Photo: Alex Harper
Andy Grammer On How Shedding "Ego Weight" & Evaluating Self-Worth Has Impacted His New Music — And His Life
Andy Grammer may have been releasing music for more than a decade — but his latest batch of music might just be the most impactful and emotionally revelatory of his career.
Like many, the 38-year-old singer/songwriter — best known for his upbeat hits like 2011's "Keep Your Head Up" and 2014's "Honey, I'm Good" — endured a mental whirlwind during the COVID-19 pandemic. With touring on pause, Grammer was faced with some harsh realities, even realizing that he was depressed.
Yet, as he's done his whole career, Grammer turned his experience into inspirational music. As exhibited in his latest releases (the hopeful stomper "Lease On Life" and the self-love anthem "Damn It Feels Good to Be Me") though, he's lifting himself up, too.
Grammer and his wife, fellow singer/songwriter Aijia, will dive deeper into their individual and joint journeys as musicians during an intimate chat with MusiCares on Thursday, Dec. 9. Titled Music, Marriage & Mental Health with Aijia & Andy Grammer, the event will see the pair discussing the rewards and challenges of being a couple in the music industry with MusiCares' Senior Director, Shireen Janti. Tune in to the special discussion, which will start at 2 p.m. PT/5 p.m. ET.
Ahead of the event, MusiCares caught up with Andy Grammer about how his wife, kids, and his own self-worth gave him some of his best music to date.
You've previously said that you feel like you lost 20 pounds of "ego weight" during the pandemic. Can you elaborate on that?
One of my purposes in life is to perform, and try to light people up and bring them back to themselves. A lot of that happens on a stage with bright lights. A lot of that is healthy, real and true. And then there's, like, trappings of that, that if you do it for too long, probably aren't great for any human.
I don't think of myself as someone who has a huge ego. But, if for 10 years, every time you get to a hotel, they give you the corner suite and there's a chocolate thing waiting for you with your name on it, it's just kind of your norm. Then it stops on a dime.
For almost two years, I was washing dishes, doing things around the house, taking care of the kids, and I was like, "Oh yeah, I was a little bit off." I had to come back down to the ground. It forced me to make peace with the normal, and find the real awesome in that.
You've also talked about realizing that you are, in some ways, depressed, and how that was hard to face because you've built a brand around being such a positive guy. How did that realization impact the way you approached your music?
When big things happen in my life, I try to write about them. So if I'm depressed, let's get to the root of why I feel depressed. A lot of that came to self-worth. A lot of the songs that are coming out now are authentic takes on self-worth for me — which I would not have expected was where I was headed.
I tend to find that when I want to sing about something, if it's real, but many people have failed trying to [sing about it], I get excited. The reason clichés are clichés is because there's something that we all keep coming back to about them. But it's really hard to get out of clichés without being cheesy.
One of my songs that did fairly well is called "Don't Give Up On Me." That's not a groundbreaking idea, right? I didn't reinvent the wheel there. I just knew that that's a real emotion. And if you get out of that without being cheesy, a lot of people feel it. Those are some of the best pop songs. So for me, to go bravely into trying to sing about self-love is exciting and terrifying.
Would you say you're more nervous to release this music than you've been in the past, because the content is so personal?
Yeah, I think that you keep peeling off the onion. Your relationship with your audience should grow the way that a friendship grows. You should get more and more comfortable with people who've been along for the ride, sharing more and more about yourself.
I'm gonna keep trying to figure out what I'm feeling and putting that into art. And hopefully it's something that people want to jam to, or helps them in some way. That's what art is supposed to be at its best. I love to make art that's like little Aspirin for whatever you're going through. Audible Aspirin.
You've put out a few songs since the pandemic began, including "Don't Give Up On Me." Have the reactions to those songs felt any different, considering the weight of what people have been dealing with in that time?
There's definitely a sense that we need perspective and we need hope. I have tried to do that for a really long time, so I'm kind of feeling like, "Oh s***, game time!"
I was expecting to be the one that was like, "I have the answers, follow me, I'll be hopeful." And instead I was like, "I'm depressed, so I can really only share with you my personal experience and I hope that helps you."
How has being married to a fellow singer/songwriter helped you cope with the feelings you were going through and processing while you were making this music?
We're both just super-supportive, and I really appreciate that we are both down to just go all the way, even though sometimes that affects the other person. I would say anything to her even if it would make her look bad, and I think she'd say anything even if it would make me look bad. Which I like. There's a respect for the art there.
But it's less about the fact that we wrote a beautiful song together — which, we did, we wrote a couple of cool songs. It was more that I had a partner who was down to just hold space for me when I was spinning out.
Have your daughters [Louisiana, 4, and Israel, 20 months] changed anything for you?
What they do for me is they obliterate this idea that I can just be focused on one thing. So for someone like me that can get laser focused on touring or an album, kids will just not let you do that. You come home with whatever is in your brain and they're like, "I don't care, chase me around the table." That has been really wonderful and has made me a more well-rounded person.
I saw the video of you and your girls belting out "Lease On Life." You must love that your music is so fun and lighthearted that you can share it with your kids.
I really do. And for a while, I was wondering whether that was cool or not. When you come to my shows, it's everybody, because I'm singing about things that are universal. So when I was just getting on the scene, I was like, "Is it cool that there's a 60-year-old lady here, as well as a 13-year-old, a 21-year-old, and a soccer team of college guys?" It didn't feel like the cool MTV event. It felt more like a family barbecue.
What's been really sweet is that I've always known musically what I want to do. The music is always right for me. Insecurity has never stopped me. That's why I've been lucky, because the music that I make is always me, and the audience is showing up for the real me. The crowd is like, "Dude, just shut up and be yourself. That's why we're here, we love you. Stop trying to have abs or something."
It seems like you've reached a place where you're genuinely happy to be dubbed the guy that makes happy music.
I think that goes back to self-love. There is something dope about not caring what other people think. Like, "Damn It Feels Good To Be Me" — the fact that that's my mantra right now has had effects on my life.
I'm someone who really cares about how I'm perceived and how to come across other people. I'm a people pleaser, so to be working on caring less about that — and trying to find my joy, my love and my worth from things inside myself as opposed to outside of myself — is a really valuable, worthy study.
Because of the revelations you've had, do you feel like this music will have an even deeper impact on both your audience and yourself?
I think it will, but it doesn't matter. My job is to chase what I'm going through and execute it as well as I possibly can. And then, these days, figure out fun and interesting ways to get it out to the public, whether that's through TikTok or music videos, or whatever. I've gotten better at releasing control as to how big or how impactful everything will be.
My goal is always that I want to make [songs] that will make you feel good. In the next 10 years, I'll be even less worried about, "Will this fit on the radio? Where will this go?" and more, "How will this affect the heart?" That's exciting.