BY DAN GARCIA
Andy Grammer is music’s easiest guy to root for, and that just may be an understatement. Today you can’t turn on the radio without hearing Grammer’s single ‘Honey, I’m Good.’, and while a lot artists may see their commercial success come almost overnight, Andy Grammer, who is one of the nicest guys in the industry, has truly worked his way up the charts. Sharing stories about studying music and learning to fail in college, to his version of “grad school” where he would pay rent by performing on the street 6 to 10 hours a day, we sat down with the ‘Keep Your Head Up’ singer to talk about his come up, temptations, his next album, and blurring the lines between “pop music” and other genres. Before his studio debut and self-titled album, which brought his first successful singles like ‘Fine By Me’ and ‘Keep Your Head Up’, Andy would sell his demo CDs for $5 on the street to Santa Monica tourists, only to have those same people come up to him half a decade later with those same CDs, while Andy is touring the country in promotion of his latest album and performing a single that reached the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 list. Hard work really does pay off.
Currently Grammer’s most recent single ‘Honey, I’m Good.’ sits at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 List and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. While the song is about escaping the temptation that women and lust can sometimes present (especially when mixed with alcohol), I wanted to know about the other vices and temptations that Andy Grammer has. “I’m doing a whole year of no sugar right now. That one’s rough,” Grammer told me. “The problem for me is that I don’t drink alcohol and so then it would be the end of the night and people would be hanging out and getting a drink, so then I would kind of lean on sugar. I can go hard on sugar, for real. So that’s a vice that I’m really trying to stop this year, but it’s been brutal. But I’ve done it since January 1st.”
After I shared my personal vices, Grammer pitched me one of the concept for his next album that could center around temptation, all in good fun though. “I was looking at ‘The 7 Deadly Sins’, have you heard of these? Lust is definitely one of them. Lust, gluttony, sloth is one of them, I forget, but it was interesting. That’s the next album, I should try write one about every one of them (Laughing).” I told him he should go with it, concept albums are in right now! Joking about album pitches aside, fans should rest assured knowing that despite the current success of his latest album, Andy has already been working on new music. “Pretty much any time that I’m not on the road is a scheduled day of writing. I’m getting some stuff I’m really excited about,” Grammer told me.
Although he took about three years between his first and second albums, Grammer feels the pressure from the changing music climate to constantly write and put out new music. “I think that it doesn’t matter what kind of person you are these days, you can’t just wait as long as you used to, to put out new music. I just think the cycles are getting shorter and shorter and shorter.” And while making music at a faster rate is a challenge, Andy also cites the change in the music climate for helping create great music. “I think though, along with them getting shorter, it’s quicker and cheaper to make great music than it ever has been. So we might just have entered an era where just more music comes. As a writer it just means you got to be on your game.”
Because people today can make music out of their bedroom at a near studio-level quality and with the power of the internet, some may see less of a need to go to school to actually study music, a path that Grammer took at Binghampton and California State University-Northridge. “I studied music business, which was cool. College is still just a great place to go to fail. You got to do that somewhere. You’re either going to fail in a club, or go to school.” And while Grammer didn’t formerly continue on to graduate school, he took on a grad school program of his very own. “I think probably my real degree, my grad school was just street performing for four years. That was probably the most influential on me, was my every day “wake up and go to the street”, pay my rent, just playing and setting up a carpet and making a little (sign) saying “Make Change, I Trust You” and I would just go for 6 to 8 to 10 hours a day.”
Those same people that saw Grammer in his years as a struggling artist (his “grad school”) did not forget his face and voice, as after the fame and success, Grammer now sees those same early customers many years later (and still today). “It’s really frickin’ sweet. Because Santa Monica is a vacation spot, so people from all around the country have that little CD that they bought. It’s not just in LA. Who knows, like today maybe someone will come up and say ‘Hey man, we were on vacation can you sign this one again. We bought it from you for $5 on the street.’ It’s really cool.”
