Grandson has a message: The revolution is now. Born Jordan Benjamin, the Los Angeles-based artist strives to empower young activists, encourage dialogue, and fuel the soundtrack of the resistance against injustice.
With lyrics like, “The price of your greed is your son and your daughter,” and, “The silent are damned / The body count is on your hands,” grandson has used his music to confront controversial issues and spark conversations regarding the current state of our world, be it discussions on gun violence, climate change, or mental health. His unique approach maintains an air of optimism. Though there is much work to be done, his music carries the belief there is hope so long as we don’t succumb to apathy.
Just last month, grandson signed with Fueled by Ramen to take his music and message to the next level. From partnering with the LA Children’s Choir for his anti-gun violence track “Thoughts and Prayers” to opening up opportunities like his upcoming fall tour with Nothing But Thieves, the partnership between grandson and Fueled by Ramen has been positive on both ends.
This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to sit down with grandson to talk music, activism and what’s to come in 2018:
Mind Equals Blown: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me! Can you introduce yourself to our readers, tell them your background, who you’re inspired by and what you’re listening to?
Grandson: I’m grandson. I’m a dude, just like you and all the other dudettes out there. I try to make music that’s honest, thats reflective of the times I’m making it in. Its an interesting thought experiment that I once had about how we could fuse the different kinds of music that I listen to as a fan, be it rock and roll, hip-hop, alternative, electronic, trap — I love doing it. I’m so grateful every day to be able to do it, and I want to tell stories that aren’t getting told. I want to empower young people to feel that they are not powerless, I want to encourage people to fight apathy and I want to advance a progressive agenda across the planet Earth — that’s my goal.
Thats awesome, I love that — that’s an amazing goal. Just recently you signed to Fueled By Ramen, congratulations! How has that experience been, and how do you think its been able to help you promote your message?
Thank you! When I set out to find ways to pour gasoline on this project, I wanted to find a team that would be committed to doing so while also being committed to promoting the sort of values that I believe in, driven by the kind of integrity that I wanted to hold myself accountable to bring to my music. The Fueled by Ramen team right from day one has been completely supportive and really easy to work with, and enabled me to just get to the core of who I am and what my messaging is. They haven’t tried to stop me once yet. Its been awesome.
So you talk a lot about activism, doing good and passing that on. What does it mean to you to be an activist, and how do you go about fusing that with your music?
I think that what an activist is, in 2018, I think that it’s something that’s constantly changing and evolving. I think that there is a spectrum that exists. I don’t think that we should hold ourselves to either be martyrs sacrificing ourselves completely to the cause, or completely be uninvolved or uninterested, so for me it just means making a constant effort to keep these sorts of topics relevant beyond that five minutes. For me, it’s providing a soundtrack for those people that are on the frontlines of these conflicts I believe in, be it police brutality, or gun violence, or climate change.
I want to create music that has a sense of urgency and catharsis that remains in some ways optimistic and empowering, but also addressing the very real sense of urgency that our generation is faced with. So I think that activism can come in many forms, and one of the things that is most important for me is empowering the activists of tomorrow and inspiring dialogue and contact between people that might not necessarily agree with one another, or think the same way, and inspiring these kids that are listening to my music to have these difficult conversations with their parents, with their friends, with their teachers, with their coworkers, with their pastor. Those are the sort of things that I want to encourage and lead by example by promoting.
One example of that activism: You were recently at the March for Our Lives protest in LA, right?
Yes, I was.
Tell me about that, what was it like?
It was — it’s really a difficult thing to explain what it felt like to be surrounded by tens of thousands of other people who’ve had enough. Who, like me, have grown up in a world completely surrounded by and marred by gun violence. I was like, five or six years old when Columbine happened, I was in university studying when Sandy Hook happened. So it was important to me to, when I recognized that this was an electrifying moment in that discussion, I wanted to create a piece of art that would empower those activists, those community leaders, those organizers, and I wanted to get it done in time for the march. I had actually just signed with Fueled by Ramen when I told them, “Hey, we’re putting out a song in about 10 days and I need a children’s choir for it,” and they responded, “How does Thursday work?” You know, they were so on board. And we actually had the children that sang on the record with me at the march, so it was about 20 kids ranging in age from, like, six to like 18, so it was incredibly powerful to walk alongside them and their parents.
