Alice In Winterland 2012: Andy Grammer
In 2012, ANDY GRAMMER emerged as one of the biggest success stories in the music business. He performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (twice), and Good Morning America. He shared the stage with Taylor Swift, Train, and Colbie Caillat, and he is the first male pop star, since John Mayer in 2002, to reach the Top 10 at Adult Pop Radio on his first 2 singles, “Keep Your Head Up” and “Fine By Me”. “Keep Your Head Up” is certified Gold (quickly approaching Platinum) and received the BMI award as one of 2012’s Top 50 most performed songs across all formats. “Fine By Me” is also certified Gold. Known for his vibrant pop/rock/soul mix and free-flowing vocal delivery, the acclaimed singer, songwriter, and musician – who began as a street performer in Santa Monica, CA – is now poised to make 2013 another big year. Radio has enthusiastically embraced his third single “Miss Me,” (rapidly approaching Top 10), he just finished a national tour with Train, and he is gearing up for a major headline tour in 2013.
It’s widely known that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at anything. Andy Grammer logged his 10,000 hours of practice on the streets of Los Angeles. With his car battery-powered amplifier and acoustic guitar in tow, Grammer managed to sing his way from the streets to the center of the music industry.
One listen to Grammer’s self-titled S-Curve Records debut and it is clear that this young man has become an expert. From the buoyant “Keep Your Head Up” to the breezy “Fine By Me,” to the jubilant horn-laced “The Pocket,” and emotionally-charged “Miss Me,” his irresistible pop songs blend heartfelt, compelling lyrics with instantly unforgettable melodies.
Even though he knew music would be his path, Grammer never assumed it would be an easy road or that he could take any success for granted. He played any corner that would have him—using every experience to hone not only his songwriting craft but to learn how to understand his audience. His desire to be heard led him to the streets: “I didn’t know what else to do. So I just went out there and started playing.”
The success of Grammer’s album would exceed even his expectations. “That I even get to play a sold-out show where people know the words, and I’m singing about things I’m connected to is such a blessing,” he says. “It’s the equivalent of a nine-year-old saying ‘I want to be an astronaut when I grow up’ and then getting to go to the moon. This year I’ve been to the moon, and it’s awesome.”
Named one of Billboard’s 2011 Artists to Watch, the singer recorded the album in New York and Los Angeles with a collection of top producers, including Matt Wallace (Faith No More, Maroon 5), S*A*M & Sluggo (Train, Neon Trees), and Barrett Yeretsian (Christina Perri). “Basically, it was show up somewhere, really dig in with someone who’s going to help you get your creative vision across and then go somewhere else and do it again,” he says. “We got some really great stuff that I wouldn’t have gotten if I just worked with one producer.”
Every song that Grammer wrote on the album had one goal in mind: “I’m just trying to track down the truth,” says Grammer, who was born in Los Angeles and grew up in New York. “My favorite thing is to pop up above everybody and write from a bird’s-eye view. It may be about a break-up, it may be about a good relationship, it may be what we’re doing on this planet here. I like to be far enough away to see the whole scope of what’s occurring.”
While much of his music is upbeat, Grammer is quick to add that he’s hardly “pink and fluffy.” I’m not intentionally trying to be positive, I’m just trying to be real.”
In fact, Grammer wrote “Keep Your Head Up” as a letter of encouragement to himself after he’d spent an exhausting day street performing and had little money to show for it. The video–which features groundbreaking interactive technology in a partnership between VEVO, Interlude and S-Curve–won an MTV O Award for Most Innovative Video, topping entries from Arcade Fire, Robyn and OK Go! “The most challenging part about the video was the sheer amount of times we’d have to tape each cut so people can go through the video thousands of different ways,” Grammer says. “It was crazy.” The clip stars “The Office’s” Rainn Wilson. “He’s such a gracious, amazing guy,” says Grammer, who met Wilson through a former roommate. “He gave me tips on how to look in the camera. The video has gotten so much more exposure because of him coming and hanging out.”
Another album standout track is “Fine By Me,” with its intimate lyrics, sparkling pop melody and funky undertow. “‘Fine By Me” is about having my heart stolen,” says Grammer. “It’s a story about a girl who came into my life and just robbed it right from under me. In my experience love is an all-or-nothing emotion. We are all really protective of ourselves because we know that if we fall in love we’ll fall hard. So we kind of dance around the edges with our tippy toes in the water playing it cool. I went from playing it SO cool to falling SO hard in about four days.”
Grammer grew up in a musical household. His father, Red Grammer, is a Grammy-nominated children’s performer who gladly indulged his son’s desire to get on stage…to a point. “My dad would bring me up to sing with him. I’d just have a couple of lines,” Grammer remembers. “Afterwards, I’d say, ‘Dad, I think I’m going to need a bigger part in your show because I nailed that. Seriously, it was intense. I can see it in their eyes, they want more of me.’ I was six or seven and he just laughed and laughed.”
His dad gave Grammer an insider’s insight into what happens off stage as well. “The most important thing I learned from my father about being a musician was the work ethic,” Grammer says. “He worked really hard, he traveled all across the country. I saw his respect for his audience, respect for himself. I saw him take days off where he wouldn’t talk to rest his voice. I saw the work it takes to cultivate an artist’s career.”
In 9th grade, Grammer picked up his dad’s guitar and taught himself to write songs. “I knew one chord, so I was like, ‘I’m going to write the coolest song with one chord ever’,” Grammer laughs. His first band, Out of the Blue, got off to an auspicious start after playing some covers as well as Grammer’s first original song, “Doorstep,” at a battle of bands contest. “We did not win…at all,” Grammer says. “I thought it was going to be a big concert moment. It was fun, but it was like, ‘This is really hard and we suck.”
Around the same time, Grammer had a musical epiphany when he heard Lauryn Hill’s seminal solo album, 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. “It felt like it was shifting things inside of me and I loved it,” he says. Other artists who helped him influence his sound include Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Coldplay and Common. “For me, it’s always been about a mix of hip-hop, acoustic singer/songwriters and piano rock,” he says. “I pull all those together. Each song may lean more heavily on one than the other, but they all have all three pieces.”
So that’s what he did. Now based in Los Angeles, Grammer began playing everywhere he could, including gigs at more than 100 colleges and universities, as well as birthday parties and high school dance classes. “I’d send my music to a choreographer and she would choreograph a dance, then I would come in and play while 100 high school students would dance to my music,” he says. “They’d know all my music and come to my shows. It was all really fun. Any time you make the transfer of ‘I’ve created something and I’m giving it to you and I hope it makes you happy,’ that’s good.”
Performing live remains a communal experience for Grammer, who’s toured with Train, Gavin DeGraw, Colbie Caillat, Mat Kearney, the Plain White T’s, Parachute, and Natasha Bedingfield – among others. “As an artist, you have an opportunity to get in and move things around in people. It’s one of the only times during the day where they say, ‘I’m going to open up to some other stuff here,’ and you have that hour to get in and move stuff around and put it all back together. Those are the best gigs, where you can see that the whole room has moved somewhere together.”