An Interview with Greyson Chance
The air in Brighton Music Hall was filled with electricity this past Sunday night (yep, you read that right—a packed house on a Sunday!) as Greyson Chance took to the stage. Flanked on all sides by fluorescent tubes of pulsating light, the singer-songwriter captured the audience with the power of his voice. Greyson’s stage-presence, complemented by a delicate command over his body movement, a quick outfit-change, and personal vignettes, made for a truly remarkable experience.
I got the chance (pun intended!) to catch up with Greyson before his show, to talk about his newest album, portraits, and his life as a child-sensation turned practiced musician.
MJ: First, I have to confess, I have been a fan of yours since I was in, like, seventh grade.
GC: Oh, thank you so much.
MJ: And technically, I’ve met you like three times? I went to, like, random concerts—you opened for Miranda Cosgrove once?
MJ: I was there, and then Cody Simpson—
MJ: I was also there.
GC: Yes, yes oh amazing! So, you have seen me live before.
MJ: Yeah, oh yeah! But this is my first time being an adult without my mom and dad.
GC: Yes, it’s a much different experience.
MJ: Exactly, I am very excited. I wonder if you could talk a little about how your approach to creating music has changed over the years, and what that’s been like for you.
GC: I think, you know, I don’t think it has necessarily changed. I think because I was so young, I think like anything with age, right, it’s more or less just evolved. When I was younger I got dropped by my first record label when I was 15, and at that moment I was really starting to write. That was a big, sort of, ambition of mine and I wanted to be more authentic with my work and so—I was in studios for three years learning from people and trying to find different mentors. So, I think my approach to writing now is very influenced by that period of time, and what I learned from it is what type of songwriter that I strive to be and the type of writing that I like is just, it’s storytelling. It’s authentic to the artist, you know? So when I think of Joni Mitchell or Brandi Carlile, or people I really admire on a writing level, that’s what I want to shoot for, always.
MJ: In talking about authenticity, your most recent album was really raw, and I think vulnerable and I wonder what it was like for you to put those emotions into words and then to share them with so many people. What has that been like?
GC: It’s funny when we do the press cycle now, in talking about it, people ask a lot, were you nervous exposing yourself in that way, and if I’m being honest I just didn’t even think about it. It was so instinctual and in many ways for me too, portraits was—I was just coming off of being at university where I had been pretty dead set on not doing music ever again.
GC: So this record was, in many ways, I did it for me more than anybody else. I really wanted to make a body of work. So, at the time I was like, well what can I write about? I know that I’ve had a lot of experiences within this year, and I have some shit I need to say. So I just did, and it’s really just all in the record.
MJ: What changed for you? You know, you went from not wanting to do music to producing this incredible and beautiful album—I wonder what that change was like.
GC: I fell in love with music again. I left LA when I was 18. I had been through so much in the industry. My confidence level was just so low. You know I had been told time and time again—listen you had this really idiosyncratic thing happen to you, and that’s your legacy, that’s it. You’re never going to be able to have a second chapter, you’re always going to be this Lady Gaga thing. And I just started to believe that. So when I went to school, there was a part of me that felt so sad and felt a bit betrayed by the industry. But there was another part of me that was excited for the clean slate. And what that clean slate allowed me to do was, I was able to actually go to shows and not think about what was happening backstage. I was able to just experience the moment. I was able to listen to albums and not think about what label this band was signed on or who they were writing with, and just enjoy it as a fan. That’s what really led me to writing again. I became a music lover. Because it’s very easy to become quite jaded when you’re an artist, and to lose sight of being a fan of music in general.
MJ: Are there things you do now to stave off that jadedness and keep your passion for music?
GC: Yeah, yeah I try to stay out of LA as much as possible. You know, I think that place can really get into your head as an artist and I try to stay at home as much as possible. I’m from Oklahoma, and I like to spend time there. I have a house there, and it’s where I find my roots a bit. And for me, too, I think it’s just constantly about going to shows, it’s constantly about listening to music. I think musicians sometimes, at the end of the night, they want to tune off. But whenever I find myself saying, ‘I don’t want to listen to new releases or anything,’ I’m like ‘No, no, come on, push yourself a bit.’ And then I hear a song on new music Friday and I’m like, ‘Damn that shit’s tight. Let’s do some stuff like that.’
MJ: That’s amazing. It’s interesting that you bring up Oklahoma because a lot of critics, and not in a critical way, have said that portraits really is grounded in place and that your experiences at home were embedded in the album. And so I wonder how you think about place and time, especially because your experience of life has been so different from so many people, when it comes to being famous at a young age. Do you see place differently? It seems like LA holds certain ideas for you, and then home holds different ideas, and school even is different.
GC: Very much so. I think what is interesting and also kind of tough too, which I am navigating now is, you know—for example let’s take Boston. When I come to this city, I’m not from here, I’ve never lived here before. But I have been here probably around five or six times. And I will see things, and I’ll go to a certain station or I’ll talk to a certain person, and I’ll remember it from when I was 13 or 14. So I have this sort of, unique familiarity with… all of the United States. And it is a bit interesting, but I’m also inspired by it too. The thing with Oklahoma is that a lot of people, you know, say that portraits was grounded in that place or a story about Oklahoma. I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s just a story about me. I think Oklahoma is forever ingrained in me. I mean I’m fucking drinking Bud Light right now.
MJ: *Laughing* Yeah!
GC: What? Like, you know? Last night we were in New York, and I came out to the meet and greet and I was wearing this really trashy Grateful Dead shirt, it had a pot leaf on it, and I was wearing these jeans, and I came out with a Bud Light and he was like ‘You are truly the gay anomaly right now.’ Like hell yeah keepin’ it authentic.
MJ: Not to get political but, I mean, Senator Elizabeth Warren is from Oklahoma.
GC: Damn straight.
MJ: She talks a lot about her life in Oklahoma. There’s a lot of Oklahoma pride… do you feel that with her?
GC: I do, I do. I honestly, I feel… if she ends up winning the nomination and beating this horrible, asshole of a person we have in the White House.
MJ: We don’t say his name.
GC: Yeah, then I will take a lot of pride in the fact that it was a person from Oklahoma. It makes sense to me that it would be a person from Oklahoma to take him down. She has grit, and that’s a good thing.
MJ: Okay, last question. When I was listening to portraits, I was thinking about all the things that I wish I had told people who I loved.
GC: Oh wow.
MJ: Things that I felt that if they knew, they would have had a fuller picture of why I was doing things that they didn’t understand. And that continues, because there are a lot of people in my life who I should tell more than I do.
MJ: So, I wonder if there is something you want to tell people—be they fans or family members or loved ones—that you think they won’t understand unless you tell them.
GC: It’s really interesting that you say that. I’ve been talking to friends about this recently. We were talking about Amy Winehouse and just what happens post-life, where there are all these people saying, ‘She was like this or this person is this way.’ And, we should be telling people what we think about them more. We should be reminding them of, like, you’re beautiful. You’re beautiful in this moment, or this is incredible, I’m proud of you—all these things. But we don’t say them because we feel a bit nervous and a bit shy. And so, to my friends and family I just, I have been so blessed. For ten years now I’ve been doing this, and I have consistently had such a strong support system. My mom and dad, like, man I owe the world to them. They have kept me at such a level head. So I would just give immense thanks and immense gratitude. I hope that they know that, I hope that I’m saying it enough. And all my friends are included in that too.
MJ: Thank you so much.
Maya Jenkins is a reporter for WHRB News.