After driving around in circles through the one-way streets of Chinatown, we arrived at the Great American Music Hall and caught up with Andy Grammer before the final performance on his Back Home: Summer Tour.
AG: Well, you came on a strange night. I’ll start there.
AG: It’s gonna be great still, but I don’t know if you’ve ever… if you go to a lot of shows, then you know that on the last night everyone pranks each other. So, that’s happening, this evening. It’s gonna get weird. And great. Yeah, you came to a good night.
SFCS: So it’s a tradition that you have with the people you tour with?
AG: Well yeah, but I didn’t start it. It’s just that every tour that I’ve been on, the last night of the tour, everybody does something to each other a little bit ridiculous. So I don’t know what they’re gonna do to me, but I’m gonna do some ridiculous things to them. For sure.
SFCS: Oooh. Can you give us a little hint?
AG: The problem is, there are no walls here, so I can’t because I don’t know where they are – I don’t want them to hear.
SFCS: Ok fine [laughs]. So have you performed at The Great American [Music Hall] before?
AG: Yeah. My last headline tour I played here. It was awesome.
SFCS: And now you’re closing your tour here – how fitting. Well since you’ve been to the Bay Area before, what’s your favorite place to eat around here?
AG: Favorite place to eat in the Bay – I would say — Actually I had some good Chinese food in Chinatown, but I don’t remember exactly where, I just know it was great.
SFCS: Your music is so happy-go-lucky. Where do you get this constant positive inspiration?
AG: I don’t know! I just genuinely believe that most things are for the good. I do, I believe that, so it’s hard – you’re not going to hear too many songs from me that are like “life sucks.”
SFCS: Well that’s because life doesn’t suck.
AG: That’s what I’m saying! So, I don’t know… I do think [happy songs] are harder to write, the ones that are about being upbeat or about that there is something good about life. I think that’s hard to do because it gets cheesy super fast. So, I will write a lot of them and fail and then you guys just don’t hear those. And the good ones…
SFCS: The good ones come out. I’ve definitely noticed that – that many artists do fall back on writing about hard times, and although I’m no musician, I see it in my writing – that type of material, the darker and the sadder moments, are much easier to make poetic.
AG: Yeah, I don’t know. There’s just an element about it – it’s cooler. I don’t what it is, maybe it’s apathy, or sadness has another element, but it’s just cooler. It just is. And it’s just easier to capture. Being happy is a little more flimsy and it falls over quicker while you’re trying to get it done. But when people nail it, like “Happy” by Pharrell, the world needs it, they love it, they freak out, and everybody dances to it like ‘Ahh this makes me feel so good – thank you so much!’ So, you know, it’s a valiant cause to go after that, to write some good [songs] like that. Definitely on the second album, there’s one’s like that and there’s ones that are a little bit darker, so we’ll see what everyone will think about it.
SFCS: Well your second album comes out in just a couple weeks now…
[Andy’s second album, Magazines or Novels, was released on August 5, 2014]
AG: Yep, that’s right!
SFCS: So anything you can let us in about your upcoming album?
AG: Sure! It’s ummm – well I think it’s my best work, who knows, we’ll see. Everyone gets to choose. It’s definitely different, which I think is important. I already made the first one; I don’t want to make another one of those. I would say that the first album is like me saying ‘hi, like hey I’m just meeting you,’ like ‘Hey! What’s up? It’s nice to meet you. I’m gonna shake your hand and I’m gonna smile real big.’ And that’s who I am, genuinely. But then, if you and me hung out for like two weeks together and then we were sitting in the same spot, having the same conversation, we’d know a little bit more about each other.
SFCS: So you wouldn’t have to cover the basics.
AG: Exactly, you wouldn’t have to cover the basics and can just get right down to the nitty gritty and I could be like ‘Oh, what makes you tick? Have you lost in your life in a way that’s intense?’ That’s what this second album’s about. A little bit deeper.
SFCS: Ok, so it’s diving in to the deeper Andy?
AG: A little bit deeper in yeah, which I had a lot of fun doing actually. It was just a little more honest and sonically, I think it’s a little cooler.
SFCS: So did you use different techniques from your first album, a new approach to creating the music? Or are you just playing with different rhythms?
AG: Well just the influences were different… I’d say the influences in the first album were like Lauryn Hill meets Coldplay meets John Mayer. And I would say, on this one, it’s like Lumineers meets Drake meets Macklemore.
SFCS: Sounds like a hit. So, you’re saying your new music is Lumineers, Drake, Macklemore, but overall, who would you say is your musical influence? Do you have one?
AG: Nope, and I think that’s part of today’s music industry. We’re all super ADD – in a good way and in bad ways. Like it’s hard, people that listen to music right now, if you ask them ‘what’s your favorite style of music?’ they just say ‘ ah, I listen to everything.’ I think also because a lot of artists are pulling from everybody at the same time, it’s very homogenized. In a cool way. You have rappers hopping on country tracks and it’s just kinda a melting pot right now, and when I was growing up, maybe when I was younger, like ten or eleven, I don’t remember people doing that. I remember being like [scrunches face and uses a funny voice] ‘I listen to Nirvana. And like, that’s it.’
AG: You know what I mean? I feel like now, everybody is open to everything. And Magazines or Novels is definitely a bunch of different genres.
SFCS: I know that your father, as well as your wife, are singer-songwriters in their own right, so how have they influenced you? How has their presence played into what you do with your music?
AG: Yeah well, being around that, in your family, all the time, you’re just always talking about it, always thinking about it, hearing a song and being like ‘listen to that, check that out, did you see how they did that?’ It’s just being around that constantly, the same way I imagine any family that does a career, where their life somewhat revolves around that.
