“I think this record is me going through a lot of mental cycles in my head dealing with fear and trying to figure it out through the music” Greyson Chance admits in the opening moments of our chat about his new EP ‘Trophies’. He’s assertively found a new confidence within himself and his artistry that is deeply rooted in the lyrical vulnerability and bold pop production behind this body of work. It’s something that he’s personally proud of after feeling so lost in the middle of the pandemic and just being unsure of what he wanted to say following the huge success of ‘portraits’ in 2019 that saw him playing 118 shows globally.
After finding inspiration through falling in love in the middle of the pandemic, he started to see a shift in his songwriting as he explored the chaotic feelings surrounding the idea of his relationship or career ending, to embracing his re-found confidence in who he was as a person and in his sexuality. And from there the EP found its heart and soul and became this real introspective exploration of who he is right now.
From discussing the reclaiming of his purpose and confidence, to the unique vocal production behind ‘Hands, and how he’s learnt to embrace the vulnerability of the songs again in his upcoming live show, Greyson Chance and I dive into the stories behind ‘Trophies’ in this very honest chat. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your new EP ‘Trophies’ is an exploration of who you are as an artist and young person navigating life. When you listen back to this body of work now, what key emotions come to you?
GREYSON CHANCE: It’s funny, you spend so much time working on a body of work and I like to think I know what the theme is and what I’m trying to hit the whole time, but it’s truly not until you’re finished when you actually understand what it’s about. For me, the underlining theme of the record is me dealing with a lot of different variations of fear in my life. That meant; the fear of losing love as I started a relationship during the pandemic, so I wrote a lot about this chaotic emotion I have all the time of “what if it ends”. There is also an underlining tone of what would happen if I weren’t an artist, and what if my career ended.
The last song on the EP ‘Clothes’ is where I really dive into the whole thing of what if everything around me stopped. I think I had that fear because that was my reality. I had played 118 shows in 2019 and in the process of writing this record I was isolated and back in Oklahoma city searching for my purpose and confidence again. I was really, really lost in the pandemic. So I think this record is me going through a lot of mental cycles in my head dealing with fear and trying to figure it out through the music.
TB: ’Nobody’ is a song that immediately stands out with its dark but infectious hook. Can you explain the creative process behind this track?
GC: ‘Nobody’ was actually the last song I wrote for the EP. I’ve been very upfront talking about this record in the sense that it was not an easy thing to put together. My last album ‘portraits’ really happened so quickly and organically that it was like all of a sudden after writing for a bit I was like “oh my gosh, I have an album”. But this one was so not like that at all *laughs*. It went through a lot of different iterations. At first I really embraced pop music again when I started writing as I had just been out on the road and I loved that uptempo nature and energy. And then after being fed up a bit I kinda got slower on a bunch of things. And ‘Nobody’ was the song right at the end where I was like “fuck everybody, I’m going to deliver a pop song and show you that I can actually do it so everybody can shut up and stop emailing me that we need a single for this record” *laughs*. It was genuinely so much fun to write, and it packs such a punch that I can’t wait to play it live soon.
TB: ‘Hands’ hears you using a bit of vocoder on your vocal delivery which was a bit of a continuation of the sound behind ‘Honeysuckle’. What did you like about experimenting with your vocals in that way?
GC: Okay, I’m so glad you think there is vocoder on that track because there is actually no vocoder used at all. Even with ‘Honeysuckle’ what we did was I recorded into the vocoder and went back and listened to it with headphones and tried to search for every harmony and re-recorded everything live to try make it seem like it was vocoder.
With ‘Hands’ my approach was that I really wanted to have a contrast within the song. I really wanted it to start off with this harsh electronic vocal that you kinda think is a vocoder, and then you reach the chorus and there is these big choir swells that have no tuning on them and sound very natural. I’m quite a shit producer, but I know my way around vocal production. With ‘Hands’ it was really just trying to build this fine line where I want people to listen and think “what is happening”. So mission accomplished apparently *laughs*.
TB: ‘High Waisted’ is another standout that has a bold production that has big 80’s inspired drums and a pulsating soundscape. So what was inspiring you sonically for this track in particular?
GC: On my last record ‘portraits’ the final song is ‘lakeshore’ which was a song I wrote in Chicago and was really my love letter to the city. So I wanted again to have something on this record that was a call out to Chicago in a subtle way.
I remember when I wrote this song I was really obsessed with Chelsea Cutler and I just loved how she had so much energy and momentum in her music which was something I really had a goal for with this record. That song too was purely inspired about thinking about being on stage and playing live again.
TB: ‘Hellboy’ follows in the footsteps of ‘Boots’ in highlighting a sexier and more confident side of your artistry lyrically. It’s been two years since you released ‘portraits’, so what was the biggest thing you learnt about yourself as a queer identity that has made these two songs in this new chapter possible. Because I think the Greyson Chance that was around 2 years ago would’ve never thought he’d release songs like this?
GC: Totally! Firstly, maybe it truly was just gaining more confidence in my sexuality and who I was as a person. But honestly, I think it was more-so just gaining confidence as an artist again. I think what people don’t realise about me and my story is that I’ve been doing this for 11 years. I’m 23 years old but I was signed to my first record deal when I was 12. So by the time I even reached ‘portraits’ there was this high level of feeling beaten up in the industry. I’ve had to take a lot of hits in my career so there was always this fighting spirit within me, and coming off ‘portraits’ I had this very high confidence which is what led me to ‘Boots’.
