INTERVIEW: Michael Edser (GRAYSON)
From Newcastle to Nashville, the story of Michael Edser aka Grayson is the stuff country music dreams are made of: a proud Novocastrian (his stage name refers to the street he grew up on), Grayson has steadily captivated audiences all over the globe with his charismatic nature and candid songwriting that uniquely straddles the Americana/Country folk genres - but with a distinct Aussie flavour all of his own.
Spanning headline tours, #1 ARIA singles and performing alongside the likes of Jimmy Barnes, The Whitlams and more, Grayson's successes have been thick and fast - a reality that has not come without its fair share of conflict in an exceptionally competitive and breakneck industry. But behind the commercial boom and ongoing acclaim is a gold-hearted Aussie boy who is embracing the American dream head-on without losing his head.
Kicking off 2018 at the Tamworth Country Music Festival and with a brand new track 'Margarita' burning up the airwaves, Grayson is showing no signs of slowing down. And with a brand new album looming on the horizon, there's a whole lot more to look forward to - but before the next chapter of Grayson unfolds, he took some time to chat new music, Newcastle and how a kid from the east coast of Australia ended up kicking ass in the Music City.
'MARGARITA' - GRAYSON
TIANA SPETER: Thanks so much for chatting today! It's very exciting, you're doing some insanely amazing things over in Nashville right now I believe!
GRAYSON: Yeah! It's going good, it's not so warm today, it's freezing outside and it's gonna be colder tomorrow morning so I'm a little bit homesick today! I miss the good weather, but you take the good with the bad, right?
TIANA: Well if it makes you feel any better I'm in Sydney right now and it's cloudy and miserable, so you're not missing anything today! But being where you are right now, you're no stranger to the music world, you've very steadily progressed since you first started making waves on a European tour, I believe about ten years ago back in 2008?
GRAYSON: Yeah, I'd had enough of the Australian music scene. Myself and my twin brother, who I still play with in Australia when I tour down there, we were knocking our heads up against a brick wall and there was a breaking point one night when we were playing on the Central Coast. It was a four hour show and our crowd was basically the backs of people playing poker machines. And I just said to my brother "I could literally swear into a mic right now and take my shirt off and no one would f*cking notice" - pardon my language, but it brings back bad memories (laughs). And I think I actually did drop a couple of f-bombs just to see if anyone listened and - nothing! So I got home and....MySpace was a thing back in the day and I looked up some entertainment agencies in England and Ireland and - the rest is history!
TIANA: And what an amazingly successful history it's become! You've crafted such a big reputation for yourself, not just as a talented songwriter but you also, I believe, have a hand in a lot of behind the scenes stuff too, plus you've also just released your brand new track 'Margarita' this year as well...can you tell me a little bit about the new song?
GRAYSON: The new track is a fun one, it was targeted for the Australian summer for country radio, and it's been picked up by Kix which is great, one of the biggest country stations in Australia. And it's still cold here now but as it starts warming up we'll start doing the send-out for the American summer. Last week I actually pressed record on my new album which is called 'Window Dreams' and it's gonna be a little different to the single 'Margarita', a little bit more stripped back, a little more real and honest. And you'll probably see me going in a little bit of a different kind of direction with this new album, so - lots of exciting stuff happening, and also very scary taking a chance with a different kind of sound!
TIANA: It's nice though because you do seem to have quite a versatile angle to what you do, you've got this really summery vibe going on with this one like you said and I wonder - does that come from growing up in Newcastle, aside from the negative experiences obviously playing to the back of people's heads...did that influence anything in your music do you think, growing up in that summery, coastal town environment?
GRAYSON: When I count back the years the first thing I think is what song was on the radio in summertime and that tells me what year it was. I was obsessed by radio as a kid, and I always wanted to have that one hit for summer so when I'm writing I've really gotta stop myself from trying to write a big "poppy" country song cos that's not really me. But that's what's kind of ingrained in me is that little kid who used to stare out of the window and have these window dreams of maybe one day taking on the world, playing music around the word...and I've got to achieve that. But at the same time I like to write about the real stuff and a bit of this new album is gonna be pretty raw and real and a little bit different so it's pretty exciting times.
