We had the good fortune of connecting with Grant Carey and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Grant, what principle do you value most?
The post-it-note that’s stuck to the lower left corner of my iMac reads “get weirder”. For better or worse, it’s been a guiding principle throughout my life & work as an artist. I’ve always been drawn to the left of center. I like art made by outsiders & misfits. Now, the “get weirder” post-it-note looks over me everytime I sit down to work in my studio. It even made the road trip to Ketchum Idaho, clinging to the metal of my iMac inside a padded box, and lived in an industrial shop behind The Spot Sun Valley, where I recently music-directed & re-orchestrated Sweeney Todd with modernized, synth infused arrangements. I think weirdness is actually quite popular but society has taught us to hide our innate weirdness. I think I’m always swimming against that current – trying to make space for the weird in my art, in my collaborations, or even in the way I express myself through fashion or makeup.
Do you know that card deck Brian Eno & Peter Schmidt made? I’d highly recommend it, it’s called Oblique Strategies – a “card-based method for promoting creativity”. You pull a card and it offers ideas and prompts like “Use an old idea” or “Try faking it!”. In fact, I remember trying to explain it to someone once, and they seemed totally confused or unimpressed by the idea of inviting randomness into a process on purpose. Anyways, I think it’s rad and “get weirder” is something of a constant mantra for me. Especially with music. Whether that means really going there lyrically on a song like ‘Boys Have Curves 2’ which digs deep into my experience as a queer plus sized person and spins those feelings into communal electro pop celebration; or trusting my instincts to combine glitchy autotuned pop aesthetics with more classical forms like on my song ‘SUPERMOON’ featuring Aimee deBeer. For me, “get weirder” is about allowing the work to come honestly from within.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
My art is an amalgamation of many things. I’m just as inspired by Charli XCX as I am by Alan Menken scores for Disney cartoons. These days I think we’re living in a post-genre world and I like that a lot. My work as a songwriter & producer is often marked by a hi-meets-lo sensibility both in terms of style and fidelity. I like making music that exists in the spaces between genres, combining elements of traditional singer-songwriter folk music with experimental, electronic bedroom pop production. I tend to explore themes of identity, Queerness, family, relationships, time, the environment & more – often through a slightly humorous lens.
A really foundational moment for me happened in college, circa 2009 or 2010. I was a freshman enrolled at Ithaca College’s renowned conservatory-style BFA Musical Theatre program. Having a strong background in music & acting but no real formal dance training, I was – to put it delicately – a bit awkward in ballet class. (Given my build, I probably would’ve made a better football player than dancer, but I was far too sensitive for that.) Amy O’Brien, our amazing Ballet professor (who I can now proudly call a frequent collaborator), had something different in mind for our end-of-class improv one day. Maybe she had heard me playing as much piano as I could in the 10 minute breaks between classes. Maybe she wanted to encourage me to loosen up a bit. I can’t quite remember how it happened, but Amy invited me to play piano while the class danced.
I sat down, looked out at my class of ’13 classmates, and started to play. I watched my friends move through the studio and let my intuition guide my hands across the keys. We were all listening to each other, responding to every movement, every chord change. Our breaths and phrases became intertwined. I can’t remember what I played, but I remember how the room felt. When that first improvisation came to an end, it felt like a massive weight had been lifted off our freaked-out, stressed-out freshman shoulders. I felt the power of music to express, connect, even heal. I realized that composition and songwriting was a really natural way for me to connect with the world around me. It wasn’t long until other professors caught wind of my musical persuasions. I wrote original music for productions of Much Ado About Nothing and How I Learned to Drive. My brilliant professor Wendy Dann asked me to compose songs for a reading of her original play 1,000 years. Junior year I wandered over to the freshly posted cast list to see I was ‘cast’ as composer for Amy’s mainstage ballet that year. I think it went well, Amy and I have since collaborated four times on various ballets! Two of those scores – “In a Particular Way” and “Petals of the Iris” – are available to stream on your favorite music streaming service, by the way. Quick shameless plug – I’m actually sampling one of the songs from “In a Particular Way” on an upcoming album. Keep an eye out for the track “Dance Show”. It’s gonna be on part 2 of my double album ANIMAL ANIMAL / lost ny. lost ny comes out October 14th 2022. ANIMAL ANIMAL is out now!
