How Andy Grammer Graduated from Street Busker to the Majors

Andy Grammar publicity 2011
Josh Newton

The singer-songwriter has a fan in Rainn Wilson, a believer in S-Curve Records head Steve Greenberg and a real shot at a breakthrough hit. Will the newcomer's debut (out this week) deliver?

Last Fall, Andy Grammer’s infectious, feel-good single “Keep Your Head Up,” and its accompanying video featuring The Office’s Rainn Wilson (see clip below), put the 27-year-old singer-songwriter on the map and, soon thereafter, landed him on several “artists to watch” lists.

Not too shabby for a guy who got his start busking on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, where he sold demo CDs to pay the rent. Now hundreds of college shows later, Grammer boasts a recording contract with S-Curve Records (distributed by Universal Music Group) and is releasing his self-titled debut album on Tuesday, featuring production by Matt Wallace (Maroon 5) and Dave Katz and Sam Hollander (Gym Class Heroes).

Currently on the road with Natasha Bedingfield, Grammer talked to THR about getting acting tips from Wilson, his dream collaborators and how he’s so darn happy all the time.

THR: Your father sings and records children’s music, did that factor into your decision to become a career musician?

Grammer: He was in a folk group when I was really young, so I was kind of raised around acoustic guitars going into my little baby ears from the very beginning, which I think is cool. Seeing what it’s like to be a working musician and growing up around that got me prepared for how much work it was, and what actually goes into it.

THR: Your music seems so uplifting. Is your goal to put people in a good mood or are you just a happy-go-lucky guy in general?

Grammer: My ultimate goal is to try to be real. It just so happens that I’m usually more happy than sad when I’m writing. And in general I think that life is pretty great, and it's cool to be here, so that comes through in my music. I don't have a dismal outlook, but I don’t aim to make positive music. It’s just what I am.

THR: What was it like the first time you heard “Keep Your Head Up” on the radio?

Grammer: It's a pretty strange and surreal feeling. It’s one thing when you're driving to go play at a radio station and you hear it on that station. It’s another thing when you're just out in the middle of nowhere, and the song just comes on the radio, and you're like “Oh my God!” I was at Staples, shopping for something, and it came on the radio there. I was with one of my friends, and we were, like, “What?!”

THR: Rainn Wilson stars in the video and at one point, the two of you are in very close quarters in a junky elevator. What was it like work with him?

Grammer: He was so gracious. He was supposed to stay for like an hour, and it ended up being more like eight. He was just such a champion. In some of those scenes we were in together, he was kind of giving me tips about how to look towards the camera and stuff like that. He's an amazing guy.

THR: There is an interactive version of the video with options for several goofy scenarios, where did that idea come from?

Grammer: The head of my label [S-Curve], Steve Greenberg, had this idea of a choose-your-own-adventure music video. He found the technology in Israel. So it kind of plopped into my lap and then it was really fun coming up with the different choices. I had a lot of input in creating the actual script of it. It was like a giant chart when I wrote it all out. It was a nutty writing process, and filming process, for that matter: we had to shoot 25 videos in two days. It was tons of shooting because there’s all the content to choose from.

THR: You’ve certainly paid your dues over the last few years, what have you learned about the music industry in that time?

Grammer: I've learned to trust that you know what you're doing, because it gets scary sometimes. There's a lot of money being spent. If you panic, then that kind of messes with the whole creative vibe. You can't force something to happen, you have to let it all come out and believe that you’ll get there in the end.

THR: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would you love to work with?

Grammer: Two of my goals in life: I'd love to write a track with Bruno [Mars] and a hook for a Jay-Z song.

THR: What’s it like going back to Third Street now?

Grammer: We just filmed extra content for the last song on the album, called “Biggest Man in LA,” where we went out on the Promenade. It was a pretty cool feeling to go back there and think, “How did I think this would work? How did I possibly imagine that by coming out to the street with my guitar I would get to where I am now?” Because it’s such a long-shot -- to just start playing, selling your CD and hoping it gets on the radio somehow or hoping someone notices you -- it just blows my mind when I go out there and see how difficult it is and how lucky I am.

THR: Do you stop and listen to other musicians when you see them busking on the street?

Grammer: I have a thing: I will always put money in for any street musician anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world. It’s like giving back the money I got.