text by Takahisa Matsunaga

Conan Gray「何がスタンダードなんて決まっていない。自分自身であることが大事だとみんなが理解できるようになるために、お互いヘルプし合えたらいい」Interview with Conan Gray about “Kid Krow”

ーーSo, this is your interview with Japan – you’re partially Japanese, right?

Conan : I’m half Japanese. My mother is from Hiroshima. I was in Hiroshima for 2 and a half years when I was younger and my dad was in the military, so we spent some time there as well.

ーーDo you speak Japanese?

Conan : Japanese is my first language actually, but I don’t remember that much of it anymore. I mostly just remember a lot of food like shake-musubi, onigiri, and “caree pan (curry bread)”,,, yeah, a lot of food that I remember from when I was younger.

ーーWhat’s your impression about Japan, what do you like about it?

Conan : My favorite part about Japan is just the people. Every time I visit as a kid, I just remember feeling so weird as an American because everyone there is just so nice and so polite and so hardworking. I also love everything about the culture; so familiar to me, yet so fascinating… I really do love Japan so much and I consider it as a big piece of my childhood. Last time I went was when I was in high school, I was a sophomore in high school, and I visited all of my family. I have family in Sakugi and visited Tokyo, and Hiroshima, of course, and I used to visit a lot and I can’t wait to come back. Hopefully play some shows there as soon as I can because it has been a while and been too long since I stayed in Japan.

ーーWhat’re the Japanese foods you like?

Conan : Okonomiyaki! Oh my god, it’s my favorite!! I love okonomiyaki! I’ve never had Osaka okonomiyaki. I’ve had Hiroshima Okonomiyaki. And I really wanna go to 7/11 and get “Budo Zeri (grape jello)”. Japan 7/11 is the best!

ーーDo you think that there are some Japanese roots or influences in your music?

Conan : I think a lot of the music that I write is about my childhood and being Japanese American growing up in Texas, it was really hard for me to relate to my peers. I had Japanese, and I was American, and I didn’t really know how to fit in. So, I thought like such an outsider my whole life and I think as I get older, I realized all the things about me that made me different. Being Japanese and being American, all those things were actually what I Iove the most about myself. But it took me a long time to figure that out and feeling lonely is the thing I write about all the time. It was something that I had to learn to love about myself. I love that I’m Japanese; it’s one of my favorite things about myself. But when I was younger, it was so confusing. Trying to understand what it is to be Japanese American. I also think you know… as someone who grew up in Japan and in America, seeing both sides of the world and seeing how different the cultures can be and how different humans can be really influenced the way that I have my perspective of the world. I write a lot about my childhood in my music so I think you can hear that (7:20) from growing up in Japan and also kind of growing up all across the world.

ーーThat sounds very confusing, isn’t it?

Conan : Yeah, it is confusing. I think everyone, no matter what race or how you grew up, it’s confusing enough to figure out who you are and where you fit in the world. Eventually, I just realized I don’t need to fit in. I can just be exactly who I am, which is I’m Japanese and I’m American.

ーーWhat sparked your interest in music?

Conan : I started writing songs when I was 12 years old and I grew up in Texas. I was just a normal kid and I moved around a lot as a kid, so I was really quiet and very shy. And I started writing songs as a way for me to process my emotions really privately in my room. I put videos of me singing the songs up online and by the time when I was 18, I was a senior in high school, a song that I written by myself called “Idle Town” that I made in my bedroom and produced on my laptop, I put it up on YouTube and it went viral. It got me signs and I moved to LA for going to college and started touring and everything kind of happening. I put out my EP “Sunset Season” and now I’m on my debut album “Kid Krow.”

ーーWe heard that you started making music in your bedroom, but do you have certain process you take or routine when brainstorming or creating new music?

Conan : It is exactly the same as when I was 12 years old. All the songs of the album “Kid Krow” coming out soon are all written by me minus the couple songs that I wrote with some of my friends. I still write all of them in my bedroom the same way that I used to write them just being in bed. I usually start with a random melody that comes to me at a very random time. So, sometimes it’ll be 3 in the morning. I just wake up in the middle of the night and I have this line that’s ringing in my head, or sometimes I’ll be just out with my friends and just it comes to me and I record it into my phone to try to remember it. And then from there, I usually finish writing a song on guitar because guitar is the instrument that I’ve been playing since I was little.

ーーFrom pop beats, to rather dark tones, we feel like your music has a variety of impressions. Do you have anything in particular when you’re creating your projects?

