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10 Takeaways From GRAMMY U’s 2022 Conference Featuring Conan Gray
National GRAMMY U Representative Sam Merkin (left) and singer/songwriter Conan Gray

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10 Takeaways From GRAMMY U’s 2022 Conference Featuring Conan Gray

An effort of GRAMMY U's student representatives, the 2022 conference featured multiple industry professionals and rising singer/songwriter Conan Gray, who advised student musicians on exploring their artistry, creating work, and marketing their music.

GRAMMYs/May 3, 2022 - 04:50 pm

The 2022 GRAMMY U Conference — an effort of all 14 student GRAMMY U representatives across the country — was held virtually on April 29.  This year’s conference aimed to guide aspiring student musicians as they identify and explore artistry, write and record their work, and offer advice on effectively marketing their music on social media and beyond.  

Resourceful Recording, the conference’s first panel, was presented in partnership with the Recording Academy's P&E Wing and geared towards musicians recording in studio as well as recording/mixing engineers. The conversation was moderated by Pacific Northwest GRAMMY U Representative Cameron Mangione, and featured award-winning mixing engineer and Recording Academy Florida Chapter Board member Marcella Araica, who provided tips on how sound engineers can best work with artists, managers and producers during recording studio sessions.   

In the keynote conversation titled Finding Your Sound, singer/songwriter Conan Gray spoke with National GRAMMY U Representative Sam Merkin about the writing and recording processes he used for his forthcoming album Superache. Gray cited authenticity as the most important quality of an artist’s brand and lyricism.

The conference concluded with a panel on music marketing featuring Lucia Kaminsky, Head of Digital at Sandbox Entertainment, moderated by Atlanta GRAMMY U Representative Kalee Kitchens. Laminksy encouraged students to collaborate within their college departments and with peers to facilitate successful media campaigns.

GRAMMY U’s Conference offered many innovative ways for young artists and their teams to create and share their original music. Below are 10 industry takeaways that artists can implement using readily available tools:    

Push The Boundaries Of Songwriting 

Finding, developing and polishing your sound as a singer/songwriter is a process that takes time. Keynote speaker Conan Gray advised conference attendees that consistently writing and practicing is key to cultivating a distinctive sound.  

"Once you learn what a perfect song is, that’s when you learn to take that structure and push its limits," Gray explained.  

Gray’s sophomore album Superache, due in June, is evidence of that consistent work. Gray experiments with the conventions of pop music on the album by modifying verse melodies and eliminating pre-choruses. Adjusting a verse’s cadence and vocal tonalities will allow new artists to assert their own style, Gray noted.

Vulnerability And Musical Elasticity Will Take You Far  

Conan Gray is known for his raw, emotional lyricism, and encouraged students to be vulnerable songwriters. That openness will resonate with audiences, he said.

It’s easy to become hyper-aware and self conscious about the personal stories you release into the world as an artist, Gray added, citing his 2020 debut Kid Krow. Although it can be daunting, using real-life narratives to inform songs can allow listeners to connect with your music on a deeper level.   

Speaking with National GRAMMY U Representative Sam Merkin, Gray also encouraged artists to not be dissuaded by the trial and errors of music making — especially when trying to appease large audiences. Instead, artists should focus on making material that they enjoy listening to and that speaks truthfully about their artistic identity.   

"Make music that you enjoy, and let the ideas that you have come to full fruition before knocking them down," he advised.

Learn How To Read The Room  

Resourceful Recording panelist and mixing engineer Marcella Araica acknowledged the essential, yet stressful, role that recording engineers play during studio sessions.

"A large part of our job as engineers is psychology — being able to read the room, read the temperature and read the energy of people in the room," she said. Mixing and recording engineers to flourish in high-pressure situations if they learn how to maintain calm and composure when working with new clients.  

Trusting your musical intuition and technical skills are also important factors when collaborating with new artists or delivering work on deadline. "Don’t overthink it. You know what you’re doing, and most importantly have fun!" 

View Critiques As Redirection 

While working with three-time GRAMMY nominated producer Daniel Nigro, Gray reflected on how he perceives critiques from producers and songwriters. The singer/songwriter employs a mentality of "let’s try this" rather than "let’s fix it" mentality.  

Establishing a positive comradery amongst an artist’s team members — producers, engineers and co-writers — will produce the best results during studio sessions. Maintaining those professional and cohesive relationships throughout the songwriting and recording process is essential to creative growth.  

Every artist can benefit from external guidance and adjustments when recording, but having a shared interest for the artist’s ultimate success is the driving force of a successful collaboration.   

Ask Questions  

Open communication with a performer or producer is crucial to being an engineer.

"If you are a true engineer, you are the person that’s helping build out the sound of a song. Getting a true understanding of the artist’s vision and asking the right questions about a project’s expectations is key," Araica noted in the Resourceful Recording panel. 

Sound engineers play an equally important role in seeing an artist’s conceptual idea to fruition, for they provide the expertise needed to foster a singer or musician’s unique sound. When meeting artists for the first time, an engineer should ask questions about their vocal effect preferences, such as compression or reverb levels, to create a more comfortable setting for all involved.   

