On Fame, Fans, and the Grammys

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“I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning,” said Alice a little timidly; “but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

 

When I was younger I was a huge fan of the band U2.  I read their biographies by Bill Flanagan & Eamon Dunphy detailing how they met in high school from a random bulletin board posting, when they joined up with manager Paul McGuiness, the individual stories of Paul Hewson (Bono), Edge, Adam, and Larry, and their struggles in Ireland with the IRA and beyond. I had books detailing the reasonings behind lyrics, random demo recordings of albums that never were released, countless collections of remixes and covers by other bands of their music, etc. As a fan, I wanted to know all I could about the band; I wanted to be a part of their journey; and I wanted them to be a part of my own personal journey.  I wanted them to be the soundtrack to the trials and tribulations of my teenage years.

Any band is two parts music, and one part, story and journey.  A part of the allure of becoming a fan for a specific band is the want to integrate them into your own life: the music you listen to can define you socially and give you a community to be a part of(hipster, grunge, metalhead, EDM, hiphop, orchestra geek, etc.); it can be a badge of sophistication (sharing a hip unknown band with your friends is a gratifying experience, and also of one-upmanship); and the music can excite, sadden, and emotionally heighten your life.

Aside from U2 and their journey as a band, I remember how excited I was when another favorite group of mine from the 80’s, Tears For Fears, finally had a reunion album and tour in the mid-2000’s, aptly titled, “Everybody Loves a Happy Ending.” The band had went through a pretty hostile break-up back in the 80s, and when the band members Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith finally reunited, I felt like I was included in their storyline, and was so elated for the next week after I received the album, that in my head I was rejoicing along with them.

In my own personal journey as a musician, I felt like the month of January was the pinnacle to the fantastic trajectory of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. In late 2013 they were nominated for 7 Grammy nominations, and at the end of January we all performed at the Grammy Award Ceremony on national television.  For everyone involved in their journey, the band, the crew, family, and ultimately all the fans that had been a part of the story from the humble beginnings, it was like the perfect 80’s finale montage.

A couple of weeks before we took the stage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (the third time I had been there in the past two months), I had received an urgent email from Ryan Lewis. The email came to me right after I had performed on Jay Leno with Mary Lambert, and was sticking around a couple of extra days to spend time with friends and family in the area.  I remember distinctly feeling right after Leno, like Alice in Wonderland after she fell down the rabbit hole:  I was completely out of my element, and overwhelmed. When Ryan emailed me, saying that he needed help writing a string orchestra for the Grammys, and we would be doing it live with Madonna, and Queen Latifah…. well he could have easily been the Cheshire Cat at that moment, telling me I was about to meet the Queen of Hearts. I was about to step three more chapters into this fantasy.

After writing new material for the outro of Same Love with Ryan, and Owour Arunga, after I got back to Seattle, we tracked strings, choir and additional vocals at Studio X. This all happened while Ryan was going back and forth with Madonna and her management regarding how they wanted her entrance to be in the song.  The decision seemed to be more complicated than I thought it should have been.

A couple of days later we rehearsed for two days straight at the SIR rehearsal studios in Los Angeles. We were given one of the largest rehearsal studio rooms, and we then meticulously figured out entrances, arrangement of parts, and finalized music along with two full choirs, Trombone Shorty and his crew, me and Rebecca, Owour, Budo, Greg, Ben, Mary Lambert, and Ryan. It wasn’t until another 5 hours later that Madonna first showed up with her entourage in tow.  The Queen of Hearts had just walked into my little world.

Honestly I wasn’t sure what to think when I first met Madonna. As a steady household name I had grown up with since the early 80’s, her music and performances had definitely made its impact on me throughout my childhood.  I was familiar with her journey and her discography of brilliant writing, and to see her before me in person was an odd disconnect.  After years and years of living in a world of intense celebritydom, (lack of privacy, the overwhelming deluge of constant attention, immense ego gratification and adoration, etc.), I could see immediately how it had taken its toll on the megastar.  She was polite, and soft spoken, but she also didn’t seem quite comfortable in her own skin, and being surrounded by a small army of musicians didn’t help. Overtime she relaxed, but relied on the advice of her music director a lot to help guide the rehearsals from there on out.

