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Conan Gray Talks "Checkmate," Feeling Inspired By Adele & What To Expect On His "Darker" Debut Album

Conan Gray

Photo: Recording Academy

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Conan Gray Talks "Checkmate," Feeling Inspired By Adele & What To Expect On His "Darker" Debut Album

The Texas-raised, L.A.-based indie-pop star also discusses his self-directed "Crush Culture" video, his love of Taylor Swift and why he wants his songs to be as honest as possible

GRAMMYs/Sep 6, 2019 - 12:12 am

20-year-old singer/songwriter/video director Conan Gray just released his first EP, Sunset Season, last year, but he's already making noise in the D.I.Y. pop world. Spending his teen years growing up in quiet Georgetown, Texas, he began writing and singing songs and uploading them to what swiftly became his popular YouTube channel, which now (at the time of this writing) has 1.4 million subscribers. In 2017, the creative teen left his small-town life for Los Angeles to purse undergraduate film studies at UCLA.

"I started making the EP the second I moved from my hometown in Texas to L.A. I was going to college at UCLA and I was going to classes and I was recording at the same time. I wasn't signed yet, either," Gray recently told the Recording Academy. It wasn't long after relocating to La La Land that he got signed to Republic Records, who released Sunset Season. Despite his fast-growing fan base and rise towards pop stardom, the charismatic artist is incredibly humble and remains in awe of where he is today.

The "Generation Why" singer recently stopped by the Recording Academy headquarters for our latest episode of Up Close & Personal to share what he's most looking forward to for his upcoming Comfort Crowd Tour, and how he tends to visualize music videos as he writes songs. He also explains how hearing Lorde's and Adele's music for the first time inspired his own songwriting, what fans can expect on his forthcoming debut album and more. You can watch a portion of the conversation above and read the full interview below. You can also visit on our YouTube page for a longer version of the video, as well as for other recent episodes.

Last time I saw you, you were making your Lollapalooza stage debut, your first festival show. How was that experience for you?

That was pretty crazy. I didn't really know what to expect. I think the seven-year-old, tiny, afraid me would have thought no one comes, but a lot of people came and it was really bizarre. I feel like I have moments every once in a while where I'm just like, this can't be real. That was definitely one of those moments.

And how was the crowd?

The crowd was great. I was like, oh maybe since it's like a festival they won't be as interactive, but they were wild and they did everything that I wanted them to do, their little hands and stuff. It was awesome. I was very much, "I don't know what's going on right now." I think this is just a glitch in the simulation or something.

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Starting in October, you have a bunch of shows lined up for your Comfort Crowd tour. What are you most excited about performing in all these different places?

I feel like my favorite part about being on tour is just being busy all the time. I feel like you have this unique routine, like you wake up and you do a bunch of things, you meet a bunch of fans and you go to sleep, the whole entire day is packed. And I just love being able to go out there and see all the different kinds of people. I feel like touring kind of just made me realize how people are just so different but also like we're all kind of just exactly the same. Like no matter where you go. So it's pretty incredible. I think it's my favorite thing about being able to do this.

Let's talk a little about one of your most recent releases, "Checkmate." The video is amazingly creepy and hilarious; what's the backstory on that song?

"Checkmate" is a song I wrote about this person who was always playing games with my heart and I just needed to get a little revenge. So I figured, with the song and video, I was like if you're going to play with my heart all the time, if you're going to treat love like it's a game, then I'm going to win the game. So in the video I just tried to get as much of my cathartic revenge out as I possibly could and, you know, kidnapped the people who are cheating on me and sent them to a deserted island to starve to death because, I mean, what else am I supposed to do? I did what I had to.

Speaking of music videos, you edited and directed the one for "Crush Culture." What was your vision going into that video?

With "Crush Culture," I knew that I just wanted to ruin a bunch of couples' dates. That was my main intention. I'm the kind of person where like if I'm not happy, then no one's going to be happy. Or at least I used to be. I think I've gotten a little better hopefully, [I'm] growing up or whatever. But yeah, I just wanted to have a lot of wrecking.

I feel like everyone who's ever been single, especially when you're young, where like every one of your friends isn't single, you just kind of want to punch someone in the face. When they're like talking about, "Oh and then he did this and it was so cute." I don't want to know. I don't care. I don't relate. Like leave me alone, I'm going to punch you. That's kinda what that video is about and what that song is about.

Do you feel like when you're filming the video and creating a visual element for the song, that it kind of creates a new life for it or takes on a different form?

Absolutely. Every time I write a song I usually have an idea of what I want the visuals to be. It's all very much hand-in-hand to me. But I also feel like the second you put out the song or make the video, it's not really yours anymore. People can interpret it how they want to interpret it and everyone has interpreted every single one of the videos in completely different ways, which I feel like is kind of the point, you know, the song is what it means to you and I can only do so much by explaining. Also, that's what makes the song special to someone. I guarantee like all of my favorite songs don't actually mean what I think they mean. But I think they're special because I feel like they're written for me even though they're totally not.

When you were younger, was there an album or artist who really resonated with you?

Well I think the first person that kind of opened me up to songwriting was Adele. I was like 12 probably when that first album [19] came out. And I feel like that was when I first realized that you can actually write a whole song. And before that I was always kinda writing jingles and stuff like that. But I didn't really realize that you could express an emotion. And I feel like Adele was the first person that made me realize that humans have emotions that you can relate to. And then I think, you know, when I was a teenager, the older I got the more into like pop music, I really started to just like grow really fascinated with and I was just obsessed with it.

