It’s widely known that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at anything. Andy Grammer logged his 10,000 hours of practice on the streets of Los Angeles. With his car battery powered amplifier and acoustic guitar in tow, Grammer managed to sing his way from the streets to the center of the music industry.
One listen to Grammer’s self-titled S-Curve Records debut and it is clear that this young man became an expert. From the buoyant Top 10 hit, “Keep Your Head Up” to the breezy “Fine By Me,” jubilant, horn-laced “The Pocket,” and emotionally-charged “You Should Know Better,” his irresistible pop songs blend heartfelt, compelling lyrics with instantly unforgettable melodies. Think the relaxed vibe of Jason Mraz crossed with the rock soul of Maroon 5.
Even though he knew music would be his path, Grammer never assumed it would be an easy road or that he could take any success for granted. He played any corner that would have him—using every experience to hone not only his songwriting craft but to learn how to understand his audience. His desire to be heard led him to the streets, “I didn’t know what else to do. So I just went out there and started playing.”
Named one of Billboard’s 2011 Artists to Watch, the singer recorded the album in New York and Los Angeles with a collection of top producers, including Matt Wallace (Faith No More, Maroon 5), S*A*M & Sluggo (Train, Neon Trees) and Barrett Yeretsian (Christina Perri). “Basically, it was show up somewhere, really dig in with someone who’s going to help you get your creative vision across and then go somewhere else and do it again,” he says. “We got some really great stuff that I wouldn’t have gotten if I just worked with one producer.”
Every song that Grammer wrote on the album had one goal in mind: “I’m just trying to track down the truth,” says Grammer, who was born in Los Angeles and grew up in New York. “My favorite thing is to pop up above everybody and write from a bird’s eye view. It may be about a break-up, it may be about a good relationship, it may be what we’re doing on this planet here. I like to be far enough away to see the whole scope of what’s occurring.”
While much of his music is upbeat, Grammer is quick to add he’s hardly “pink and fluffy. I’m not intentionally trying to be positive, I’m just trying to be real.”
In fact, Grammer wrote “Keep Your Head Up” as a letter of encouragement to himself after he’d spent an exhausting day street performing and had little to money to show for it. The video, which features groundbreaking interactive technology in a partnership between VEVO, Interlude and S-Curve, won an MTV O Award for Most Innovative Video, topping entries from Arcade Fire, Robyn and OK Go! “The most challenging part about the video was the sheer amount of times we’d have to tape each cut so people can go through the video thousands of different ways,” Grammer says. “It was crazy.” The clip stars “The Office’s” Rainn Wilson. “He’s such a gracious, amazing guy,” says Grammer, who met Wilson through a former roommate. “He gave me tips on how to look in the camera. The video has gotten so much more exposure because of him coming and hanging out.”
Grammer grew up in a musical household. His father, Red Grammer, is a Grammy-nominated children’s performer who gladly indulged his son’s desire to get on stage...to a point. “My dad would bring me up to sing with him. I’d just have a couple of lines,” Grammer remembers. “Afterwards, I’d say, ‘Dad, I think I’m going to need a bigger part in your show because I nailed that. Seriously, it was intense. I can see it in their eyes, they want more of me.’ I was six or seven and he just laughed and laughed.”
His dad gave Grammer an insider’s insight into what happens off stage as well. “The most important thing I learned from my father about being a musician was the work ethic,” Grammer says. “He worked really hard, he traveled all across the country. I saw his respect for his audience, respect for himself. I saw him take days off where he wouldn’t talk to rest his voice. I saw the work it takes to cultivate an artist’s career.”
In 9th grade, Grammer picked up his dad’s guitar and taught himself to write songs. “I knew one chord, so I was like, ‘I’m going to write the coolest song with one chord ever’,” Grammer laughs. His first band, Out of the Blue, got off to an auspicious start after playing some covers and Grammer’s first original song, “Doorstep,” at a battle of bands contest. “We did not win...at all,” Grammer says. “I thought it was going to be a big concert moment. It was fun, but it was like, ‘This is really hard and we suck’.”
Around the same time, Grammer had a musical epiphany when he heard Lauryn Hill’s seminal solo album, 1998’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” “It felt like it was shifting things inside of me and I loved it,” he says. Other artists who helped him influence his sound include Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Coldplay and Common. “For me, it’s always been about about a mix of hip-hop, acoustic singer/songwriters and piano rock,” he says. “I pull all those together. Each song may lean more heavily on one than the other, but they all have all three pieces.”
So that’s what he did. Now based in Los Angeles, Grammer began playing everywhere he could, including gigs at more than 100 colleges and universities, as well as birthday parties and high school dance classes. “I’d send my music to a choreographer and she would choreograph a dance, then I would come in and play while 100 high school students would dance to my music,” he says. “They’d know all my music and come to my shows. It was all really fun. Any time you make the transfer of ‘I’ve created something and I’m giving it to you and I hope it makes you happy,’ that’s good.”
Performing live remains a communal experience for Grammer, who’s toured with the Plain White Ts, Josh Kelley and Natasha Bedingfield, among others. “As an artist, you have an opportunity to get in and move things around in people. It’s one of the only times during the day where they say, ‘I’m going to open up to some other stuff here,’ and you have that hour to get in and move stuff around and put it all back together. Those are the best gigs, where you can see that the whole room has moved somewhere together.”
Keep Your Head Up
Fine By Me