TIANA: Speaking of when you were younger, obviously it sounds like you grew up listening to quite a wide variety of music. Who would you class, if you had to, as being some of your musical influences, whether it's people you grew up listening to or just people you admire...do you have some specific people you might channel when you're writing music?
GRAYSON: You might kind of grunt at this one...but I'm actually a huge fan of John Mayer. Not because he had huge hits and not because he's a superstar, but he's done three or four different genres and he's done them all so well. And for someone like myself that is kind of cross-genre, I've done a pop/rock album and a country album and this next album's gonna be a little more folk/Americana...I respect anyone who's ever tried to evolve and do something different, not just press record and do the same thing over and over again. And John Mayer has done that and not only has he done it well, he's done it like no one else could do it. The guy's a freak!
TIANA: You know what, I take my hat off to him and he's an absolute freak on the guitar as well. I think there's nothing to sneeze at there, I respect it!
GRAYSON: Awesome, awesome! I've said John Mayer in a few interviews lately and he's not really country, so the country station's are like "um, who's that?" or "really, John Mayer? That guy's a wanker!". But I don't care what he does in his own time, his music's fantastic.
TIANA: That's the thing, I think a lot of people turn their noses up so easily, and a lot of the time I feel like they're doing it because everyone else is doing it. But when you actually strip it back and listen to something for what it is and not who it is, I think that's the best way to be, you've gotta be open minded.
GRAYSON: 100%! 100%.
TIANA: Now I believe you started off this year with a bang, you headed back home in January to headline some shows at the Tamworth Country Music Festival?
GRAYSON: Yeah, it was about 3,000 degrees in Australia, it was so hot. I've been to Tamworth many times growing up and I've played the festival a few times, but...oh my god it was hot! I got to open up for Judah Kelly who won The Voice. Really nice guy, sings amazing , plays amazing and has a good crowd, and it was really cool to be involved with his show. It was awesome. Honestly, the rest of the festival it was too hot to do anything fun. I was just literally looking for airconditioning, it was that hot! Like 50 degrees, easy.
TIANA: In terms of crowds and the reception to your music...given it has been a bit of time now between when you left and came back, what is the biggest difference you're finding between how your music's received back home and overseas, whether it's from a commercial perspective or from a fan perspective - is it a massive, massive difference?
GRAYSON: Both America and Australia are starting to welcome me with open arms for radio play, which is awesome. I've done the hard work, the production on the album's are good and I've done a bunch of radio tours in both countries so now, kind of, anything I bring out I get at least test spins which is great. As far as the live stuff, America's very excited to meet me and see me and hear my accent and listen to my music...and they like it. When I go back to Australia, 50% of the people either know me or they're very happy that I've come back to Australia. And then the other 50% kind of have that tall poppy thing...they ask me "oh, where are you from?" and I say "well, I grew up in Katara in Newcastle, but I live in America". And I've had guys literally say "oh f*cking big shot, why don't you f*ck off back to Nashville!". So when people ask me at gigs, if they're low-key gigs when I'm back in Australia...not like the big opening acts or touring or anything, just if I'm doing a covers gig or whatever in a pub...I still do them in Australia because they pay the best! But if people ask me, if they're nice enough I'll tell them what I'm really doing. I've had some nights where I've told people honestly what I do and people just instantly get the shits and turn their backs on you.
TIANA: It's a bit of a shame, I keep hearing and seeing that kind of thing happening. But at least it's not 100% of the time, so I suppose that's a minor positive??
GRAYSON: (laughs) About 80% of the time it's all cool, but then that 20%...it's also kind of a reminder of why I did leave in the first place. Not only is the industry quite limited in Australia...I mean, Thirsty Merc have had four number one albums in Australia and they're still chasing their tail, how is that a possibility!? The industry is so small, there's that negativity that you can't always progress because it's so limited, but also anyone who tries to better themselves is instantly touted as a big-shot or a wanker or whatever, or someone who's arrogant because they're trying to better their lives for themselves and their family.
TIANA: Well I'm glad you've still done your thing, and it's that old notion that you know you're doing something right if you've got some haters...so it's a sign of success, I guess?! It's not necessarily a positive sign, but I suppose it's something you can tick off the list!