Conan : I think for me when it comes to the production, I really try to make each song have their own sound and I kind of make the song sound the way that each song needs to be. I listen to so many different genres of music. I don’t just listen to just pop music, just indie, just grungy. I listen to so many different kind of music, so when I make my own music, I don’t really like to think in bound, I like to think like “oh what does this one song really need?” and so that’s why I have a song like “Maniac” that just a pure radio pop song, and then there is a song like “The Story” which is definitely like a folk singer-songwriter song. But I like to do whatever I think is right and I try not to think too much in boxes. And also, I tour so much these days, I’ve played so many chords. I’m going on tour all across the world in the next year, hopefully going to Japan, so… I really like to think when I’m writing a song, how will that sound in real life and how will translate at a show, what little moment will people love the most, what lyrics that make them want to scream in the crowd and have a good time, and what’s gonna hit the best during the live show is really important for me.

Which artist inspired you the most? We heard that Lorde was one of them.
Oh my gosh! I love Lorde. Lorde is just one of my absolute favorites. She absolutely is one of the people who I think we can definitely thank for ever getting people into songwriting. I think she was the first person that I heard pop music and really started to see how beautiful the pop music was. Also, one of my absolute favorites and I think one of the people who really nurtured me as a songwriter is Taylor Swift. She is one of the best pop songwriters of all time. The first YouTube video I ever watched was “Tear Drops on My Guitar,” it’s the music video. I love Taylor Swift. Also, I loved a lot of country music and a lot of different Texan music obviously growing up in Texas. It’s a gift from a lot of stuffs but I love Taylor and I love Lorde.
I haven’t met either of them. I talk about them constantly and I’m sure they think I’m crazy, but I love them so much.

ーーHow about lyrics? We interpreted them to be more focused on ordinary days in life rather than crazy love and relationships.

Conan : I tend to write all of my own songs, so because of that, I write about just whatever is going on in my life and I’ve never dated anyone before, so I can’t really write that many love songs. I really like to write love songs, but all of my love songs are like “oh you don’t love me back? I’m so heart-broken.” Because I’ve never dated anyone, so I always feel like I only write songs about a couple people in my life. I write a lot of songs about my best friend back home in Texas, she means so much to me, so a lot of songs are about her and I hanging out. The songs about wishing that I could hang out with her and about how much I love my friend. Also, I write a lot about what it is like to be 20 years old and really have no idea what is going on in life and I think that all of your adolescence, you’re very very confused. You’re like all of these emotions, you’re in love, you also hate everyone, and you just wanna hug, and you wanna get drunk, and you wanna be all of these things; it’s just a big mess in your head. So, I write about that a lot as well as what will like to be a kid, growing up in a pretty tough situation, I didn’t really have very stable family life growing up so, I like to write about that because I also think not a lot of people talk about it and it’s something important to let people know that in time where life is getting tough or they feel like they don’t have a family and they don’t think they have the support system, life can always get better because it got better for me and will get better for you.

ーーFrom using the term “girly boy”, what are your stances on gender-based stereotypes and whatnot? Do you incorporate gender themes in your music?

Conan : I think we live in an era now where people more and more are learning that traditional gender roles don’t have to matter anymore because a lot of people fought for us to be able to express ourselves freely which is really incredible. For me, I don’t really think too much about gender these days. I kind of think like “oh well, I am exactly myself” and gender role are constantly being fought by so many people, and so special and so important. I think it is very important, especially, I think for men, they have certain standards of how we should act, and girls as well have very specific standards of how they should act. I think anything that anyone can do to help people to be able to be themselves completely is really important.

ーーPeople call you the “sad pop prince”, what do you think? What does the crow in your artwork represents?

Conan : I think that my music tends to sound very fun, but when you actually listen to the lyrics, they’re pretty depressing. It is very much me as a person. I named my album “Kid Krow” because my best friend always says I’m a crow because I tend to be dark, but I also don’t take myself too seriously. I think that in the lyrics, you can kind of hear, you know. I’m pretty sarcastic and pretty funny, even when it’s dark I try not to make it too dark and I think that people take lives so, so seriously all the time, so in a fun pop song, I’ve tried to make people laugh a little about things that might be little hard to deal with. I think it’s fun to laugh about it and my lyrics definitely can get dark at times.