Araica expressed that "artists will be thankful if you’re aware of how they want the product to end up."

Master The Fundamentals  

For students who want to pursue a career in recording or mixing engineering, one of the first steps to creating a workflow foundation is choosing a digital audio workstation (DAW).   

"If you’re working off a student budget, FL Studio or Ableton Live are great ones," Araica suggested. "Some DAWs are better for recording, while others are better for mixing and production work."   

Araica continued that FL Studio is an affordable option that allows for recording, mixing, and production at the same time, which is beneficial for students that want to explore multiple avenues of sound engineering. Additionally, booking sessions at your university’s studio is helpful to experiment with DAWs in a low-stakes environment.   

Engage In Authentic Marketing  

Panelist and digital marketing strategist Lucia Kaminsky highlighted authenticity as an artist’s main focus when branding themselves. "Anything with your own touch, people are going to want. If you make something hand-made, people are going to love it," Kaminsky told GRAMMY U’s Atlanta Representative Kalee Kitchens. 

Distribution of merchandise is one way to convey the lyrical message of an artist’s music. When participating in a marketing campaign as an artist, portraying a genuine and authentic version of yourself is Kaminsky’s No. 1 rule.   

"If it doesn’t feel authentic, then don’t do it. People can see through it when you’re not being true to yourself," she said.

Success Looks Different For Every Artist  

The success of marketing campaigns varies amongst independent and signed artists. For independent artists, growing a fanbase is often the most important goal.

"If we’ve reached new people, that’s helpful. It’s hard to measure success, but we also look at engagement and streaming numbers," Kaminsky noted.   

It's also important for artists to express their personality outside of music through posting on social media about family, friends and hobbies. Kaminsky added that students who are proficient at basic design/video editing and photoshop are likely to be competitive candidates when applying for jobs and internships as digital media marketers in the music industry.

Utilize School Resources  

Partnering with  music, fashion, digital and other departments within your university is a great place to begin a song or album campaign. Collaborating with students and peers on and off campus is a perfect way to begin branding yourself as an artist within your local community and city.   

"For independent artists/students, reach out to your peers. The people I was in school with are the people I work with now," added Kaminsky.   

Cater To All Audiences  

With the continuing rise of digital media applications, Kaminsky describes that there is a unique opportunity for artists to engage across all social media outlets. These markets include YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter, and Kaminsky advised that artists take advantage of each different platform’s audiences.   

"You have different fan bases on every platform. Make sure that you’re catering to all streaming platforms- you have this unique chance to get your music out there through digital media," Kaminsky said. To avoid alienating one’s listeners, independent artists must be strategic about distributing original music to multiple music markets.   

You can watch GRAMMY U’s Conference, Finding Your Sound, by visiting the Recording Academy’s  YouTube Channel or Twitch Channel .For more information on how to join GRAMMY U, visit the Recording Academy’s Membership Page

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Press Play At Home: Conan Gray Highlights The Painful Past Of "Family Line" With An Affecting Acoustic Performance
Conan Gray

Photo Courtesy of Artist

video

Press Play At Home: Conan Gray Highlights The Painful Past Of "Family Line" With An Affecting Acoustic Performance

Watch Conan Gray strip down his new song "Family Line," a track from his album 'Superache' that traces his pain back to the source: a turbulent childhood.

GRAMMYs/Jul 18, 2022 - 09:06 pm

In order to take control of your future, you have to come to terms with your past — and that's the message behind "Family Line," the powerful fulcrum of Conan Gray's newest album, Superache.

The song finds the pop singer/songwriter tracing his roots and personality traits back to their source: A turbulent childhood. Each line lays out some aspect of childhood trauma in stark, unsparing detail, and the song's chorus traces back all his faults and attributes to something in his mother or father. 

In this episode of Press Play at Home, Gray gives the song an acoustic treatment, strumming his guitar along to the emotional lyrics as he sits in an empty room. The barren white-walled performance space helps keep the focus on the song's cutting lyrics and excavation of the past.

"How could you hurt a little kid?/ I can't forget, I can't forgive you/ 'Cause now I'm scared that everyone I love will leave me," Gray sings in one particularly hard-hitting verse, directed toward a father who is troubled, abusive and often absent.

It's unclear exactly how autobiographical the song is, but as he explained to GRAMMY.com in June, being honest and vulnerable results in the best songwriting. "The only way you can really connect with people is by telling them a human experience," he said.

"Family Line" comes off Gray's second studio album, Superache, a collection of personal and intimately crafted tracks also featuring singles such as "Yours" and "Memories." After sharing the story of his teen years on his 2020 debut, Kid Krow, Gray called the Superache creation process "an experience of scraping my ribs of any last information that I had to say."

Press play above to watch Gray's powerful and intimate "Family Line" performances, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Press Play at Home.

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Conan Gray Digs Even Deeper On New Album 'Superache'
Conan Gray

Photo: Brian Ziff

interview

Conan Gray Digs Even Deeper On New Album 'Superache'

Out June 24, Conan Gray's sophomore effort 'Superache' offers 12 deeply personal, multifaceted views of love.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2022 - 02:28 pm

Conan Gray never really wanted to release music —  his skyrocketing career is a mere side effect of writing as many songs as he has; nearly constantly since he was 12 years old.

