In conversation with grandson

A year in review: accomplishments, firsts, and the road ahead

In conversation with grandson

In June 2017, The Varsity sat down with up-and-coming Toronto artist, grandson. A year later, The Varsity caught up with grandson to discuss the major changes that had occurred in the last year, including a new label, new mentors, and new projects.

The Varsity: It’s been exactly year since we sat down to have our first interview, and in this time, you’ve been able to achieve a lot of success.

grandson: Has it been exactly a year?

TV: A year minus a few days.

g: That’s amazing.

TV: A year ago, you had four publicly released songs with a combined 3.5 million plays on Spotify. Now, before the release of your first EP you have eight released singles. Do you want to try guessing how many plays you have now?

g: I don’t know man, let’s go with fucking 20 million?

TV: More than double that: almost 50 million plays on Spotify. What has this massive growth in support meant to you?

g: While it’s awesome, I think of it as an affirmation that what I’m doing here is providing the sort of support and is meaning something to some people. It’s a reminder that we have a lot more to do. It’s definitely an achievement that I’m proud of, to have accumulated this sort of engagement in the music that I’m making. It is really reflective of the people or else maybe I got lucky with playlisting: there are a lot of factors that contribute to numbers. So, I’m not really too caught up in the numbers game. What I’m really caught up in is how do those numbers translate into people really giving a shit. What it means to me is people giving a shit and that’s exciting, and I hope that I can get more people to give even more.

TV: Two of your most successful songs, “Blood // Water” and “thoughts and prayers” have racked up nearly 20 million plays on Spotify alone. Yet these two songs are both seen as political anthems for environmental protection and gun reform, respectively. What do you think your job is as a musician to support political movements?

g: That’s a good question. I’m trying to tell stories that are true to people listening. I am very proud of the sorts of feedback I’ve gotten. I’m also proud, more so particularly with “thoughts and prayers,” that we’ve been able to raise thousands of dollars through selling limited edition merch to support the Youth for Safety and Justice Fund… They have taken these poems and this song that I wrote and turned that into concrete resources for activists. I think that is something I’m really proud of, but what can you say? Hopefully of those 20 million plays, you get a handful of people that are inspired to have difficult conversations, be it with their parents or the responsibilities of government, about transparency, about progressivism, about the future of these sorts of issues. That might be the biggest change I can possibly make — injecting into some kid a seedling for change.

TV: Last time we talked, you named a couple of your musical inspirations such as Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain, and John Lennon. How have they and how has their history in music helped motivate your political activism?

g: Well, I think they really exemplified that sort of relationship that I want to have with culture at the particular time that they were making music. They’ve had an impact on me when it gets exhausting. I’ve spoken to a lot of other musicians and activists about a certain fatigue that can set in when trying to make change or when talking about big stuff: these things take time and they move slowly because it requires the active participation of millions of people. Sometimes I can get a little discouraged along the way. I think that’s human. I try not to be too hard on myself for it.

TV: On April 4, 2018, you were signed to the record label Fueled by Ramen, the same label that supports Twenty One Pilots, Panic! at the Disco, and All Time Low, to name a few. How has Fueled by Ramen been able to support you as an artist?

g: They’ve been awesome. It was really important to me when it became time to expand the team around me. We were able to maintain flexibility beautifully. It was important to me what the growth and success of this project might look like, because through the process of finding our team I found that a lot of people can see potential in something on any vision, but you have to have an aligned vision. I was really grateful to have a team that’s not committed to changing what’s happening here, but rather just pouring gasoline on it and giving me more resources at my disposable to play with.

