grandson Aligns Optimism and Reality on Debut Record

Over the last few years grandson or Jordan Benjamin has been known for writing politically charged songs like his 2017 hit “Blood//Water” about climate change. And he was not trying to paint himself as an activist with all the answers.  He just wanted to make the perfect soundtrack for the times.

Tying his vision and art together is his debut record aptly called Death of an Optimist, and his most prolific tracklist yet. 

“It’s sort of a modern interpretation of a central conflict. It’s about holding on to hope as you grow up,” grandson told American Songwriter. “I’m part of a generation where there’s a lot of expectation on us to find answers to urgent problems in society. There’s so many reasons to find optimism and at the same time to feel cynical or pathetic, particularly this year.”

The debut follows EP’s A Modern Tragedy Vol. 1,2 and 3 and a list of singles like “Bills,” “Things Change” and others. The album offers a fluid narrative as told by protagonist and antagonist characters. Each one represents a clashing duality that is rife within the political and social climates today.  Each track on the album embodies a new issue to solve and offers differing perspectives on it.  The viewpoint offered grandson a way to tell both truth and offer hope, while also showing an internal battle to accept potentially fruitless efforts. 

“It’s a very personal story about being on tour and spreading message about change. I sing songs like’ Blood//Water’, with an opportunity to change a system while also struggling with my inner voice of ‘what if this was all for nothing?’” he explained about the album.

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With songs like “Blood//Water” grandson already outlined a niche for himself. Though he did not want to feel obligated to write one way.  Exploring opposing perspectives on Death of an Optimist allowed him to open the avenues for creativity. 

“My whole career there’s been this dichotomy to my songs,” he said. “They are either mental health oriented, about my own struggles with vices, temptation, self-loathing or more politically charged.”

“I didn’t want to feel like I had to choose one avenue for the album,” he continued. “I felt like there could be both my hope and expectation and the environment I’m writing in. And for me that became optimism. To write these politically charged songs, I’m doing it with hope and expectation to change things, to compromise.”

Grandson’s optimism mixed with reality and questioning nature is clear on songs like “Identity.” The first verse lays out a predicament to solve. And the following verses touch on the concern of defeat. And it relates directly to grandson’s values and progressive ideas.

“It was personal and one of the last songs I did for the album,” grandson said about ‘Identity’. “I think the tension I was feeling was coming to the forefront. In the first verse you see a personal dilemma and a philosophical question I ask myself a lot. If I dedicate my life to progressive values that are written off, then what is it for?”

“And I don’t have the answers I’m just trying to create the soundtrack for this time,” he added.

With the addition of songs like “Dirty”, “We Did It” and “Riptide” co-produced by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda grandson manages to encompass every potential wrong by showing counter perspectives, successfully making Death of an Optimist a time capsule for 2020.  

“Riptide” was one of the tracks that offered the perspective from antagonist character “X”. The character gave grandson an opportunity to show compassion for the wrong decisions people make. It was easy for the songwriter to able to insert himself into the character due to his own struggles with some of the same issues. And the goal was to offer understanding, instead of demonizing people who live those lives.

“It wasn’t far from my personal life,” grandson said. “There have been times where getting high has negatively affected my relationship or put me in a toxic situation where in a sense I felt like I deserved that kind of chaos.  I wanted to shine a light into the intentions behind someone making those bad choices. But I did not demonize or criticize those people. I just showed my experience and why I did those things from a hurt place.”

The song grew into a powerhouse of songwriting and storytelling amplified with characteristics of Linkin Park and collaborator Mike Shinoda. The collaborations don’t end with “Riptide” either. Grandson also worked with Blink 182’s Travis Barker on “Drop Dead.” It presents as a kind of optimistic sarcasm with hints of late 90s pop-punk. Its upbeat essence offers a gimmer of hope before the album ends on the cliffhanger track, “Paradise.” Leaving the narrative between grandson and the antagonist “X” open for interpretation reflects again the current reality of the times. 

And though grandson admits he doesn’t have answers to issues laid out on Death of an Optimist, he does know one thing for certain.  Everyone needs to participate. Optimism has no fighting chance without participation, voting and information seeking. It’s something he pushes equally alongside his music with his project XX Resistance Fund. 

“it was something I set out to build alongside my music career. I wanted to take the stories in my music and amplify voices that are at the forefront of these conflicts,” he explained.

Every tour, grandson takes a portion of his profits from meet-and-greets and merch to support communities in need of COVID-19 relief like music industry workers or other communities in need that he sees in his fanbase.  Earlier this year grandson also teamed up with Headcount. The organization ties music industry professionals to voter resource initiatives, with the goal of making the process more attainable and easier for people.

Grandson’s advocacy and music comes full circle with his debut record. And even with all the success and new relationships, the thing he is most proud of is never forgetting who helped him along the way. And it shows another facet of grandson’s optimism and how it stretches beyond him and to others he works with.

“I’m proud that we stayed with Boon and Krupa who I have collaborated with my whole career with. We got to continue to do so while also bringing in people like Mike and Travis. I wanted to be sure to not lose sight of who we are while still pushing forward.”

Today grandson continues that momentum with the official release of Death of an Optimist. The insightful and provocative record is available everywhere today via Fueled by Ramen. You can get a copy here.

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