Since, the nomadic military brat turned Texas transplant gained popularity on YouTube, where he’d showcase covers and original songs — most notably the self-produced single “Idle Town,” which he uploaded during his senior year of high school. The song went viral immediately, and record labels started to reach out that same week. Not long after, he signed with Republic Records during his (short lived) freshman year of college — soon releasing his 2018 EP, Sunset Season which began his partnership with producer Dan Nigro.   

Gray’s debut album, Kid Krow, was released in March of 2020, just days after the pandemic sent everyone into lockdown. But while other artist's pandemic-era albums were released without the crowded dance floors they were made for, Kid Krow seemed to be the perfect match for that strange cultural moment. Spawning platinum hits like “Heather” and “Maniac,” the album’s intimate, bedroom pop songs came out at a time when that’s exactly where everyone was.    

With the June 24 release of his emotionally raw sophomore album Superache from Republic Records, the 23-year-old is excited to get to see fans finally experience the music in person. A direct evolution and expansion of the themes of heartbreak and unrequited love explored in Kid Krow, the album’s 12 songs dig even deeper, and were whittled down from an original 250 that the notoriously prolific Gray wrote.

"I think the best songwriting is songwriting that's honest and true and vulnerable," Gray tells GRAMMY.com, "because the only way you can really connect with people is by telling them a human experience."

GRAMMY.com spoke to Gray on the phone as he wrapped up the final leg of his Kid Krow world tour about his extremely personal writing process, navigating social media and his multifaceted view of love on Superache.

Tell me a little about the album title, where does the name Superache come from?

I couldn't really find anything that fully encompassed that feeling of very dramatic mourning of a lingering love. And I think that's what the overarching theme of this album is, lingering love. 

It's the kind of pain that I think you can only get through by writing a lot of songs and crying to your friends and being really annoying, but that's kind of the whole point of being young. I just wanted a word that could encompass that feeling of really intense [pain], but slightly self-aware of the fact that you're being a little too dramatic about it all.

How do you think that theme of lingering love compares to the central theme of Kid Krow?

Kid Krow, to me, is very indicative of my teen years. I think that it has so much teen angst in it and it's my introduction. I think in the past few years, my teen angst has very much softened to simply sadness, and mourning the loss of these ideas of people, and mourning relationships that I've lost with people in my life that have been really important to me.

With Superache, since it's my second album, I really had to think like, oh, well I said everything I was comfortable with saying [in my debut]…now what am I supposed to say? And I feel like making Superache was very much an experience of scraping my ribs of any last information that I had to say. 

It definitely seems like a very natural progression between the two albums, and both are so deeply personal. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about what you're comfortable putting out there?

In the middle of making the album…I was definitely aware that more people were listening than before. And to say that I didn't think about holding stuff back would be a lie. Of course, I was terrified and I'm a naturally very shy person, so the thought of having lots of people listen to essentially my diary, felt really daunting. There was a phase where I was just like, oh, maybe I just don't say anything at all.  

But then I just started writing for my own sake, and eventually it was all those songs that I wrote for myself, that I thought I wasn't ever gonna release, that ended up making the album. I think the best songwriting is songwriting that's honest and true and vulnerable, because the only way you can really connect with people is by telling them a human experience. I had to push [myself] out of my comfort zone if I wanted to make music that I felt like was true to myself.

Was it more daunting to put it out there for millions of people to hear? Or for one particular person to hear? Maybe someone who was the subject of a song, for example?

[Laughs] Um, there are definitely certain people in particular that I think will listen to the album and think, What is wrong with Conan Gray, why is he psychotic? But, like, maybe if they didn't want me to write bad songs about them, they shouldn't have been mean to me.

That's a good point. It's a warning for everybody going forward.

Exactly. You get what you get.

You’ve talked about how your hometown friends help you retain a sense of normalcy in your life. But on the other hand, you're also great friends with Olivia Rodrigo — is she someone who you can turn to as a lifeline, who can relate to the unrelatable, surreal parts of this business?   

I think that no matter who you are, when you're young and when you're just trying to grow up and figure things out, life is very confusing. It doesn't matter whether you're a singer, or whether you're a college student or whether you are working for the first time or in high school. 

No matter who you are, it's so important to have people that you can confide in and relate to. And it's so important to me that I have my friends from back home in Texas, from my small town, but also Olivia to just be able to talk to — and friends are just undeniably the most important thing in my life. 

Related to that emphasis on friendship, something that I think you do so well on this album is put all love on equal footing. You explore romantic love, platonic love, and familial love — and the value and importance of all three. Is it a conscious choice to strike that balance, or is it just a natural representation of your experience?

I think it very much just is a natural reaction to the way that I've seen love in my life. I've never been in a relationship, a romantic one, and so I feel like I wrote this album just about the love that I do know, which is my friends, but also family. My family history, I think, was the beginning of knowing what love was in my life and seeing how it can build things but also can tear things apart. 

