I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jordan Benjamin also known as grandson, someone who I admire both as a musician and a person. He’s a very down to earth and inspiring human being. We talked about his journey through music, the selection of his name, touched a bit on what’s to come, and even got right down to what pizza toppings he likes. All the important stuff.
Bri: Do you like Vancouver?
Jordan: Yeah I love it! Last time I headlined in Vancouver I played for like 50 people so this is going to be really really fun. I’m really excited. I love being here I love it. I love the relationship everyone has to nature here, it’s very connected, people seem to support live music, electronic music. There seems to be a really vibrant community here.
Bri: Yeah there’s just about every kind of flavour here.
Jordan: Yeah literally. As someone who I consider my music taste to be kind of eclectic, everyone that I know who moved here came away with long hair and good music taste.
Bri: Haha yeah awesome! So you were born in New Jersey and moved to Toronto, right?
Bri: How old were you when you moved?
Jordan: I was 3, just a kid. But I got dual citizenship which is good!
Bri: Hell yeah! There you go! What was your families reasoning for moving away from NJ?
Jordan: My mums family was based in Toronto. In New Jersey it was kind of a particular spot in New Jersey it was a bit of a small town kinda vibe. There was one high school, one college and my parents were interested in raising a family in a more metropolitan city with more cultures and flavours and I’m very very grateful because not only did it give me my introduction to Canada and Canadian culture, which I consider myself a Canadian, but Toronto, in particular, is such a particular vibrant mosaic of music, of food, of people and I think that, when I wanted to make music and wanted to be that mishmash of hip-hop and electronic and rock and roll, it was all very intuitive of me cause of the environment I grew up in and being surrounded by all sorts of different people in the Toronto public school, so shouts out to Toronto.
Bri: Nice, that’s awesome. I guess seeing as you were so young you wouldn’t have had much of a preference between the two.
Jordan: No I was so young but there are certain aspects I really like about the U.S and there are things that I love about Canada and I’m very happy to be getting a more nuanced perspective on both. And touring has given me the opportunity to get outside of the coasts and actually get to explore some of the middle and see some of the stereotypes get flipped on their head and also be confronted with some of the very real shit that’s going on there. So I got love. I just want to be a citizen of the world. I just want to meet people all over and share stories and try and advance a conversation, a dialogue that recognizes human rights, women’s rights, rights of the planet and people that don’t have a voice. I feel that we’re on our way to doing that and having some of those discussions which is really exciting.
Bri: Yeah I totally agree.
Bri: So, when picking your stage name, I read that you chose “grandson” due to your strong relationship with your grandfather.
Jordan: It was definitely a part of it I had been tinkering around getting bounced around in Los Angeles for like two years. I wasn’t sure what I was doing and my grandfather, he was very close with me at the time, actually passed away and I went home for that, and it was kind of just a really interesting confrontation where whenever I take a break from Los Angeles, I’m forced to kind of asses where I’m at both professionally and artistically and whatever. I remember I left, and being at that funeral, and feeling very very just depressed and exhausted from the fact that I hadn’t yet formulated what would become grandson and it was actually December of that year (2015) where I met my manager and kind of found the courage and inspiration to kind of rebuild and start new and when we were looking for a name trying to find something that felt nostalgic and familiar because for me rock and roll was something that I grew up on but then took this weird detour through hip-hop and electronic music so when I was coming back and all of a sudden I was listening to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and James Taylor, Ray Charles and Bill Withers and all these artists that my parents listened to with this new found fascination and curiosity that felt so familiar, and I wanted to make the aesthetic of this project, I wanted people feel familiar with it without even knowing it. Part of that was doing the whole black and white aesthetic, part of that was trying to find a name and we were looking forever. I remember having an excel spreadsheet with my manager that had like 40 different names.
Bri: Could you give me any examples?
Jordan: Nah I couldn’t even think of any but they were all these like, literary characters I was inspired by, old street names, I couldn’t think of anything and then my manager actually, he had a dream in January of 2016, he sent me an e-mail saying “what about grandson?”. He had a dream that he was sitting side stage at a show and I was mid-performance and the crowd was chanting “grandson”. It was literally another human being, it wasn’t even me. It all just kind of clicked together.