When I met with Grammer, it was moments before his amazing set at Milwaukee’s Summerfest (a festival he performed at many years ago and on a much smaller scale). I asked him about how he likes performing festivals, and how it compares to other performances. “Especially as this gets a little bit farther down the line and you have a couple songs that people recognize, because a festival thing sometimes is a little bit different. If I do a college show or a festival, they fall in the same category, where like maybe 40% of the crowd knows me and then 60% is like “What’s up here? Who’s this?” As opposed to a club show where you probably have everybody there and they scream all the words.” And while he always loved festival performances, the sets are only getting more fun as his notoriety rises. “I’ve been finding as this gets bigger and songs get bigger, that percentage is going up and the festival stuff is just becoming a blast,” said Grammer. “Having two albums and having some success on both of them, you start to have songs that people definitely know and some that people are like “I didn’t even know he played that, that’s awesome!” I’m able to tackle bigger stages on this album cycle. I did last time, but not as well.”
One thing unique about Summerfest, which is shown through their booking of Grammer (among other artists), is their presence of artists who are successful in the charts but who may be underrepresented in some of the elite music festivals (Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza). While “pop” is a tricky word, a lot of artists who find themselves under the “pop filter” on iTunes are often not billed on some festival lineups.
“Pop is popular right? I’m going to play a whole set with a guitar right now, is that pop? Maybe? (Laughing) I’m down! I love pop!”
Grammer continued, saying “That was the whole thing about the title of my album, Magazines or Novels. Yeah, this is me messing with some pop sounds and hopefully doing it correctly so it doesn’t just fall into some shiny magazine, no depth, that you just throw away when you’re done. Hopefully it falls somewhere in the middle.” While Grammer agreed that some festivals may skip out on artists high on the charts, he doesn’t mind. “I also think that sometimes in the pop category, there is a lot of just putting on a track and singing, so that is a little weird for festivals as well. There is a like a hipster vibe for (a lot of) festivals, and I don’t know if my music would fall into the hipster category and that’s okay.”
Perhaps labeled pop by iTunes and Amazon, Grammer continues to blend genres because of his love for music. “My first love, that opened my eyes to what music could do to me, was the acoustic stuff. Because I had a guitar and it was what I was connected to. First it was like John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz.” Naturally the next step was for Grammer to find his love of rap and hip-hop. “Then the second wave, that knocked me off my feet was all the hip-hop, would be Lauren Hill, Common, Lupe Fiasco, some Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Biggie. Just diving in, it was so amazing. And then finding the balance between the two of those was really fun.” And if two waves were not enough, Grammer also cites rock as an influence for his sound and taste in music. “Then the third piece was finding piano rock: Coldplay, Billy Joel, OneRepublic. So these are like my three pillars that I love, that make me freak out. And anytime that I get all those three together, kind of mixing around, I just start to get excited.”
“The styles are so integrated. As an artist it’s super cool, as I’m writing music right now I don’t feel pigeon holed at all. I don’t feel like I got to write one like “this”. I just feel like I got to write something dope, and if it works it will be accepted, if it’s great. Finding the great is the hard part.”
Speaking on the crossing between genres, we talked about some of our favorite artists that blur the lines best. On Mike Posner, who recently transitioned from a pop/hip-hop sound to a more folk-influenced sound, Grammer told us, “He’s great. Did you get his new EP? It was really kind of cool and honest. I don’t know what you call it. Is that folk?” Grammer also cited artists that were labeled pop today versus years ago. “It’s kind of fun, when I was growing up I don’t know what you’d call pop, but it would be more like Brittney (Spears) or NSYNC or something like that. Now, pop runs the gamut from Hozier to Gotye, but it just stretches so wide, it’s cool.”
No matter what section his CD is categorized in at your local Best Buy, and no matter where his CD is even sold (whether it be online, in stores, or on the street), Grammer makes great music and he also makes it impossible to root against him. While every artist in the Top 100 deserves it, Grammy really deserves it. Hard work and good karma pays off, and Andy Grammer is the perfect example.