The times that I do talk about romantic love on the album, it's very clear that I don't know what the hell is going on the entire time, because I don't. I think there's certain songs that people might assume are about romantic experiences, but they're not, they're about friendship. And I think that platonic love is something that is very much not talked about very often in music, but it's all that I know. So that's what I write about quite often.

Where did you write this album? Do you have any writing habits or rituals that you always come back to?

I wrote all of these songs sitting in bed, maybe some on the couch…a few on the floor.

Just to mix it up.

[Laughs] Yeah, just to mix it up. But I wrote all of them just in my house, in my bedroom. I've always written like that and I figured if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I just sprawl a bunch of coffee cups and chocolate wrappers around my bed and write new songs for hours and hours. Cause it's my favorite thing to do on earth and I would do it regardless of whether anyone cared.

Kid Krow came out right when the world shut down, which must have been a very bizarre experience to have with your debut album. Are there things with Superache that you're really looking forward to doing that you feel like you missed out on with your first release cycle because of the pandemic?

I think that in a weird way, it felt like an oddly accurate way for people to listen to the music of Kid Krow, because I wrote all of Kid Krow sitting in my bedroom at the loneliest time in my life. I was so lonely making that album, and then ultimately everyone listened to the album out of their bedrooms. 

But with Superache, I think it's an album that is very much centered around friendship and community and like, having people to talk to, and conversations with friends that you have sitting on the curb at 2 a.m. and it's all those kinds of feelings.

So, I think the thing that I'm most excited about with Superache is being able to actually see people listen to the music and see how they actually relate to it. Being on tour right now, I get to see the fans, who I very much consider to be friends, witnessing the music with me at the same time, so it's very fun.

Your music often has a really intimate, small-scale feel to it — what’s your approach for taking those kinds of songs to huge venues all over the world?

When I started touring, it actually started to change the way that I wrote songs, which I wasn't expecting. I made some songs knowing like, oh, this is gonna be a really fun moment live. Which is something that I'd never thought when I was 17 writing songs out of my bedroom in high school. 

With Superache, I really wanted to have a good combination of the uptempo and medium tempo and some slow, sad songs and some acoustic moments. Because all of my favorite albums have a good mixture of different kinds of songs. And from top to bottom, I think that there should be a range of emotions.

Your songs have taken off on TikTok and you of course got your start on YouTube, but it doesn't seem like you're quite as online as you used to be. What's your relationship like right now with social media?

Social media drives me absolutely insane, so I don't look at it as much as I used to. I think that the main way I like to be able to interact with people is through the live shows. But I do think the internet is a really fun way for me to be able to talk to them, I just have to know my limits. I am not mentally grounded and sane enough to be able to withstand the things that people say about me on the internet. I think that it’s an insanely powerful tool, and in the past few years I've really learned to use it with respect and figure out how to use it in a way that doesn't make me want to scratch my eyeballs out with my fingernails.

If you could go back to the moment right before you self-released your first song, “Idle Town,” and tell your past self about only one accomplishment that you've since achieved, what one thing would you tell them?

I would tell 17-year-old Conan that he's perfectly safe now and everything worked out. I think that's the main accomplishment of my life; I'm safe and I have friends and life isn't as painful as it used to be.

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LeAnn Rimes On New Album 'God's Work,' Major-Label Debut 'Blue' & Choosing Joy 25 Years Into Her Career: "I Think It Was My Rebellion"
LeAnn Rimes

Photo: Norman Seeff

interview

LeAnn Rimes On New Album 'God's Work,' Major-Label Debut 'Blue' & Choosing Joy 25 Years Into Her Career: "I Think It Was My Rebellion"

LeAnn Rimes was thrust into the music-biz machinery at just 13 with her breakthrough, 'Blue' — a throttling experience for any youngster. Her new album, 'god's work,' reflects the introspection and hard-fought wisdom that got her through to adulthood.

GRAMMYs/Oct 4, 2022 - 08:00 pm

LeAnn Rimes' world-dominating success came as a bolt with the release of her debut album, Blue. She was just 13 when it came out in 1996, yet the country singer faced pressures that have destroyed artists with more years of experience under their belts — and less fame waiting at the door.

What does Rimes remember about this time that put her on the world stage, at an age when most are chiefly concerned with earth-science homework? 

"Not much, to be honest," she tells GRAMMY.com over the phone, from her pool northwest of L.A. "There was so much success and momentum that for three and a half years, it was constantly the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. I didn't really have time to stop and take in anything."

To hear the two-time GRAMMY winner tell it, her unexpected hurtle into the heart of the country mainstream did "a number on me." But she made it through intact, with an eye for self-realization and mending old wounds. And that's partly what her newest album, god's work — which was released in September — is all about.

Musically, god's work is steeped in international flavors; lyrically, it gets heavier and goes harder than any of her past work. What does she say about "spaceship"? "There's a lot of anger in that song, a lot of grief." "the wild"? "A lot of rage, and a lot of hope." 

Indeed, from fury and despair, god's work arcs northward into jubilation — especially that which relates to true love. Specifically, "how much a heart can hold" — written for her husband, actor Eddie Cibrian — wasn't supposed to be a public offering, but Rimes reversed course due to public demand, when she posted it to Instagram.

