Grandson Peels Back Layers On Stunning Sophomore LP ‘I Love You, I’m Tryin’ [Q&A]| THE NOISE

Photo Credit: Zachary Bailey

Multi-platinum alternative artist grandson gets intimate on his new, long-awaited sophomore album, I Love You, I'm Trying. The LP turns the lens inwardly, resulting in a 12-track collection of grandson's most personal and vulnerable songwriting. 

The lead single, "Half My Heart," is an emotional track that finds grandson grappling with his own self-destructive behaviors. Co-written with Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, the track features background vocals from Shinoda and pop-electronic artist Wafia. Other notable singles from the record include "Something To Hide," an electronic-driven rock anthem that explores the often concealed struggles he faced in adolescence, "Drones," an industrial dance-punk rager that revels in bad feelings, and "Eulogy," a chugging alternative hip-hop piece reminiscent of a psychedelic journey. 

This sonic shift in the artist's discography comes from a place of surrender to control the narrative. It's a deep dive into the psyche of a fragile, oft-emotionally unstable, and yet wildly creative force, resulting in a stunning, ambitious work that strips down the layers of grandson's public persona in ways none of us, including himself, could ever have imagined. 

grandson will head out on a massive global headline tour, kicking things off with a two-month North American trek. The US leg is set to begin on May 12th in San Diego, CA at the House of Blues and will visit major cities coast-to-coast. Featuring special guests K. Flay, Jack Kays, DE'WAYNE, and No Love For The Middle Child on select dates, it rolls through Chicago, IL for a sold-out performance at the House of Blues on June 11th before concluding in Hampton Beach, NH at Wally's on July 11th. The upcoming tour will also see grandson visiting Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Europe. 

The Noise had the opportunity to chat with grandson further about the album, his creative process, and his hopes as an artist.

I can only imagine how you're feeling leading up to the album's release! How are you feeling right now?

I feel, above all else, excited about putting out this body of work that I'm really proud of, worked really hard on, and think fans will enjoy. Every part of this process has been about acceptance and I feel like it's a super personal album and fans of grandson will find something to enjoy, whether it's getting to know me and why I write the songs I do. It feels almost like a prequel to the work I've done in the past because it explores a lot of my family history and early struggles of mine with mental health while also giving a really painfully honest explanation of what it's like to have gone from the pandemic to living on tour and spending all this time in this pressure cooker. So fans that are looking for that will find it. So yeah, I'm excited for fans to hear that and that it's about me and for my fans, and I hope they enjoy it. And should a bunch of new people come to the party, great. But really, this album is about me learning how to be good with who I am and what I've got and I feel really fortunate to have been making music now for five years and traveled across the world and all this stuff. So this album feels like it's for the people that have enabled me to do that. It's for us and so I couldn't be more excited.

What previously unreleased song are you most excited for people to hear when it drops?

I have a song called "Heather" on this new album that's a super personal, intimate kind of ballad about a fan who I lost to suicide. So I'm excited for audiences to hear this sort of affirmation like, hopefully, through this song we can make a commitment to one another to stick around for the journey. So I think that it's a powerful song. It's an important song to me in a lot of ways and I'm looking forward to singing it this summer on the road. 

That was one of my favorites on the album! It struck me in a way I didn't anticipate.

I understand. Yeah, we played it in Central Park yesterday for a small group of fans and it was super emotional. There were many tears shed and everyone in this scene is familiar with how devastating mental health in this community can be. We've lost so many great artists as well and I hadn't yet really found a perspective like this where we, as artists, like, lose great fans. So it's one that I'm excited to get out into the world.

What does the title I Love You, I'm Trying mean to you and how does its meaning weave through the record?

I Love You, I'm Trying is sort of like a cry for help. In some ways, it's an acknowledgment that sometimes your best might not be enough but you can still ask for acceptance from those around you. So it's this feeling of, I'm doing my best, you know. It was a phrase that I kept coming back to as I was navigating a long-distance relationship, as I was trying to forgive myself for waking up hungover a couple more nights than I might necessarily have intended to and I can be quite hard on myself. So this sense of, like, friends and family around me would try and get me to be more kind to myself by recognizing that I'm doing my best. And so it's both a phrase to say to somebody else and to tell yourself this mantra. So I think it weaves in and out through the album in this attitude of feeling defeated and the struggle with acceptance, leading to a conclusion that whether or not I would do something different, this is where we are, this is who I am. And the sooner I get on board with that, the sooner I can get to the good stuff, of which there is a lot to be found if you look for it.

Being kind to yourself and asking for help is one of the hardest things we could ever do. What do you do for yourself to practice self-kindness, being brave and vulnerable, and asking for help?