And then I think when Lorde's first album [Pure Heroine] came out it just blew my mind. Because it was the first pop music that I'd heard ever in my whole life that wasn't about, you know, like this wild fantasy life that I couldn't relate to. It was about being in suburbia and I grew up lower-middle class. So I, you know, I didn't relate to those other songs and that's the first time I was like, oh my God, this song is about me. Like I relate to this. All I do is sit in the car and that's what she wrote about. So yeah, she was a big point for me.

You started songwriting and putting your music online when you were 12. At that time, did you think you were going to be making music professionally in the future?

Honestly, I don't think I really knew what I was doing when I was putting songs up on the internet. I just really loved writing songs. And the second I started writing music, I didn't stop. I had a journal and I wrote a new song every single day. And I think by putting them up on the internet it was just kind of like my way of like spitting them into the void. I wasn't expecting to get signed and I wasn't expecting, you know, everything that happened. I was just really bored and I lived in a small town, and what else are you supposed to do, I guess? And I think, you know, I just was very surprised when people started to listen. It wasn't something that I was expecting or really even wanted. It just kind of happened and then I just kept doing it because it just was very interesting to see the way that people were reacting to these, you know, very weird songs that I was writing as a 12-year-old and just kind of snowballed into a career. But I had no clue, no.

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What was your dream job when you were a kid?

I really wanted to be specifically a middle school biology teacher. My middle school biology teacher had a pet snake and I was like, if I'm going to be a teacher, I should be a biology teacher that way can have a pet snake. And I've always been really obsessed with science and I'm also such a nerd. I was definitely a big school kid, so that was the route for me. So I guess conceptually I failed at that career and I'm a failure.

I want to talk a bit about the Sunset Season EP, which "Crush Culture" was on. What was your main goal with that, your first EP and first project?

I started making the EP the second I moved from my hometown in Texas to L.A. I was going to college at UCLA and I was going to classes and I was recording at the same time. I wasn't signed yet either. I think that, you know, most of the songs on the album I wrote during my senior year of high school, so basically I wanted the whole EP to be like a time capsule of what my senior year felt like. All of the missing home and also just like not really knowing what's going on and having all these like extreme emotions that make no sense all the time, which I still feel. But I think when you're in high school it's this kind of like very specific feeling that you just never ever have ever again. I wanted to just get it all into a little package, that way I can remember it forever.

"For me, the best way to be good at songwriting is to just tell the truth… I think my goal always is just to be as honest as I possibly can."

Another of the songs on the EP, "Generation Why," stood out to me as kind of a statement on just being a young person and the uncertainty that comes with it. What is your biggest goal right now as a young artist representing other young people?

I feel like my main goal is just to be as honest as I can. You know, "Generation Why" was a song that I wrote literally about me and my friend. I wasn't like, "This is my generation." I was just me and my friend, like "Our parents don't believe that we're going to do anything good with our lives." And that's what I wrote about.

For me, the best way to be good at songwriting is to just tell the truth. Because people relate to the truth and people relate to problems. Sometimes you feel like you're the only person who has them, but you're not the only person who has those feelings. I think my goal always is just to be as honest as I possibly can. I feel like I say so much more in songs than I ever do to people in real life. And I feel like if I just keep my head on and try to be as genuine as possible, hopefully people will keep relating.

If I'm not mistaken, I don't think you've put out any collab songs yet. So if that's something that you're interested in doing in the future, do you have any dream collaborators in mind?

I mean, there's so many people, like all the people that I was raised on. I would like chop off my finger to make a song with Taylor Swift. Honestly, I'd chop off my hand just to sit in a room and write a song with her. She was my big pop music icon growing up. "Teardrops On My Guitar" was the first YouTube video I ever really watched of her. So yeah, that'd be really fun. But I mean, there's a ton of people. I feel like with my [upcoming] album, a lot of the writers that I've really wanted to work with and stuff I've had the opportunity to work with. So I feel like I'm satisfied, I'm happy.

In terms of your debut album, do you have anything that you want to tease about it? I'm sure your fans have already been asking about it a lot, but what can they expect?

I think they can definitely expect the music to get darker. The past year has been really chaotic and I feel like my album absolutely represents how chaotic it was. Also, I think they can expect a good cry and a good little riot. Just a good like package of chaos, is what my album sounds like so far.

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

Seattle's Museum Of Pop Culture To Host Pearl Jam Exhibit

FYI/TMI: Are Taylor Swift And Ed Sheeran Getting Together?
Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

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FYI/TMI: Are Taylor Swift And Ed Sheeran Getting Together?

Rumors surface that the two are in a red-hot relationship; Sony/ATV Music Publishing named top publisher of fourth quarter in 2012

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(In an effort to keep you fully informed, and fully entertained, below we present today's FYI and TMI — news you need and news that's, well, sometimes needless….)

FYI …

Sony/ATV Claims Top Publisher In Q4 2012
Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which in June 2012 acquired administration of EMI Music Publishing, was the top publisher in the fourth quarter of 2012 based on its 25.8 percent share of the top 100 songs during the period, according to figures released by Nielsen BDS. No. 2 was Kobalt Music Group (16.5 percent share), followed by Universal Music Publishing Group (15.9 percent share), Warner/Chappell Music (14.2 percent share), and BMG Chrysalis (5.3 percent share).

TMI …

Swift Getting Together With Sheeran?
Taylor Swift may never be getting back together with a few people — like, ever — but that isn't stopping her from joining "The A Team." According to a report, Swift and GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran were reportedly seen together at a hotel in late February. Adding more red-hot fuel to the fire, Sheeran collaborated with Swift on her latest album, Red, the name of which is also a tattoo on Sheeran's left arm. Since Swift and Sheeran supposedly dated briefly last spring, maybe they are, like, getting back together.

Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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