"I've been very fortunate," Rimes says, reflecting on the song's resonance. "I'm so honored to be part of the fabric of people's lives when it comes to their special moments." What a counterweight to any of the darknesses of getting famous, young — and reason to keep making art, no matter what.

Read on for an in-depth interview with Rimes about making her most eclectic music yet, ignoring the comments sections, and how she's achieved something like happiness in her fourth decade on earth.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What did you want to impart to the listener with god's work?

I think it's a big message. Many of them. 

I think the album takes a look at the duality of life, and how we all live in that world of duality — of the light and the dark, and how everything is basically a part of creation, no matter what side it is. I've done a lot of my own spiritual exploration, taking a look at my own. 

I had a podcast called Wholly Human, so it all kind of ties in. But [the album deals with] a lot of exploration of my own holy and human sides of myself — my life, and the shadow side. I took a look at all of life from that perspective. And the album, I hope, for everyone listening, takes you on a deep emotional ride.

It's been one of my gifts — being able to connect people with emotions they don't necessarily touch all the time. I know music does that for me, so this album definitely will have you crying, it will have you questioning, it will piss you off, right? It does all the things.

It's a deep record, and I don't listen to my music once I'm done with it, very often. And I find myself listening to this record, because I find myself revisiting topics often. Every listen to different songs brings up a different emotion depending on where I'm at in my life, so I hope it does the same for people.

Most emotions aren't easily categorizable; we're usually feeling half a dozen ways at once. What emotions are present on the album that might not be typically present in song?

Yeah, totally. I've touched upon my own deep, dark spaces of depression, and "spaceship," to me — there's a lot of anger in that song, a lot of grief. In songs like "the wild," there's a lot of rage, and there's a lot of hope, which is really interesting to have both in the same breath.

I think as we grow up as human beings, being able to hold the duality and complexities of emotion and being able to be happy and sad and rageful and hopeful — all of that in the same breath — is part of our evolution.

These songs hold multiple emotions and are very complex. So, I think for me, as a woman — [and] as just a human being, not just a woman — I think everybody has a very challenging time touching upon rage and anger in a healthy way. 

To touch upon my own grief and shame around sexuality with songs like "the wild" — there are a lot of emotions that have been not as welcomed that I touch upon on this record, especially for women. 

But, like I said, for the whole human race, I think these emotions aren't necessarily the first thing we want to admit that we're feeling.

You mentioned in the god's work press release that "the wild" touches on "the ridicule women face when voicing their opinion." Can you talk about that form of belittlement, overcoming it, and whether we're societally headed in the right direction in this regard?

I hope we're headed in the right direction. I think we are; I still see it.

[With] not only myself but other women, I see people come at us on social media when we don't just "shut up and sing." You look at sports players who are taking a knee, and they're not just shutting up and playing. 

I think we do have a platform, and I think we're very fortunate to be able to have a voice in the way that we do. And use it for social justice; for women's rights — and from my perspective, equal rights — so that all of humanity has a joyful, fulfilled, sovereign life. [That's] important to me.

On social platforms and even in the media, people still want us to shut up and do whatever entertainment that we do, but it is shifting. I think, first and foremost, we're human beings before anything, and we do have a voice in life and humanity.

I'll be 40 next month [Writer's note: This interview took place in July 2022], and it's taken me [up until] this moment in time to start using my voice in the way I feel like I'm called to.

Releasing a song like "the wild" felt like coming out to me, because it was such a powerful statement, and it's not something I've made so overtly in the past. It did feel like a release and unveiling of sorts for my own spirit — my own self — to speak so freely in my music.

I think it started a few records ago, and has only grown ever since, so I don't see me going back anytime soon. [Laughs]

Comment sections and social platforms seem to be where the rancor really lives.

Yeah, and you know what? To release "the wild" and have such insanity come back at me — I feel like I've grown so much, because I can totally sit in the discomfort of it and understand that everyone has their own point of view.

We're all very unique, just as our fingerprint is unique. So is the lens that we see life through. I've really come to understand that and have compassion for everyone's point of view — even if I don't agree with it — and be able to create from that place too.

I think that's where god's work was created from — that space of "No one's right or wrong; we're all learning." If I can create a better world — a world of more compassion — with my music, that's what I'm here to do.

So, yeah, the comment sections can be challenging at times, but it teaches me a lot. It has taught me a lot.

What a caliber of contributors here; I'm sure they all helped bolster that message. Ziggy Marley and Ben Harper are very talented and versatile, and Mickey Guyton is a ray of sunshine in the music community. What do you appreciate about her?

To have her on a song like "The Wild," it was important to me for a woman like her who has been through so much and fought her way through the industry and been through so much insanity — to have her sing those words was so powerful.

I love her voice; I love her spirit. And I know I've influenced her so much along the way. I think we're practically the same age, but to know that she's just now kicking off her career and how much I've influenced her  has been really beautiful to see.

I think I can't say enough great words about her. She's a really good human being.

Can you talk about "throw my arms around the world"?

With all the climate change, with everything we're going through as a collective and have been going through, I felt like that was just my big prayer. 

