By KYLEE PEDERSEN
Where rock and roll and activism meet, that’s where you’ll find Grandson. The McGill University drop-out who relocated to Los Angeles to pursue music is angry, optimistic and has something to say.
His debut EP, A Modern Tragedy Vol. 1, released last month, is a commentary on corruption, social disenfranchisement and apathy, as much as it is a help line to those grappling with where they stand in the current political climate.
Where Calgary had the chance to catch up with Grandson before his performance on July 10 at the Calgary Stampede Coca-Cola Stage, where he’ll be opening for Our Lady Peace.
Have you played in Calgary before or is this your first time here? I played in Calgary one time before opening for my dear friends The Glorious Sons; it was one of the first shows that I ever played in Canada where people knew Blood // Water and where there was some familiarity. It was an incredibly exciting time, and with all the support we’ve been getting I can’t wait to come back.
You were born in New Jersey but moved to Toronto when you were quite young. Do you feel Canadian? Or Canadian and American? I absolutely feel a relationship to Canada. To the natural resources there, to the disposition of Canadians; whenever I use the word “out” or “about” in the US I get called out for it. But with everything going on in America I’m proud to be an American. I’m proud to be able to speak on things not just as an outsider but as someone who has the right that every American has to vote, to express their opinions and to be heard.
How did you get started on your music, was it something that you knew you always wanted to pursue? My family are a bunch of musicians, but my sister really excelled academically and I didn’t really know where I fit in. Music just kind of became an outlet for me. At first I would write songs about girls I had a crush on in high school. In [university] I was just going through the motions. Then someone heard a video that had only a couple hundred views and they wanted to bring me down to Los Angeles to try writing for other artists. So within the span of five or six weeks I dropped out of school and found a sublet for my apartment, and all of a sudden I was living on a couch in Los Angeles writing songs.
That seems crazy, to make a decision like that in a span of six weeks. I was 20 at the time and I just really felt like okay, let’s say this doesn’t work, in two years or three years I’ll just go back to school. Grandson for me represented the first time that I was willing to fail at something. I had no money and I was just like, ‘alright, well this is me, this is what I have to say, and if no one likes it well you know f–k ‘em, I like it.’ I think that when you enter a headspace like that in any endeavour in your life, be it a career or a relationship, when you’re really willing to put yourself out there and risk rejection or embarrassment or whatever those uncomfortable feelings are, that’s when I think the universe starts cutting you a break.
What’s the scariest thing about being an artist and making music? The scariest part can be the sense of vertigo as you depart from the safety of normalcy. As I am more public with my opinions, as I am more nomadic in my tour schedule, my life looks so much different than I ever could have imagined it. So of all the scary parts, it’s just the fear of maybe losing yourself in it.
Your debut EP, A Modern Tragedy Vol. 1 just came out so walk us through the creation of that. What does this body of work mean to you? I actually wrote “6 o’clock” around the time that Trump was elected. I was just sitting on all of this music for a while and I knew that I wanted to make a sort of cohesive state of the union – the union not necessarily being America but just a sort of ‘this is where we’re at’. I feel like there is an incredible gravity to this time. It’s such a critical juncture for democracy and youth culture and for you know, how the f–k are we gonna all learn how to cooperate? And if we’re not then how can we confront these issues without getting too burnt out? Can we escalate and work through some of the systemic failure that is plaguing this society without necessarily burning it all down?
Which is a tough line to walk. It requires a lot of confrontation and humility. You have to be able to listen to everybody’s side. I have a hard time relating to people who feel differently from me and I think that that’s human, but it’s also the sort of problem that plays into the hands of the people who are making decisions that wanna keep us at odds with one another. Songs like “6 o’clock” and “stick up” and even “blood // water” touch on some of those failures and some of those conditions, and then songs like “overdose” and “despicable” talk about the the apathy and the escapism that I think this environment can encourage. For me that was what this process represented, it was a lens into the world that I’m writing in.
You mentioned that these topics can be exhausting to dwell on – what gives you hope? One of the things about touring that I love most is that I get to be confronted by people who are really passionate and who are working on the front lines of issues. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to activists and community organizers and teachers that have been through school shootings. I’ve talked to recovering addicts, I’ve talked to people that are recovering from self-harm, and those sorts of things give me hope and optimism. I think that the young people in this society both in Canada and the United States are more engaged than our parents were. I think that they are more connected to one another and that there are more systems in place for them to organize and mobilize. When I think big in the kind of change I want to make and when I see people respond well to that, that makes me pretty f–king stoked. I think that there is a change coming.