“What’s More American Than War?”: grandson’s Track-By-Track Guide To Death Of An Optimist
Having cemented his status as one of alternative music’s leading lights in outspoken, political, socially aware music over the past couple of years, grandson’s debut album, Death Of An Optimist, couldn’t have arrived at a more fitting time than 2020.
Examining the fraught duality of life in the modern world, grandson – AKA Canadian musician Jordan Benjamin – introduces us to the dark and strange antagonist of his story, X, across the album’s 12 genre-spanning tracks. “I want to keep talking about these things and I want to confront them,” he told us in last week’s exclusive K! Cover Story interview. “But in giving that force in my life an identity and for me to play that… it opened up doors for me in the same way that calling myself grandson did four years ago.”
Here, Jordan guides us, track by track, through the world of Death Of An Optimist, and the struggle between grandson and X that exists at its core…
1. Death Of An Optimist // Intro
“The intro itself was the backdrop for the story that’s going to unfold later so the lyrics speak to where I, as Grandson, am a couple years [into] making songs. Musically we wanted it to feel foreboding; you can feel that there’s going to be conflict later on. The intro builds into these choruses that I actually had my family sing on when I was home – I went back to Toronto and I was in quarantine, so I brought my microphone set-up. You can hear their voices snuck in there and we got a live cello in there, too.”
2. In Over My Head
“This tells my story of growing up. We follow me from the time I’m around nine years old up until my 26th birthday. We actually went to Nashville to record some of that; I’d never really been outside of Los Angeles writing, and you can hear a little more rock’n’roll, a little more of a classic rock that hadn’t really been in my music that much.”
“As quickly as I introduce who I am in all of this, I introduce some of the challenges that we face: searching for identity, feeling overwhelmed. I indulge a little bit more in ‘maybe this is for nothing’. The opening lines of the song are ‘Nobody really cared so it never really mattered / It never really mattered so it never really happened,’ and that is something that I’m terrified of. I don’t consider myself nihilistic and I don’t think the music that I make is.”
4. Left Behind
“This speaks to a similar dilemma of questioning: is any of this for anything? The mantra in the hook of, ‘I don’t wanna move on but I don’t wanna get left behind,’ to me is such an important thing. I want to stand for something, but if everyone else is accepting the degradation of our institutions that we trust the most; if everyone is, ‘Fuck it, let me get mine,’ then am I the fool for sitting here and holding my sign up?”
“This draws on influences that I might have as a fan of music, but haven’t brought out as a creator yet. I was huge on Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black growing up, alongside old soul music, and I know there’s not a ton of room for that in a moshpit – but fuck it. I love Outkast, I love playful tongue-in-cheek backdrops to talk about serious things. With a lot of these messages, I’m trying to create a sense of urgency, like, ‘This is happening now, this isn’t happening in 20 years.’”
6. The Ballad Of G And X // Interlude
“Now we’re in a good place, we’re excited; I just signed my petition online, I just tweeted in solidarity. And then I introduce this other side of myself [properly]: X, just in case I’ve forgotten about him. I’m wondering why haven’t we [all] gotten on the same page that it’s worth doing, that it’s worth trying. This is about: how can I even get excited about this change when y’all just make it seem like it’s not realistic?”
7. We Did It!!!
“It’s kind of a sarcastic look at us doing the bare minimum; posting my black square on Instagram and then turning my computer off because I’ve done my part. In that kind of sarcasm I wanted to pay homage to ’90s culture like Nirvana, South Park, Marilyn Manson, Eminem, this really early reflection of culture by making it about fart jokes because why not [when] the hypocrisy was so heavy. I wanted a song that’s a big middle finger, a, ‘Where’s my medal?’ We did it!”
“This is the dystopian reality that the X character wants to push us into. What’s more American than war? This is through the eyes of a soldier who believes initially that what he’s doing is the right thing, but he starts realising that this isn’t like the video games: ‘I shot a kid who was same age as me / just because he’s not from the same place as me.’ The war in Afghanistan is old enough to have a beard and drive a car at this point – it’s so crazy that we’re still in these things and the exit is so unclear.”
“This song is humanising someone who is a little more selfish or cynical about young people, about hope, about optimism, who has had to do bad things, who all they’ve known is ‘I’m gonna have to fuck someone over or I’m gonna get fucked over.’ That inherent mistrust. Again, I don’t think we’re born with that, I think it’s learned. It’s always more complicated than there’s a good guy and a bad guy.”
10. Pain Shopping
“This is kind of a lullaby for when it all gets so complicated and you just wanna turn it all off and do something to forget about the world. For me, that’s looked like getting high [or] toxic relationships in the past. It’s seeking to feel something and distract yourself. I wanted to be honest about my impulses to do that. Initially I wasn’t sure how it fit on the album, but it’s such a satisfying combination of the genres that I love.”
11. Drop Dead
“Maybe naïvely I couldn’t help but end on a more optimistic note. I had someone reach out over Instagram who grew up in a very conservative town; every election in any capacity they vote conservative. He doesn’t want to vote that way, so what was the point? Why even do it when the outcome is going to be this way, why even try to change that? I guess Drop Dead is dedicated to him – it’s dedicated to anyone who is questioning with all the bad in the world. Why do a little bit of good?”
12. Welcome To Paradise // Outro
“This introduces you to a new normal where everything is good, if you just conveniently ignore that the other side of this thing hasn’t rested either. The war’s over but just don’t look behind that door. If you ignore what’s going on in the world, then this is paradise, we’re here. It ends on a question mark. By ending on an introduction, we’re foreshadowing the next project, maybe…”
grandson’s Death Of An Optimist is out now via Fueled By Ramen. Buy, stream or download your copy now.
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