Q&A: grandson Speaks on His Politically-Fueled Debut EP, Bernie Sanders, & Having a D-List Celebrity as President

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Photo: Ashley Osborn

With everything going on in the world right now, there’s more than a fair share of things deserving of one’s rage. From mass shootings, corrupt politicians and corporations, to the disenfranchisement of people all across America, it’s difficult to find a singular outlet for all the ensuing anger. It’s because of all of this and more that grandson’s debut EP, a modern tragedy vol. 1, feels like it is arriving at the perfectly right time.

The Fueled By Ramen artist makes politically-fueled, electronically-infused rock and roll music that tackles some of today’s most salient issues, whether that be confronting politicians who offered nothing more than their “thoughts & prayers” following the Parkland shooting or overdose at the hands of drug addiction. Yet, this is more than just blindly directed anger at an institution that continually fails its people. As grandson proves time and time again throughout a modern tragedy vol. 1, he is not only confronting those who have failed us but providing an examination and explanation as to why people are led down particular paths–be that violence or drugs. It’s an EP for anyone who has ever felt a sense of hopelessness, anger, or even confusion when looking at the world around them.

grandson is not here to offer you an answer for all of today’s problems, but he is here to give you a space to release all that anger. It’s musical catharsis at its finest. Take a listen to a modern tragedy vol. 1 below and check out our interview with the politically-minded rock star in the making below. 

OTW: How does it feel knowing that the EP is now out there in the world?

grandson: Holy shit. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, and I’m really excited for all of this to come fruition.

OTW: So, when did you first start making music?

grandson: I first started all the way back when I was about 13. It started off on an acoustic guitar, writing songs about girls in my high school, as I think it starts for a lot of kids. Then, I started smoking pot and getting really into hip-hop, and I started writing a lot–just irreverent stuff to pull out at house parties. It wasn’t really until I came down to Los Angeles that I started writing for other artists, thinking more seriously about what it would mean for me to have my own artist project. I think I’m still in the process of navigating that “why?” that is so, so important for any artist. Why do we do what we do? Why me? Why is this important? Why is it relevant for somebody listening today? Those are questions I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself. I think this EP is a good first step towards that, but it’s going to be an ongoing process, which I’m really looking forward to. 

OTW: And at what point throughout that whole process did you begin wanting to use your music to speak out about political and societal issues?

grandson: It really got involved at the beginning of the grandson project. I first started working on songs at the beginning of 2016 with a creative friend that I just met. “Bills” was the first one that we touched on financial inequality and sense of self-worth derived from money, and I think from there it got a little more increasingly political. Then Donald Trump got elected to be the President of the United States and that was it.

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OTW: Nowadays we don’t see political rock music to the same extent that we once did in the ‘60s, ‘70s, or even in the ‘80s punk movement. Why do you think that is?

grandson: It was absolutely relevant when I was a kid, for sure. Music like Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana. Throughout George Bush’s presidency and the Iraq war, I think that there was still some of that in the air. Unfortunately, I think sometimes the most dire circumstances are those that can inspire innovation, inspire change. So, sometimes it takes a D-List celebrity becoming the President of the United States for a rock and roll artist to have an opinion again. So, I’m not really sure why it lapsed, but I’m happy it’s back. I’m optimistic about the future of rock and roll, both politically and in its culture relevancy.

OTW: Going off that, do you think once you become and artist or have a platform of any sort, you have a certain responsibility to speak out about what’s going on around you?

grandson: I think so. I absolutely think so. I think you have a responsibility to reflect the time that you’re writing that art in–whatever medium it is. My favorite artists had a certain fearlessness, being there willingness to confront difficult topics. To some extent, we are in a place now where we don’t have the luxury of apathy, as influencers or artists. Kids these days, especially kids in stricter environments, need that source of light and inspiration to let them know that’s it okay. It’s okay to stand up to war, to stand up towards the authority figures that are telling them the world has to be a certain way. It’s okay to love who you love, to believe what you believe. Now, more than ever, we need artists to be willing to take steps to facilitate those connections for their audiences. 

