the Art of Having Something to Say, Vol. 2
“No road map, getting lost on purpose,” is what you hear grandson sing at about one minute and eleven seconds into the opening track of his new EP, A Modern Tragedy Vol. 2, which was released on February 22nd. While its certainly true grandson is subscribing to an authentic process of creating meaningful art and then following where it leads – into the unknown, there is also an undeniable foundation underneath such a road. The music is driving off principles of respect, honesty and a genuine interest in proper community engagement, ultimately, allowing an expressive environment that is quite contagious.
Prior to another sold-out show in Boston, I had the chance to catch up with grandson. Suspended in a room literally above the stage – we were accompanied by the sweet blasts of the venue testing sound with house music, and soundcheck of the opening acts. It was the perfect accent to run alongside the premise of our conversation, which was cracking open this concept of having something to say and knowing how to say it. Such a setting resembled the following lyric to the one quoted above, “Phone no service, but it’s clear out here, I’m living with nothing to fear out here.”
A Modern Tragedy Vol.2 is officially out and you are in the midst of a sold-out tour across North America, how are you?
I’m doing great. It’s been about a year since I was signed by Fueled By Ramen and it’s been ten months since I dropped the first EP after a couple singles. Since then, we’ve played around 150 different shows, been around North America a few times and went to the UK. It’s been overwhelming, but mostly just a surreal experience. I’m getting to know who’s on the other side of this thing as it grows. Having the opportunity to do this first headline tour, we’ve been able to connect with so many people who come to the music out of frustration and disillusion, but also out of triumph. The more I get to know them and the better I understand them, the more fulfilling my end of it becomes – being able to speak to these kids and having the opportunity to make a small difference. With our schedule, we don’t get much of an authentic taste for all the cities we go to, but what we are getting is a taste for the people. We’ve also started to build up what the non-profit component will be through the live show. So, the year has been a whirlwind but there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.
To me, the music that carries the most meaning comes from an artist who has something to say. When I first heard your music that was my initial thought – grandson has something to say. And I find each time I listen to your new EP I have the same reaction.
That’s awesome, I’m really glad to hear that. The intention lately has been to make provocative music. I wasn’t always like that, but I started getting frustrated by what an artist is defined by. In some ways, I am making music about something because I want to advance a progressive, inclusive agenda that holds our elected officials accountable, while at the same time, provides people a path to constructive outlets to let out their frustrations properly. Then there’s another part of it that remains self-driven. I want to be taken seriously as an artist and have meaningful conversations. At the root of any art, even if it’s just about nothing, it needs to be you, whatever that is. So, part of it for me is not to be too deliberate on what I want a certain project to be. Some of it needs to come from a state of play where you do whatever the fuck you want – like, that’s what I was doing in college when nobody was paying attention. Slowly, you start getting ears and people invested emotionally. It becomes tempting to want to curate that, but you need to make sure you still hold tight to that space where you can articulate how you are feeling about the world – it has to be that way in order to be authentic.
We are in a weird time where it can feel like all news and journalism is blended into one, and these certain objectives where the rules of diplomacy that were the backbone that held together the social contract in media, have been so blatantly thrown out the window. I think it puts an interesting tint on the spotlight of an artist to either acknowledge that or be complicit in its degradation.
Your lyrics always seem very in touch with society and what’s happening outside the venue. For example, I noticed a fan reached out to you on Twitter recently to say her mother had passed away and that your music meant a lot to her. You acknowledged the sentiment, but then also said “let me know if there’s anything we can do.” A response from you alone would have gone a long way but going the extra mile of thoughtfulness really shows your sincerity.
I feel very fortunate to be so connected to my family. I think the roles that are engrained in me that way have grounded my sense of self as I try harder to get people to pay attention to this projection of me based on feelings being emoted through the music. As long as I can remember that I am a human on this side of it, and that’s a human on the other side, that’s what it’s all about. I got to meet that girl you mention at the Detroit show. We had a brief meeting and I dedicated a song to her and her family.
I remember the first time I linked up with Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park. He’s become a mentor of mine. We met up a breakfast spot, and he’s a super humble dude. It really sunk in that as a person, he’s just like the rest of us. It was this weird and funny anecdote that helps ground my experience. I try to keep up healthy boundaries to know when I am giving too much of myself, but I want to always feel approachable without losing sight of – despite our differences, we are just two people talking to each other. We need more empathy and understanding of our similarities. We have more in common than that which divides us no matter what side of the stage you are on.
When I started making music under the name grandson and people started to gravitate towards the music through Spotify or other relative platforms, it dawned on me that is the only thing that is going to be impervious to label-favor. I’m sure my own tastes in music will change over time, but as long as I am talking directly to people and building a personal sense of investment in what it is we are building here, that’s what is most important. I want fans to feel pride that we are selling this tour out, and when the new song plays on their local radio station. That’s the sort of feedback we get when people feel heard and appreciated. People feel a part of it when you can convey a sense of – doing your best is good enough.
Speaking of mentors, you’ve collaborated with Tom Morello recently. What was that like for you?
It was a very methodical plan for me to accidentally stumble on his radar. He found the song “Blood/Water” and we did a remix. We had been ships in the night where one of us was on tour and one of us wasn’t. Finally, before this tour started, we got the opportunity to connect – it was me, him and my friend Kevin, who I write every song with. The three of us got to go hang at Tom’s house, and I had a million questions for him about Rage, Audioslave, Bruce Springsteen and everything else you can imagine. He was so approachable, forthcoming and generous with his knowledge. Anyone on my Mount Rushmore who I’ve spoken with has been like that – they seem happy that this is coming back. Tom Morello and Rage Against the Machine have been super influential to me and my artistic career. It was very meaningful to get his stamp. I try to take my inspirations and add a new context. To get their advice along the way, goes a long way. I am hoping that one day I can be in a position to pay it forward. So, yes, we have an unreleased song together. I don’t know how or when it’s coming out, but hopefully enough people kick down his door for it.
Coming full circle here, if you think about your journey to this point, what does this moment mean to you?
Sometimes I get this feeling on stage and on the bus, I don’t know if there’s a word for it, but I know I am going to have nostalgia for this current moment. I get an anxiety for wanting to hold on to it because sometimes my mind goes directly to the next moment – like I want to come back in the fall and play a bigger tour. Like a lot of people, I use the future or the past as a way to avoid confronting the present. But, I feel so lucky to have the opportunity in the way my gang of buddies have gotten together both on the live side and in the studio, to express ourselves. The fact that it has provided some people with a sense of community is unbelievable. There’s always that part of you that wants to end with – we’re just getting started. While that is true, it should not discount what we are accomplishing and what we have already accomplished. If we were to be abruptly cut short today, my feelings would be of immense gratitude.