Anyways, back to the college story. I learned to be open to the flow of the universe. That’s not always easy. I had professors who were dismissive of my wanting to include both acting & music credits on the same resume. At the end of sophomore year I was placed on academic probation because some faculty weren’t sure if I wanted to “be an actor”. And that’s okay. Those people probably had a point, and maybe a good one. But I chose to listen to & focus on the people who understood me, who believed in me. I also was on a journey of trusting myself, a journey of self realization. In the traditional musical theater world – because of my size and my lower voice – I was often cast in certain types of roles – the dad, the construction worker, the football player, the old guy. That was all fun and great, but I knew my true expression lay elsewhere. So after college I really turned to music & songwriting as a place to express and create. In 2018, I came out as queer and started to dig deeper into my experience as a queer person in my music. I’m really proud of my songs ‘Boys Have Curves 2’ and ‘Rainbow Sugar’ because they are very intentional in their softness & sensitivity. And I hope that those songs have held space for other people too. I hope they give listeners the space to feel seen & be celebrated.
In the ten years since graduating, I’ve worked proudly at the intersection of composition and performance. I’ve had the opportunity to compose music for films, web series, dance works, commercials, plays and albums. I’ve produced music for multiple projects & monikers that have generated a combined millions of streams worldwide since 2011. Still, sometimes that voice that says “you’re not good enough”, or “this is too weird” comes from my own brain. It’s a constant practice of politely shutting up that voice. So my advice to myself and others who can relate is – trust your gut. Get weirder. Do it all. Make your own way. Trust the people who understand you and nourish those relationships & collaborations that make you feel seen.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
LA is such a great city and I love when friends visit. Chrissy and I have lived on the west side for five years. Coffee is a must – I love Alana’s in Mar Vista and Bar Nine in Culver City. Hiking is one of the best parts of living in Los Angeles. On the west side, Kenter Canyon is my daily go-to because it’s close to where I live. Will Rogers State Park is gorgeous. So is Temescal. At some point we’d probably head downtown for sandwiches at Wax Paper (the best!) and a museum like The Broad. Catching a concert at The Greek or Hollywood Bowl is quintessential LA. I like hanging out on Sawtelle Boulevard and hitting up places like Anzu, Blackbeards, Marugame Udon and Chinchikurin. We’d also have to hang on the beach. One of mine and Chrissy’s favorite things to do is order some natural wine from Nico’s Small Market, pick up sushi from Nijiya Market and have a cute sunset picnic on Will Rogers State Beach. I’d highly recommend swimming at sunset in the pacific ocean. The water glows pink and orange. It’s cold as hell. You’ll feel reborn.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My Shoutout is definitely to Chrissy Sandman aka Sandwoman aka my partner / band mate / best friend / ride or die. I honestly struggle with talking about my art but I love talking about Chrissy so this is a great question. She’s awesome, she’s about to earn her PhD in Clinical Psychology from UCLA. She’s an amazing person, therapist, singer/songwriter, plant-whisperer & cat parent. We met in middle school outside Pittsburgh, PA. But we became close friends in High School. We started a band in college. Five or six years after that is when we realized we had pretty deep feelings for one another. It’s been this long, beautiful slow burn of friendship and love. I consider myself extremely lucky to know someone like that. After we moved to LA in 2017 we started our little studio/label California Sound Hotel and have been churning out all sorts of projects here. She supports me in everything I do and deserves a shoutout of her own! We work together a lot, follow @_Sandwoman and check out Sandwoman on your favorite streaming service!