INTERVIEW: Everything 'Death Of An Optimist', Collaborations, New Music & More With Grandson
In the midst of this pandemic, artists are (thankfully) still releasing great music to get us through the days. Grandson, one of our absolutely favorites, released his debut album 'Death Of An Optimist' late last year. Reason enough to give Grandson a call and talk about the versatile debut record which birthed the singles 'Dirty' and 'Riptide', which raked in millions of streams even before the album saw its release. Not to mention the steady stream of singles that Grandson has released throughout the year. Bottomline, loads to discuss! Dive right in below.
Strife Magazine: First and foremost, congratulations on the release of the debut album! That must be something. Last time we talked, we asked you about the debut record and you told us you weren’t even thinking about it yet, ‘Modern Tragedy’ first. But now, here we are!
Grandson: WOW, was it that long ago?!
SM: Has the response been what you hoped for?
G: It’s been confusing, to be honest. I think that the reception to the album is like a microcosm for this whole year. I can look to confirm whatever I want to feel about it. From one perspective it feels like a big accomplishment. Of course, I had hopes and expectations about releasing an album and have it feel some kind of way that I can’t do while we’re dealing with a pandemic around the world.
Not begin able to tour it, not being able to connect with the people that are resonating with it and are listening to it so much. Those things are challenging and there have been days where I’ve questioned if it even mattered and if it even affected anyone.
But to the most part where I keep a healthy perspective on it, I am stoked that it’s out in the world and that people are enjoying it and I can’t wait to play some shows and to make a new one.
Luckily, I connected with some fans not that long ago and somebody dressed up as ‘X’ during Halloween. The visual identity of this album was so important to me and it was something that I’ve never really done before. Leaning into performing in the music videos and costume design, it was all very new to me.
To see people connecting from their homes, it was really emotional for me. As an artist, you want to be making stuff for yourself but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t care what other people thought or I didn’t have hopes. I’ve built this community around the world and I want to keep giving them more and see it grow. So seeing people connect from their homes has meant so much to me and it’s been a surreal process. Doing all of this and growing as much as I have this year, while still being stuck in my living room is so weird.
SM: About ‘X’ and the fact that you went deeper into creating this whole era around the album, when did this come to live?
G: I knew what I wanted the album to be about around the end of 2019. I had written a bunch of songs and none of them really had a connection. I decided to try again. I felt like there was a better way to do this. Otherwise, it would just be like another EP and then what is the point of doing a whole album. So that was when ‘X’ started coming up in my mind. Different songs would lean one way or the other, hopeful about the world or cynical and trying to get me to keep things the way they are. But really it was the pandemic that inspired ‘X’. I never could have done the work for the photos, the storyboarding, all of this other stuff, on tour. If it was a normal year, I never would have had the time to really dig in. I spent March until June really thinking about how I could make this album as cohesive as possible.
SM: Did you have to be in different headspaces to write from the perspective of ‘X’ and the perspective of yourself?
G: Yes, but the good thing is, is that is already how I am. I can be very mercurial and very high one day and then low the next. Some days the first thing I do when I wake up is to check my Twitter feed, especially during the pandemic. Everyone was really nervous, hoping for good news, but scared for bad news, and how that played out would affect my optimism. Some days I feel really good about it, other days I have a hard time finding direction and the purpose. Even now, that the album is out it is hard for me to know what to be working on next. Those things have been a little weird but it has definitely made the album better.
SM: Besides the album, you have done some other stuff like the acoustic songs. Was that along the same time that you were working on the album?
G: Yeah, it was a weird time. Different songs in different boxes in my mind. The acoustic songs that I was working, that was a project I came up with while I was on tour last year. I saw all these names Like K.Flay and Dreamers on tour and I knew that whenever I met them there was good energy between us. But I had never had the chance to formally connect with them because we were always so busy.
