Andy Grammer Talks Debut Album, Shares Street Performing Experiences
With only one EP to his name, singer-songwriter Andy Grammer is already gaining a lot of recognition for his airy, light-hearted pop/hip-hop infused tracks. Grammer recently won an MTV O Award in the Innovative Music Video category for his hilariously creative interactive video for the single ‘Keep Your Head Up.’ The video is funny enough as is, but the fact it co-stars everyone’s favorite goofball from ‘The Office,’ Rainn Wilson, makes it even more fun to watch.
PopCrush was able to catch up with Grammer — who is currently out on the road with Paracute and the Plain White T’s — between his busy tour schedule to chat about his forthcoming self-titled album (dropping June 15), what he learned about the music business from his father, and getting his start as a street performer in Los Angeles.
Were you surprised when you won the MTV O Award for your ‘Keep Your Head Up’ video?
Yeah totally. When they nominated I was like ‘Oh it’s so great to be nominated.’ Then I looked at all the other people I was up against, like OK Go and Arcade Fire. I was just like ‘Cool, it’s nice to be a part of this crew.’ And then when I won, I was like ‘What?!’ [laughs] Crazy. I mean the video’s cool, but I was like, ‘Wow this is awesome.’
How did the whole interactive video project come about?
Steve Greenberg, the head of S-Curve, he found this amazing technology in Israel, and he presented me with the opportunity to do it. Old Navy sponsored it, and it all just came together as a big, big project. It was really, really fun to do.
Rainn Wilson is featured in the video. How did you guys end up meeting?
He’s a good friend of mine. He was so gracious. He came and stayed way longer than he was supposed to. He co-wrote a book with my roommate called ‘Soul Pancake.’ Rainn has this website called Soul Pancake that everyone should check out. It’s amazing. But they have the website and then they wrote a book. I took him out to lunch and asked him, and he was really gracious about it.
Any other famous friend cameos in store for upcoming videos?
I mean sure, let’s do that! I mean, that was kind of my one famous friend. Hopefully, I can make a couple more by the next video.
Watch the Andy Grammer ‘Keep Your Head Up’ Video
So when did you first start recording music?
I think these days, you can start pretty early. I mean, not even professional but I would always be the dude that would write really well garage band-produced ‘Happy Birthday’ songs for my friends. Or something happens, and I would just send somebody a ‘Feel Better’ song — probably since like high school and college, when I started getting these music programs where you can start to figure out how to produce kind of minimally and get things down. I can remember in my college dorm room, recording into this crappy little microphone.
I read that your father, Red Grammer, is also a singer-songwriter. Have you learned a lot about the music business from him?
He’s awesome. Yeah, I learned that music is a skill to be really worked. I think that anybody who is really good kind of sees it that way, always trying to perfect it. I saw him doing that with songwriting and stuff. There’s kind of this myth in the music industry like, ‘Oh, they’re a star!’ Well, how did they get there? ‘No, they just are. They just have it.’ That wasn’t how I was taught how this works.
Before you started booking gigs, you worked as a street performer. What would you do?
Basically, I had my little cart that would roll out all of my sound equipment, like a little amp, and a microphone, and a little rug to put down to kind of set the vibe. And then I’d have a little wooden table – you were only allowed to have five CDs on there, for some reason that was the rule – and I would have a little jug that said ‘Make Change I Trust You’ on it. Then I would just start playing and try to get people to stop.
That’s where I really developed — I beatbox a lot in my live shows – I developed like, if people were walking by it was hard to get them to stop, so I would do covers of like ‘Apologize’ and beat box the heck out of it, with just me and my guitar. [I would] figure out as many ways of grabbing their attention as I could. It was a really cool way to develop as an artist, because I think in the beginning as an artist it’s really hard to find people who will be honest with you about whether you’re good or not. You have a lot of friends come to a show from work or wherever your job is, at Subway, and they go like, ‘Oh my God! You were so good!’ [laughs] But if you’re out on the street, this guy’s on vacation from Japan, he doesn’t care who you are. So if you can get him to buy a CD, you know you’re onto something.
Can you tell me about your full-length album? What songs are you really excited for people to hear?
You know, it’s cool because I’m really excited for everybody to hear all of them. There’s things that each one does, there’s some that are pop listening contenders that are gonna lead the pack. But then there’s ones that definitely aren’t supposed to be singles, like the last song on the album is actually about the street. I really label off a lot of the people that I met out there and what it was like to be out there. That’s never gonna be a single, but it’s one of my favorite songs.
Basically, where my influences come from — I love all the piano-rock guys like OneRepublic and Coldplay, and I love all the guitar guys like John Mayer and Jason Mraz, and then I’m really into hip-hop too. So that’s kind of what I want my album to feel like, all three of those really blended together, like the guitar, piano and hip-hop smushed.
What about your single ‘Keep Your Head Up’? What inspired you to write it?
So I was out on the street performing, and I had a slow sales day … It’s a whole process just getting to the promenade. You have to pack up the whole car, I was living in an apartment so it’s like four trips up and down the elevator with all your crap in it … And you’re just hoping that nobody steals it by the time you get back to your car, and then you’re running back every time like, ‘OK. Nobody stole my s—.;
So you finally get out there and you play, and then if you don’t sell any CDs, at the end of the day you’re bringing your cart back and getting ready to do this dance again of going up and down the elevators and all this stuff. [That day,] I was just smiling, just laughing and looking up at the sky like, ‘I don’t know why you’re putting me through this, but I’ll continue to do it because it’s awesome and I love music.’ And then I went home, and kind of with that smile on my face, I was like, ‘Keep your head up.’