In this PausePlay interview, Zack chats with grandson on the day of his second album a modern tragedy vol.2’s release. Right before debuting his tour, grandson reflects on being an artist with a message and encourages people to take in art and information with a critical mind. He also shares the impact of his Canadian identity on his music and tells Zack about his most embarrassing moment!
I'm Zack Monson, welcome to a very special edition of Stingray PausePlay. I’m here with dual citizen, but we're gonna call him a Canadian sensation, or at least soon-to-be, grandson!
grandson: Thank you so much.
How are you sir?
grandson: I am so, so good. Recording this, the new EP just dropped at midnight, we are playing a show here in Montreal; what could be better?
From ghostwriter to finding the grandkids
You kind of started out your musical writing career writing for other artists, this whole you know, you don't get credited, ghostwriting kind of thing.
Are there projects that you can be openly proud of?
grandson: Yeah absolutely! I was happy to work with an artist named Sabrina Claudio, on her first EP.
She’s amazing, one of my favourites!
grandson: Yeah, I remember when a friend of mine in Los Angeles had found a video of her doing covers or something. Shout out to Sabrina, that’s my girl! But yeah, there's been a couple different things, I've been really proud of working with Hayley Jean Penner-
Who’s also, a quick note on Hayley Jean Penner
grandson: Let's talk!
She’s also a Canadian, you know she’s Fred Penner's daughter. She also has worked with great artists like Charlotte Lawrence and Stella Lennon. I'm a big Hayley fan.
grandson: That's my homegirl right there. I was really grateful for those opportunities to just see how other artists work, to see how they tell their story. But all the while I was doing that, I felt a little discontent because I just knew that there was a story of my own that I wasn't telling. I think that partially, I didn't feel confident being the one to talk about these sorts of issues that I wanted my music to talk about, and I think that even back then I knew that there was a certain irreverence or anti authority or defiance I wanted my music to embody, but it was taking on a very sarcastic kind of immature tone and I wanted to have that reflected in a more… I just wanted to be taken seriously as an artist and as a songwriter.
Right. So, you have the 90s with music where there's this Renaissance of this kind of political message, especially in Rock. Then you hit the 2000s where it's boy bands and girl bands, and bubbly and shiny and overproduced, and now here we're in 2019. Why do you feel the necessity to take up that mantle as the artist with a message?
grandson: That’s a really interesting thing, I think about that a lot and I think about even before that, how the hair metal bands of the 80's, the Bon Jovi's of the world led to the Kurt Cobain's and Rage Against the Machine and Smashing Pumpkins and Jane's Addiction. Ultimately, I don't think that it was a very cerebral decision, it wasn't like I saw this niche that needed to be filled and filled that mantle. I just wanted to be honest. I didn't feel like my beliefs or my musical tastes were yet reflected in the music that I had around me. I don't really know why I get to do it or why I did it, but it's become a very fulfilling thing for me and I'm proud to do it. And once I went on tour and met the “grandkids”, I met these people that are resonating with this message, it became more clear to me that I need to do it and all of a sudden I had a real sense of who I'm doing this for.
I think you just said the grandkids, I assume that's what your fans call themselves, the grandkids?
grandson: Yeah, I think it's funny and I think that especially in alternative music it's like every single one and sometimes they, like I feel the kids will play with different things. I think people just want to feel a part of something more than anything.
grandson: I think with the alternative music especially, as a result people want to feel that they're with their people and if you want to give it a pet name or something, I'm happy to be a part of that.
Peace of mind and Travis Cormier’s Question
Absolutely. With all the stress and negativity that go on in your day to day life, where are you happiest were are you most at peace?
grandson: Man what a great question, I really appreciate questions like these. Probably on stage. I really do feel a sense of enoughness because I feel like that's what I'm here to do. When I'm on stage and when I'm performing, I view my music as a service. It's a service to the people that do gravitate to these messages of empowerment or feeling disenfranchised. So when I get to be up there I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, and it kind of quiets that voice in my head that tells me I'm not enough for even just a song.
So we asked the last artist that we had to ask you a question, and that that question is: “Hey my name is Travis Cormier and my question is: what is your most embarrassing moment?”
grandson: My most embarrassing moment is probably like; I was playing one of the biggest shows I had ever played, I was opening for the Smashing Pumpkins. It was like a huge milestone for me and for the guys that I perform with. And in the middle of one of the very beginning songs- this is a room of like 6,000 people have no idea who I am- my mic cuts out for like three minutes. I'm looking around waiting for somebody to fix it, and everyone's just giving me this blank stare and it's just kind like: “you're on your own up there”. So I'm trying to troubleshoot, I'm trying to plug it in and at a certain point, I just feel like completely naked in front of this gigantic room full of people. And then my microphone finally comes back on and I start trying to talk to people, and my voice cracks and it's like… You gotta get through it. But I made it through and I'm here to tell the tale, and I would prefer not to have that experience again, but if that's the worst then yeah, I got good problems.
