Grandson wants to offer "a sense of being understood," he says. "A sense of catharsis. A sense of empowerment and maybe, just maybe, a slither of optimism." But if you've heard his music, you already know that.
Written in the trenches of the past few years, front line stories are flecked with grime and carry the weight of destruction. Jordan Benjamin couldn't just sit back quietly and watch his generation drown in anxiety, confusion and grief. He had to get things off his chest.
2018 saw years of hustling come to a head as ‘Blood // Water', a song about corporate greed, political corruption and daydream revenge, and the frustrated fury of ‘Thoughts & Prayers' spread like wildfire.
Soon after, his ‘A Modern Tragedy Vol. 1' EP proved there was much more to his music than fearless reflection and anger. He wasn't just shouting to be heard; he had something to say.
This year's ‘A Modern Tragedy Vol. 2' dug deeper into his fractured soul and found the strength to carry on. There's probably going to be a Volume 3. There's definitely going to be an album.
Right now, Jordan is "enjoying the freedom of trying to make each song its own cohesive movie," he explains. "I'll keep doing that for a little, but by the end of this year or the beginning of next, I'm hoping to be able to present people with my first full-length album. I'm gonna make sure that when you hear it, it's gonna be fire. I promise you that much."
It's already been a wild ride, and it's barely even begun.
Grandson was very aware he was blowing up online. How could he not be? But rather than get sucked into a world of numbers and statistics, he spent most of last year on tour.
"What drives home the importance of what I'm doing is meeting the people who resonate with these stories. Watching those streaming numbers go up is so gratifying and might be indicative of some real momentum, but it's hard to watch that manifest into actual change in your life, in the same way that being able to play a show does. That's when it hits me just how this is touching people. It's touching that such a broad array of strong, creative, passionate people are calling themselves The Grandkids."
Of course, Jordan wasn't expecting people to connect to his stories as wholly, passionately and as completely as they have, but that's always the hope. "If that's not even on your radar, then you're probably better off finding a real job and just doing this on weekends."
Ironically enough, back when he first started dreaming, Jordan didn't always feel this way. "[I] wanted to be successful more than I wanted to tell anyone a particular story." And no one wanted to listen. "Now, it's more important for me to tell my particular story as honestly as I can and whatever follows from that will follow."
"I feel like the first EP very much touched on the state of the world that I was emerging in as an artist in but didn't really tell you a whole lot about who I am or how I navigate these things," explains Jordan. "Volume 2 sheds a little more light on that, but it also has thoughts on truth, mental health, vice, temptation, violence and trying to understand the bad guy a little better."
‘Overdose' tackles both America's opioid crisis and Jordan's own experiences, "recognising it was time for a change in my life." ‘Stigmata' explores standing up for your beliefs, and the repercussions that shadow it while ‘This is What You Wanted' is about being on tour and past relationships, but it's also "a sarcastic response to people that have told me to shut up and make music when I have gotten political."
"I just make songs about what I'm feeling. You might enjoy my music because you can relate to the shit I'm going through," he says. But as ‘This Is What You Wanted' picks at, "even to talk about those personal things feels conflicting for me because there is very real shit in the news that's going on that I do feel a responsibility to talk about. It's just really important for me to say what I need to say.
"‘Blood // Water' speaks of empowerment and accountability. I've watched people adapt that message in so many ways to fit their own narrative. I'd like to think that the reason my music has touched people is that it's cathartic. It's because I'm not bullshitting them. I'm not pandering to a broad audience. I've made peace with the fact that a large percentage of the world isn't gonna like my music. I'd rather not appease anybody. I'd rather just keep it real and speak to my people."
And his people are listening. Intently. "It's scary, but it's also awesome. I've always wanted that opportunity to just speak my truth."
Now, he's determined to do as much good as he can. "I want to root this thing in service. How can I take this moment and run with it? If I am just a solar flare, here for a minute and gone the next, how can I take this moment and create the seeds that will one day sprout into change for these people?"
Raised on Limewire, stolen CDs from his sister and a landscape that had moved past the schoolyard divide of rock kids and hip-hop kids, Grandson sees the world as "a genre-less playground," he says. "I make a conscious decision to play."
There's excitement behind every song, discovery in every bounding leap forward.
"A lot of my music is centred around empowerment. Sometimes when I feel the least power is when I write these stories about taking back that power."
Submerging himself in the muck of the world, it would be easy for Grandson to get disheartened. To get destructive. To want to burn, instead of build.
"What keeps me optimistic is the time that I spent on the road meeting young people that are far more informed and engaged than I ever was at their age. Based off those conversations, I do feel optimistic about the winds of change blowing in more of a holistic approach to how we take care of the world and how we take care of each other. I haven't given up on our generation. But it is definitely more challenging on some days, especially here in the United States.
"The hijacking of truth, the blending of entertainment and journalism, these things have gotten a lot worse. It makes it really difficult to keep people's attention on any one particular issue and galvanise them. Sometimes change is not going to come with a hashtag; sometimes it's gonna be a slow burn.
"As artists, we have a tremendous responsibility in 2019 to remind people of what's going on and that they need to get involved or be informed. But I do feel hopeful."
"I'm not selling nihilism," he continues. "I feel like a lot of people right now in the world feel like none of it even really matters, so whatever. But it does matter. I haven't given up that underlying sense of optimism, but I still get angry, and I still use my music to convey that.
"That cathartic release or feeling of defiance, it can take on a lot of different forms. Sometimes it's dark and sinister but on a song like ‘Apologize', it's more uplifting. It's a reminder that we can do this thing.
"There are still a lot of battles to fight, and it feels like there's a lot of tension bubbling to the surface, but as far as my role in all of that, being an observer and a storyteller, it's cool to watch people get informed, get mad and get angry. I'm just trying to sell them a space to express that. I want people to find the kind of release that I've found through making music. I want kids to pick up a guitar, pick up a pen and be better than me."
Taken from the April issue of Upset. Grandson's EP 'a modern tragedy vol. 2' is out now.
Featuring SWMRS, Simple Creatures, Grandson, American Football, La Dispute, Ex Hex, The Maine and more.