The hard thing I've had to navigate over the past couple of years is that I've developed this tendency to treat self-care as a service to give to others. So while I'm on tour, what makes me feel better is making other people feel better. Giving more of myself, which is, in some ways, rewarding but can also serve as a distraction because if you're not careful, you depend on something you can't generate. If I constantly need a crowd to entertain and make myself feel better, what do I do when there is no crowd because I just got home for a couple days? So I feel like I'm trying to develop and get better at finding the throughline of what's the thing that can come with me from the time at home to the time in the studio to the time on the road. What are these ways that I can find happiness and a sense of peace? There's a song on the album called "When The Bomb Goes," and the first lines are, "tried medication and therapy/ they only seem to help temporarily/ only one thing that takes care of me/self-sabotage." It's tempting to lean on vices and self-destructive habits. But yeah, it's a constant search, and just when I find something, it stops working. So I got to figure that out. It's a constant journey of trying to... I'm trying.

At least you are trying.

Yeah, and you have to celebrate that because life will give you so many reasons to feel anxious or uncertain. So you have to learn how to make space for the celebration of showing up every day and doing your fucking best. Otherwise, what the fuck is the point of any of this?

Exactly. Your past work often tackled big-tent issues like politics and social justice, but in this album, you're being more personal and examining your inner self. What inspired this shift to be more introspective?

It's a good question. It's a combination of a couple of things. I'm beginning to creatively compartmentalize the different impulses I have to both be this sort of narrator and provide a social commentary while also using these albums as a time capsule for a time in not just my life but our lives – me and the people using this music as the soundtrack to them growing up. So for me, this album was about finding personal anecdotes that can help speak on topics of addiction or mental health that are already themes in my work, but this time, I'm just trying to dig a bit deeper because I've gone down the path of reducing my songwriting to just doing any one thing, and it has never worked for me in the past. I found that impulse, like, “Oh, I have the opportunity to be the guy who writes the songs about the social topics of the day. And here is some headline of some injustice.” And I better go get in the studio and get it on TikTok as soon as possible so that it hits this algorithm when everyone's upset and, I feel like, I should do that where and when I feel the impulse to. But above all else, I'd like to be a storyteller and a songwriter that can touch on a lot of different themes. 

So while this album is more introspective and personal, I had plenty of more outwardly political songs that didn't make the album that we're going to put out on a different body of work. So what has been really helpful for me is to zoom out a little bit and give myself some perspective. I plan on doing this for a long, long time. I'm hoping nothing gets in the way of that. So, as a result, there'll be plenty of time. When I give myself this dread or anxiety and feel like if I don't make this album one specific way, I won't get the opportunity to come back and do it a different way again, that doesn't serve me, and it's not fair to my fans who have been here for this whole journey. So I'm looking at this as another step, and once you dig through the stuff on the surface layer, there's nothing else to write about but getting a little bit more personal and exploring your feelings and taking a theme like mental health or addiction that I've already spoken about and going well, "Maybe I gotta go one level deeper, and this isn't about addiction. It is about family. It is about the love we didn't get."

Like what is the root of all of these? 

Exactly! And as I shed these layers, the main thing that was important for me on this album was that I wrote many songs that didn't make the album and that the 12 that did, I felt a really, really strong personal attachment to. So there was something about each of these songs that felt like I didn't want to give up on it and it was important for me to tell that story.

To your point of trying to rush into the studio and create something and put it on social media as quickly as possible, I'm sure after a while, that leads to a very unsustainable work cycle and you become more susceptible to burnout.

Yeah, more susceptible to burnout and I never want to view my impulse to stand up for something with an opportunistic lens. If I catch that or hear from my team, like, "Hey, it'd be great if you wrote this song about this new...," I just, I don't know, there's something that feels really disingenuous about it and like antithetical to what this sort of advocacy work is ultimately about, because that's what it is. I think that my contribution to a progressive movement is to amplify voices that are doing this work already, and I feel like being another talking head or an aggregate for popular current events feels, I don't know, there's something about it that rubs me the wrong way. I'd rather make great songs, some of which will be political, and that's more sustainable for me as a songwriter. 

You never want to force a message. It should come from the heart and soul.

Yeah, and there's a lot more of that coming. But I do feel that these albums are for us and that these singles or the modern tragedy series that I began my career with that I'll find outlets and vehicles to express the anger that I have and that will never go anywhere. I am a happy-go-lucky person filled with rage underneath the surface and that rage yearns to break out of its cage. So I just got to get it out in its right place and time.

There are so many powerful music moments on this album, from the down-the-rabbit-hole opener of "Two Along Their Way," which features your dad on the keys, the strange time signatures and explosive sonics of "Drones," and the tear-inducing "Heather." Is there one moment on the twelve-track record that has really stuck with you or you feel really proud of?

Oh, the whole fucking thing! I really do love the entire thing. I opted for less of like a sound effect, cinematic approach. I wanted to make something that felt more grounded in instrumentation and grounded in a certain soulfulness that I'm finding in other genres of music, maybe even more so than rock and roll and punk-pop. I wanted to dig for something that felt more real to me, and I went looking in alternative pop and alternative hip-hop. So yeah, there are lots of moments on the record that stand out to me. Artistically, I want to give a big shout-out to my girlfriend and collaborator, Wafia, who sang on the record and just gave it so much soul and musicality. Her voice is just incredible. And I love "Drones." I can't wait to play a lot of these songs live. I love "I Love You, I'm Trying," and I'm really, really proud of and excited about "Half My Heart." It's just this groove that, like, if I was walking by at a festival drunk at 5pm in the afternoon, I would just be like -- it's like a magnet. I feel like, "What is that?" So I feel happy that I got that in my pocket. It's a really, really rewarding feeling to have worked hard and achieved a record that I really fuck with. Because it'll do whatever it does, but I made it, and I'll have always made it, and I'm really excited about it.