Bri: That’s really cool. I find when I try and think of names for my music projects I always have such a hard time coming up with ideas so I’m always curious as to how people find their names.
Jordan: I find that that’s one of those details where it has a tremendous amount of weight and significance and it’s an important decision but it’s not THE decision. And there are different points of that path where being really deliberate and methodical is good but there’s also points where that sort of analysis paralysis will slow you down and that was one of those moments where when I heard that name I didn’t really play out in my head what it was going to feel like two years from now or any of that, it just felt like “this is just good enough, we just gotta keep moving here” and it was more important to me to give a fuck about why am I trying to do this still, beating my head against the wall trying to be a professional musician so at that time I was like “I’ve got bigger fish to fry, let’s go for the name”. But different people I guess reach different conclusions.
Bri: Yeah very true. But I think it’s a cool name! When I heard it I was like “huh grandson, that’s different!” and the thing is, because it’s different it makes you think about it and it sticks.
Jordan: Yeah! Thanks! it’s weird but there’s certain things that I think I got really fortunate that I had people around me who had a really good sensibility and taste to get peoples ears perked, or get my foot in the door or whatever and then it was just going to be whether people fucked with this or not. I really think that ultimately if you don’t have substance in what you’re doing, you can have the best photo shoots in the world, the best name and the best aesthetic but if the shit sucks then no one cares. Then, conversely, if your stuff is dope then they’ll like it. A lot of people were like “grandson, how’s anyone going to search that?” and I was like “I don’t really give a fuck. If they’re looking for it, they’ll find it, if they’re not they won’t. But I just wanted to get the ball rolling.
Bri: For sure, I mean when I tell people to look you up, I say like “just type grandson music, or grandson band and it will come up, it’s not that hard”
Jordan: Yeah! We’ll figure it out you know? If you want to find my music there’s places to do it. And I wasn’t going to be like grandson with a million x’s or something next to it or something. That’s the name let’s go with it.
Bri: So, I hear you’re self-taught for music?
Jordan: To some capacity yeah. I had a guitar teacher for like a year or two when I was like 12 but other than that for the most part yes. But I’m really lucky that – I think with grandson, that I realized early on – is that I wanted to want to be this one stop shop. James Blake-esque mythological figure so bad. And I’m happy that I went through that phase because that curiosity lead me to better opportunities for understanding what I wanted and it gave me the vocabulary when I’m in a session or working with other people, I can articulate with what I want more, with more specificity because I spent time dabbling in whatever it is, producing or whatever, but also when I started this, though it is a solo project, it’s my baby, I wanted to surround myself with people who were AS passionate with what they do as I was with what I do because the reality is, I don’t love sitting in front of a laptop for 12 hours a day and that’s what I had to do if I wanted to be like a beat maker, or a DJ or something so I didn’t have a lot of formal teaching but I surrounded myself with people that have a ton of formal teaching you know? And my collaborator, Boonn, is incredibly, incredibly talented and he makes everything look and sound the way it does. He plays almost everything. I guess I don’t want to take too much credit, I guess that’s where I was getting at here. And you know we’re still doing it, I like finding new ways to contribute and working as a producer and co-writer with other artists, in a way that is hands-off, and is a little more philosophical. In terms of being the one who’s going to actually apply technical skill, or theoretical knowledge to actually making this shit sound good that’s out of my pay grade, jurisdiction or whatever.
Bri: So how old were you when you first started discovering your passion for music? Or has it always kind of been with you?
Jordan: Uh, it’s always sort of felt very natural. I feel like I was always born into a lot of privilege being a dude, first off, being a white dude, second off, and being a middle-class white dude. It never occurred to me that my voice was unimportant. It wasn’t that I knew I wanted to be in a band or something, but when I was a kid I was writing stories and when I played guitar, I would take a lesson and then take that terrible guitar playing that I could do and I would start trying to write, start trying to make my own thing. It was always relatively intuitive to me that this a vessel for me to express myself. It was probably when I was about 13 or 14 and hormones started kicking in and I started writing songs about girls in my class. Then I started smoking a bunch of weed and I just became obsessed with hip-hop. I was listening to Biggie, Eminem, Big L, Jurassic 5, A Tribe Called Quest, Clipse and just all this music that was just not about me at all but it felt angry, it felt irreverent, it felt like “I don’t give a fuck”. And I was 14 and I was sick of my parents telling me what to do and my teachers telling me what to do, even though I was this skinny kid with my little Jew fro and my braces, I still really resonated with hip hop and then I started writing. So it was probably around high school when I really discovered that.
