Photo: Jimmy Fontaine
Hailing from Los Angeles, gnash was always involved with music in one way or another. He started exploring music on the internet from the comfort of his own home, and now, the rapper just concluded his headlining tour to sold out audiences across the country. gnash received worldwide success after his hit single "i hate u, i love u" featuring Olivia O'Brien in 2016. But gnash's real talent was showcased in his three EPs u, me and us which were released in the span of two years from 2015 to 2016.
Fueled by his personal mission to help others feel better, gnash released his debut full-length album we, on Jan. 11. Track by track, the singer captivatingly reminds listeners that no matter what they go through, they are never alone. His shows are high energy, but gnash still conscientiously makes concerts feel intimate for fans. He frequently requests for the lights to be turned on so he can connect with as many people as possible. Many fans relate to the lyrics and some are even moved to tears. In everything gnash does, it is clear he just wants to encourage people to smile.
This Valentine's Day, gnash released the fan favorite track, "imagine if" featuring ruth b., as his latest single from we.
We chatted with gnash before he performed for a sold-out crowd at the last stop of the North American leg of his The Broken Hearts tour.
OTW: Growing up in LA, were you around the music scene? What made you want to pursue music as a career?
gnash: My dad got me a digital turntable when I was like 13 or 14 so I've been DJ'ing since then. I would just kind of do parties or friends' houses and stuff like that. But I always loved music and I was always super into studying what was popular online, and then I think that's when I realized I wanted to be in the music business. Well, I knew I wanted to be in entertainment because my mom and my godmother were in entertainment but I didn't know what faction. I found out USC, which I really always wanted to go to, had a music business program so I set my sights on that. I transferred to USC and then towards the end of my time there, I started recording my voice on things and expressing myself in that way because I had been in a relationship for a couple years and I was going through my first real breakup. I was super inspired by that, just to get a few things off my chest, so I started making songs about it and that's how I kind of got started.
OTW: Your first three EPs are titled u, me and us. Now you have your debut full-length album we; what's the meaning behind these titles?
gnash: When I set out to make we I knew that I wanted it to be an album for everybody. So where u was something for one person, and me was something I kind of made for myself, and then us was something I made as a plea for something to become a thing. I wanted to fill we with songs that I thought everybody could connect with. So the core consensus and the mission statement I landed on is "if we feel together, then we'll feel together," and what I mean by that is let's say for example tonight at the El Rey, a bunch of people come in and they're gonna sing songs that I wrote, but I never knew that a thousand people would like them and would want to sing along with them. Maybe they come to the show alone or with one friend, and they see 800 or 900 other people who are singing as well and these are ideas and statements that people attach themselves to because they connect with them and so does everybody else here, and then automatically you are less alone which inevitably makes you feel better.
OTW: Congratulations on we! What was the process like creating it?
gnash: So for the album I started working with Jeff Levin at Atlantic Records. and I have a partnership with them with my label happysad. Jeff came on and he wanted me to tell stories in rooms with one other co-writer and an acoustic guitar. He wanted me to write a whole album of acoustic songs and then we'd worry about production. Basically what that did was prove The Beatles rule which is if a song is great over four chords and an acoustic guitar, then it's a classic song. And so I knew the album was gonna take me a long time to make but I also knew that if every song was starting like that, it was gonna have that kind of longevity that I thought it needed to be relevant to people, some songs two years later. But what that process allowed me to do was wipe the slate clean for expectations for me or what at least I thought people were expecting from me, and then what I ended up coming back around to was more authentically me then I'd ever been before. I'm very thankful to Jeff for bringing me to that place.
OTW: What's one message you hope listeners receive when people listen to we?
gnash: I think on the surface it's if we feel together, then we feel better. And so when they listen to the 35 minutes top to bottom, I did my best to create them a sonic journey. Even if you're having kind of a weird day, hopefully by the end maybe you're feeling uplifted and you wanna throw a peace sign in the air and kind of say you feel better, that's really the goal for me I just wanna help people feel better, and so I hope that's what people walk away from we feeling, cause I'm not out here saying I'm the best singer or I'm the best musician or I'm the best performer or anything else like that, I just know that there's a lot of people that would like to feel better and if I can be a small or large part in that for them, then that's awesome.
