Andy Grammer hit the ground running when he was discovered in 2009 playing the streets and small bars of Santa Monica, signing to the major S-Curve Records label in 2010 and releasing his hit debut album, Andy Grammer, in 2011. Since then, the now 31-year-old pop sensation has had a string of hit singles starting with 2011’s “Keep Your Head Up.” His sophomore album, Magazines or Novels, was released in August of 2014 and contained two more of his chart-busting singles, “Back Home” and “Honey, I’m Good.” In the final stretch of his spring tour, Grammer has been relentlessly writing and touring for a fan base that just keeps growing.
In lieu of attending his sold out show at the 20th Century Theatre on March 25 here in Cincinnati, we chatted with Grammer on the phone about his rapid rise in the music industry, his goals, as well as his persona as a man and musician.
You started out busking in California. What is your biggest takeaway from your rapid explosion from the streets onto the stages and radio streams?
You know, with radio, I think that’s still the main way to go today. For me, it’s been the case that it’s really the best way to get everyone to know about you. It’s built a fan base across the whole country in a way that I’m not sure could happen right now any other way. Nothing just happens virally, and radio is still a really great way to get out into the market.
So you feel like that was more important than the live performances for you?
No, I think it’s both. You have to get into someone’s ears first, but then you have to go show them live why you’re worth their time. That’s how you really build a legitimate base, I would say.
And so going from someone not well known, playing on the streets to someone known by hundreds of thousands, what’s the feeling of that?
I would just say gratitude. I’m so blessed and lucky to get to run around the country and see different cities and people come. That’s amazing to me. I started out as a street performer, and there was nobody there. And now to go to these big cities and just see people coming, it’s pretty amazing.
Is it what you expected?
I don’t think you can expect. It’s hard to think of what it could be. But it is, kind of. It’s what I expected in terms of how amazing it is on stage to have everyone singing your lyrics. But I don’t think you can expect how much travelling and how little sleep there is.
Pop sensations often hoist a major public image. Do you find yourself needing to balance Andy Grammer the man and Andy Grammer the performer?
They’re pretty similar dudes. I mean, I’m a little bit more turned up on stage. And it is a little bit strange when.. I’ll tell you the weirdest part. When I’m out with my band, and we’re all just hanging out and someone asks, “Oh, who are you guys?” It’s weird to say Andy Grammer, because that’s like an entity. We’re all just a band here, but they’re going to say Andy Grammer sounds a little bit like an egomaniac or a douche or something. That’s a little bit weird. But overall, I’d say I’m pretty much the same dude.
As a musician with hundreds of thousands of fans, what is your biggest goal?
Really I think most artists, their goal is service, right? With like a painter, you want to make people feel a certain way; you want to give them something. So that’s why I spend so much damn time writing songs. Like, you know, for this last album I wrote like 100 songs to be able to get the ones that make somebody feel something. The more people you can make feel something, that’s the main goal. Be a service to everybody’s ears.
So when you wrote those 100 songs, did you have to just sit back and listen to decide which ones had feeling?
Yeah, some of them have life and magic in them and some don’t. You can’t tell when you’re writing them right away. It’s like painting something with your nose against the painting, and then with time you step back and look at it and it can be “Ah, that’s amazing,” or it can be, “Ah, that’s terrible.” So you do that a bunch and by the end hopefully you step back and know which ones are awesome.
In doing that, you end up writing a lot about your life as a touring musician. What do you love about touring?
The best part of touring is just getting to hang out with people that love the music you love every single night. A LOT of people every night. And that’s the only way to do it, unless you did a Vegas situation where everybody flew in to see you, but that feels kind of static to me. I like the idea of travelling and getting to be in a different city every night.
What are the hardest parts?
It’s so stupid but the hardest part is travelling around and being in a different city every night. [laughs]
Well with that said, you’re on the tail end of this tour. Are you excited to have some time off the road?
Yes, I’m psyched, even though we’ll probably have a lot more shows coming up. I’m looking probably to go out again in the summer. It’s a fun time right now, everything’s kind of going good. You know, every day comes with a new call and my life gets even better. Kind of the fun of this job is you don’t ever know what’s coming but something’s coming.
How do you relax on days between shows when on tour?
A lot of sleep. On days off, me and the band, we just sleep. [laughs] When we’re busy we’re going late into the evening and then getting up early to do it again, maybe hanging out with someone doing radio, so by the time you get to the days off there’s a lot of down time to sleep, chill out and watch some Netflix. Vegetable it.
How do you get in the zone in the hours before walking on stage?
Everybody asks this question, whether there’s some sort of ritual. Not really, I think I just try to make sure I’m ready to deliver something hopefully better than what people are coming to see. A little bit more than they expect. As the expectations get higher you have to kind of be rising with them. It’s a fun challenge to have.
Do you have any major reflections on this tour, has there been anything significant about this one in particular for you or the band?
Yeah, we broke through something this tour with the band. It really feels like a party on stage. It’s always been fun but this one especially, with the element of moving up into improvisation and having a good time. The bass player does a backflip, and playing trumpet. There are a lot of elements in this tour that make it one of the best we’ve had, so we have to keep that up moving forward.
So in terms of the band, who are these guys? How did you find them and how do you gel overall?
They’re a bunch of guys from Los Angeles that I’ve been playing with for a really long time, so they’re some of my best friends. Some of them have been with me for like eight years, so it’s a really cool tight anchor of guys that at this point understand the vibe we’re going for. It’s cool, I kind of hand picked them. You know, you have to be a good musician but also, this tour specifically, you have your own freak-out on stage, jumping around, a lot of energy. It’s really fun.
“Honey, I’m Good” has been hailed as a breath of fresh air in pop music, as it’s about battling temptation rather than diving into it. How much intention was behind those lyrics?
There’s definitely intention behind it. I find that the more art is about what you’re going through, it just gets better. The music gets better. Trying to write a love song, which I’ve done before and there’s plenty of them, and they’re like “Oh there’s no temptation and it’s great.” That’s an honest moment in time. But there’s also an honest moment in time in a relationship where you’re like “Oh wow there’s tons of temptation, how am I going to handle this.” And there are a lot of great people out there that fight it and stay together. So it’s cool to have a song that kind of cheers that on. You don’t hear that cheered on enough. Especially with the video where people are proudly showing how long they’ve stayed together and lip singing the words and stuff, it’s pretty awesome to be a part of it. It’s really sweet man, it’s just a cool little movement of showing love to a situation that doesn’t get enough love.
So for that video, did you play a big part in collecting and choosing the shots, or how did it work?
Me and my manager started by chasing down friends and family to get them to send in the first ones, then we made a little cut of it. From that, we sent it out to all my fans and even more friends and then they all started sending it in. It was really cool, everybody kind of wanted to be a part of it once they heard about it.
So I’m sure your wife has heard the song. What does she think of it?
Yeah the first time I brought it home and played it for her, she… liked it. She does like it. [laughs] She thought it was a really good song, and she was a little bit skeptical of it at first, but I think she really likes it now.
Andy Grammer is co-headlining a sold out show with Alex and Sierra at 20th Century Theatre on Wednesday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m.