After the first day of rehearsing, I also had an opportunity to meet Madonna’s manager, Guy Oseary, who in the end of 2013 actually became the new manager for U2.  In the world of music, even on the megastar level, it seems like things get smaller and smaller when you uncover all of the little connections. My teenage self was having a mild meltdown.

Before we knew it, the day of the 56th Annual Grammy Awards was upon us.  The day started with intense security checkpoints, and being rushed around backstage at the Staples center. We were shown where we would be standing, staging for the cameras, and ran through rehearsing the performance one more time; however, this final time included all the couples that were going to be wed, and also included Queen Latifah’s entrance and officiating of the wedding ceremony.  All of it was meticulous, but felt slightly akin to controlled chaos. There was a lot of moving pieces, and not enough time to get it exact.  There was even a small drama that occurred when the stage crew couldn’t get the timing right for opening up the giant gateway on stage for Madonna’s entrance. For some reason, it all started seeming a little funny and ridiculous to me at that point.

Once the awards finally started, I sat backstage in the green room they had set aside for  ‘Macklemore’s band’, and we were sharing it along with the horn players for Ringo Starr.  The entire 3 1/2 hours of the Grammys, seemed to crawl by slowly, until it was time for our televised performance, and that seemed to scream by at light speed. We were shuttled behind the main stage 45 minutes before our performance, and waited while they prepped our set.  While we waited, I watched them shuttle other artists on and off the stage (Imagine Dragons, Metallica, Pink, and more…), and from our perspective it seemed like a crazy three ring circus.  The celebrities, rewards, sets, props, lighting, crew, and performances kept on rolling out, and out. Once we stepped out into the vacuum of the stage, they had us setup behind a giant curtained wall, which would reveal us to the audience right after the commercial break. The commercial break ended, and the wall was lifted.

The entire performance was a blur. I remember looking out into the audience and seeing Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Keith Urban all staring right back at me. The surrealism of the entire experience was overwhelming. Just coming to the realization that the entire room I was performing for was full of the biggest names in the industry, and they weren’t just abstract names and ghosts you read about, or watched on TV and online – that they were actually there in person, watching me perform – seemed too much for me to handle. Before I realized it though, the entire performance was over, people were clapping, and we were quickly shuttled off stage back into the dark depths of the Staples center. And that was that.

When the moment Macklemore & Ryan Lewis received four Grammy awards, I felt that it was a victory for everyone involved, that had ever been a part of their peculiar rise to fame. In a strange way too, it seemed to be a validation to the fans as well, for their overwhelming faith and commitment to the group all this time.  As an independent artist, but more importantly, the result of DIY practices and intense grassroots campaigning, M&RL rely heavily on the support of their fans to make it all work.  Without the assistance of a label (even though they had a major distribution deal), the entire engine of their music needed that support from the fans.

At the Grammy after party that the team threw for us, it wasn’t extravagant, pompous, or crazy.  It was humble, exciting, and comforting.  It was an environment of relief, and gratitude. After the whirlwind performance at the Grammys, it was a welcome bit of solace. The journey of the ‘Heist’ had reached its final summit, and could now rest for a few.

Being an observer on both sides of the fence of the relationship between fans and artists is an interesting, and enlightening one. From my days of obsessing over U2 and Tears for Fears when I was younger, to performing alongside Madonna, in front of other major artists in the music industry – there is an intrinsic connection between both worlds that is mutually dependent. However, as I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, an important part of any artist is their story. Their journey. M&RL reached a glorious end to theirs last month at the Grammys – well at least the chapter about the Heist.  But, it was an amazing ending, and everyone felt included. Everybody loves a happy ending.

Comments

  1. Andrew,
    I appreciate the insight into the whirlwind world you have been in for the past few months. The part in the post where you talk about looking out into the audience and seeing all of the biggest stars watching you in person was powerful. I don’t have anything in my musical story that compares, but I still feel like I am riding this wave with you. Thanks for the insight.

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