Just like any other kid, Greyson Chance was influenced on music within the confines of his home. “My dad would always play a bunch 60’s soul music in our house when I was growing up. I grew up listening to a lot of The Temptations and Sly and the Family Stone. But if I’m remembering correctly, the first musician that I was really taken aback by was Frank Sinatra. I remember hearing his voice and looking at his album cover and being so impressed by it when I was little and thinking ‘man, he’s so cool,’” says the 21-year-old Oklahoma native.
He was destined to become a performer. At an early age of 11, Greyson’s Lady Gaga cover of “Paparazzi” went viral and his life was never the same after that. He had that guesting and performance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, album (Hold On ‘til the Night) and EPs (Truth Be Told, Part1 and Somewhere Over My Head) released, but with all the highs in Greyson’s career, there were also the lows. “I’ve gone through the ringer of the music industry. I went through a bad label deal, got dropped by that label, got dropped by a few managers. It was really hard; it was a very difficult thing because I felt like I put my heart into something and there wasn’t a good payoff,” he shares. In 2017, Greyson decided to turn his back from the music industry for a while and used that time to get a degree at the University of Tulsa. His interest was to study law since he’s very involved politically in community activism in the States, especially in Oklahoma. “The legal system, no matter what country you’re in, it’s difficult—it’s tricky, hard, and expensive. If I could understand this whole concept and gain enough knowledge and if I could use that to help people, that would be the best thing in the world,” says Greyson. During his stay at the university, it also gave him the opportunity to get his bearings back, to live normally, and gather enough inspiration for this new body of work which he considers as his debut album that he called portraits. Also, on that same year, Greyson took to Instagram to compose a very sincere coming out post, which was warmly accepted and supported by his friends and fans.
Read on as Greyson chats more about his hiatus in music, his truths, and sharing it through his latest album.
HI, GREYSON. WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE THIS INTERVIEW?
I just landed on a flight an hour ago. Traveling from Oklahoma, where I’m from and where I live, to L.A. in California and we’re shooting a music video tomorrow.
HOW IS IT LIKE GROWING UP IN OKLAHOMA?
The older I’m getting, the more I’m realizing how much of an impact growing up there has had on me in the person that I’ve become. I grew up in a normal, working class community. My parents were a little strict but they’ve always told me to work hard and to work with passion and that’s what I’ve always done.
HOW DID THE ONLINE FAME CHANGE YOUR LIFE AS A WHOLE?
It’s hard to say when it changed my life specifically because it changed every part of it. I was a normal school kid, I was 12-years-old living in Oklahoma then all of a sudden, I’m on a plane on my way to sign a record deal and learn what it’s like to be an artist instantly. I think even from the beginning of it, when we were on our way to Ellen, I feel like my parents and I knew that something crazy was going to happen. It completely changed my life and gave me a trajectory that I never pictured for myself but 10 years now in music and I’m still here and still doing the thing.
YOU TRAVEL BACK AND FORTH FROM OKLAHOMA TO LA. WHAT’S IN OKLAHOMA THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE? HOW DOES BEING IN LA HELP YOU WITH YOUR MUSIC CAREER?
The past two years I’d actually taken what I thought was going to be an official retirement from music, but I just went through a hiatus. I went to Oklahoma for school and when I got this record deal offered to me last year, I told them to give me some time, that I really want to think about it. I want to make some goals and limitations for myself and one of the main things that I said was after living in LA by myself for a few years, I told myself that if I’m going back to music, I don’t want to live there full time. I really do love LA. I love the culture and the people but you can be in one of the coolest cities in the world but it’s about your friends and the people that you have there. I’m so blessed to have an amazing support system in Oklahoma. If my job is to write good music and to be inspired, I want to be next to people that I love and care for. I made a conscious choice to go back and forth when I was writing this album. I do have a place in Oklahoma that I pay rent and it’s my friends there that keep me coming back.
YOU WENT BACK TO SCHOOL, ATTENDED UNIVERSITY OF TULSA TO TAKE UP HISTORY. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GO BACK TO STUDYING?
