As it turns out, Andy Grammer speaks exactly like you would expect him to. This isn’t a bad thing – anyone who’s heard his earworm hit single “Keep Your Head Up” is very aware of the positive vibes that are the 27-year-old singer’s stock and trade. Andy’s self-titled debut album hit shelves earlier this summer, and he’s already managed to cultivate a growing fanbase that revels in his sunny brand of optimistic pop-rock head-nodders. Andy greets me on our phone interview with an enthusiastic hello and a “how ya doin’, man?”, and you can practically hear the smile on his face. A pleasant and open conversationalist, Andy shot the breeze with me from a Florida tour stop, discussing newfound fame, covering Beyonce, and the importance of black and purple in the color scheme.
So you’re on tour right now, right? I hear you’re out there with Natasha Bedingfield?
Natasha Bedingfield, man. It’s so cool. Natasha Bedingfield and Kate Voegle as well.
What’s the atmosphere like out there? What’s it feel like to be out there amongst fans?
It’s so cool, man. As someone who’s starting out, kind of, being part of such an energetic thing every night is really amazing. Every time we’re getting somewhere, there’s a big line of people there, waiting to get into the show. And pretty much every night we’ve played has sold out, and it’s just been so much fun, and… amazing.
So, at what age did you really start getting into music as a performer?
I really got into it kind of intensely in high school – listening to albums, trying to figure out what it is that makes a good song, putting down an album and writing down what happens all the way through it – lyrically, melodically, bridge/chorus/verse-wise. And in college, I did the same thing, and then when I graduated college, I started doing it professionally.
And what’s your musical range, in terms of what you play?
I sing, I beatbox a little bit, and I play piano and guitar.
Excellent little set of fundamentals there!
Yeah, piano and guitar to me are the best to write songs on. That’s just what seems to work for me.
Now, you mentioned listening to a lot of albums in order to figure out the anatomy of a great song – who would you cite as influences?
I would cite John Mayer, I love Lauryn Hill, I love Coldplay… kind of those three vibes, you know? The acoustic guitar guy, the hip-hop, and the piano rock.
And your father [children’s musician Red Grammer] is a musician as well.
Yeah, he’s awesome! Incredible children’s musician… a great, just incredible voice. And someone so close to you in your life that was able to do it, figure it out, and make it happen… that was encouraging.
So you really initially began performing as a street performer, correct?
Yeah, I did that for awhile, like two and a half, three years… I’d bring my guitar out to the street and just start going for it. I’d see if I could make a crowd, see if I could sell my own CDs. Initially what was actually stopping people were the covers, and as I got better, it seemed to be that they were stopping for my original songs. Which was cool.
The music nerd has to ask: what kind of covers would you play to attract attention?
A lot of stuff that was on the radio… I would cover “Apologize,” beatbox, and then do the Timbaland voice… I’d cover the Fray on the guitar, which was always kind of interesting… I’d cover… who else? Beyonce… things that would make people stop. You don’t really wanna cover, like, Howie Day on the guitar. It’s already been done.
I gotta say, I wouldn’t mind hearing you cover Beyonce.
We’ll make that happen!
Awesome. So, how did you make that transition, from being the guy playing on the street to the guy with a video on the airwaves and a hit single? What did you do to make that happen?
It was a mixture of writing the right song, and meeting the right manager. My manager is incredible. He really did an incredible job with me, just helping me focus on exactly what needed to be moved on and what we needed to work on. He saw me out on the street, and he could see that I was selling a bunch of CDs consistently, so he’s like, “there’s a market for it, people like this music.” But then me and him really dug in to take this thing to the next level. He hooked me up with some producers in New York, we recorded “Keep Your Head Up”, and since that song has been cut, a lot of things have gone in the right direction.
Speaking of “Keep Your Head Up”, I, like a lot of people, encountered that through coming across the video on VH1, and I couldn’t help that there was a gentleman by the name of Rainn Wilson. How did that come about?
Yeah, he’s pretty great. He co-wrote a book called SoulPancake with my old roommate, so I’ve kinda known him a little bit. I asked him to do the video, he said yes, and it was awesome. He’s such a gracious dude, he’s amazing.
Let me ask you about your recently-released debut album. Was that something where you already came into the process with your songs already intact from your street performer days, or was it a whole writing and recording process?
A lot of ’em, yeah. We did write a couple down to the wire, but for the most part, it was songs that I’d had ready to rock. Yeah, man, it was really fun… to create an album is… is such a blessing, you know? Not that many people get to do it, especially with top talent helping you, and so I was really excited about the whole process. It was really fun.
And what do you find your songwriting process is like? Is it like, music, then vocals, then lyrics, or what is that like for you?
I try to find music and themes at the same time; I think they’re supposed to blend, so if you can find a cool topic that can go with the music, I try to come up with it at the same time. If they start to fit, and it’s like, “oh, there’s a really cool topic, and it really meshes with this vibe musically,” then I try to fill in all the blanks with everything else.