Bri: Was there a moment in time when that clicked for you and you knew that was the route you were going to take?
Jordan: No, absolutely not. I’m still like “the jury is still out” with what I’m doing and where I’m going but I had a very serendipitous bump in with somebody based in Los Angeles that wanted to bring me down. I had put one song online and my friends all shared it on Facebook, and it got 70 likes and I was like “oh this feels good! Feels like it matters.” Then I did another one, which was similar and then I did like a little video, this grainy digital camera video, on the rooftop if my apartment when I was like 18 or 19 years old and somehow it ended up on this small Montréal blog and then this kid whose dad was a manager saw it through this weird thing and I ended up with an e-mail from this guy being like “This is dope! Want to come to Los Angeles?” I was in school for communications at the time and I had no idea what I wanted to do at the time. I wanted to run a labels twitter or something. I couldn’t imagine what my life was going to be like in 6 months, never mind a couple years. So it never really felt like anything came together as much as I’ve always had a super morbid curiosity to see certain things through one way or another. I’ve always had this desire. Even when someone’s like “don’t touch that, it’s hot” I touch it. I just can’t help it you know? So I think that kind of propelled me to give music a try and then I just got obsessed. I didn’t know that you could write other songs for people. I didn’t know that there were these millions of people that were as affected by music as I was, or trying to create music with the same passion and so I saw that waiting for me in Los Angeles and never left. And as far as grandson goes, I think the first time I did a headlining show, I think it was in Los Angeles or something, I had this one moment where it really dawned on me that this was dope. When people started knowing the words to Blood//Water that fucked me up. I still have this little self-loathing monkey on my back that I’m navigating, to to be able to watch this thing get a life of its own. It’s very exciting.
Bri: So I personally feel like you have a very unique sound, but have you found that anybody compares you to any other artists at all?
Jordan: A little bit. It’s kind of all over the place. It’s a lot of people throw “this, meets this, meets this.” People throw around Rage Against The Machine, 21 Pilots, Eminem. But, first off, that’s all stuff that I am influenced by, and I’ll take it. It’s stuff that when I was a kid listening to it, if someone told me that’s what I would be told I sound like, it’s cool. I think it’s healthy.
Bri: So when you first started writing, did you always have the intention on writing politically charged lyrics and using your music as a way to inspire and motivate others?
Jordan: I don’t think that necessarily I set out with the intention of writing politically charged songs, but I do write with the intention of inspiring people. Absolutely. I think that my intention is first and foremost to be honest with who I am and where I’m at. As people seem to be gravitating towards the music that I’m making, I just want as unvarnished, a reflection of myself. I think that takes on two roles that I’m playing out with this modern tragedy series, where one is kind of the head where I’m taking in this environment that we’re growing up in, and we’re being raised in, and writing songs that are reflective of being right here right now in 2018. That’s what I’m navigating as I try to better understand who I am and what I stand for and how do I reconcile that with the fact that that’s not always represented. I think I had a certain idealistic feud. One side established what I felt to be right and wrong, it’s very intuitive that everyone who shared that with me would be there and we’d all be working together collectively towards that but that’s just not the case. It’s much more nuance then just “they’re bad guys” you know? People that just came up in different environments, a different education system, from parents telling them different shit and who am I to tell them that they’re stupid or dumb, that being said though, it definitely struck a chord with me and that sort of lost innocence was kind of what the X’s (his logo) came to represent for me. But there’s this other component that’s going to continue to get flushed out over the next while of the heart. It’s also like, I’m just a dude in my twenties trying to navigate being a young person trying to figure it the fuck out, and going through heartbreak, and going through addiction and mental health and what vices do I turn to when shit gets tough to escape. Those are the sorts of things in songs like “Overdose” and “Despicable” that on tour, it really hits home that