I was 18-years-old, living in LA, and I had just put out an EP. Prior to releasing that body of work, I went around all of LA knocking on everyone’s door saying “I’m back. I’m here.” I’ve gone through the ringer of the music industry. The music that I was writing at that time wasn’t inspiring me anymore. I leveled with myself and I said “you’re young now but you’re not always going to be. Maybe it’s time to pursue a different thing; maybe it’s time to look back at this crazy thing that happened to you but maybe not to end-all, be-all.” When I decided to go to school, I was very contented with my decision. When I got to school, I really didn’t touch a piano for six months after getting there. As I started making friends and being normal for once, I felt so inspired. And then I started writing music that you’ll hear on portraits.
AFTER EIGHT YEARS OF NOT COMING OUT WITH A FULL ALBUM, WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO FINALLY RELEASE ONE?
The biggest difference from where I have been in music and where I’m at now is that I’m finally starting to do things on my own terms. There’s nothing that you’re going to see that’s released by me or put on my social media or any imagery that hasn’t been approved or created and curated by me. That’s something that I didn’t have control in the past. I really wanted to come back with a large body of work to say “hey, check me out. I’m here again and in a big way.” I was feeling so inspired when I was writing and I just couldn’t stop so at the end of it, I had a large collection of songs. This was an underdog project, no one believed in it when I started it, it’s incredible to see people coming around now.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO CALL THIS ALBUM PORTRAITS?
As I was writing music this past year, another thing that I loved to do was to shoot photos. I did a bit of modeling for my friends. I’m fortunate enough to know of amazing photographers and surround myself with amazing creatives. Some of my friends would tell me “I have this vision. I want to put you in these clothes,” and I’d go “yeah, why not? Let’s do it.” What was cool about it is that I would look back at this collection of photos taken in different time periods throughout the past year. You can see these emotions in myself based upon what was happening in my life at that time. I went through a pretty bad breakup in May and any of the photos that I took during that month, you could see it in my eyes. When I looked at those photos, the songs are exactly the same. I was shooting with my friend Broderick Baumann, who ended up shooting the album cover, he said he wanted to get some film portraits with me and see me go back to basics or black n’ white. And when he said that, I was so intrigued by it. To me, a portrait is so personal; it’s vulnerable, it’s basic, and that to me what every song is. These songs in the record is vulnerable because they’re coming straight from my own life experience. They’re all portraits or snapshots of my last year. All that just made a lot of sense to me.
YOU MENTIONED ON YOUR TWITTER THAT YOU SEE PORTRAITS AS YOUR DEBUT ALBUM. WHY DO YOU SAY SO? HOW SPECIAL IS IT FOR YOU?
I’ll give it a disclaimer because a lot of people when they read that, they maybe a little offended. I’m so proud of what I did in the past, I’m so proud of that kid who really defied a lot of odds and kept on making music, but I didn’t write Hold on to the Night. I maybe listed as co-writer on some of the songs, but it was made for me, it was handed over to me. The music that I wrote between then and now is a bit different because I was developing as a songwriter. I view this as my debut album because it’s the first time that I’ve actually sat behind the pen and paper. It’s the first time that I made something that I really want to listen to, something that I want to put on: it makes me smile, it makes me happy. It’s like the first time I’ve ever been vulnerable in a real way. It feels like I’m introducing not a different person, just an evolved person to the world because I’m older now, I don’t really resonate or feel anything towards that kid in that video even though that was me. It’s my debut because it’s the first time that this version of myself is coming out with music.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROCESS ON MAKING PORTRAITS.
Each song always happens differently. For the most part, a lot of this record happened in Oklahoma with me on my piano. My executive producer Willy Beaman, he really helped me flush out these songs and figure out where we wanted to take them. In terms of the process, when I was writing, I really tried to focus on a specific moment or a specific event. I really tried to think about how felt during that time? What I wanted to say? And I really thought about that more than I think I ever had before as a writer. So, when I say that this is my most personal record, I really mean it.
IT’S BEEN A YEAR SINCE YOU’VE PUBLICLY CAME OUT. HAS IT CHANGED HOW YOU DO THINGS CREATIVELY, ESPECIALLY YOUR MUSIC?
My songwriting hasn’t really changed ever since I came out. Coming out has affected so many different areas of my life, it’s so much better as a human being to live honestly within yourself. It’s funny because now, looking back, I was always writing songs about boys I just probably didn’t know it yet. I write from the heart; I write from life experience.
YOU’VE MENTIONED IN AN INTERVIEW THAT PORTRAITS IS A RESULT OF A BROKEN HEART. WHAT’S THE MOST DIFFICULT AND FULFILLING PART ABOUT WORKING ON THIS ALBUM?
