A Q&A With the SXSW VIP Experience Promotion Winner, Grandmaster

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American Songwriter recently partnered with Give A Note Foundation + Artist For Artist for its annual SXSW VIP Promotion. One lucky winner from our contests was sent to Austin, TX to perform alongside legends like Bootsy Collins and Slick Rick at the largest music gather in the world.

Funds from the promotion went to support Give A Note Foundation in their efforts to engage and empower educators, inspire students, and expand the reach and impact of music education.

Grandmaster was selected as the American Songwriter SXSW VIP Experience Promotion winner for their song, “CASTLE DOOR.” American Songwriter caught up with them to get the story behind their song and to get their thoughts on the overall experience.

Why did you enter American Songwriter’s SXSW VIP Experience Promotion?

Because we saw an ad, and we were feeling lucky. 

Tell us about your experience playing in Austin as part of the Take Action x SXSW Day Event. What was it like to meet the legend Bootsy Collins and present him with a custom Grandmaster statue?

The performance was certainly fun, and the Mohawk stage is home for us. We live 10 blocks away. It was around noon, and we delivered the funk. We had a show at 1am the night before, also at Mohawk, under another project of ours called Sexpop. So we just left our gear, and came back in the morning a few hours later. Exhausted, but full of life.

After our set, we met the lovely Shane Whalen from American Songwriter, who was so kind and respectful of our hard work. Later that day, around 6 PM, we came back to Mohawk, in full Zealotry, accompanying the Grandmaster, to reunite him with Bootsy Collins. You see, they are old friends and used to funk it up together back in 1975. The Zealots formed a path from Bootsy to the Grandmaster, and the Grandmaster gave him his royal shrine. There’s nothing more special than old friends, reunited in funk. 

Tell us more about the concept behind Grandmaster? How long have you all been performing/songwriting together? 

Two part answer; the in character answer and the out of character answer. 

In character: The Grandmaster is an ancient interstellar composer who travels the world sharing his magical music with the galaxy. We are all his loyal “Zealots”, and we perform his historic compositions for the world, when we aren’t on a quest, of course.

Out of character: This all started when the band’s electric pianist / vocalist, Nick Leon, was contacted by an online scammer in late 2022. This scammer had orchestrated this hilarious narrative of a secret society that Nick was “destined” to join. He then was put in contact with someone that the scammer called “The Grandmaster”, which was obviously just the same guy. A few weeks later, Nick Leon, Blaise Eldred, and Connor Mizell founded the band/film troupe known as Grandmaster. They wrote most of the material in about a month, with a lot of lyrics and concepts coming directly from quotes by this scammer. It blossomed into this powerful 11 person project, a “TV Show”, and a funk band. Our first performance was on May 20th, 2023. 

What was the inspiration behind your song, “CASTLE DOOR”? 

This song’s sonic signature is heavily inspired by the Michael McDonald era of the Doobie Brothers. The song sets up this narrative that the whole band of Zealots lives in this giant medieval party castle with the Grandmaster. (This is a real life goal we have for the future) The verses represent different societal figures knocking at the castle door, soliciting their philosophies to us, only to be denied, because we are already spoken for. 

Who are your all-time favorite songwriters and why? 

This is easy, the band is very specifically inspired by Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, John Williams, Parliament Funkadelic, The Beegees, Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band, and classic Nintendo scores, particularly the scores from Super Smash Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario, Earthbound, and Pokemon.

Are you planning to release any new music this year? 

We just released our new single, “Holy Star”, and then our album drops on May 4th, 2024. We also have a good portion of our sophomore album already composed. Once we find a label or entity that can help us make it shine, we will be ready to unleash it.  

What would you tell other artists who are considering entering the contest?

We’d tell them good luck, they don’t stand a chance. We are the best band in the world. 

Check out the winning song below:

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