“What’s more rock n roll than participating in the democratic process, am I right?”
When the word grandson comes to mind, reassuring cheek pinches or home made cookies may be the initial thought, but New Jersey born, Toronto raised musician Grandson slaps those pinches away, and crumbles up those cookies to demand accountability from those in power.
“We’re being force fed culturally into a sense of apathy,” remarked Grandson during his interview with Jerry Bryant after his JBTV debut on September 13th, “but I do think that they’re people that care and [are] trying to imagine a system that is held accountable. Untethered from the best interests of corporations or big money, and responsible to their voters that elected them there in the first place.”
Grandson is often compared to Rage Against the Machine given the highly political subject matter touched upon in his songs, but unlike his predecessor, Grandson offers more optimistic and constructive ways for his audience to utilize their anger to make needed changes in their communities. This is not an indictment of Rage Against the Machine; they are one of the greatest bands of all time, but in this current political climate in America—where subtlety lands on deaf ears—people need more from artists other than shared anger. What people need is an artist like Grandson, who not only creatively articulates people’s anger and sadness, but also gives them a road map on how to transform those emotions into empowerment and hope.
“I’m excited about being able to go city to city and talk to these kids. I do believe that there is this incredibly, exciting, progressive wave of young people that care and are pissed off, and I’m just trying to give them a soundtrack,” remarked Grandson. Not only is Grandson giving these young people a soundtrack, he is giving them one with incredible musicianship and stage presence—evidently seen in his first song that he performed on the JBTV stage “6:00.” The song starts off with a mournful riff from guitarist Ramón Blanco that quickly gets interrupted by David Rehmann’s drumming, Renzo Bravo’s keyboards, and Grandson’s lyrics. “6:00” is an audible blitzkrieg of festering anger and clenched fists.
While one could easily appreciate the song simply for its ability to make a crowd mosh and take the title at face value, Grandson Trojan horse’s social commentary on how apathetic the evening news has become reporting on racial injustice. “I wanted to create an urgent backdrop around this headline that is coming across the 6 o’clock news of ‘A Man Dying’ someone like Eric Garner being choked to death in broad daylight,” explained Grandson. “I was frustrated and confused as to what it means to be an American. What it means to be an ally for people that are being persecuted, disproportionately.”
It’s true. While many people do want to help eradicate these horrid occurrences from happening, many people—specifically white people—get confused on how to help out. For some, that confusion leads to researching how they can help diminish systemic oppression, but for most, that confusion leads to indifference as a way to self preserve their emotional well being. With lyrics like “how can we stand by” and “he held his hands high,” Grandson says fuck your well being and do your part.
After Grandson’s call to arms against police brutality, he tackled another issue in his next song that is plaguing America—drug addiction. Beginning with a strung out bass line and the withdrawn lyrics of “I was higher than the nosebleed,” “Overdose” musically sounds like the beginning of a drug stupor with no end in sight. “[It’s] a song about our relationship to addiction as a form of escapism.” Although the song paints drugs in a negative light, Grandson’s not trying to demonize users. “It’s not to vilify people that naturally find themselves in this situations. The more empathy we can have and understanding of how people got to that point, we can understand how to help them get out of it. Addiction is a mental health issue—which shouldn’t be incarcerating people that have addiction to narcotics or illicit substances. We should be helping them through rehabilitation.” Instead of running from our problems using drugs as a source of transportation, Grandson’s suggests through the atmospheric “Overdose” that we face our problems head on and help others that are still riding the rail.
His next songs on the JBTV stage were “Bills,” “Despicable,” and “Best Friends” and discussed the more internal journeys we all face. Whether it’s the stresses that never-ending “Bills” cause, navigating self hatred in “Despicable,” or cutting off toxic people in “Best Friends,” Grandson knows that in order to expect change in the world, one has to do change within themselves. “You can be your best self, I believe in you, but sometimes you might have to cut off some people in your life that are holding you back.”
Following this detour into inner struggles, Grandson returned to his social commentary with “Thoughts and Prayers”—an ode to the complacency of America’s relationships to guns and mass shootings. He introduced the song with “I can’t wait until this song is no longer relevant and is up in a museum somewhere.” The crowd could hear the anger and desperation in Grandson’s voice as he belted out “Another press conference/Nothing gets accomplished/The shooter's an accomplice/Money is the motive/The wars in the street/Watch history repeat.” The repetitive nature of the lyrics and music of “Thoughts and Prayer” critique the cyclical nature and frequency of these travesties. “At what point do your thoughts and prayers lead to tangible change being made to mitigate what is now an unprecedented epidemic?” Sadly as an attempt to answer Grandson’s question raised during his interview— months prior to the most recent Pittsburgh synagogue shooting—we have yet to reach that point.
Grandson ended his set with “Stick Up” and his most famous song “Blood // Water.” With their blood pumping bass lines, guitars, and passionate singing by Grandson, “Stick Up” and “Blood // Water” caused the JBTV crowd to mosh to the point that Grandson jumped offstage to join the pit. Both songs deal with the desperation we all feel with the politicians in power, but instead of wallowing in that desperation; Grandson energizes the listener to use their individual power to change the cultural landscape.
Reform. Rehabilitation. Power. Accountability. These are all reoccurring themes in Grandson thunderous songs and lyrics. Whether it’s regarding the institutions of society, or the journey through self-reflection and self-acceptance, Grandson’s music is not for the stagnant. He holds a mirror to society while also holding one up to your face and his own. Society is made up of individuals, and while Grandson addresses the overarching issues with society, he wants us to hold ourselves accountable. Grandson is America’s canary in the coalmine regarding issues of race, class, addiction, and gun control in America. We are fortunate that this canary isn’t waiting to keel over to tell us we are in trouble.
While introducing “Stick Up,” Grandson exclaimed the importance of voting to the audience, “[Find the] candidates out there with your best interests in mind, that are not influenced by corporate money. That’s something I’m passionate about, it’s a part of having this power, we gotta use it, and make the world just a little bit of a better place. Can we do that?” The JBTV crowd answered with motivated cheers. Grandson followed this comment with a slight joke, “What’s more rock n roll than participating in the democratic process, am I right?”
Although it was meant to be taken as a joke of sorts, there is nothing more rock ‘n’ roll than participating in the democratic process by voting. Giving a voice to the voiceless and allowing people to address problems within their communities in a cathartic, constuctive way—applies to both rock ‘n’ roll and voting.
Hopefully you allowed your voice to be heard by voting in the Midterm Elections. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer Grandson to have a harder time finding subject matter for his music—and I’m sure he would agree.
Photo Credit: Bobby Talamine