By now it’s not surprising at all to hear of a new, exciting act coming out of Canada. OVO and a steady contingent of artists from indie to full-fledged pop have positioned our northern neighbors as new-age proprietors of a range of sounds that have come to pace a sort of unique cross-pollination of genres that often find new understanding within its borders. While the R&B and Hip-Hop spaces have been packed full of card-carrying Canadians for some time, it was the brash, unapologetically rock-influenced sounds of 23-year-old Grandson that caught my ear. Having only begun to step out as of late with a string of talented singles that speak to his careful interplay of established motifs, Grandson is proving that rock isn’t quite dead yet.
Over the course of the last two decades or so, a changing of the guard has occurred in popular music as hip-hop and urban soundscapes took centerstage away from the thundering, in-your-face brashness of the preceding epochs paced by intonations of rock from heavy metal to punk and beyond. In the years since rap made an appearance on the international scene, attempts at intertwining the genres came almost immediately with collaborations such as Run DMC and Aerosmith’s legendary take on “Walk This Way”. While the crossover has been achieved with positive results, it’s a careful formula that launched the careers of acts like Linkin Park, but lacked the staying power to hold onto relevance. With an understanding for the subtleties across both musical lanes, this New Jersey-born, Toronto-raised act might be exactly what both genres need as typified themes of contemporary music is becoming increasingly redundant.
“I’ve always felt like sort of an outcast in rock-culture as well. Like I’ve never really put on the eye-liner and the tight leather pants, that’s never really been what I got into it for,” said Grandson, who’s name is both a nod to the rootsy nature of his rock influences, which were largely delivered by his grandfather. “I was looking for a home in music, I knew I had something to say and I knew there was room, but I didn’t identify with modern rock either. That’s not to say there aren’t other bands that I’m listening to now that I don’t enjoy, I just didn’t see how I fit in as this sort of misfit, hip-hop kid. When I set out to do the rock project, my main goal was to not sound like a cover band. I didn’t want to sound like I was trying to rip-off anyone from the past because frankly when I hear music nowadays that’s unapologetically nostalgic or retro, it just doesn’t make me want to listen to that band, it makes me want to listen to the band they’re trying to be.”
Blending genres can be a sticky bitch that often comes unglued just when it begins to feel complete. For that reason, it took the young Canadian-adoptee awhile to find the lane he know occupies. Listening to a track like his latest single “Kiss Bang” it’s easy to feel comfortable within the thumping chord progressions the same way it doesn’t feel unfamiliar or forced when a trap beat comes unapologetically layered underneath. Whereas in 2012 the cliche would have felt too contemporary to be utilitarian, five years later the sound serves as a paper-clip, parsing together two separate ideas in a bold and unwavering manner.
Possessing a sort of innate understanding of the careful balance that must stay consistent within his increasingly narrow lane, Grandson has made sure that it presents itself as gimmick-free. Whereas rock music based in contemporary pop thematics often arrives with a slight message if one at all, this crossover acts has been careful to reflect the mentality of his generation at a time when it’s truly needed. Instead of just laying a trap beat under an electric guitar and talking about the last party he attended, Grandson opts to reflect the thoughts and feelings of his projected audience through a straightforward writing style that pulls few punches.
“I, like a lot of people in my generation, feel in some ways disenfranchised by the current state of what’s going on. I feel like there’s a rampant case of apathy that’s spreading through people’s flirtation with activism and change. Not being able to see the tangible results that have come from that engagement,” Grandson said. “I just wanted to give myself a voice. I believe that the way I see the world is not that unique, I don’t think it’s that special. I think that rock music is so uniquely angry and so unapologetically pissed off that you’re doing the forefathers a disservice by not addressing some of these things. How can we get people inspired, how can we let people know that their efforts aren’t going unnoticed when the people that are their elected representatives don’t seem to give a shit. I want to provide a place for that.”
That mentality of ingenuity further proves itself in the live setting, where he finds himself flanked by a live band, a furtherance of giving his music the sort of gritty, rock-centric feel that he’s been pushing towards for several years.
“The music really derives from the rehearsals and from the live set instead of the other way around, and that was something that was really important to me. It’s a four piece band. It’s me, it’s a drummer that’s also triggering sound, it’s a bassist that’s also playing a sub, and then a guitarist. Then it’s just me and a microphone,” said Grandson. “I think it’s because we were all classic rock fans at one point. We all had our hair grown out and wanted to pick up an electric guitar, but that genre of music, for whatever reason, has been watered down or oversaturated. I don’t know what the word is, and I don’t want to disrespect anyone that’s been keeping it alive for so long, but I knew that whatever I wanted to do, I wanted to do it on my terms and I wanted to do it differently than I felt it would be done.”
While his reminiscent musical manifesto is certainly in steady motion, it’s creator is quick to point back to his rearing north of the border as a catalyst for his audial sensibilities. Speaking over the phone last weekend during a break from recording out in L.A., which lately has served as an adopted hometown, Grandson described the scene in Canada. There, radio stations are have a standard that calls for playing localized music more than others and in turn that mentality has grown exponentially as more and more Canadian acts ascend to the international level.
“There’s all sorts of really interesting incentives in the Canadian entertainment industry to foster Canadian talent. There’s this thing called CanCon which is a broadcasting rule where Canadian radio stations have to play I think between 20-30% of their content has to be Canadian artists,” he said. “I think it’s really an incredible opportunity and I think it’s been able to foster a lot of the emerging Canadian talent that has been blowing up of the past five to ten years, particularly in Toronto with the OVO sound within the genre of R&B and within rap. In Montreal too, that’s actually where I went to school and I had the good fortune of linking up with a bunch of artists out there that are doing some cool things these days. I remember going to a Kaytranada show really early before he had blown up.”
Having followed his art from Canada back down to the sunny streets of Los Angeles with a newfound understanding of his musical identity realized, Grandson appears to be creating the most exciting music of his young career so far. Talking to him over the phone its readily obvious that he know it too. With a degree of tempered excitement emanating just below the surface, he’s looking forward to the release of his upcoming project, which he is patiently approaching throughout 2017.
“I think now more than ever people need rock and roll. People need a place to get mad, not just to be together and be too cool to address these things. I think that it is trending in this direction, I’m very hopeful for rock music. I’m hopeful that the messages embedded in my music do find that audience that needs them so desperately, and the only reason I’m making the music is because I need that place for myself. It’s my own place as well.”