Not only a prayer, but a call for people to wake up and see what we're doing to ourselves. And, hopefully, start to shift what we're experiencing into something that's more regenerative and nurturing not only to Mother Earth, but ourselves.

One of the things I love about this record is that it's so eclectic, and there are so many world grooves that we explored. "throw my arms around the world" was kind of the catalyst for that exploration. And then, to have "the only," which is total reggae — I never thought I'd create a reggae song, but here I am doing it!

And I know "how much a heart can hold" holds resonance regarding your 11th wedding anniversary.

I wrote that song for my husband, for our wedding. I never thought it would see the light of day in public. I put it on Instagram with a video celebrating our 10-year anniversary, which was last year.

So many people were like, "What is this song? Where can I get it?" I've been very fortunate, and I'm so honored to be part of the fabric of people's lives when it comes to their special moments. 

Because of the overwhelming feedback, I wanted to go in[to the studio]; that was the last song we recorded for the record, and we put it on so that love song could be a part of people's special moments, too.

We also just celebrated the 25th anniversary of Blue. What do you remember about that period in your life, and in the music business?

Not much, to be honest. It was such a whirlwind, and I was so young, and there was so much going on. 

As soon as Blue was released, there was so much success and momentum that for three and a half years, it was constantly the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. I didn't really have time to stop and take in anything.

So, I take things from the perspective of now, looking back and kind of in awe of — number one — my ability to survive those three and a half years of this skyrocketing trajectory to success, and the choices I made at that young of an age. 

I took the Blue demo and put the yodel thing in it myself. I was making my own artistic choices back then and creating something different. I like the things that happened to that girl, whenever I need to really take a risk in my life these days. And she's very much alive. It was a whirlwind moment, for sure.

What do you think gave you the resilience to go through that insane pressure-cooker situation and not let it destroy you — like it did so many young people?

Well, I mean, it definitely did a number on me, for sure. But I've come out of it, and I'm thriving in my life, and happy. I think it was my rebellion.

It's interesting because for me, as a woman, I've had such shame around my rebellion at times. Because, I think, while it can work in your best interest, it can also trip you up and teach you a lot of lessons, which it has for me.

But when I look at it from a holistic perspective, I think it saved my life many times — especially at that time in my life. I had this crazy success, and then my parents were going through a divorce at 14, and then I was basically living on my own by the time I was 16.

To think about how much of a fight I had in me — not only to live and succeed, but the fight for what was right and good for me, even if I didn't know it at the time — there was just a strong drive for that.

I think the last 10 years of my life have been [about] really getting back in touch with that and appreciating that piece of me.

What would you tell that young girl today if you could?

That the voice inside of her is the only thing she needs to listen to.

I think my intuition was so strong; I think our intuition is very strong as children. Then, we have so many voices from the outside world — whether it be parental, peers, media, whatever — that gets in our heads and takes us away from that deep intuition.

I think part of my journey, too, over the last decade, has been getting back in touch with that voice and knowing that's the most important thing to listen to, and the thing I should trust the most. So, yeah, I think she was on the right path as a kid by listening to that voice, and I'm glad that voice has returned.

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Protoje's 'Third Time's The Charm' Closes A Trilogy With Melancholy, Reflective Vibes
Protoje

Photo: Yannick Reid 

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Protoje's 'Third Time's The Charm' Closes A Trilogy With Melancholy, Reflective Vibes

Protoje released his sixth studio album in September, with the hope that his reflective, collab-heavy record will put an end to the misfortune of the Pandemic.

GRAMMYs/Oct 4, 2022 - 05:28 pm

It is safe to assume that no one takes the artist Protoje to be the super extroverted type. The reggae singer perpetually possesses a chill vibe, and his music possesses the same calm. But while previewing his new album, Third Time’s The Charm, I was surprised by the gloomy sentiment seeping through my body, curiously calming my previously excited vibe. What was this?

"I am a sad person," Protoje reveals as he lounges in a brown leather sofa chair amidst studio equipment at a downtown New York content creator space. "[I’ve been like this] since I was a child. I have a pretty melancholy vibe, and with this project especially, I was in a much sadder place." 

Released on Sept. 23, Third Time’s The Charm is Protoje’s sixth LP. The album is a melodic rift between isolation and family, love and betrayal, light and darkness — but it’s not depressing. Rather, it's his third consecutive album focusing on the concept of time, and exemplary of Protoje's seasoned mastery of his sound.

Third Time’s The Charm — Protoje's second album on RCA in partnership with his own In.Digg.Nation Collective — is a shift in consciousness. Sentient sounds sail over one drop dubwise beats. The lyrics are alert, yet nothing is forceful, and Protoje's vocals swiftly switch from crooning to old-school conscious rap flow, and sing-jaying — the Jamaican tradition of toasting and singing. 

The third in a trilogy of temporally-themed albums (his previous being 2018's A Matter of Time, and 2020's In Search of Lost Time), Protoje hopes Third Time's The Charm will bring forth the fortune that the pandemic cut short.

"I did my last album, and for two years, I didn't get to do one show, sing one song, go to one party or hear it out in public," Protoje tells GRAMMY.com of the cheerlessness of Third. "I just felt sad a lot about not necessarily just my life, but what is life about, and why are we treating each other like this as people?"