SFCS: Right on. So now I’ve got a couple wackier questions…
AG: Let’s go wacky! Take me there!
SFCS: Alright! If you were a kitchen utensil, what would you be?
AG: A kitchen utensil… I would be…
SFCS: Sorry, it’s a tough one.
AG: The reason it’s a tough one is because you’re hitting on a topic… I don’t really cook. I am the worst.
SFCS: Oh, so you don’t know enough kitchen utensils.
AG: I just eat out; I eat out all the time. And even when I’m home, cooking just takes so much time. So yeah, I’m the worst. And I would say I am a knife that just made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I’m not sure if I’m going to have another one, so it’s just hanging on the edge.
SFCS: You’re resting on the edge of the plate?
AG: Well you put it on the edge of the sink cause you’re like ‘I might use it again.’ That’s what I am.
SFCS: What’s the coolest venue you’ve ever played at?
AG: Hmm I don’t know. It would be between Red Rocks, which is in Colorado, and I just got to play the Hollywood Bowl in LA. Both of those were pretty awesome. I just like big venues, but I really – it sounds like a lie – but this tour has been kinda smaller venues, like tonight – I don’t know what the cap is here, like 600 or something like that – and it’s sweaty and you’re right in the middle of everybody, I really, I really love that. There is something cooler about that than the huge venues, because in the huge venues you have your ears in and you’re singing, you’re projecting something to a big audience, but in these venues, you’re in it with them, which I really like a lot.
SFCS: So would you say that you can feel our energy as an audience?
AG: 100% yeah, and I usually take one of my ears out so I can actually hear the crowd too.
SFCS: I love going to concerts in small venues – you can really get up in there – it’s a more intimate music experience and I feel like you get to be a part of the music. And I know that every viewing experience is unique, but could you pick out your favorite show that you’ve been to as a fan?
AG: Favorite show as a fan would have to be either MuteMath – check them out, they’re stupid good, like kinda a rock band that has such incredible energy – and I recently saw the Bruno [Mars] show. Have you seen Bruno Mars live? Woo! Unreal. Like I have no issue being like ‘that guy is SUPER badass.’ I played a show with him – super small, like 200-cap venue – and we each played a song, like four or five years ago, and I remember then being like ‘that guy is really good.’ And I’m good friends with his musical director and so I just saw his show in Nashville and it was outrageous. Like ‘show-wise,’ he’s a little James Brown, and it’s amazing. So go see that – everybody should go see Bruno’s show.
SFCS: Alright, I’ll get on it! So, going back to the mixing of music, I’m all about Pandora playlists and how it can describe you, so who is on – right now, if you were going to go listen to your iPod – who is on your playlist?
AG: Ok. Coldplay – the new album is super sad and awesome. There’s this girl, Emily King – she’s SO good and she’s out opening for Sara Bareilles right now. Really good, Emily King is legit. And let’s see, I love me some Mat Kearney – he’s really good. And what else is on there... Ahh, this other guy named Greg Holden. Those four are what I’m listening to right now. He’s a little more like acoustic, singer-songwriter type stuff.
SFCS: Sounds legit – I’ll have to check all those out. Ok, so what is your pre-show routine?
AG: Different on each tour! This tour is... well when you do new music, a lot of it is how you’re selling it I think. The song’s gotta be good, but you gotta be really into it. So the crowd will be. Especially the stuff you’ll see tonight is super high energy and there’s a little bit of movement from the band as well, so if you’re uncomfortable at all while you’re doing the moves, you look so dumb, but if you’re into it and you’re having the best time ever and you’re selling it and it’s infectious – that’s the word I’ve been trying to use – then everybody freaks out and loves it. And it gives everybody permission to just act ridiculous. So we’ve been coming up with infectious diseases every night.
SFCS: That’s brilliant! What’s tonight?
AG: No, Gonor-ROCK-ea, because it’s a disease with something we are gonna do to you that’s infectious. Understand? So we are gonna give everyone in the audience Gonor-ROCK-ea, everyone is gonna get it this evening. It’s like an amazing, horrible, fantastic disease that we are gonna spread each night. So we spend time coming up with it before we go out. And it’s getting rough because these are the last three shows and there’s not that many – we’re running out of infectious diseases. So we’ll see what happens tonight, I don’t know.
SFCS: Well I haven’t gotten my Gonor-ROCK-ea shot yet, so…
AG: Oh you haven’t gotten you’re Gonor-ROCK-ea shot yet? Well you might be infected.
SFCS: If you had a day, a day to do whatever you wanted without any restrictions, what would you do?
AG: You know it’s funny, a lot of times I’m just traveling so going somewhere is not what gets me anymore. But it also depends on when you find me… Ask me this when I’m in writing mode – I spend a year and change, just getting up everyday and writing for like eight or nine hours a day – when you ask me then, I’ll be like ‘GO TO JAPAN.’ I just wanna go and fly somewhere. I want to go to Australia. I wanna run around. If you ask me now, I would just want to have a day and read a good book, where I don’t have to fly around and think about where I have to be or who I have to respond to or anything like that. Or play basketball. Simple stuff like that.
SFCS: One last question. If you could take credit for any song ever written, which would it be? Which song would you want to claim as your own?
AG: “Fix You”is really good. “Fix You” by Coldplay is a super badass song. Or – what else is there that is so well written – “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan is really really good too. The ones that somehow get underneath the skin, those are the one I’d really want.
Photos by Jen Horton