I had the pleasure of attending a show earlier this month at the Biltmore Cabaret, which was one of the host venues of Vancouver’s new Westward Music Festival. The headline act was grandson who grew up in Toronto as Jordan Benjamin. Benjamin started university in Montreal, then dropped out in 2013 when the opportunity to pursue music full time in Los Angeles arose.
When grandson took the stage, it was evident from the audience’s reaction that they already have an extremely dedicated and engaged fan base despite having only released four original singles. Benjamin’s performance in particular was incredibly dynamic as he frantically yet purposefully moved around the space. grandson’s energy was contagious – it was a physical show complete with 3 crowd surfs (one by Benjamin himself), and a nearly constant mosh pit. Benjamin has said “the world needs honest rock and roll now more than ever” and his live show delivered exactly that. With every lyric uttered it was obvious that grandson feels passionately about the songs they’ve created. The experience of watching grandson connect with the crowd was spectacular and impressive.
grandson’s September 14th show boasted three local opening acts Pretty Filthy, Goodwood Atoms, and Art D’Ecco. I was particularly blown away by Art D’Ecco’s glam rock-esque sound and androgynous look mixed with a sprinkling of French new wave nostalgia. Art D’Ecco’s latest album Day Fevers came out in 2016 and I can’t wait to see what he has coming up next.
On Activism, The Future and Music
After the show I was able to sit down with Benjamin (once he finished greeting many enthusiastic fans). We talked about what brought him to this point and where grandson is headed next. We discussed Vancouver (he loved touring Stanley Park “with the brochures and everything”) and his beginnings as a student and musician in Montreal, where he said some of his biggest influences in his work at the time were award-winning electronic artists Kaytranada and Disclosure. Benjamin also thoughtfully grappled with life as an artist and as a student, and his views on what it means to be a Canadian musician.
You cover pretty diverse social justice topics in your music and have said that you want to “create a safe space to get mad and to feel the way you feel” – can you describe the moment or what led you to think, “I need to be making music that can create this for people?” And why did you choose music instead of other forms of activism?
I’ve had an inherent desire to express myself and feel understood through listening to and writing music. Writing songs on guitar and rapping in high school and university, DJing through university, playing hip hop, R&B, soul, combined with my introduction to trap, and deep house laid the foundation for the music I make today.
As I began to better understand why I stand where I stand, it felt very natural to observe the music I was writing shift to reflect the environment it is being born into, socially and politically.
I just wanted to save somebody the way music has saved me; to look back at this time and know I stood for something. Since I took on Grandson though, music has always just been one facet of a bigger plan. This is only the beginning.
“I just wanted to save somebody the way music has saved me, to look back at this time and know I stood for something.”
When you say “one facet of a bigger plan” – can you elaborate on what the bigger plan might entail?
I can’t really fully elaborate on that until some of these ideas begin to unfold. I will say that my team and I have been looking at the traditional facets of being a touring musician- selling merchandise, traveling to new cities every day, building this audience and this platform and being able to galvanize a group of people- and examining where and how we can fit in ways to give back and raise awareness through each of those components. I also recognize my inherent privilege as a straight white male artist, and look forward to involving a diverse range of opinions and perspectives on how we can best allocate attention and resources.
A lot of fans are wondering when we could expect an album – any more specific plans for that?
As we’ve navigated the music industry the past year, shuffling through the major label system and now being independent, the traditional album format has not yet made sense. For now we will continue to release individual singles, and when the time comes to announce a larger project I will do so. It has been really fun and interesting to begin to arrange my ideas and songs into a more cohesive, long form project, arranging them in a particular order, making sure each song tackles a deliberate perspective or idea that fits into the overarching narrative. Hoping it will be 2018.
“I also recognize my inherent privilege as a straight white male artist, and look forward to involving a diverse range of opinions and perspectives on how we can best allocate attention and resources.”
You’ve complimented the Canadian music industry for fostering and rewarding Canadian talent – so why the move to LA? Were there people there you wanted to collaborate with or was it just for a change of scenery from Toronto and Montreal?
As I developed a deeper disenchantment with my education and fell more into music and writing, I got the opportunity to move to LA and write for other artists and for myself and I jumped on it as a way to force my own hand in some sense. I sort of jumped off a cliff and built my wings on the way down as best I could.
While in LA I was incredibly fortunate to link up with an incredibly talented and diverse group of musicians that have helped shape the direction of my work in such a way that I wouldn’t have found without taking that leap.
LA is also still the Mecca. Generations of musicians have made the pilgrimage here to work on music, and I’m proud to be a part of that. Take the crazy talented musicians in the live set for instance- Renzo is Peruvian, David is German, and Kevin, who I make the music with as well, is Dutch. So it’s an incredibly diverse set of musical backgrounds we all come from that inspire and push one another. I’m grateful LA has given me the opportunity to work in such a capacity.
Would you consider moving back to Canada to be more actively part of the Canadian music community?
I remain a proud Canadian musician, I’m grateful for the incredible support we’ve gotten, as shown with the Vancouver show we just played, with some fans driving all the way from Calgary. When the time comes I could very much see myself back in Canada more permanently but for now I will continue to bounce back and forth.
What would you say to other students/young people thinking of pursuing music versus continuing in academia? Or even to people who are not sure where to start if they want to start doing music professionally?
I want to stress that my personal disenchantment with my post-secondary education is not necessarily a critique on going to university or college in general. I think it makes sense for lots of people to go to school, or to go to a music program like Berklee or something.
To someone thinking of pursuing music I have some questions: Why you? What are you attempting to introduce or contribute to this space that isn’t already here? Can that conviction remain at the forefront of your mind as you navigate the inevitable roadblocks and setbacks that follow a life in music?
I’ve been making music for seven years now, and it has been incredibly challenging at times. That “Why” [factor] was the only thing that got me through some of the tougher personal and financial down times.
What is it you would do pursuing music full time that you CAN’T do while still keeping your academic career or day job? A lot of people romanticize that moment where they quit their job to pursue their art, and are surprised by the challenges of losing that steady income or that routine.
You have to do the work ahead of time to ask yourself who you are as an artist, what it is you have to say, and put together a strategy of how you are going to go about getting this work into the universe. If you can find the answers to some of those questions, dive right in. I believe there is power in leaping. Someone close to me once said “how you do anything is how you do everything.” To be 99% in but still have that safety net can prevent you from getting where you are trying to go, it needs that full 100%.
The Westward Music Festival ran September 14th – 16th, and featured primarily Canadian artists from many genres coming together at some of Vancouver’s best-loved concert venues such as The Vogue Theatre, The Fox Cabaret, Venue, The Imperial Theatre, and The Biltmore Cabaret. Produced by MRG Concerts, the festival aimed to support Vancouver’s attempts to be a leading eco-friendly city by having the 14 diverse live music events within a 2.5 km radius of each other, and encouraged attendees to make use of the city’s bicycle paths. MRG has already announced next year’s festival will be taking place September 13 – 16 2018.
BCIT Journalism ’19 // McGill University BA ’17 // Talk to me about music, theatre, comedy, books, culture, politics & Canada!