Interview With Recording Artist Kina GrannisBy Drew Jenkinson
April 22, 2010
It only took 60 seconds for Kina Grannis’ life to change forever. The Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest was over. The votes had been cast. Grannis anxiously sat beside her two competitors, waiting to see whose music video would air to nearly 97 million people during the biggest television event of the year, the Super Bowl.
“I heard my little guitar part start at the beginning of the commercial," she recalled, "and I just started crying … I didn’t really know what it meant at that point. I just knew that this was changing everything.”
Just two years ago Kina was working in a coffee shop. She had recently graduated from the University of Southern California, embarking on the life of a struggling musician. Her first destination was Austin, Texas, where she would sing with a local band.
It was the simple act of uploading a video to YouTube that would send Grannis on a fast track to stardom. In 2008, her original song, “Message From Your Heart,” would go on to play for 60 seconds during the Super Bowl. Her life would change forever.
Grannis recently released her first full-length CD, “Stairwells.” The album debuted at 139 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.
What follows is a question and answer session that Kina Grannis recently granted Planet Blacksburg.
Q: How are you feeling now that the album is out and people have been so receptive to it?
Grannis: It is amazing. I’m just happy. I spent almost two years working up to this point. All of this stress building up to it and hoping everyone likes it. Now that it is out there and I am getting so much good feedback, I am just so happy. So relieved.
Q: In 2008, you won the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest. Can you talk about your involvement with the contest and how it helped to propel your career as an artist?
Grannis: The Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest was a pretty easy thing to submit to. You just had to submit an original song and video. It was one of those things where I figured, “Hey, why not? I might as well do it.” I kind of forgot about it a week later and then I got a call from someone at Doritos and they told me I made the top 10. Basically, I entered this two-month long period of trying to get people to vote for me every single day. The way I approached this was: Whether or not I win this thing, I am going to use this as an excuse to, for the first time, put everything I have into music and try to get it out there. At that point I started doing a video every day on YouTube. The whole idea was, “Hey, come watch my video and, if you feel like it, you can vote for me today too.” It was a bit insane and I didn’t sleep too much but it really made a difference. Putting those videos up, people became very involved, very fast and I found this large group of awesome, supportive people. So, the contest went on and it turns out I won, which was the craziest thing ever, and it took off from there. Between the two months of me growing my own fan base and then the 60 seconds clip during the Super Bowl, it was a huge push.
Q: How did it feel to watch your music video air to 97 million people?
Grannis: Incredible. I was sitting in Phoenix with the other two finalists and all of our families. They told us, “Okay, after the first quarter one of your videos is going to air.” It was insane. We were all really nervous and freaking out a bit. It was a bit uncomfortable because we were sitting with the other finalists. But I heard my little guitar part start at the beginning of the commercial and I just started crying and I didn’t actually watch it. It was so overwhelming and I didn’t really know what it meant at that point. I just knew that this was changing everything. It was just a very powerful moment.
Q: After the Super Bowl, you were offered a record deal but you turned it down. What made you decide to make such a bold move?
Grannis: We had been taking meetings and they were great people. They had a plan and all that stuff. What it came down to was that I already had my new album written. I was so ready to get in the studio and make this album that I would be really proud of and show it to the world. Their approach was, “Okay, let’s take a few months and have you develop and write with different songwriters.” You know, I’m sure that could have been a great album too, but it wouldn’t have been my album and I just couldn’t give that up. There were so many songs that were important to me that I really wanted to get out there; it just wouldn’t have been worth it.
Q: How do you manage to ship your merchandise, book shows and handle all of the various tasks that a musician manages without the help of major record label?
Grannis: Well, it has been a little crazy. For a while I was shipping out all of my merch [merchandise] by myself. It was cool, when orders came in, to be the person that could write little thank you notes and ship the stuff out. But it got to the point where I had no time to further my career and focus on anything creative because I was just going to the post office all of the time. Recently, before the release, I found a company that would handle the shipping for me. So now it comes through my web store, the information goes over to them and they handle it; which is wonderful and frees up a lot of time. As far as booking and stuff, I’ve been fortunate enough that a lot of opportunities have come to me without me having to seek them out. But definitely coming up in the spring and summer, I am going to try to book some tours. Hopefully I can find an agent by then and really get out there. It is tough not having a label for things like marketing, just because of the money that they can put into it. But it has been a fun challenge to be creative about it and make it a grassroots thing and get people involved.
Q: Let’s throw in some fun questions here. We will just go down this list really quick. What is your all time favorite song?