A look at a modern tragedy vol. 2
Brand-new music out today
grandson: Today! Get that.
Today! a modern tragedy vol. 2. If your fans liked volume one, they are bound to love volume two.
grandson: Thank you, thank you.
Well, how do you feel about volume two versus volume one?
grandson: Uh, they're different. It leans a little less in the space of blues and a little more in kind of new metal, it's a little bit darker. I feel that volume two has larger themes of vice, of truth and of what is truth, and modern-day martyrdom. I encourage you to listen and think critically about why these things are important, why they might not be to you, why you like or dislike it; because I think that that sort of critical eye and critical ear needs to be fostered now more than ever in this era of instant gratification and fake news. We need to like, take a second and formulate opinions for ourselves. So judge me, have an opinion on it, and let's go from there and try to build some sort of constructive dialogue.
What song off the new EP was the hardest for you to complete?
grandson: I had a song called “Is This What You Wanted?”, and it's a story about how I was getting really political and just being a bit of a troll online, and a lot of people were telling me to kind of stick to music and just shut up and sing. I wanted to make a song that kind of spoke to that. I tried to reveal that as just a sarcastic reflection on the reality, which is you turn on the news and there's kids in cages and there's fear and division in us, and I'm over here just singing pop songs. So, it took a lot of iterations before I felt comfortable putting it out, but sometimes those are the ones that are the most important to me.
So another challenging things in music, and I think that especially with you where your message is so clear where it's not just some cheesy pop song that's just fun to dance to, you're really trying to say something. The creation of a music video for these songs must be a challenge. Is it a big deal for you to make sure that the visualizations really match up and feel the same with the lyrics.? How hands-on are you?
grandson: It has been a challenge, and it's something that I don't feel super… it hasn't come to me very naturally. It's difficult, especially when the narratives are, the storytelling in a lot of these songs is very overt, you want to take the music videos to be these very literal interpretations of that storytelling, but you kind of only have those three and a half minutes to make this little mini movie. so different schools of thought kind of emerged. I look at somebody like Billy Eilish, who’s these videos are so minimal and they're just so visually striking although they might just be one location one set up one really strong concept kind of just drilled into your head. versus taking a more maximal approach with, like an entire-
Actors and special effects.
grandson: Yeah. I feel that I'm still figuring out exactly the right fit for how to interpret these songs. I don't really know exactly what it'll look like when it feels completely flushed out or completely like a finished product, but I've been excited to continue to work with incredibly talented directors and producers and make cool shit.
So far so good, man. I think your music videos are great, they really do match and speak to your message quite clearly, so well done. I know it’s hard, but the outcome has been fantastic.
grandson: Thank you so much. Yeah, I think that if I was the kind of person that was satisfied with the kind of work that I've done thus far, I might not be trying to get better.
See you at the Junos!
Man, I'm personally so proud of what you've achieved in such a short time, as a Canadian especially you know, we're just so proud to see you guys succeed on international level. And I know that there's just more to come from you so, all the best.
grandson: I'm so proud to be Canadian and I think a lot of these ideologies embedded in my music- the sort of collective social responsibility that I think is really important for a healthy democracy- a lot of those themes I was brought up on here in Canada. My opinions on single-payer healthcare, my opinions on our relationship to the environment. While there's still a lot of work to be done here in Canada, it's vastly superior… our relationship to, our standards for food, a lot of these sorts of issues. I am the way I am because I grew up where I grew up, so I'm very proud to be Canadian. I'm excited for the Junos this year, and I'm gonna keep repping and keep supporting, and I'm happy to kick this tour off here in Montreal.
Amazing, well definitely come find us at the red carpet at the Junos for another chat!
grandson: Let's go!
Thank you so much for hanging out and chat and just being, you know, as open now as you are all your songs.
grandson: Trying to keep it real, thank you for having me.
Listen to grandson on Stingray Music
Thank you so much. You can hear grandson on Stingray Music's Adult Alternative and Rock Alternative channels. Of course, get our mobile app and our web player, find the little magnifying glass icon and type in “grandson” to find the 16 channels that we play his music on.
grandson: Come on, let’s go! Make it 17.
We love you man, see you next time!