This time around, grandson wasn’t pulling any punches. He’d always been a fearless artist, one unafraid to take aim at authority, fight the power and let his listeners know exactly how he felt. But in recent times, the genre-mashing rock artist, who has long released soul-baring music, decided to reveal himself like never before. “My whole career and my whole relationship to songwriting has been driven by this real need to leave a mark and to feel understood,” says the Canadian-American artist born Jordan Benjamin. “And yet I felt that I had been doing myself and my fans, who have now been on this journey with me for half a decade now, a disservice. I felt like we didn’t even have an honest conversation the whole time. I didn’t feel like I was bringing all of me to the table.”
To that end, grandson wrote, recorded and is set to release his most personal and vulnerable album to date. Where his past work tackled big-tent issues — often political and social in nature — I Love You, I’m Trying, due May 5th via Fueled By Ramen, turned the lens definitively inward.
“I wrote this album trying to surrender some of that desire to control the narrative” grandson explains. “I threw all of that out and tried to make something that was really personal and grounded in a place that inspired me.” The songs on I Love You, I’m Trying are in many ways unlike anything the forever-bold artist has released: it’s altogether a deep-dive into the psyche of a fragile, oft-emotionally unstable and yet wildly creative force. After releasing 2020’s daring theatrical debut album, Death of an Optimist, grandson says he needed to create a project this time “that felt like I had something to lose. Where I was embarrassed to play it for people. Where I was examining with a critical lens my own insecurities and my family history. And all of a sudden, these themes that are following me through my career, now have a much more personal and intimate home.”
He’d long been labeled a “political artist,” and while there’s undoubtedly a rich history of artists who have lived up to that billing, grandson felt slightly boxed in by that title. “Political music is necessary and it is inspiring,” he explains. “But it also has been historically completely unsustainable for the people who burden themselves with the responsibility of making it. There’s very few instances of artists that began and continued politically and lasted more than a few years — before either having this intense burnout or imposter syndrome or an inflated ego feeling like ‘I’m going to write a song that will change the world.’”
On the strength of his breakout single, 2017’s “Blood//Water,” part of his eclectic trilogy of A Modern Tragedy EPs, he’d been placed in the pantheon of some of the great political artists, from Rage Against the Machine to Public Enemy, And yet, grandson was growing ever-more frustrated by how things were playing out in his life and career. “I was dealing with writing these songs about changing the world and the world not changing,” he says. “My biggest songs are all written from this fed-up empowered place of ‘We’re not going to take this shit anymore.’ And yet we continue to take this shit over and over again.”
Such feelings ultimately led him to a dark place — one where he felt his only option was to make intensely personal music…. or, well, stop creating altogether. The people around him, he admits, “could sense a certain desperation from me… that I needed to make really dramatic changes to how I’m doing things or I’m not going to be able to do it anymore.”
Cue I Love You, I’m Trying: the 12-track project, while “incredibly hard” to complete, and an emotionally exhausting undertaking for grandson, was not only creatively rewarding, he says, but also entirely necessary in his life. If for nothing else then it allowed him to push forward in life. “I just got really dangerously close to burning out to a degree I wasn’t sure I could come back from,” he admits. “When that’s on that table, everyone is more willing and open to let me do my weird thing.”
The result is a stunning, ambitious achievement, and one that peels back the layers of grandson’s public persona in ways he never could have imagined. From the jump, the LP – for which grandson penned more than 40 songs and whittled them down to the essentials -- is a bold undertaking: for the opening “Two Along Their Way,” grandson repurposed an old recording his father made a generation ago; the result is a beautiful piano-anchored elegy. “It sounds the way I want this album to sound and it pays respect to people who are the reason I’m still here and this theme of all of us just being on this journey alone together,” he offers. It’s immediately followed by lead single “Eulogy,” a chugging alternative hip-hop anthem on which the singer cries, “Do I exist if I don’t exist on the Internet?”
But it’s the stripped-back, highly personal nature of the project that makes I Love You, I’m Trying such a thrilling ride. Case in point is “Heather,” an exquisite meditation on fandom and the way in which our relationships with each other are often complex and messy but altogether beautiful. One of the first songs he wrote for the album, “Heather” explores grandson’s insecurities with how some fandom might be fleeting. “It’s so scary to have this parasocial relationship with your fans,” he says. “Sometimes, as an artist, you can feel like a toy that somebody doesn’t want to play with anymore. You grow up listening to one thing and then you grow out of it, and we’re still here.”
Taking these new songs to the biggest stages of his career is a thrilling if not nerve-wracking proposition. “It’s all I can think about at this point,” he admits. This fear, however, is a necessary evolution, he says, of his onstage persona. “As I grow dissatisfied or tired of the setlist, I find myself having to risk more in order to feel connected with the audience. In order to feel like I’m doing my job. I have to give people a part of myself that is vulnerable.”
It's this mentality – the ability to lay himself bare, to reveal himself to his listeners and bring them along on the journey with him through life – that has grandson excited about what the future holds. He didn’t always feel this way, so in many ways I Love You, I’m Trying has been his saving grace. “Being able to write songs and say “Yeah, I’m a little scared of this next chapter of my life, but I think that’s OK,” that’s what makes me human,” he says. “And being able to give other people a place to express that kind of thing, it means so much more because we’re going through all this living together.”
ABOUT K. FLAY:
The Chicago-born K.Flay's near-undefinable combination of dark-electro soundscapes, art-pop sensibilities, spitfire lyrics, industrial rock backbone and versatile vocals has led the songwriter/artist/multi-instrumentalist to two GRAMMY nominations (Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical for 'Every Where Is Some Where,' and Best Rock Song for "Blood in the Cut"), tours alongside Grouplove, Imagine Dragons & Thirty Seconds To Mars, and festival appearances at Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, Coachella, Outside Lands, Firefly, and Riot Fest. On top of her own music, she has written original music for 'Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey' and 'Tomb Raider,' and penned songs for Two Feet, Walk the Moon, Bishop Briggs, Fitz and the Tantrums, Misterwives, Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness and more.