Grandson doesn’t need a weather report to know where the wind blows. “As these foundations around us are moving and shaking,” the singer born Jordan Benjamin tells HollywoodLife when discussing his emotional and socially-conscious album, I Love You, I’m Trying. “We all need to adjust our expectations for our life work balance and reshape success around purpose and around fulfillment, and that’s not easy to do.”
Grandson’s reshaping came with his goals with this musical persona and his second album. He says that when he first started, he had the typical objectives of topping the Billboard charts, winning all the Grammys, and making all the money. But, the further into his music career, he doubted if he should pursue these industry-improved benchmarks. “Does having a number one over here necessarily indicate that you’ll be any happier or that you’ll be any more meaningful to people’s lives?” he muses.
“I think [I Love You, I’m Trying] has been a refocusing for me,” he says, “and I think it’s why the album became so much more personal in nature. It became a much more intimate project as I was examining well like, ‘What am I even trying to accomplish with it in the first place?’”
Which asks the question: what is Grandson trying to accomplish? “I wanted to make something that I would be really eager to listen to as a music fan,” he says. “I wanted to make an album that deeply entrenched this relationship I already have to the fanbase that I’ve connected with already. And I want to continue to play these shows around the world and connect with people and grow this project. Those are the things I set out to do, and leave this project feeling fans of my work feel like they know me a little bit better.”
While Grandson’s work was more reflective of the social landscape and the issues going on around him, I Love You, I’m Trying puts his own experiences in the spotlight. The title track speaks of how Grandson “keep(s) letting you down / There’s no denyin’ / I love you, I’m tryin’” before speaking on how This is my limit / Made this bed, I guess that we lie in it / The side that I hide has made a surprise visit / Good luck ran out, I can’t help it.”
“I feel that my work has always been as a commentator or narrator around these social issues that were really inspiring for me to write songs about and connect with,” he tells HL.” But I think for this album, it was about making something original and purposeful, and there’s no better time to try to realign with that than [now.].”
This intimacy is heard in “Half My Heart” and in the corresponding video. Inspired by the idea of getting in your own way of happiness, the visual sees Grandson perform in a playground, though he certainly isn’t having any fun. Grandson is literally running in place as he chases after the one he loves. Once he lets go and gets a pair of RC shoes – he can finally catch up to the life he should have been living all along.
Though I Love You, I’m Trying is based more on Grandson’s feelings and experiences, he doesn’t want anyone to think that he’s given up on using his music to further the causes he believes in. He tells HL that this new album is “just a still image along a long career in which I’ll write songs that continue to touch on a broad array of subject matter, especially, including work in social justice and activism.”
“It is important to recognize that much of this personal conflict that I write music about is inherently political,” he says. “Everything is political. And so, the disenchantment that young people feel and the directionlessness is inherently made worse or complicated by decisions being made in Washington around who sees what on their phones and whether these things are even good for us. My musical continues to touch on a lot of different themes. But, as somebody who came out of the gate making political music, I’ve seen many artists I admired in that space feel a lot of burnout. There’s
a lot of imposter syndrome — like anybody that’s in community organizing work. And I think I wanted to reconnect as a songwriter and feel inspired and really use this album to contextualize why that work is so important to me.”
“There have been themes of addiction and mental health in my music for as long as I’ve been making music,” he adds, “but I don’t know that I was always using those themes confessionally to tell people, ‘Well, this is who I am, and this is my family and my upbringing,’ which I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit closer to doing on this one.”
There was a moment when the new album almost got a little too real. “Playing my family that song, ‘Something to Hide,’ was definitely a standstill moment,” says Grandson. The track does air the family’s dirty laundry (“Mother was the life of the party / Bottle of white wine for dinner / Father had a little box / With a razor blade to cut up a painkiller”) so one could understand how putting these experiences in song could be awkward.
“I think that those opportunities to write about something or do something with your life or with your work that you’re really nervous about, that you’re really invested in doing right, are the parts where I feel most alive as a songwriter,” he says. “And it had been a while. It’s funny that I can write this music and manage to piss off half of America by being unapologetically liberal and progressive and yet, feel somehow insulated from some of my fear of that backlash as compared to presenting these really intimate songs to my loved ones that might not necessarily paint us all in the most positive light. That’s really been something on this album that I had to confront.”
“And as an artist, it was really liberating and exciting to be in this murky water where I didn’t really know how people were going to react or feel about my perspective,” he continues, “because it is only one experience. If you’re going through it with your partner, it’s okay if you guys don’t have the exact same outlook necessarily. It doesn’t negate one another’s perspective.”
“So, this is just my interpretation of what happened, but it’s been incredible to see how many people relate to that specificity. And that’s one thing that has always really mystified me is the ways in which as a writer, by being more personal and including all the details that you can remember, how that can actually unexpectedly connect with people and feel relatable to people.”
Grandson is busy connecting with people, launching a world tour in May. While traveling around the US in July, will finish up the North American leg of the tour in August before heading overseas in September and October. It will be his first chance to perform this new music for his fans and to see how successful this “refocusing” has been.
“I’ve spent a lot of time chasing goals,” he tells HollywoodLife, “but the goal itself exists to make me feel something. I’m chasing the goal, but what I’m really chasing is a feeling. And I haven’t even taken the time to get to the bottom of why am I even connecting the two.”
“When I first came into alternative music, I wasn’t even a huge rock fan. I’m not like an encyclopedia of emo music or what this scene is that I found myself a part of. ‘Blood // Water’ was my big breakout song. And even that song could be interpreted in different genres. But for whatever reason, I found myself embracing rock and roll, especially live. My live set is with a band, and it’s heavy. But suddenly, I found myself trying to gamify my way up the ranks of this rock and roll hierarchy and how important those accolades within this community are.”
“And I never even bothered to check in with like, ‘Is this even what I wanted when I first sought out to make music, or did this just seem like a path towards success or towards freedom?’” he ponders. “And now, I’ve tried to make peace with that, and the rub is still going to be putting out music and wanting lots and lots and lots of people to connect with it. And sometimes, I’m going to say how happy I am and how much success is determined by how real I kept it and still be disappointed if I’ve poured my heart into something and people don’t care, or people don’t listen to it.”
“But,” he says, “I think that the work that I’m doing to make this amount of peace feels just as worthwhile as the time and effort spent deliriously trying to be as popular as I could possibly be and losing myself in the process.”
I Love You, I’m Trying is out now. Grandson is currently on tour.