Protoje spoke with GRAMMY.com about his headlining  Lost In Time Tour, collaborating with Jorja Smith, and what time and the number three means for him. 

How are you, and how has your 2022 been so far, especially in comparison to the past couple of years?

I’m good. A little bit tired from the tour, the driving, and everything else except for the performance, but I feel good, thankfully. 2022 is a lot more active, a lot more traveling, a lot more shows, more interacting, and less time for myself, but I'm grateful. I think it's been a good year. I've got to release a bunch of good singles, shoot some great videos, and play some great shows.

What are you hoping this album brings to you that the previous albums didn't?

Just to be able to go out and make the album connect. I did my last album, and for two years, I didn't get to do one show, sing one song, go to one party or hear it out in public. I didn't get to work. And not that it's too late, because reggae music's shelf life is very long. So for example, last night was the first time people heard me sing my new song "Hills," but it was [also] the first time they heard me sing "Switch It Up" and "Like Royalty" as well. 

What is your experience with the number three in general?

I think three is a very good number. I think a lot of luck comes from three — you know the trinity, that's the major one. I like the off-balance of three and odd forces. Odd forces individuality and originality. I think when it's even, nothing has to be uncomfortable as we can just even it out. But when it's odd, and it has to be one or the other, that forces you to choose, make a decision, and take a strong stance. So I like that. 

They say growth comes out of being uncomfortable. Do you believe that?

Yeah, it's true, but I like to be comfortable too. [Laughs] But, I'm looking for some comfort now, I swear to God.

Absolutely. There's a whole thing going around talking about "soft life" — like, "I'm going to get my rest, and I'm going to work as well." Do you believe in soft life?

Yes, yes, yes! I work so hard and non-stop but at the same time it's good to just unplug, and it's good to just live life, enjoy life, and experience it positively. I want to live life and spend time doing the things I want to do with the people I want to spend it with — being with my daughter, staying at home, getting up, going for a jog, coming back to my house, making food, making juices, eating fruits off my tree, going to the beach, visiting my mom, and looking for my dad.

When did you start recording this album? Was it a conscious move, or did you naturally record as a musician, and then certain songs ended up creating a solid album?

It was intentional, and I started last year in May. I did a bunch of work, and then took a break, then did a bunch of work and finished up. I guess in the pandemic, I was just making lots of music, but every time I did one I knew like okay this is for the album, this is not for the album, I think this is for it, I don't think that is for it. And that's how I work.

So I would hear something and make a song, but I knew that was not really for [the album]. It’s mostly the production. When I hear a beat I'm like this is it! My album needs one of these! When I did "Late At Night" with Lila Ike, I was like my album needs a heavy drum and bass in your face, dubwise with obnoxious drums. It needs that. Then I was like okay, I need an intro, and I need an outro. I just kind of work through it like that. 

When I listen to that song specifically, as well as the whole album, to be honest, I feel a little bit melancholy. Melancholy is a feeling of pensive sadness, typically, with no obvious cause. So I don't know the reason why I feel melancholy, but you as the creator, you know. What's the reason?

 I mean, I have had lots of sad times since 2020. I had a lot of upfull times too, but overall I am a sad person. [I’ve been like this] since I was a child. [You can’t tell that on stage] because on stage, I am a kid having fun, but in real life I see things. I have a pretty melancholy vibe, and I think with this project especially, I was in a much sadder place. I was not doing the things I love to do — my personal life and different things. So I make music how I feel.

I’m not depressed. I am an empath, so I feel a lot. It was like in that period of time, [making the album] I just felt sad a lot about not necessarily just my life, but what is life about and why are we treating each other like this as people? Why is it so uneven? And just things like that. 

So you did a song about it?

Yeah, the song "Love For Me." When everybody listens to it they say "Jesus Christ this is so sad" but it's called "Love For Me" because there's real love. I am definitely loved and appreciated, but as I said, sometimes you're out there and you're giving your energy and you'll feel pressured or not appreciated in certain ways. 

People may be loving your music, but the moment something doesn't go the way they want it to, they don't [love] anymore, and you realize that's not love. That's why the song after that is "Here Comes The Morning" where I am singing to my daughter about this. So yeah, the album will be melancholy, but I like to think it gives you hope and up-fullness as well.

I think it’s real and people appreciate real. I love to see this side of you. I didn't know you were such an empath. So how did the link up with Jorja come about?

Jorja is a dope superstar — a global global superstar with the most humble energy and the most welcoming spirit. She is cool. [We knew each other] relatively for like a couple of years and we kept in contact. I just reached out because she kind of inspired the song with her hairstyle. She usually has cane rows in. That was her first style and it kind of inspired me to write the song inspired by her. She heard it and she loved it and she came up with something.

Did you know who you wanted to collaborate with?

One hundred percent, it was [Jorja] or nobody. [In regards to the rest of the featured artists on my album] I am particular about who I want to work with so it was hand-picked. I wanted to work with all of them. Jesse is like family so when I started writing "Family" and actually finished it, I was like, this is missing something you know. I just reached out to him, and he pulled up and did it.