I watched a documentary about the folk alternative scene in the 1960s and everyone seemed like best friends, they lived in the same neighborhood and different artists were working together and I thought “I would love to be a part of something like that”. So that’s why I decided to make the collaborations more a focus this year. Both my own music and featuring on other people’s music. I knew I couldn’t wait for someone else to build such a community.
So there were days where I would go into a session and work with an artist for the collaborations project or work on a song for my album or feature on another artist’s project. I just tried to stay as busy as I could this year. We all have been challenged to find motivation to keep going. We’re all waking up in the same place every day, unsure of when things are going back to normal. For me, work keeps my head on straight. Gives me something to work towards.
But my album was always the most important to me. I knew I wanted it to have no features, just me. I wanted to give fans myself, not hit songs.
SM: How important do you think music is when spreading messages of hope and change?
G: I have been watching this show about survival and I was listening to something about crows. Crows, they have one bird who sits up high and when a predator comes, they start alerting everyone else. I feel that we as artists are doing that as well. We observe what is happening in the world and we are expressing it through music. We reflect the times and this is a time where a lot of people are looking for hope. They are discouraged. I always think very critically about my responsibility. What do I wanna contribute? Everyone is on their phones and if you come across a Grandson tweet or song, what do I want you to leave with, more anxiety or do I want you to be filled with hope? I don’t want to put anything out in the world if the point isn’t to make things a little bit better or easier for somebody out there. But everyone uses music for different things. There’s no oath, we don’t have to make a promise. You can make songs about everything and be whoever you want. But I do think that once you start getting more of a platform you can really help make change in one person’s life and for me that is why I do it. Because at the end of the day, I came into music struggling with my mental health and even though everything we have accomplished, I still struggle with that and still struggle to find purpose some days. Success isn’t going to take that away. So I think hope and change are really important for my music because they are important for me.
SM: Besides the pandemic, it’s been a turbulent year for the US with the election as well. Has that also weaved into your music?
G: To some degree, absolutely. So much of my music was in response to the war on truce in America, the rise of Trump. I think that this duality that is expressed in this album is very much inspired by the duality that you see in American politics. I have never been a part of a time that feels so polarized. People on the right end of the spectrum and the left have no interest in even communicating with one another. The way that social media works, you can stay in your bubble and never engage with people on the other side. So I think that the ways in which we live within a constructed reality that reinforces our world view without challenging that world view definitely inspired some of what I was writing about when I wrote this album.
SM: The song ‘We Did It!!!’, would it have released at the same time as it did if Trump would have won the election?
G: Yeah, it was funny. We had already planned to put that out. But I think that either way it would have been an appropriate message for the times. I love 90s culture. I was very influenced growing up by South Park and artists like Eminem and they were so sarcastic and such a wit. I loved the idea of a bunch of cheerleaders going like ‘We Did It!!!” over this angry-sounding music. It was kind of an homage to that era. But the timing happened to be pretty convenient.
SM: Can you tell us a little bit more about the movie accompanying the album?
G: Everything that I write, I think about performing and the concert. The visuals of changing into ‘X’. I have already been trying to get my time down so I can change in the middle of the set. I wasn’t going to let this year stop us from giving you guys that experience. I also just had a bunch of old footage of us working on Grandson 4 years ago. Being in the studio with Boon and writing the songs and playing songs for the first time, all these little moments. I didn’t just want to do a livestream. For better or worse, I always go too big. We had to do a whole movie in like 3 weeks. We brought the band together and played through the whole album and told a bunch of stories never before told. It sounds amazing, it’s a live album meets a concert documentary meets something else.
SM: So, what’s next for Grandson?
G: I need a fucking nap. I have put out 22 songs this year. We have other projects we’re working on, but it’s a hard time to make plans right now. But you haven’t seen the last of me and you haven’t seen the last of ‘X’. You’re gonna see more loud noises and more angry hopeful music in 2021.
Stream 'Death Of An Optimist' below and let us know what your favourite song off of the record is!
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