As part of our continuing coverage of RBC Bluesfest 2022, we recently caught up with our grandson, who will perform on the River Stage on Saturday night, and will likely be a headliner for years to come, given his trajectory. unbelievable.
The Toronto-born artist burst out with his first single “Blood // Water” from his debut EP a modern tragedy vol. 1 released in 2018. Certified triple platinum in Canada, it has generated half a billion streams on Spotify, across releases (including remixes by AWOLNATION and Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, among others). Since then it’s been a steady stream of production, volumes 2 and 3 of his collection of EPs, and his first full album. Death of an optimist in 2020. He released other solo album collaborations with Kesha, Jessie Reyez and Tom Morello. One of those collabs, 2020’s “Zen” featuring X Ambassadors and K. Flay, was one of the first pandemic anthems that immediately skyrocketed the charts.
Fresh off of a string of festival appearances around Europe, we caught up with his grandson to chat about his tireless work, coming through the pandemic and finally performing live.
Apt613: Looking at your schedule lately, you’ve been a very busy man. How are you?
Grandson: I feel relieved to be back to songwriting in a creative headspace. I feel challenged by the time on the road and the world events that have unfolded while I was away. But I also feel more motivated than ever to give people a soundtrack to cling to with a fighting chance here to change things.
So, ultimately, you can’t be too upset about a summer night at the Ottawa Bluesfest, so yeah, I’m fine! I’ve played across Canada now, in America twice this year, across Europe. It’s what we all hoped for when we were rotting in our homes waiting for good news about the pandemic. The fact that people are getting vaccinated and the deadliest variants seem to have thankfully subsided, I’m happy to make up for lost time, but it’s been a lot of miles for sure.
This sight, being on the main stage, watching a crowd, and then thinking back to where we were two years ago must sometimes surprise you.
Yeah. It’s surreal. And it came back so suddenly. I felt a bit disappointed that we didn’t find a way to just collectively acknowledge what we’ve been through. But, how can you put it into words? A year and a half, two years of your life, passed. And it affected us all. I feel for high school and college students who have been deprived of some of the most formative times of their lives. I feel for young people who have struggled to keep up with their upbringing and attention span online.
He has penetrated every part of life. And then all of a sudden, we’re back at it. So on the one hand, I feel overwhelmed with the relief, the adrenaline, and the ego boost you longed for while you were gone. But I also feel like there’s an unwritten chapter on how to reconcile how we’re getting back together and how our internet addiction has separated us and kept us together.
Your collaboration with X Ambassadors and K. Flay summed up that collective struggle was so timely at the start of the pandemic. How did this happen, given that everyone was sequestered?
It was early in the pandemic and songwriters were looking for ways to stay productive. And that’s how these Zoom sessions started for a lot of artists who were just trying to meet and it gave us an opportunity, because in a normal year, there’s no way that me and Sam ( Harris of X Ambassadors) and Kristine (Flaherty, aka K. Flay), would never be in the same city at the same time because our tour schedules are so demanding. All of a sudden we all had all this free time, but when I got the first phone call with Sam, he was so discouraged. We first did it around April 2020, and so all he wanted, more than a productive writing session, was just a break. He just wanted a moment to feel like we could pretend it wasn’t happening. And that’s kind of where the idea of being pushed to your limits and just needing a moment of zen comes from. Every part of the song, from writing it to all of us recording vocals in our living rooms, to directing and editing a news video and augmented reality Instagram filter, and culminating in my first record number one on alternative radio, it all happened without us all being in the same room at the same time. And it was really beautiful. I’m really proud of it.
Your list of collaborations is quite impressive, with a wide range of artists, from Kesha to Tom Morello. As an artist, was that something you focused on?
When I was working on my first album and made the decision to make it a project that I was relatively isolated from other creatives. I’ve worked with my long-time collaborator Kevin Hissink and several other well-known producers and songwriters, but haven’t done any collaborations with other artists. I felt like the burden or responsibility for my first album should be the one that conceptually falls on my shoulders. But especially during the pandemic, I was just alone, man! I needed to login. And so I put antennas in every corner where I could rock and alternative music and let people know that if they’re a fan of my work then I want to spend an afternoon learning to know you and so, as a result, we were able to end up with some pretty interesting and unexpected creative babies. It was really fun. I’m really grateful for the ways I’ve been able to study how other people have approached the process of taking a very specific feeling and making it available to others for them to exploit with a guitar. It’s a tough job and people do it in different ways. And I had the chance to do it with some of the best in the world. It’s really helped me as a songwriter as I sit down and work on my second album now.
grandson performs on the River stage at Bluesfest tonight at 9:30 p.m.