TV: I want to talk about something that is definitely an amazing opportunity you’ve had, but unfortunately it stems from tragedy. On July 20, 2017 Chester Bennington of Linkin Park passed away from suicide. You tweeted about his legacy and your dream of one day opening for the band. On May 24, 2018, you were featured on a song with Chester’s bandmate, Mike Shonida. What does it mean for you to be able to live out your dream in a different way, but essentially being part of something bigger?

g: When talking about mental health and advocacy, I think that for someone who lived a life as hugely impactful as Chester, I can’t imagine trying to get into words of what that loss meant to so many people. I am constantly in awe and admire Mike’s capacity to take all of that confusion, grief, and frustration and channel it creatively — to make this really raw, confessional project. That’s pretty cool to me. It pushes me as an artist to kind of go, ‘wow’; it really inspires me to have that relationship with my fans and to be that sort of open book. I think he’s done that throughout his career with Linkin Park and Fort Minor and what it means for me to be able to work with someone who’s pioneered so many movements of how to fuse rock and hip hop and pop and electronic music. I think that I can confidently say that I would not be doing what I am doing if Mike and that band didn’t pave the way.

Another thing that’s really impressive to me about Mike is his commitment to music fandom and his commitment to discovering new talent and finding the other young upcoming artists that are kind of following in his legacy. He actually reached out to me first; he just followed me on Instagram one day, having heard my music on Spotify. The whole thing was pretty surreal. I shot him a message thanking him for everything that he’d done. I really didn’t come at him with any particular agenda. My intentions were not that. It really was just mainly, ‘maybe he could be a mentor. Maybe he could be a friend.’ With everything going on with the label situation and the expansion of what grandson is, I knew that I wanted some more mentors around me. I think it’s important, no matter what your condition is or your profession in life.

One day, I wrote the song on the spot, my contribution to it. I played him some ideas, he played me some ideas. I wanted to hear what the rest of the album sounded like, so he played me the beginning of “Running From My Shadow.” He didn’t really have the end flushed out. He didn’t really have the structure where he wanted it. I asked for his blessing to take a stab at it — then it came out a couple of weeks later.

TV: So far in your career, your music has come out as singles. Your first EP, a modern tragedy volume 1, released on June 15, 2018 as your first multi-song release. How has this project been different than your others?

g: In some ways it’s an extension of what I was already doing, which is just trying to tell a story, one song at a time. But it’s also been really exciting to look at this first body of work. Keep in mind this is only volume one. But to begin to kind of lay out a more cohesive ‘Magnum Opus’ of sorts… this is where it’s at. It’s a reflection of where I stand as a young, disenfranchised poet in the twenty-first century, politically and societally.

TV: Last year you mentioned sitting on over 30 unreleased songs. You only chose five songs to put on EP. How did each song find its way onto it?

g: Well, part of that was having a team around me that helped me kind of establish where my songs were at and trying to figure out how and when we can get more music out. This felt like a very natural evolution from the singles I was putting out. I wanted to continue to build creatively and find that cohesion and these five songs tie together in some ways as being very reflective of these past couple of years for me as a songwriter. This is my first EP. I have eight singles — that’s only four songs more than this time last year. We’ve got a lot more ahead of us than we have behind us.

TV: Going into the summer, you’ve released your first EP, you’re playing festivals, you’re going on tours with Hobo Johnson, Joy Wave, and Nothing but Thieves. Where do you see yourself a year from now and what is your goal?

g: If I tried telling you last year where I’d be in a year, I wouldn’t even know where to start. So, I wouldn’t have the audacity to claim that [I know], but I know I’m going to write some big songs. We’re going to continue to make controversial pieces of art that can give people like me a sense of understanding and belonging. We’re going to find more ways to take these messages embedded in these songs off of Spotify and onto the pavement. We’re going to roll out some more ways for people to be able to latch on to their identity as a ‘grandkid,’ be that through what they wear, and through other ways in which they can point to someone else and say, ‘you believe in the same things I believe in. You understand me.’ I just want to be able to provide that forum and that sort of community engagement. And we’re going to rock the fuck out. We’re going to be playing some bad-ass shows, making some bad-ass music. It’s serious, but it’s also a good time — it’s fun.


grandson’s EP, a modern tragedy vol. 1, came out June 15.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

For immediate (stress) relief

Writers divulge their favourite sources of online escapism

For immediate (stress) relief

There are certain things that just make us feel good. It’s hard to understand why we’re attracted to those things, but the answer may lie in their stress relieving abilities. We asked our writers to share the videos that help them get through the tough times; they delved deep and dished about watching everything from pimple-popping videos to old band interviews. Remember: this is a judgment-free zone.