Lila was like "Yo me haffi deh pon your album" so we found something dope. Then Samory is a voice that I really love, and I just wanted him to get highlighted. I knew being on my project would be a big step for him.

So this is your second solo album on RCA. How has this experience differed from the albums when you were not on a major label?

It differs in terms of the time it takes for things to happen. When I'm on my own, I move faster because there's less paper trail and fewer clearances that have to be done than when you're dealing with a major label. At the same time, it's been much easier to make music and videos faster at this pace. 

[RCA] pretty much left me to be independent and do what I need to do and just kind of help administer and put stuff together. Overall it has been a good experience. 

You are the go-to person for your signees as the head of In.Digg.Nation Collective and an artist on the label but who is the go-to person that you trust?

My mom, for sure. My mom is my manager too, so she runs my company, she runs my label, helps me, and runs it with me. Outside of that, we have a very close relationship. She always calms me down, gets me back to zero, and tells me it's gonna be fine and balanced. And then my daughter is very up-full — she's five. She's very positive and very, like, "Daddy, come on, it's cool, you're good." It's very helpful. 

I love that. So how do you manage to be there for the artists and balance your career?

I dedicate so much time to my music that I find time to produce, A&R, release music, and manage because I put a lot of time into it. I don't waste time. It's difficult, but life’s difficult.

I was listening to the song "Hills" and was like, damn, he's OD chilling. I know that must’ve felt nice. I want to OD chill. I want to be in the hills too. Where are these hills?

The engineer is up there running my studio. You should go visit. He is a dope producer too. He did "Like Royalty," "Same So," "Solitude" for Lila, and a bunch of stuff. So he's up there governing the studio in the mountains. It's crazy. 

So that’s your place. What do you experience in the hills beside the recording that you don't experience elsewhere?

Yeah trust me, the lyrics are in that song: 

"Aye, fresh air inna morning/ Six mile fi di day, despite gravity/Everybody just smile when dem witness/Hail up di artist; 'Gwaan, hold yuh fitness'/And me stay inna mi business always/Better live life simple nowadays."

At your NYC Webster Hall concert, you did a sick transition into Pop Smoke. Did you meet Pop?

No, no, and just to be honest, I did not know much about him until his passing because a lot of times I will listen to hip-hop, but I wouldn't find stuff that I like. When I heard "Dior" I was like, What is this? What is this? It sounds like UK music but from New York.

I then started to listen to some of his other stuff, and his voice was like, "unh". I was like this is DMX and 50 Cent in one energy, and then I heard he died so it’s sad. Hip Hop has been going through a lot of that. A lot of rappers' losing their lives to gun violence so it's wild. But I love Pop Smoke’s music. It just gives me an energy.

So what is the main message you're trying to convey on this album?

It's hard to say one message. It's lots of stuff. It’s hope, it’s appreciation for people you love, and focusing on making sure your circle is tight and that you're hanging out with people for the right reasons. Don't let yourself be taken advantage of, and don't take advantage of the people that you care about and expect too much of them. Those are the things that have been on my mind.

Were these thoughts always on your mind or did the pandemic heighten it?

I think things that happened during the pandemic heightened it. When I'm touring, I don't even know what's going on in life. I'm just waking up, doing shows, waking up doing shows, driving this. I don't have time to be worried about or focused on things that are not right. But when you're sitting down, day after day, and you're feeling things more it makes me think more. 

[During the lockdown] I was taking time for myself and spending a lot of time by myself, trying to develop who I am as a person. I tried to get rid of things I wasn't proud of. 

And can you give me an example of how you transmuted that? What is something that you started doing during the pandemic that you weren't doing before?

Stretching! I did some last night. It’s rough because everything's on the road now, but that's where discipline comes in. So there’s that and just trying to work out to be more in shape, clear my mind, and eat better. The stuff like that starts with my body, then my mind, and makes it expand.

This album feels melancholy in one aspect, but it also literally feels like I might have had a blunt maybe an hour ago when I'm listening to it. I'm like, okay this is a bit closer to Jah. What are your views on spirituality and did they evolve any in the pandemic?

It grew, but at the same time, it's not very dogmatic at all. It's open and free. I just chose to spend more time focusing on not just my career, and making songs, but just how I feel within myself and what are the answers for me to feel better about things. 

Being uncomfortable about how I feel led me to just dig deeper into everything. I learned that you can’t have control over everything. Being in the position that I am gives you a feeling of control, and you kind of start getting used to controlling things. But life is so unpredictable, so just accept that some things are out of your control. Acceptance has been a thing that I've had to work on a lot in the pandemic.

What do you want people to take away from Third Time's The Charm?

Maybe by listening to the things that I am expressing, and the things I'm going through, they can find some answers in their life. They can feel freer to express how they feel. They can see that there are many things to feel — whether from being up in the hills in isolation or being back on the road in LA with family or the duality of life — and that certain times call for certain energies. 

Be free to know that life is unpredictable. There are always waves, but you have to always show up. That is the main thing. It's about showing up every day and making sure you are putting yourself first and being consistent. When I make my albums, these are things I think about and I hope it comes across.

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