There was a small pocket at the march of counter-protesters, who, while I’m not going to necessarily disparage them for having their beliefs, felt the need to articulate those beliefs in a particularly, pretty confrontational way. So we had a bit of a tense standoff, where we actually — with the children — sang the song to those protestors. Its a weird experience watching a grown up tell a seven-year-old to go fuck themselves. It was definitely something that stuck with me, but I was really proud of those children, and the people around me that supported letting that sort of moment happen. It was really incredible, and I was really proud to be standing in solidarity.
It’s an amazing feeling for sure.
Yeah, even just seeing the pictures, around the world, of people marching, of people empowering themselves, galvanizing. And to have received from around the world images of people creating artwork, signs, jackets, with the single artwork, chanting [“Thoughts and Prayers”] at different marches, singing the song, putting the song on loud on speakers — it was really moving. And it really reminded me why I’m doing what I do. Whenever I have, since then, hit whatever walls or blocks I have creatively, I lean on my experience at the march to keep going.
Yeah, its really powerful. What is it that you want your listeners to take away from your music?
I just want them to feel that their feelings are valid. It’s okay to be frustrated. To be fed up. It’s okay to not be okay. You don’t have to think like me or agree with me to agree with my rights to have these sorts of opinions in this public space. I want to challenge myself, along with everybody else, to engage in these sorts of difficult dialogues. I think that there is a moment where we will be able to one day unify, and have that kind of kumbaya moment in regards to how we solve these problems, but first and foremost we need to be mad. We need to flip a fucking table, and set some shit on fire for people to recognize that we need to address these things now. And sometimes at my shows, I’ll watch a hipster dude with a mustache be moshing with a dude with a farmer’s tan and a mullet, and that for me is a reminder that regardless of what your beliefs are, there is unity in being fed up and in being disenfranchised right now. And I want people to take away that thats okay, that there are constructive outlets for your frustration. You don’t need to, you know, shoot up a school, or get fucked up and take too many drugs or whatever your vice may be. Just put on my music and go shout, go throw some elbows, and I promise you’ll feel better.
That’s definitely a better solution.
Yea, thats the kind of solution that — I mean, thats why I make the music that I make. Thats how I learned to tackle my feelings. So I always, at every single show, tell kids, “If you think that this feels how you want to feel, then pick up a guitar, pick up a microphone, most importantly, regardless of whether you are musically inclined or not, pick up a pencil, pick up a pen, and write or journal.” I journal regularly, and it helps me deal with my emotions and my feelings. And I just want to create a sort of inclusive space for us all to tackle these sorts of things facing us. Because there’s a lot of shit that’s stacked against our generation right now, and the more that we can confront those things in healthy ways, the better we all are.
Yeah, absolutely. You touched on this a little bit, but how would you describe your live experience? Fans can see you with Nothing But Thieves on tour in the fall, what can they expect?
Its a fucking shit show. Its a beautiful, glorious disaster of rock and roll, of cacophonous noise and vulnerable expression that I try to bring every night. I try to set a precedent of vulnerable energy release for everyone thats there to do so with me, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to make that and perform that music alongside some of the most talented musicians in the world in David Raymond, Ramon Blanco and Lorenzo Bravo.
That’s awesome, that sounds like a lot of fun! What else can we expect from you in 2018?
I’m so excited to have my first project finally coming out after years of putting it together. We have the first EP coming in the middle of June. I don’t know when this is going to come out, I don’t know if we can announce that yet. Let’s just say that a lot of music is coming, good music is coming, some fire t-shirts are coming and some great live shows, some great moments to share with the rest of the grandkids.
You said you spent years putting the album together. What was the experience like writing it?
It was awesome. Different songs touch on different parts of my life, be it reflections on whats going on around me socially and politically, or there are other songs that address more how I’m feeling that tackle mental health, so, it was incredibly vindicating to be able to hear all of the ups and downs that I’ve gone through over the last year kind of immortalized on wax. It was really cool, and it taught me a lot through this process that I’m going to take with me and make even better music to come.
I can’t wait to hear it! Do you have any final thoughts you want to share?
Its never to late to be a grandson — to be a grandkid, sorry — join the grandkids. You’re right on time, the revolution is now. Let’s fuck shit up.