But the interesting thing about ‘Hellboy’ was that it was an attempt to reclaim that because when I wrote that song I remember being in such a low point of confidence. I didn’t have any idea where I was going musically. I didn’t know where I was going to go after the pandemic, even if there was going to be an “after the pandemic”. There was just this feeling where I felt like I was being lost in the mix. TikTok didn’t help with that either. So ‘Hellboy’ was my attempt to find where that confidence had gone and where that person who went onstage 118 times in 2019 had gone because I couldn’t see him anymore.
The day we wrote that song I was in Nashville and I went into this thrift store and bought these high platform red leather boots. I was literally like “let the fashion inspire it. Lets put these on and feel like a bad ass because you are”. I was telling myself that. And then that song came out of it. So it is this sexy and sinister side of me, but I also wrote it at such a low point and it was such a boost to realise that I did have it still inside of me.
TB: Do you still have the boots?
GC: Yeah! I spent way too much money on them *laughs*. They’re really great, and I wear them around town and my girlfriends get really pissed off because we’ll just be going out for a cheeky Thursday night dinner and I’ll just be like “I wanna be a diva tonight” and they’ll be like “go fuck yourself man, we are in jeans” *laughs*.
TB: Very early on you described ‘Holy Feeling’ as the centre piece to this new body of work. Why do you think this song has impacted you so deeply?
GC: Well it brought me out of a writers block, that was the number one thing. It was like the middle of the summer last year, and I was feeling all of the emotions of the pandemic and feeling very lost and unsure of where I was going. I ended up heading to Sonic Ranch in El Paso Texas which is this studio compound that has been around since the 70’s. Everyone and anyone has recorded there from Bon Iver to Beach House.
I went there as a pilgrimage in a weird way to try figure some shit out. I think what was so moving about that song was not only did it really inspire me again but the intention behind the lyric is basically me looking towards a lot of different people in my life and saying “be more present! You’re so focused on all of these lofty things and I’m standing right here”. But when I finished that song I realised I was also talking to myself and that I needed to be more present. It was a really big eye opening for me, and it honestly inspired the rest of the record so much. Sonically you could say it’s quite different, but I do think it fits in, in a nice way.
TB: I love talking to artists about “portal songs”, and this body of work hears you embracing a bit of a bolder sound. So what do you think is the portal song from ‘portraits’ or the following string of singles after that led you into ‘Trophies’?
GC: I actually do think ‘Bad To Myself’ was a lot of that. It was the most honest I had been in the studio in that period of time. Coming off ‘portraits’ I remember feeling so much anxiety about having to follow it up because you have to remember before that album nobody wanted to hear shit from me. Nobody cared. So that was really my redemption piece to knock on the door and say “no, I can do it”. So I felt this immense pressure, and what came from that was a lot of me writing some cute pop songs that were nice but wasn’t really wearing my heart on my sleeve. So ‘Bad To Myself’ was a song where I said sonically this is a direction I wanna go in. I also did it with Teddy Geiger who was such a huge influence to all of this going into ‘trophies’.
TB: You are embarking on a huge world tour for ‘portraits’. What song are you most looking forward to bringing to life onstage, and what one do you think is going to be the most challenging?
GC: It’s funny because in the last few weeks we’ve just started to put the show together and after such a long period of time where that was impossible it’s interesting to see where songs fit again. ‘White Roses’ used to be this song I genuinely didn’t like singing live as I just remembered the story of where it came from. It was hard to do it, but as I started to play more shows and see how emotionally attached the fans were to it, it almost became really fun to play. So I went through that journey with a few songs on ‘portraits’. And now playing the new music for the first time, I’ve realised I’m going to have to go through that journey again.
I think the hardest things to bring out from this new EP are the more intimate moments like ‘O Violet’ and ‘Clothes’. Those are very heavy on my heart, but as time goes on and I see people embrace these songs I think that emotion will change and evolve into something else.
TB: Now let’s talk about the whole “world tour” wording. Because there’s no Australia dates yet… are we finally gonna get a Greyson Chance tour soon?
GC: To be perfectly honest with you, we were meant to be there in 2020. We had four dates locked in but they got moved because of the pandemic. But I promise you that I will be in Australia somewhere in the near future!
TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions, you ready?
GC: Let’s go!
TB: The emoji that best describe my new EP ‘Trophies’ is…
GC: It’s so boring Thomas, but the white heart. It’s pure, it’s whole, and you can put it on your sleeve.
TB: When I think of Australia I think of…
GC: Maxi Shield!
TB: The colour of my toothbrush at the moment is…
GC: A dark pink!
TB: A weird hobby or obsession I’ve picked up during lockdown has been…
GC: Plants! I have way too many of them inside and outside. I have a vegetable garden that is literally on drugs right now and going off *laughs*. It’s been a lot to maintain, but I’m a green thumb now.
TB: Pineapple on pizza is…
GC: Amazing! I actually love Hawaiian pizza so much and I don’t understand people that don’t like it. I also don’t understand people that don’t like cilantro (coriander) but I know that’s more of a weird genetic thing.
‘Trophies’ is out now!