Interview: Conan Gray On Being Someone’s Second Choice, Heartbreaks & “Telepath”jessie tan
TikTok has brought countless of artists’ works forward with just a 15-seconds snippet. Be it old or new, indie or pop. One of the artists that blew up with Gen Z through TikTok is Conan Gray with his heart-wrenching bops like “Heather”, and “Maniac”.
In October, he debuted another masterpiece – titled “Telepath” – for us to sing along in the car and dance to in the shower. Fortunately, we were given the chance to have a little chat with him and here’s all that went down with this curly haired sweetheart:
1) Will there be a music video for “Telepath”? Do you plan to have such concepts that ties around the name of the song itself? And if there’s no music video, is there a particular reason why?
“There’s no music video planned right now, but that’s not to say there won’t be anything in the future. I’m not sure yet. But I would say, when we’re making the kind of artwork for “Telepath” we just really wanted to focus on that a lot. We had a ton of fun shooting, the photoshoot and doing all the kind of theming and stuff so I think we got a little carried away. But I also think people can expect some music videos in the future, beginning of, hopefully some stuff next year. And it’ll be a ton of fun I have a lot of little sneaky things up my sleeve.”
2) We recently saw on your Instagram that “Telepath” was written together with amazing female producers like Julia Michaels, Ilya and Caroline Ailin. Would you say you’re pretty particular with how you want your music to sound? Or are you more adventurous when it comes to trying out different sounds and experimenting in that sense?
“I would say generally, I kind of just have fun with it. I think I usually know exactly how I want a song to sound. It’s just usually that vision is not always a normal vision. I’m like, “I wanted to sound exactly like this” and they’re like, “why?” and I’m like, “I don’t know. I just do.” So that’s probably a bit odd.
But when it comes to making the songs, I think it’s just about working with people that I think understand me and that I just get along with. Otherwise I don’t really feel like telling all of my deepest darkest secrets to these people. And it’s just a lot of fun. I think it’s important to just kind of have a bit of fun with it and be as genuine as possible, else people feel that you’re not being honest. And I think that’s the most important part of songwriting is honesty.”
3) “Telepath” sounds like a massive 80s banger. It sounds like something straight out of “Blade Runner” or you know, those early 80s movies, with a very small hint of The Weeknd and Ed Sheeran here and there. We just want to know what’s the creative process when you created the sound for “Telepath”?
“I remember distinctly writing the chorus verse. And with that note, “I got a feeling”, and it just needed to kind of have that 80s vibe or else, it just wouldn’t feel right, you know? I think oftentimes, my music, a lot of it just doesn’t really sound like it belongs together. The only thing that can tie all the others (together) is the lyrics because that’s just kind of it. Because when it comes to production and sound, I just like to make each individual song what I think it should sound like. I don’t really care too much about (the) bigger picture because I’m not the kind of person who only listens to one certain sound of music or one style of music genre.
So, that process is very much just like, “this chorus is ridiculously 80s”, “the song is very obviously not supposed to be a super serious song. It’s supposed to be a bit sarcastic.” So, we wanted to just kind of purposely let the song be a bit ridiculous. Like the bridge is ridiculous, there’s a chord change and there’s a key change. There’s all these silly things and it’s like that’s what the song is supposed to be. (It’s) supposed to be fun, because the song is me, making fun of someone the entire time. So that’s kind of what we were going for.”
4) What direction will you take next, in terms of your aesthetic in music? Will we see more of 80s and 90s inspiration?
“I’m not sure. I wouldn’t say it’s an 80s inspired album in the slightest. I think sometimes it’s just fun to put a little 80s in a pop song. But I would say, I wouldn’t say it’s a generally 80s or 90s inspired album. I would say it’s just an album that is very me and it’s hard to explain. It does feel like I’ve just grown past “Kid Krow”. I think “Kid Krow” had no genre whatsoever; it’s kind of hard to explain. And I would say that this album kind of feels the same way. (It) has a lot of different themes and a lot of different genres and it’s just you won’t really know until it’s playin’ in your ears and you’ll be like “ah, okay, yeah okay, that’s what it sounds like.” That’s how it sounds.”
5) What is the story behind “Telepath”?
I would say the message of “Telepath”, for one, is just to be a bit lighthearted about heartbreak. It’s also me poking fun at the way people always act like they’re going to leave but then they always come back over and over and over. It’s like people love to treat people badly. And then the second that they realise you’ve treated someone too badly, then they want them back. You know, it’s the classic “you always want the one which you can’t have” and so that’s mainly the message I was in the mood; where a bunch of people that I talked to in the past decided to pop back into my life and I was like, “I don’t really feel like talking to you people. I’m going to write a mean song about you instead.”
6) “Telepath” is all about having an indecisive lover. How would you cope with someone with this kind of character? Will you help lay out their options for them or just let them figure it out themselves?
“It’s a really good question. Speaking from experience, the person that I wrote this song about; the issue is not you, it’s definitely them. And I don’t think that you deserve to be (some) kind of split decision, like a second choice type of thing. So just leave, just move on. Find someone else. Someone else (who) will have absolutely no trouble deciding whether they love you or not. And I think that is much more important and in the end they’ll be a lot happier. Take it from me, I spent four years chasing after one person, it was stupid. A waste of time.”
7) We know that you have a very wonderful friendship with Olivia Rodrigo. Do the two of you discuss about music and would there be a collaboration in the future by any chance?
“No, we never talked about music. It’s strictly off topic. We’re not allowed to talk about it. Nah… we talk about music all day long. We both are just huge music nerds. And I love songwriting and she’s a wonderful songwriter. So, we always have tons of fun talking about music. I’m not gonna make any false promises here, so, nothing (is) in the works right now. I think it’s just fun to be friends (with her), we love talking about music. I think that’s just any normal friendship though. You love talking about music, you know when that album comes out, you text them, “oh, have you listened (to it) yet?” and they’re like, “oh, I haven’t listened (to it) yet.” Yeah, just it’s very much my favourite thing to do with all of my friends.”