Since releasing the album, have you happened across any sort of critical assessment or review of it?
We actually just got a little blurb in “People”, which was really sweet. They said it was reminiscent of a young Billy Joel with a different style, which was cool.
Yeah, that was a major one!
And fans seem to be reacting very positively.
Yeah, I mean, even to have my name be a part of the conversation right now is a great response for me. I wasn’t in the conversation last year, so, it’s pretty cool.
I’d say people tend to respond very well to the positive vibes, that sort of optimistic outlook that you seem to put forth… was that a conscious decision on your part, to not put more negative music out there, or was that just how everything came out?
You know, I think it’s just gotta be true. Whatever you do’s gotta be honest, and for me to write a song that just has a negative outlook, that’s just not who I am. So it wasn’t like a conscious thing, like, “I only wanna write this upbeat, positive music,” it’s just kind of me writing what I know. I’m not opposed to writing about things that are difficult or dark, but it just… didn’t seem to come out this time.
Is there anything you can tell me about future videos or singles that we might be hearing in the future?
You know, we’re not sure quite yet what the next one is. There’s a couple that we’re really excited about, but we haven’t made a choice quite yet.
It seems like there are a lot of potential singles to pull from there, especially with that kind of summer-jam feel that a lot of the songs have…
Yeah, there’s that summer-jam feel going on. And, back to your other question… personally, the way that I see the world is that negative things always create a positive outlook. The harder you’re tested, the stronger you get. Even, like, going to the gym and working out – it’s hard on your muscles, but then you grow. Even when stuff gets pretty rough, that’s kinda how I see the world.
“What doesn’t kill you,” et cetera.
Are you worried that it’s an area that you could get pigeonholed into? If you release something down the road that may not be as sunny as people are used to, are you worried that they may not react well?
The only way I can think of it is, if you’re a painter, you have all these colors to choose from. I never wanna stay away from colors. Black and purple are important, you know? It wasn’t in my life this time to put it out, but I’m sure that there will be more black and purple to come. That’ll be part of the next album, I guess.
So with that in mind, in terms of the current musical landscape, who’s someone that’s out there right now that you find yourself liking? Who would I find on Andy Grammer’s iPod these days?
You know who I — honestly, this is not because I’m on tour with her, Natasha Bedingfield is so good. Her most recent album is incredible. I was a fan of her before, but now we’re on tour, and I’m seeing her kill every night. Her album is unbelievable, man, she’s killin’ it right now.
Let me hit you with a hypothetical – your next album comes out, and you have one chance to have any rapper in the world drop an awesome guest verse on one of your songs. Who do you choose?
YEAH. Um, either Common or Lupe. I’m a huge fan of both of them.
And speaking of which, when are you planning on doing a little more recording?
You know, I’m not sure. We’ll see how this all goes. Probably for the next few months — after this tour, I’m gonna be out with Colbie Caillat, so we’ll see once that’s done. I’m writing all the time out here, I’ve gotta lot of cool ideas coming, for sure.
So, as a musician relatively new to the landscape right now, is there one honor or event that you could point to that, if you were to attain it, you’d say “okay, I’ve arrived”?
Well, I don’t think that’s real, because if you do that, then, you’ve arrived, but what are you doing the next day? [laughs.] I don’t think you ever arrive. I think you’re just blessed to be playing music and doing what you do. I mean, I realize how much of a gift it is — right now, I’m sitting in the parking lot in Tampa, and we’re gonna play and there’s probably gonna be a thousand people here. So I’ve arrived, in my opinion. This is all I wanna do — like, oh my God, if I can continue to do this, then that’s great.
If I can do one more goofy little thing here, let’s do a quick trivial segment called Five Favorites. Off the top of your head: favorite album?
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Favorite fast-food establishment?
Agreed. Favorite Beatle?
Superman! Keepin’ it classy.
That’s an interesting one… I think I’m gonna get judged for this, but I just laugh and love it so much. It’s not the best movie ever, but it just makes me happy… the movie Shanghai Noon with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. Such a stupid movie, but I loved it. So I don’t care, judge away, world!
I’m not gonna judge you for that. Reminds me of my teenage years. Andy, I appreciate your time, man… thanks for taking the time to talk to me, and we’ll continue to follow your career over at Popblerd!
Thanks, man. I’m glad I could be a part of it.
And after a few more minutes of breeze-shooting, my first official interview was over. Andy Grammer’s self-titled debut is in stores now, and its flagship single, “Keep Your Head Up”, is scaling the charts. The album itself is a breezy, easygoing collection of guitar-pop that Maroon 5 and Jason Mraz fans should find themselves more than pleased with; Andy is on tour with Natasha Bedingfield throughout the summer. Stay tuned to this site later this week for a chance to win Andy Grammer T-shirts as well as copies of his latest album!
Many thanks to Andy Grammer for spending a few minutes with a fledgling writer, and you can catch tour dates and more information over at www.andygrammer.com!
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