Wafia's presence adds a refreshing moment of breezy vocals on the short and dreamy "I Will Be Here When You're Ready To Wake Up." So what was it like working with her and how did that collaboration come to be?

Yeah, that's a good question. From very early on in our relationship, I was really a fan of hers first and I've always admired her work. I think the Venn diagram of what we could do was quite thin at the beginning of our relationship. As I felt more confident to explore alternative pop and alternative hip-hop, she had already begun exploring more indie songwriting and guitar-driven stuff. I felt like this was the album that we were finally able to make something work. When we initially began collaborating or trying to collaborate, I would try to help her write songs with and for her solo project. It was extremely difficult to separate those dynamics as partners and as collaborators. She's very intuitive and comes from the heart in every sense of the word, I think I'm a little more methodical and I need to think things out when I'm writing songs. So there was a clash initially, but with this album, I just asked really, really, really nicely and she was down to help. I asked, "Can you please make this album a whole lot better?" And she was like, "Okay, fine, just this one time," and she killed it. It meant a lot. It means a lot. This album, again, is a really personal record so to have my partner on it, my father on it, and my best friends singing on it, it makes it all the more of a source of pride for me to be able to put it out and go, "We did it our way."

Artistry is an ever-evolving process with eras, phases, and reinventions. Who is grandson now? What kind of artist do you want or hope to be?

As I've grown up, I've recognized that being, I guess... What I want to be ultimately is, as I grow up and change, as I continue to listen to different kinds of music, I have to struggle with do I remain who my fans thought I would be when they first joined the project, which represents one form of like being authentic, because some people don't want change. Or if I am changing, and I've made this commitment to be myself, then do I change with it as an artist as I'm changing as a person. And more than anything, I'd like fans to feel like they know me. I don't want to feel distant. I don't want them to feel like the next grandson single is some math equation. [With] the introduction of AI music, the more predictive and easily accessible it will be to recreate angry, heavy guitar riff-based music at the click of a button, the more we as artists will need to find and hold on to our soul as tightly as we can. And I think that does mean doing an angry political song one day, an acoustic song about love the next, and an RnB intro over here, and sometimes, that will come at the detriment of my career on some levels. Still, above all else, I'd like to be a multifaceted alternative artist. And I've never really taken the easiest or most direct path, but I've accumulated billions of streams and traveled across the world doing it my way. I want to keep going on that path, and I think that's the thing that at this point in my life as a person and as an artist is the most important to me is not chasing because I've learned the hard way that you can do everything for somebody else's approval and still not get it. And from that, a lot of hurt, resentment, and confusion can arise, whether in a relationship or in your career, so you have to make these choices with some center and deal with the consequences. But I'm gonna try to make this shit as great as I can for a music taste as unique as my own.

It's been a long road since 2014 when you decided to move to LA and pursue music. If you could say anything or give some advice to yourself at the beginning of your artistic journey, what would you say?

I would say it's gone by awfully fast, and on this project, I worked with collaborators who have listened to my music since high school and that is unfathomable to me that a song like "Blood // Water" could have come out five years ago now, in the blink of an eye and how much has changed along the way, has been so insane. So I would say, get a head start on grounding your experience of growing up and making this music and the highs and lows of it. Be as present with it as we know how to because the ship goes by awfully fast, and it's been really fun. I'm really, really grateful. 

This album, on many occasions, explores themes of mental illness and how things out of our control can plague the mind and the soul. So, for anyone reading this interview or listening to your album right now, do you have anything you'd like to say to them?

Yeah, I would say that a good step towards being happy is making room for your unhappiness. I feel like it's really been difficult for me when I compound the inevitable and real stress of growing up and changing with this feeling of like, "Is this right or wrong?" Like, "Where should I be?" And "should" has been feeling like it's even more present in my life. It could be because of how much time I spend on social media or this growing feeling of consequence, but you can't really fuck it up. I think you're doing great. It's really fucking hard. I think there are many things about being our age at this time, where there isn't a whole lot of a roadmap and our parents don't understand it. We barely even understand it, there's so little ability to forecast who we're going to be or what we're going to do and that's okay. You're gonna be okay. As long as you give yourself a fucking break once in a while, just listen to some music and wait for this thing to blow over. Acceptance is a big first step and then we can work on the problems that we have to fix both in the world and in ourselves, but first and foremost, I think just giving yourself a fucking break for being upset about upsetting things helps a lot.

If you or someone you love is struggling, please call or text The National Suicide Hotline at 988

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