So, basically the album title came from my best friend, she’d always explain that if I were an animal, I’d be a crow because I was the friend that flew away from the nest, and I’m also pretty dark and pretty cynical, but at the same time, I just kind of laugh at everything. I don’t take life too seriously; I think it’s pretty funny. I’ve been through a lot in life and my whole childhood was pretty painful, so in adulthood, I just wanna have fun. I just wanna laugh and I just wanna make people laugh. Write fun songs to people to scream in the car, but also songs to cry in your bed about. And it represented me well, and my debut album is just a 100% me and my whole entire life story. I keep telling people like “if you listen to my album from the top to the bottom, by the time you get to the last song, you’re basically my best friend because you know all of my secrets.” So, that’s what I wanted to put out there. I think the album talks a lot about my life story, but also exactly how I am right now which is I’m 21 years old, I have no idea what’s going on, people suddenly started to listen to my music, and I have my three best friend, I’ve never dated anyone but I’ve been heart-broken a million times. It’s just kind of me as an album.
It was me and it was my best friend, Ashley back home in Texas. We came up with it together. I also write a lot of songs about her so I was like “you should probably help me naming the album.”

ーー What was the most exciting song write?

There is a song of the album that will come out once the album is out. The song called “Wish You Were Sober”, it’s the song that I keep listening even though it’s not out yet because it is just so much fun to listen to. The lyrics are so snappy, and I wrote about this person who would never tell me that they like me unless they were drunk and I was like “ I’m so happy that you like me but also you’re drunk, like please I wish you were sober.” It is definitely the kind of song that you want to scream in the car, like dancing in your room too. And there is another song on the album called “Heather” which is just the perfect song to cry to that I always listen to. I just love it so much, It’s a very, very heart-breaking song.

ーーWhat was the most exciting event that have occurred during the production?

Conan : The process was tough. It’s so weird. For so long, I made music, and no one ever listened to it, so it was so simple. I wrote a song and I liked it and put it up and now that there is so many eyes on me. I was definitely scared and I’m still very scared for the album to come out. I’m very excited, but I would be lying if I told you that I’m not scared. It’s gonna be interesting to have the album out because I say so much on the album that I’ve never told anyone before. It’s gonna be a scary moment but I’m so excited. But yeah, the process of making the album definitely drove me to insanity. There were a lot of times when my friends were calling me be like “Conan, are you okay?” and I’m like “I’m fine, I’m fine, It’s okay. I haven’t slept in a week but I’m okay now.” I’ve tried my best on my album and it’s my baby, so I had to get it right. I had to say exactly what I needed to say even if it drove me a little crazy at times.

I really hope that when people listen to the album, it makes them feel less alone. I spent so much of my life feeling like all of these emotions and all those things and I felt like I was the only person who felt those things. I thought I was the only person who felt that lonely, and only person who felt that heart-broken, or the only person who felt that happy about something. I hope that when people listen to the album, they hear me then think “oh, I felt that before” or “oh, I’m not crazy for feeling that way.” That is what I really hope people can find a little bit of relatable ____ (26:37) in the lyrics.

ーーAlso, your music videos are very eye-catching. We got the feeling from heart-shaped balloons in “Crush Culture” that you value the “colors” used in your videos but do you?

Conan : I have this thing called synesthesia where when I write a song, it always has a certain set of colors in a song that my brain just automatically does. It’s not something I have to think about. It is just like I write a song and I just know like that song is that color. So, when I wrote “Crush Culture,” I just knew that the song was like red, white, and pink colored, but just like random orange… I don’t really know why. And when I wrote “Maniac,” I just knew immediately that song is purple. It is a purple song; I can’t explain why. So, when it comes to making the music video, I’m pretty conscious about what colors were in the video because I just know that every song has its own color. I think that everyone’s brain kind of does that to certain things, but with music it is very colorful, and I know exactly what colors are going with each song.

ーーYou live in San Diego now? How is the city? Does it have any effect on your music production?

Conan : I live in Los Angeles now, I moved here 2 years ago from Texas.
I think that I’m more inspired by living in the new area, because it is all so unfamiliar. So, I think you can hear it in the new album.

ーーDo you have anything particular regarding your fashion?

Conan : I think my fashion is inspired by older decades because I grew up in a town with a lot of old people, it’s the town called George Town and it’s mostly known for having a really really big retirement community. I grew up around a lot of old people and I think that seeing all the generations and their tastes in clothes ended up affecting me. So, I feel like I wear clothes from older generations.

ーーDo you have any interests other than music?

Conan : When I was younger, I really wanted to be a biology teacher. So, I was really into science and biology in high school. Just a really big nerd. I don’t think anyone in high school would’ve thought I would’ve become a singer because I really love science. So that’s kind of one of my favorite things other than music.

ーーPlease give a little message to Japanese fans.

Conan : To everyone out there in Japan who’s listening to my music, thank you guys so much. I love you guys so much for caring and for being my home country and supporting me means so much to me and I can’t wait to play a show for you guys there so soon and eat okonomiyaki with you guys.

text Takahisa Matsunaga

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