that’s what kids seem to resonate with just as much as some of the stuff that’s more politically charged. Having spent time around Mike Shinoda as a mentor and seeing what Linkin Park did for so many kids in the field of mental health, it’s definitely an important component that I look forward to continuing to flush out. So, they’re not all going to be a commentary on the headline from last week, that being said, I do want to always have that a part of it. Even if I’m not necessarily singing about it, there will be new ways that I look forward to in the next year, flushing out how we can make this bigger than music. If you are a fan of grandson, it means that you believe in a lot of the same things I believe in, and how can I navigate. We’re all sitting here saying we want to make a difference, we all give a shit, I have ten dollars a month to give somewhere, I want to feel like I’m not just totally apathetic in this shit storm. How can I personally, just as a dude, navigate that and find my solution, and how can I expedite that process for these kids that are coming to my music, and how I can be a middleman for passionate, pissed off hormonal teenager and change. When we get young people giving a shit, when we get them voting, we get them angry, when we get them feeling in touch with what’s going on, then America and Canada and the world is just better off. I think. Period. It’s typically old, white, rich, lizard looking men fucking shit up and it’s at the responsibility of the rest of us to try and do something about it, do anything. So, continue to figure out how to do that and make it easy for everybody around me to do it with me, but there’s also going to be songs about being young and dumb and in love and drunk.
Bri: I have some more casual questions for you now.
Jordan: Let’s do this.
Bri: Okay first one, not too casual but definitely interesting, if you could say anything to Trump, what would it be?
Jordan: Listen. I’d say just listen.
Bri: Nice. Short and sweet and to the point. Next, do you have any guilty pleasures for music?
Jordan: I love like mid-2000’s R&B. Love Craig David, Usher, and though R Kelly is a piece of shit, I still listen to “Bump n’ Grind” and “I Believe I Can Fly” from time to time. And I really dig acoustic singer-songwriter type stuff like Justin Nozuka. He’s a guy I’ve had the opportunity to write with. I’ve been very much influenced by that like Jack Johnson, Ben Harper world when I first started making music, that might be kind of unexpected or something. I don’t know.
Bri: Nice! Okay, what are your top 3 favourite movies?
Jordan: “There Will Be Blood”, “Forrest Gump” and “Pulp Fiction.”
Bri: Those are all good choices. A very important question, what is your favourite and least favourite pizza toppings? It can be a combo.
Jordan: For favourite, I’d say I really like basil. I really like a margarita type pizza. Or even like arugula, something light. For least favourite, I kind of don’t really discriminate but I’m not really a big fan of banana peppers on pizza. Who thought of that? I didn’t even know that people did that and I saw it in one of those assembly line, make your own pizza places and I was like “what is that doing there?”
Bri:Haha get that out of there. If your 5-year-old self-found himself in your current body what is the first thing he would do?
Jordan: Wow. I don’t know, he was an entitled little shit, he’d probably go buy a shit ton of beanie babies and cry probably. I loved beanie babies. Yeah, I don’t know, nothing good.
Bri: Last one, what is the most ridiculous fact that you know?
Jordan: Oh man, uh, OH! There was one that was like “the T-Rex lived closer to us than to the stegosaurus. Did you know that?
Bri: No I definitely didn’t know that.
Jordan: Yeah there’s layers to that shit, I thought that it was like the dinosaur era with all the dinosaurs living together co-existing and now they’re all gone, but it was like tens of millions of years that separated these different dinosaurs from one another. Then you think about the history of humanity and the first homo sapiens, it’s like less than two million years ago, to think that these dinosaurs were able to co-exist for like fifty million years and there’s just no way. There’s no way we’re going to make it that long which in a way is really kind of depressing. But that’s my weird fact.
Bri: This is why I ask, that way you learn more weird unnecessary facts.
Jordan: What’s one that you know?
Bri: Well now I’m panicking and I can’t think of one.
Jordan: See it’s not so easy when you’re put on the spot is it?
Bri: No it’s really not. I’m sorry haha
Jordan: I want you to put one in at the end of the article when you remember one.
So, here is my random fact – An avocado is a berry but a strawberry isn’t. It really messed with my millennial avocado loving self.