OTW: The EP’s title, a modern tragedy vol. 1, what really inspired that? Was it just looking at the world around you? 

grandson: Yeah, this EP series is going to be a State of the Union for me. It’s going to be all-encompassing. It doesn’t just tackle one sensitive issue. It’s a raw look at the systemic failures that have led so many people like myself to feel disenfranchised, to feel like we need to get angry. And I’ve been very fortunate to begin to have connections with fans who have told me that my music gives them that and gives them a space to get angry, to find release. So, I wanted to get a title that was unflinching and didn’t sugarcoat what this thing is. Cause what’s happening to so many people is a fucking tragedy. The situations people find themselves in and the ways that they cope with that–be it through addiction like in “Overdose” or violence, It’s all a sad state for sure. 

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OTW: I wanted to commend you on tackling both issues of obvious outrage, such as the Parkland shooting, as well as the issue of disenfranchised middle America in “Stick Up.” The EP does a great job of tackling America’s issues as a whole.

grandson: Thank you. I really appreciate you saying that. “Stick Up” was definitely one of my favorite songs on the project for sure, because it forced me to have empathy. And I think if you’re going to put everyone in a box and say everyone that does something that you don’t agree with is an idiot, a racist, or what have you, without being willing to take a second and imagine the sorts of conditions that push people to do whatever it is that they do, then how can we realistically expect change? It’s important that we hold people that advocate for progressivism to be aware of what their failing to do. Or else, we’re going to find ourselves in these fucking situations over and again.

OTW: I typically ask artists the age-old question of “what kind of music do you listen to” or “what music inspired you?” However, since your music is so political, I was curious, are you constantly just staying up to date on the news? Just constantly checking NPR? What’s up?

grandson: (laughter) That’s a good question, and I don’t think I’ve been asked it before. Yeah, I try and stay up-to-date while I’m on the road. I’ve kind of drifted away from institutions like CNN but definitely NPR, sometimes Reddit. I was a big fan of Bernie Sanders and the way he was willing to use his platform to talk about salient issues and didn’t try and sensationalize it by making it this pageant show. I’ve also been inspired by the works of Noam Chomsky. There’s a lot that has influenced my values, which are reflected in the music for sure. I’m sure a lot of people resonate with the sort of fatigue that comes right now, because it’s just exhausting to constantly feel like this is the last straw, over and over again. I feel like once a week something is on the news that makes me go, “Ah fuck. How the fuck are we going to deal with this one?” 

So, I think for anyone that’s within spaces of activism, I think it’s important to take space for yourself and sometimes being on tours, playing shows can provide me with a bit of relief from the 24/7 news cycle. So, I try and find a balance of remaining informed and up-to-date and taking the time and space to really dive into my relationships with my fans. I try and find time every single day to respond to DMs on social media and provide more and more points of connection for these kids, for these grandkids. 

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grandson: What about you? Are you trying to stay up-to-date with it all? It’s fucking exhausting.

OTW: Yeah, it’s beyond difficult. I feel like I’m being constantly outraged and then nothing happens, so what’s one to do then?

grandson: Right and that’s the hopelessness. It’s the hopelessness that led me to feel like, “You know what? I’m going to write a fucking angry song. I’m going to take this guitar riff and we can all together feel that this is bullshit; this isn’t right.” I feel like with a lot of people that are tackling these subjects, there’s a message of unity and kumbaya. I believe in that too. I’m optimistic about that one day being the case, but first, can we all get on board that this is fucking wrong. We should be upset. We should flip a table. We should get in the fucking mosh pit and have a physical release of all of the tension. Then from there, let’s try and find constructive solutions. 

When I’m talking about Parkland, or a song like “Stick Up” or “6:00,” I’m not trying to pose the answers to these questions. I’m not running for President. This is not what this is for me. I feel like I am just another young millennial trying to wrap my head around the world that I’m growing up in. First and foremost, I just want to feel understood. The more I tapped into feeling like a black sheep, the more and more people connected with what I was doing. There’s a certain irony to that, but there’s a real profound universality in that feeling. I’m just so grateful for all of these people that are connecting with that message.

OTW: Who are your Ones To Watch?

grandson: One of my Ones to Watch is definitely THE FEVER 333. I think that they’re coming up on some really cool, angry political music. I’m on tour right now with Hobo Johnson. This dude is doing some really cool shit. He’s definitely one to watch. And I think that motherfucking grandson is one to watch. Stay tuned. We have so much more coming. We just dropped an EP, and I’m really, really excited. 

OTW: Any parting words?

grandson: If anyone reads this and feels connected to any of it, there’s always more room on this fucked up train to nowhere. There’s always room for one more grandkid. You’re not alone. 

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