Alternative artist/rapper Jordan Benjamin aka grandson confronts pressing issues including social justice and governmental accountability through his songwriting. Born in New Jersey, raised in Toronto, and currently living in Los Angeles – grandson only has eight songs to his name and has quickly risen to prominence. I was lucky enough to chat with such a kind soul at the Northern Invasion 2018 festival in Somerset, WI and talk about the consumption of his music and the responsibility he feels as an artist.
So, how did it feel playing the main stage? Jordan Benjamin: It was cool! It was a good introduction to more formal rock and roll and this is our first staple festival like this. But yeah, it was awesome and it’s been really cool to sort of have validation from people that live in this space because I feel a little like a black sheep because my influences are more on the alternative/hip-hop side, but I fell in love – like I have a late onset addiction to electric guitar and like rock and roll, so it’s been really cool to be around pillars of this rock shit, it’s been really fun!
You write about many pressing issues that affect our generation – what has been the most difficult song for you to write? Benjamin: I definitely have a couple that are unreleased that I am very interested to see how they will be received; and “thoughts & prayers” was definitely one that – it was really interesting to finally be pushing into a space that’s uncomfortable not just for myself but for other people to hear. From my own family to say “are you sure that this is the kind of thing that you want to be bringing into the middle of America and taking such strong opinions and being so vulnerable about?”
And I absolutely feel not just that I can but that I should; I feel a certain responsibility as an artist of our generation and with everything that’s going on politically here in the States and abroad I just think - what’s the role of a guy with a microphone and a guitar at this juncture of like culture and am I going to just do the same shit that’s been done forever as the world is changing? And then I look at all the artists that I admire so deeply and the way that they integrated themselves so deeply into the time that they were writing in, and I just feel like there is a certain responsibility as an artist to reflect the time.
So, I would say “thoughts & prayers” was probably the one that might have been the most uncomfortable but it is also one I am very proud to have put out; and getting responses from people that have been through school shootings and from war veterans really validates my belief that it is necessary in this day and age. I just had to draw my own line and it was very difficult for me to find my why – you know? There are so many people with different opinions than mine politically, whose opinions are no less valid than mine and that’s a really interesting thing I have been learning from travelling and touring and meeting new people. To not patronize anyone, and to not at all be condescending towards anyone that has a different opinion, but for me, this is how I express myself and it’s been cool to get that sort of feedback.
Portraits of grandson shot by Ann Storlie at Northern Invasion on Saturday, May 12th.
And what has been your favorite to write? Benjamin: I really love them all because they all had very different processes, like “thoughts & prayers” was done in like an hour and “Blood // Water” took like a year and a hundred versions, so I love the excitement from approaching each one differently. For me, songwriting is like putting together a puzzle but you don’t have a picture of what the puzzle’s going to look like. I just have these ideas in my head and I have these ways I want to arrange a song or a chord progression that I like, and so it’s exciting to put each one together it’s like trying to pick your favourite kid or something – I love them all. They all have their own little anecdote that’s important and personal to me.
What was the experience of performing “thoughts & prayers” at a pre-March For Our Lives event like? Benjamin: It was umm, it was really intense – it was really cathartic. The children that were there that were on the song with me are the West Los Angeles Children Choir which was incredible, but I felt a great deal of responsibility to them as well as their parents that were there. We encountered some counter-protestors and, however valid they are in their opinions about the right to bear arms and whatever, the way that they were approaching it - with a lot of hostility towards like seven-year-olds was a little difficult for me to navigate, but it was a tremendously powerful sense of urgency and I was really happy to be able to look back at that moment and know that I was not just present but actively participating – it was really, really exciting and cool.
We’re sooo stoked that grandson still has “Bills”, and you will be too.
What is your dream tour? Who would you play with? Benjamin: I would love to play with…I don’t know like my dream tour is to play in front of people that want to see it more than anything else. Like I have obvious influences in my career and I would love to go play with Jimi Hendrix or something in a perfect world, or you know, Nirvana, but realistically, for me, my dream tour is a room that is packed with people that are passionate about the same things I’m passionate about and use music for the same sorts of releases as I use it for – like that’s enough for me. I’m just happy to be here honestly. Cause I don’t know it’s like I don’t want to pinpoint anyone or like any sort of tour that I get the opportunity to go do I’m not far removed from that being an impossibly insane idea that I once had – I mean I’m still just a regular dude that gets to go on stage and rock out for thousands of people so it’s cool – I’m just fucking happy.
Can we expect a full-length album from you in the future? Benjamin: Yes – absolutely. I think that albums remain an exciting body of work for an artist and a kind of flagship in their career from a creative standpoint. But in terms of my relationship as an audience member to the way that I consume music and the way that my music has been consumed thus far, I do think that at least up to this point the conventional album has not been a natural thing for me. My ability to keep a constant stream of music coming and available for my fans, I mean I only have 8 songs out – like I have less than a full album out and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot so if I had taken those 8 songs and put them out when I put out the first song in September of ‘16, like it’s just a different relationship.
So you can expect an album and I really have been working towards it creatively and building it, but um I don’t want to fall off the map for 2 years at a time you know what I’m saying? So there’s a lot of new music coming. It might not be in a traditional album format just yet, but there’s lots of music to be excited about in the near future and an album will imminently be happening so – I’m just fucking happy to be here honestly.