Dr. Pimple Popper

Dr. Sandra Lee, better known as Dr. Pimple Popper, takes pimple popping to a whole new level. She is not your average pimple-popping human, but is actually a qualified dermatologist from Southern California. She is certified to treat skin conditions and extract milia, epidermoid cysts, pilar cysts, blackheads, whiteheads, lipomas, and more!

The feeling of complete satisfaction while watching cyst after cyst become free of the confines of human skin is quite nice. Watching Dr. Pimple Popper successfully extract the cysts with some medical tool after oh so many attempts, causes a sense of gratification to take me over. This exact feeling keeps me coming back for more. In a world full of dissatisfaction, let me justify my strange infatuation with pimple-popping videos — I need some satisfaction in life. In fact, maybe you do, too.
— Grace Manalili

Band interviews

I am obsessed with watching music interviews on the Internet. When I say obsessed, it means that I can go hours watching 45 minute interviews back-to-back. I study each response and bear in mind every facial expression. It’s like the greatest stress reliever. In my early highschool years, One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer, and Mindless Behaviour were my drugs of choice.

Recently, retro interviews have been my favourite. It’s fascinating to see a time when the Internet did not exist and wearing spandex was acceptable. It’s also amazing to see how these artists could become famous without the help of the Internet.

One example of this is Outkast. They were this group from Atlanta who rose to fame in a time when the kings of rap, Biggie and Tupac, were feuding between the east coast and west coast. They were young, ambitious, and hungry to take over the industry. This interview is my favourite because it was the dawn of their stardom. How could they possibly have known that mega-hits like “Hey Ya!” or “Ms. Jackson” were in their future?
— Gabrielle Warren

Travel videos

The Internet and I are best friends. From the confines of Robarts, I can experience delicious food I can’t afford, wear clothes I can’t afford, and travel to amazing places I have never been to — and definitely can’t afford. In my first year at U of T, I unwittingly fell down the rabbit hole of travel videos. Since then I have been to Norway, Italy, Thailand, and anywhere else YouTube wants to take me.

It was in these many searches that I discovered one particularly magical video that changed the game of Internet travelling for me. Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, I often find myself overwhelmed by the beast of a city that is Toronto and longing for the Rocky Mountains and the endless sky of my homeland.

The aforementioned magical video is a Travel Alberta advertisement. Whenever the weight of U of T or the bustle of the city makes me feel the need to escape, I simply sit down and watch this video. Sometimes only once, sometimes on repeat, depending on the day. The beauty of it all keeps my stress at bay and reminds me not only that home is never far away, but that the whole world is at my fingertips waiting to be explored, and not just from the Internet.
— Kristen Sevick

Pregnancy announcements

Pregnancy announcements have recently exploded in popularity, garnering millions of views per video. They are are packed with emotion and addictive to watch. Unlike marriage proposals, pregnancy announcements are much shorter, more excitement-filled, and all equally satisfying. The reactions of the family are often extravagant — earphones are highly recommended if watching in public — but considering how much I screamed and jumped when I found out I was getting a little brother, they are accurate. These are my feel-good videos when I need a boost at the end of a long day.
— Linh Nguyen

Haul videos

Consumerism is my lifelong problematic fave. Since my formative pre-teen years, my undying love of fashion has spurred many zealous shopping sprees, as well as a thirst for stylish online content. Haul videos represent the YouTube manifestation of this particular guilty pleasure. They showcase the minute details of the videographer’s recent fashion finds. Vloggers walk the viewer through each piece they purchased on their recent splurge, often organizing them by season and store and even modeling them to demonstrate how they might look with different outfits.

The magic of haul videos, for me, is their accessibility. They condense hours of shopping into easily digestible video segments, allowing the viewers to relive the experience without ever leaving their homes. They are also a source of inspiration; I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen an outfit I liked in a haul and tried to recreate it from my own closet, free of charge. And for those of us who can’t afford to spend $500 on a pair of coveted shoes that will match with nothing in our closets, the best vloggers also create segments that are more financially feasible, including hauls from big-box stores like Target, or thrift stores like Value Village and Goodwill.
— Teodora Pasca