words by Troy Davis
Moments & Portraits with Greyson Chance
If you were on the internet in 2010, it’s a story you’re probably familiar with: a talented tween, with a Bieber haircut, covering Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” for his school’s talent show. That same cover has earned him 64 million views to date, repeat appearances on Ellen, a record deal, and a few global tours (including one with Miranda Cosgrove herself). While these are the moments that introduced us to Greyson Chance, they’re far cry from who he’s become as an artist.
It’s not like we haven’t heard from Grayson since his first album, Hold on ‘til the Night, in 2011. While we’ve received a steady stream of singles and EPs in the interim, Greyson hasn’t been shy about referring to his upcoming release Portraits as his “first album”.
“The goal was to try and be honest in the art we’re creating,” said Chance. “I’m challenging myself to be more vulnerable. [On Portraits] I’m trying to take what’s happening and write more honestly, no cutting corners. And that’s why this feels like my first real album.”
Noting his decision to be more open and vulnerable, I decide to ask Greyson about his decision to come out through a touching Instagram message. “To be honest, I’d come out to my family and friends a few years before I ever made that post. After that, I started to feel like coming out could just be misconstrued as ‘buy my records!’ I felt so nervous about how I’d be perceived.” So, Greyson planned to wait and let it happen more organically.
That is, until a fan reached out through Twitter. A young teen from Arkansas direct messaged Chance explaining how much his music meant to him, especially as a closeted teen living in a small town. The message ended with, “I know you’re not gay, but your music really inspires me.” That’s all it took to change Greyson’s mind and lead him to coming out publicly.
“Living honestly and openly in every facet of your life is so important, and it plays directly into this album and how we wrote it,” said Chance.
Of course, sharing your personal life on such an open form means having the right team. For Greyson, that meant working with long-time collaborator Willy Beaman.
“Willy used to be a touring band member, we met when I was really young,” said Greyson. Having that history with Beaman helped Greyson to open up in the studio. “I’ve known Willy for so long, and every day is like a clean slate. In the past, I would look around and be way more interest in how people were reacting to my music than how it felt to me. For this record, we tried making music felt confident in. We’d work until we wanted to jump around the room and dance.”
Talking on inspiration, Greyson mentions his decision to leave undergrad to focus on music full-time. “I’ve been taking lots of photographs and spending more time with friends.” The influence is clear on “Twenty One”, a mid-tempo song that opens with the flick of a lighter signaling the beat.
Of course, we shouldn’t expect every song on Portraits to be so upbeat. Greyson mentions “White Roses”, influenced by one of the hardest breakups he’s ever faced. “If I get through the whole tour without crying when singing it, Willy owes me $500.”
So, what moments shape Greyson now? It’s his black denim and white t-shirts, his queer Oklahoman aesthetic. It’s the ending of Sylvan Esso’s What Now, his favorite musical moment in a long time. It’s “Hinnom, TX” by Bon Iver and layered vocals and falsetto, something we can “expect to hear a lot more on the record.” It’s coming out, but not letting it change his relationship with music. It’s writing honestly about what he loves and cutting less corners. And, of course, it’s about “making music we love.”
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