Grannis: Oh gosh! I’m so bad at these.
Q: How about the most played song on your iPod?
Grannis: OK. The most played song is “Let Go” by Frou Frou.
Q: Favorite TV show?
Grannis: I’m going to go with “Arrested Development,” event though it no longer exists.
Q: Favorite movie?
Grannis: That one is hard too, but I am going to say “Garden State.”
Q: Favorite food?
Q: One thing that you can’t go through the day without doing?
Q: Favorite place to write songs?
Grannis: … Stairwells … (laughs)
Q: Perfect! Now we can transition into “Stairwells.” It has essentially been your baby for the last two years. What was the record process like? Did you go into the studio with a solid set of songs or was the recording process also a writing process?
Grannis: I had most of the songs on the album going in, aside from maybe two that I randomly wrote toward the end of the recording process that we threw in there. I wrote them and we were like, “Okay, let’s do it.”
Q: What is your favorite song on “Stairwells?”
Grannis: That’s impossible. Like you said, the CD is kind of my baby and all of the songs are like children. I feel like I can’t pick one. They all have special meanings and ties to my life.
Q: I was looking at some photographs from your CD release party at the Dakota Lounge and I came across one photo that stood out. It was a photo of man who had your logo shaved into the back of his head. You have a wonderfully personal relationship with your fans. What were your feelings while you were playing your music to all of the dedicated fans and supporters at your release show?
Grannis: It was pretty incredible. It was very overwhelming and emotional. Basically, the core people that have found me over the past two years were there. There was a guy from Finland, a girl from Australia and people from all over the country. Looking down and seeing them, and watching them sing along with me … it was so crazy! I did spend a good amount of the night crying in between songs, which was a little bit awkward. It was just so cool to think that this has just been built because people are connecting with each other. It was a really powerful thing.
Q: How do you manage these fan relationships when so many people contact you every day?
Grannis: I make sure to try to at least read every email I get, but I do make an effort to respond as much as possible because, to me, it is all thanks to these people. These are strangers from all over the world, but I feel that there is something to learn from their situations too. So it is cool to get to know them. Occasionally I’ll go onto my website, there’s a little chat room and I can talk to them there. It is just important for me to try to connect.
Q: In one your blogs you mentioned that you used to write songs in the stairwells of the University of Southern California. We can flash forward and see that your album is titled “Stairwells.” This concept and location must have a lot of significance to you. What does this album, “Stairwells,” represent to you?
Grannis: I have three other albums; one that I recorded at USC, one that I recorded in my garage at home … but this is the album where I finally proved to myself that I am actually doing this. It is exactly what I wanted it to be. It sounds like a real album, not like something recorded in my garage. I remember my senior year of high school, when I was just getting into the songwriting. My goal was that, “I hope some day I have a full-length CD that I am really proud of. That would be the coolest thing ever.” Now I have it! So it is really just acknowledging the journey that it took me to get here and then just being like, “Ah! Its here! I did it!” Hopefully there will be many more of those moments. This one was a big step for me.
Q: Just a few years ago, after you graduated, you were working in a coffee shop When you graduated from college, what was your direction in life? What was you life like before your music career took off?
Grannis: I was actually doing something pretty random. In my last year at USC I was contacted by a guy from Austin, Texas, and he basically told me that I should move there and sing with his band. You know, it was kind of strange thing to do. I didn’t know this person at all and I was thinking, “The music industry is in Los Angeles. I already do my own music. Why would I go to Austin?” But he was very persistent and I was visiting a friend in Austin over spring break, so I made it a point to meet him. It turned out that he was a very nice person and not sketchy. The more I thought about it, as graduation was coming, my options were either to stay in LA and work full time, while attempting to be a musician, or pretty much be a musician full-time because he was willing to help me out. I ended up getting that little job on the side too, but I took the risk and moved to Austin, Texas. I tried to get as much into the music community as I could there. It was a strange period in my life. I didn’t know where I would end up. Without the contest, I’m not sure what I would be doing now.
Q: You’ve released “Stairwells” to the world. What happens next for you?
Grannis: Next up, I believe, is just touring and still doing whatever I need to do to get it out as far and wide as possible. So probably, the first step will be doing some national touring. I really want to get out to Europe and other places like that too. Then, like I said, just trying to branch out to other places online and just reaching people.
Q: Are you going to come to the East Coast any time soon?
Grannis: Definitely. I don’t have a specific date in mind but that will definitely be one of the first stops that I do.