There are pros and cons in talking about your personal experiences in your songs. The pro is that you can really show yourself in a vulnerable and unique way and that’s something special that you have with your audience. The con is that you have to relive your memories.
I thought that I had really met the one last year. I really felt love from him that I never felt from anyone else before. I was ready to sacrifice a lot for him because I cared for him so much. I felt the deepest love and I also felt the deepest hurt when he told me that he didn’t want to be with me anymore. After that, I really wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t doing well, as one does after a really bad breakup and it wasn’t until a month or two after that I finally sat down in front of the piano. I was still hurting but I really want to dive deep into that and think about what I really want to say about this experience. It was so healing, and it helped me so much and that song is called “White Roses” off the album. It was the hardest song to write because I had to relive those moments but I’m a stronger person now because of that song. It really helped me deal with internal distress to get through that breakup, and to be able to say “Okay. I’m still here. I’m breathing, I’m alright, everything’s good.” The most fulfilling part out of all this is just making the record. There’s a lot of people who told me to go away because I won’t ever have the chance with music again, and I proved them wrong.
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR SINGLE “SHUT UP”? WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO HAVE THAT AS YOUR FIRST SINGLE FROM THE ALBUM?
It was one of the first songs I wrote for the record. I wrote the lyrics in Israel when I was there last summer for university stuff. It’s inspired by the moment when you like someone and you’re over-talking because you don’t want the conversation to lag and you’re also nervous and excited. I just had that experience in Israel with this guy and I just thought that it’s so funny and interesting that I want to put it down on words. What was funny too was when I came back and finished it in the studio, it also gave us a direction how we wanted to go production-wise. In that way, when we finished the record, we were thinking of what should be the first single, and I thought that it should be the song that introduced me to the album and helped me figure out my way through it. So yeah, that’s why we picked it.
CAN YOU ALSO TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEXT SINGLE “TIMEKEEPER”?
“Timekeeper” is catching me during my resentment phase, when I had a bit more time to process my breakup when I was angry about it. This is one of my favorite songs in the record because it’s one of the most experimental; it’s a bit more urban than a lot of the songs in the album. Coincidentally enough, the lyrics of this song is a bit angrier but it’s my favorite song to dance too off portraits.
YOU ARE CURRENTLY ON TOUR TO PROMOTE PORTRAITS. WHAT IS IT ABOUT TOURING THAT YOU ENJOY THE MOST?
It’s such an amazing payout seeing people singing along and see people interacting with your music, that’s why I’m here, that’s why I do it. I played five shows now on this tour, I get off stage every night and I just have fun doing it. I just really love performing, I always have. The two goals I set out for myself we try to make a long form or a body of work, the second one is go out and tour on it. And the fact that now I’m doing both of those things, I feel really accomplished.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR LISTENERS TO GET FROM THIS ALBUM?
I want them to take away from the record the same thing that I do when I listen to music, which is I want them to take these stories and I want them to relate them back to their own life. I want my songs to help them or just make them feel something. I want them to look at their own life and say “that makes so much sense for me right now” because that’s what I think the coolest thing about music, the only thing that I can do is to tell my story, that’s all that I can do as a songwriter and musician and hope to tell it right. My job is pretty much finished, now it’s the listeners job to take that music and to apply it to their own life. I hope it makes them smile, cry, laugh, dance, scream, and do everything because that’s what it did for me. It’s a year in a life for me.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD ABOUT WITH THE GROWTH THAT YOU’VE EXPERIENCE OVER THE YEARS AS A PERSON AND MUSICIAN?
There are so many times that a lot of this could have gone off the rail. I had to go through a lot of many bad areas in the music industry that you can think of; I probably gone through it all. What I’m most proud of is that I had to go through some of my worst moments when I was 14 or 15-years-old but I was able to keep my head on straight, which I owed a lot to my parents. I’m most proud of myself for still being here, for still doing what I love and waking up every morning and saying “okay, there are still people buying tickets to your shows wanting to hear your record, so you know what, kid? You better give them a good show.”
WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT THIS YEAR?
Going around the world and performing portraits live. I’m so excited to tour this album, to see everyone interact with it. I also started writing for the next record, so I’m ready to see where that takes me as well too.