OTW: You describe your music as "happysad;" what exactly is happysad?
gnash: To me happysad is kind of the range of emotions I exist in. I have really intense serotonin bumps and bruises, so sometimes those bumps go way up, sometimes they go way down. I like to think that I exist on this sliding scale between happy and sad all the time. Like if you had a graph and there was a line, I'm always kind of rollercoastering above and below that line. If I'm feeling below the line, what do I do? I write a happy song, but it's gonna be about a sad subject. And if I'm above the happy line and I want to stay there, what am I gonna do? Probably write a song about feeling great, and then maybe three days later I'll feel sad and then I'll finish it that day so it'll kind of add that kind of flavor to it. I always want to make sure everything I do has balance because if you don't have happy then you don't really know what it means to be sad and vice versa, if you're never sad then you don't know how great it feels to feel happy. I just try to have as many great days in a row as possible and if I have a bad day then I try and make sure I don't have another one the next day, cause that's how you form a bad habit.
OTW: Online you ask fans what song off we makes them feel better; is there a song by another artist that makes you feel better when you listen to it?
gnash: "Imagine" by John Lennon always makes me feel fantastic. "All You Need Is Love" by the Beatles, I'm a big Beatles fan and their songs always make me feel great. Most of Bob Marley, doesn't really matter the subject matter, I just really think there was an energy that he put into every song he made that was just uplifting in a way that I just don't know many people are capable of. "Don't Worry Be Happy" is for when I'm really feeling down, I'll put that on and it'll always make me smile because it's just silly and so beautiful.
Photo: Jimmy Fontaine
OTW: For your meet and greets you do arts and crafts with your fans; what inspired that?
gnash: I've always done my best to talk as long as fans want to talk and hang out but there's still time constraints on that. We wanted to do something special and we were like, "Why don't we just do something fun and make arts and crafts with everyone?" So we have 10 people a night come in and hang out. We burn an incense, we all drink half a liter of water and we have a different activity every day. Some days we've done Valentine's Day cards to yourself, we've done self-love garlands, we've made slime, stuff like that. I ask them what they're grateful for and how many pets they have, everybody introduces themselves, and then I encourage them to make either some kind of group text so they can all stay in touch because I want everybody to feel like they're walking away feeling better, but there's more than just saying you feel better. Maybe you create a support system with a group of friends, so why not meet them at arts and crafts or meet them at The Broken Hearts Club meeting? There's been a lot of people who have become friends from it, and I see it online, and I'm excited for the next tour because I think people will come back together and even if they don't come back to my show, maybe they're lifelong friends and that means the world to me.
OTW: What is The Broken Hearts Club meeting?
Gnash: During The Broken Hearts Club meeting, we come out and take a group picture, I speak briefly, I do my best to hug everybody, there's a couple selfies taken, but it's mostly just about the human connection. And secretly we give out passes throughout the night. If somebody just comes in a homemade tshirt or if somebody is particularly emotionally moved by the show, someone in my camp keeps an eye out. Everybody secretly has a sleeve of wristbands underneath their hoodies and makes sure that everybody that we notice or feel like needs to be there, is there. It's been fantastic, and to be honest it's been what has gotten me through the tour because normally by this point in the tour I'm exhausted and ready for bed, but on this run every single day I wake up excited to make arts and crafts and then play a show and then hug 150 people or however many people are gonna be there because it's hard to do that and walk away not feeling incredible on my end to. I'm extremely thankful for it.
OTW: What are your plans after this tour?
gnash: Well I'm gonna go home, which is about 10 blocks from here and then I'm gonna get started on my next little body of music, and I'm always working on new stuff so I don't know where it'll live eventually but the next month until we leave for Europe, is gonna be just music music music. And bringing friends over and writing with people and writing little songs when I'm alone or when I'm with friends and just really just getting back to my roots on that front like what I did with the first three EPs. And then every now and then one of those songs will probably feel more album-y, and I'll probably hold onto it for a little bit longer, head over to Europe and play some shows and then for the rest of the year I just wanna keep hugging people and helping people smile and seeing people smile, you know you can't make them smile but you can try to help. That's my goal, is to see energies rise.
OTW: Who would be your Ones To Watch?
gnash: Guardin who is on first tonight, fantastic. As well as Mallrat who plays second she's amazing as well. And also this guy Field Medic he's a fantastic singer, and I'm a huge fan of his. Pretty much all of my friends, cause I'm always watching them and I'm excited for what they do next. When I get home, I'm excited to start exploring Spotify or Apple Music and just explore the web and see what shows its face. I'm always trying to find songs that have under a thousand plays on them and just like fall in love with stuff that way cause at the end of the day I'm still kind of like a pretentious music listener and still want to know that cool new thing that nobody's heard of yet because I love that feeling.