8) Who would you like to collaborate with the most at the moment?
“I personally don’t like to answer this question because I get super superstitious about it. I get super spooked about it. I just feel like if I say a name, then it will never come true. And I also feel like I’ve answered this question before, and so it’s already in the universe. So, everyone in this zoom call right now you probably know who I’m going to say. Nobody say it out loud. Just go ahead and assume what you think I’m going to say. And that is my answer, but I’m not going to say it out loud. And I don’t want any of y’all to say it out loud. Okay, deal? Cool.”
9) How did you feel when you found out that Elton John is a big fan of yours?
“That was super, super surreal. Obviously, Elton is a songwriting legend and a performing legend, and just to hear anything positive coming out of his mouth about me sounds very, very fake and silly. Because I just don’t know how to process that. But it was just a big honor. I think anyone would be honored to get a phone call from Elton John. And so I will take it as it is.”
10) As a “Swiftie”, what’s your opinion on Taylor Swift’s “RED” album (Taylor’s version) and the 10 minutes version of “All Too Well”?
“I really enjoyed listening to all the kind of new sides of ‘RED’. Obviously, that album was so formative to my childhood and to my life. I’m sure as it was to all of our lives. So, it’s super fun to kind of hear them be reimagined. And obviously, “All Too Well” is a beautiful song I’ve always loved my whole life. So, it was very fun to hear what else there was to say (in the song). I think it’s fun for fans to dip into the past a bit and hear a little bit more.”
11) We’ve basically adopted music into every aspect of our lives; from drives after a long day, to tipsy hang outs with friends, even singing in the shower first thing in the morning. So when you are making your music, what kind of scenario do you see people enjoying it in?
“I usually imagine it as either in the car, because I love to listen to music in the car and genuinely it’s one of my favourite activities; or in their bedrooms. I usually spend most of my time either in my bedroom or in my car. So that’s usually where I imagined it, but it depends on what songs. Obviously, “Telepath” is the kind of song I want to see people listening and dancing to in the car. But there’s other songs like “Astronomy”, where you’re just supposed to like lay in bed and stare at the ceiling while reflecting about your life.”
12) In an interview you said you do not try to make music that’s necessarily catchy and cool. It’s more to “I felt this way. Have you felt it too?” So, has it been more effortless for you expressing your feelings into songwriting?
“To be completely honest it has gotten more difficult. I think, I feel a bit shy now with so many more people looking that sometimes I don’t really want to say things the way they really are. But, I always get over it in the end. Every once in a while, (it’s) like, “I don’t know if I really want to say that.” You know, like in “People Watching”, where I admit to cutting people out of my life. Stuffs that I’m just like, I really don’t want to say that in front of millions of people, but I just think it’s so important to be honest. People just aren’t going to relate if you’re not honest. And so I try to just get over it and just deal with it. And I always send songs to my friends before I put them out and they’ll tell me if it is crazy or not.”
13) You are epitomised as the creator of “sad boy anthems” and people vibe with them. So will this continue to stay? Or are you going to explore more themes ahead?
“There’s a lot of new themes that I talked about on the album. I think everyone’s lives are constantly changing. And there’s been new problems and issues that have arrived in my life that I didn’t think I’d ever have to talk about, but they show up and yeah, there’s a lot of different things. I think it’s always fun for me to kind of put the sadder topics and kind of wrapped (it) in bubble gum because it’s more fun to have a song like that, but it just really depends on what I’m saying.
But yeah, there are a bunch of new things that I talk about on this next album that I’m excited for people to hear about, because I also think they’re just relatable things. I think these days I am looking for someone to listen to my troubles and say, “oh, yeah, I felt that too.” Because there are things that are new that have happened to me since my old album, so I never got any consolation.”
14) Regarding your artistic journey, what has been the most pivotal moment or experience so far in your journey as an artist?
“The most pivotal moment has definitely been releasing my album with ‘Kid Krow’. It was my first real large body of work and I had no idea what people were gonna think or how they were going to react. And I think it taught me a lot about the type of music that I love; it really just does to come down to songs that I think people can relate to. There were so many times I went, ‘oh, I don’t think people are gonna relate to this, or maybe this is just a me thing. Maybe this is too weird for me to say, maybe I just shouldn’t say. Maybe I should find a more normal way to talk about this or something’.”
After the album came out, and ‘Heather’ connected with so many people, I think it was a huge realisation that people all go through the same things. And music is just a way for me to be able to talk about it. So, that’s how I’ve handled music ever since then. It’s just been very interesting and weirdly humbling. We’re all exactly the same. All of us. We’re not that different at all.”
15) Making music is a form of escapism for many artists; how does it serve you?
“I do find myself very often romanticising things that really weren’t that great or romantic in the time that it was happening. So, when it comes to love, I try so hard to make it a little bit better than it actually was, or a little bit more fun. But there’s nothing fun about having your heart broken and there’s nothing fun about being the second choice. I just chose to put it in very beautiful nice words. So, I definitely do romanticise my past a lot. And that’s just something that I’m good with. I’m happy with it. I like to romanticise my past. I would not have it any other way. I like it.”
16) Do you have any plans for an Asian tour?
“There are definitely plans for that. Obviously, with Covid, it’s still uncertain. That’s why we haven’t been able to solidify anything yet. But we had an entire tour planned previously before Covid hit and I just can’t wait to visit. It’s been so long since I’ve been to Asia at all and I’m just excited to be surrounded by people who look like me again. That would be really nice. I’m just excited to see a bit more and be around new people and new cultures.”
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