Conan Gray wrote “Overdrive” to escape reality. Spending the last year “moping,” dancing around his house alone, Gray started exploring what it feels like to just let go, and daydreaming about meeting someone and imagining and entire life with them on “Overdrive.”
“Every time I turned it on to tweak production or change lyrics, I’d always just end up singing along and forgetting why I was so stressed, which is exactly what I hope this song is for the people who listen,” says Gray, “just a moment of reckless abandon and catharsis in a world filled with inhibition.”
For Gray, the past year may have slowed some of the momentum for the 22-year-old artist, who first turned his bedroom into an artistic experiment of music, his own drawings, and photography, which he started sharing by the age of 12 on social media. Eventually, Gray caught the attention of Sir Elton John and Taylor Swift, earned some platinum singles, and more than three billion streams in three years since releasing the more heartfelt single, “Idle Town” in 2018, off his debut EP Sunset Season.
Driven by liquid pop beats, “Overdrive,” Gray’s first new single of 2021, moves through reckless abandon in some alternative reality, something captured in the video, directed, shot, and edited by Gray, along with longtime collaborator Dillon Matthew.
“I do this thing when I’m in public where I’ll see some beautiful stranger and all of a sudden I’m imagining an entire life with them,” reveals Gray. “That’s what the ‘Overdrive’ video is. It’s a fantasy. It’s the daydream I have every time somebody catches my eye on the street, the daydream I’m having every day I sit alone in my house during this pandemic, the wild nights and the excitement of being young and limitless.”
Gray says he wanted to capture that essence of reckless freedom in the video, and was able to grasp it by working with a close friend. “It needed that sense of closeness and needed to feel accurate to that feeling of being with your friends and being comfortable and being free and not feeling the need to be anybody other than yourself,” says Gray. “That’s what I wrote the song about, about not having inhibitions, and fantasizing about finding someone and getting in a car and just being reckless and free.”
Nearly the one year following the release of his full-length debut, Kid Krow, released in 2020, Gray says he’s trying to look on the brighter side things this past year.
“I do feel like a lot has changed in quarantine, in ways that I could have never expected,” he says. “My personal life has been very weird and extremely boring, but I still write every day and all the time.”
A melody and lyric paired together is how a song starts for Gray. For “Maniac,” off Kid Krow, Gray remembers washing his hair in the shower and humming the melody to the track before the lyrics came out. “It’s always me sitting around living my life, and then I’ll think of something and write like a maniac wherever I am,” says Gray. “I ended up writing the entire song in the shower. It usually starts with a kind a melody with the lyric in my head, and writing in weird places, or I’m thinking into my phone as fast as I can. Then I take it from there and finish out the songs on guitar.”
Other songs, like “Heather” were years in the making. “It was an idea of a song that I’d had for four or five years,” shares Gray. “I was going through a situation in high school, and I just didn’t know how to word it. I didn’t know how to express that feeling that I’d had, this resentment and feeling like I wasn’t good enough, like I could never be somebody like Heather.”
Sometimes a person doesn’t realize how much they’ve grown until they look back at an old photo of themselves and ask “who is that person?” In music, Gray has shifted, and while he’s no longer writing from a teenage perspective, his voice is still intact.
“I feel like the songs that I was writing when I was 16, 17 still sound like the songs that I’m writing today, because I write very conversationally,” he says. “I write exactly how I speak, and I write music for myself that’s very dear to me. Then, I get really embarrassed because all my personal secrets are out there.”
He adds, “I’m writing about a lot of different things nowadays, because life is so different than it used to be. I always write about my own personal life in a way that feels true, and human. I think that will always remain the same.”
Admittedly introspective, Gray says he’s always unraveling more about himself in song. “I always try to figure out the answers to life by things that have happened to me in my past, and I do tend to romanticize life quite a bit,” says Gray. “I’ll pick apart any tiny thing and write a song about it, then make it so huge when in reality the person involved probably doesn’t even remember it happening in the first place.”