GRAYSON: (laughs) Definitely, I try to not piss anyone off in America cos I know they'll shoot me. I learned a few years ago stopping at gas stations in Oklahoma and Arkansas...a dude with an accent and skinny jeans on, and a weird accent - you don't talk, you just nod your head and exchange your money. I've had times where people ask me what part of America Australia is in. So I just keep my head down and do my job (laughs).
TIANA: You should write a "how to" I think, it sounds like I'll definitely get myself in big trouble there. I'm very chatty. But back to the topic of your live stuff, you're no stranger to festivals, I know you've done Woodford here, you've done Wildfire Festival, you've done a lot of huge stuff...do you prefer those big festival kind of crowds or do you still love performing the more intimate shows?
GRAYSON: I definitely like the intimate shows where you can hear a pin drop and people are there to see you play, but a lot of festivals if you're not on the main stage....last year I played the biggest county fair in America, it was actually the one where the Ferris wheel came off and a couple of people died, I wasn't there that day, thank god! I was there the week after at the Ohio State Fair, and I was on one of the smaller stages because they had people like Keith Urban and P!nk on the main stages. But I had two or three hundred people sitting on bench seats outside and I had two half-hour sets of my own stuff and people bought CDs, and I got paid extremely well to be there. And that's the kind of shit you can't do in Australia. You can do that a couple of nights a week over here if you're doing it right.
TIANA: It's a no brainer! And you've established yourself with this solo venture, but you've also got a bit of a name for yourself as being a bit of a gun session muso and a producer. You've worked with people associated with some pretty massive names, including Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw...do you enjoy that collaborative process outside of your own stuff? What's your preference there?
GRAYSON: Well, one: it pays very well to be in the studio to do someone else's stuff. And it's not as stressful when you're doing someone else's stuff. It's not that you don't care, it's just that you can be more creative, it's a little bit more fun cos at the end of the day you're not gonna have to go home and listen to it 3,000 times to make sure it's right. You go in there, you do an awesome job and you send them on their way. And on the other side of things, it's more like...you know, you have days when you're homesick and you question "why am I so far away from everyone and everything that I love? I'm a proud Newcastle boy, why aren't I at the Beaches Hotel having a beer, why am I missing my friend's 40th?". All those kind of things. But then there's days where you're literally getting paid to tell someone who's played with Tim McGraw for years what to do in the studio. And they're the things that you just can't do in Australia, and they quickly remind you that you made the right decision being here, you could never have achieved this if you'd stayed at home.
TIANA: Yeah, I guess there's always going to be a compromise, and it's nice you can get those moments that reassure yourself you're heading in the right direction. Now to wrap things up, I know there's a reality show that sounds like it's basically been written about you potentially on the horizon - 'Another Country: Nashville' that follows other talented musos and songwriters like yourself that have left home and come to Nashville and are making a big impact. What's the go there?
GRAYSON: So I've been in two things now behind the camera, but that's not really my go, I'm not an actor, I'm just a guy from Newcastle who writes songs. But one thing I've been in is an award-winning documentary called '66 Days on Route 66', it followed me from Illinois to Santa Monica and I did all things American, I shot guns in Texas and milked cows in Missouri, ate too much food and put on weight - did all the American things! (laughs) And that was what actually led me to Nashville, I got offered a publishing deal and I moved to Nashville! And the latest thing is 'Another Country', we filmed the pilot and it's being pitched to the networks. It's something that may not get picked up, but we'll get a lot of promo out of it, the B-Rolls that I can use for websites and promotions - or, it could be picked up in six months or six years and we start filming, it's just one of those things you don't know. It's like when you go and watch your favourite band and everyone wants them to play the latest single, and these guys have been playing that song for eight years and it's just finally got out. It's one of those things that may or may not happen, but it was cool to be involved with it and I hope it does take off.
TIANA: Yet another green light I daresay that you're doing the right thing, and I'm so excited to see what comes next for you. Can't wait to hear the new album and hear a different side of you!
GRAYSON: Awesome man, let's do a beer in Australia next summer!
GRAYSON'S NEW SINGLE 'MARGARITA' IS OUT NOW - FOR MORE INFO CHECK OUT:
BY TIANA SPETER