Grentperez between shows on his recent US tour. Photography: Max Lin

GRANT PEREZ, BETTER KNOWN AS GRENTPEREZ, might be the most sensitive artist on the internet. Not dissimilar to other very online pop stars like Lil Nas X and Doja Cat, who have online personas that rival the popularity of their songs, the 21-year-old musician from Western Sydney is beloved for his internet presence, which is ridiculous, earnest, wry and stupid in equal measure. But beneath the class clown posture is one of Australia’s sharpest, most effusive young pop songwriters—an old school balladeer whose songs traverse love, heartbreak and suburban ennui with devastatingly incisive specificity. Unlike other young musicians tapping into a ’70s singer- songwriter texture, Perez’s music doesn’t try to adopt a wise-beyond-its-years presence. Instead, he comes across as wide-eyed and open-hearted, simultaneously thrilled and terrified of the endless expanse around him.

That’s why Perez has quickly become one of Australia’s brightest young stars, selling out shows globally, supporting his idol and clear forebear Rex Orange County, and finding a fan in K-pop superstar Hanni, from NewJeans. Ahead of his Australian tour this December, Perez calls us from a hotel room in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he’s currently in the midst of a massive, largely sold-out tour in support of his fourth EP, When We Were Younger, to talk about getting on Woolies Radio, writing about heartbreak and his astronomical rise to fame.

On stage in Minnesota. Photography: Max Lin

What does an average day on tour look like for you?

I’ve been waking up around 10am. I wait around, try to shower at the venue. If we have a hotel booked, we’ll shower there. And then just helping pack, helping set up, sound check, maybe nap after the soundcheck, hang out with Nep, who’s my opener, then do the show, drink some tea, go on the bus, go to sleep. Wake up in the new venue.

What are your tour vices? Do you have any guilty pleasures?

I used to like, reward myself with a drink every now and then. But this time around I’m on full vocal recovery mode, so like, no drinking. Lately, [we’ve] been watching horror movies. Last night we watched Incantation, and we’re gonna try to watch a horror movie tonight. So really, it’s just some bonding.

How are you finding touring the US as opposed to going around Australia?

I do miss home quite a bit, but I’d say the difference is just the scenery, to be honest. All these towns look so different, and the layouts are so grid-like and crazy. No public transport. But I’m loving it so far. I love being in the middle of America. It’s my first time seeing a lot of these places.

Backstage on the recent US tour. Photography: Max Lin

You’ve got this lyric, “There’s a whole world away that’s waiting for me”. Has the past 12 months felt like that’s coming true?

In a way, yeah. I definitely feel like there’s [been] a bit of a realisation in that there’s a place for me no matter where I go.

What’s the flip side of that? I guess it can feel scary to realise that the world is just so vast—it’s not all contained in your hometown.

It’s a thought that I think about quite a bit. In full honesty, there’s so much in the world that I probably will never get to see. It’s just infinitely undiscovered. I just hope that my life has [contributed] to someone’s happiness in some part. Personal experience is more important to me than the milestones.

Does going on tour reaffirm that feeling for you? Have you met people and been like, Oh, my music has impacted these people?

It definitely has. I’ve met quite a few people who say that they have had anxiety and they’ve gone through tough times and stuff, and I reaffirm them, tell them that it’s going to be okay. I usually give them a hug. But yeah, it is pretty gnarly to me to see that my music actually has an effect on people. And it’s pretty cool when I do meet them. Because it’s not just my music. It’s also my personality.

Photography: Max Lin

Do you ever feel like a therapist to your fans?

I think the whole therapy vibe has gone throughout a lot of my life. I feel like for some of my friends, and people around me, I tend to be the therapy man. So I’m kind of used to it. But I’m also good at interacting with my community and my friends and whatnot—I’m pretty good at creating these like, full stops and kind of hinting at where we should end the conversation and letting them know that we should move on.

What do you think it is about your personality that draws people to you in this way?

I have no idea. Like, even me personally, in my human experience, I actually haven’t experienced too much. I guess I just have a general insight that accounts for a lot of things. More often than not, I’m always the person that’s listening. I usually just listen and give advice that’s very much relevant to them. I’m just approachable in a way.

It’s interesting you say that, relatively speaking, you haven’t experienced that much. How do you feel like that translates into the music you’re making?

I love to develop my own little stories, especially when it comes to heartbreak. I love writing heartbreak songs. I think even as a kid, the songs that interested me the most were the saddest songs. But I love creating my own stories, and you know, just visualising a whole new world. In a way, it’s kind of like directing a movie—you know, these movies didn’t exist, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind never existed until the director or the writer put it out. And that’s something that I want to try and develop even more. I feel like in the music that I’ve dropped previously, it’s been a little bit convoluted, but I do love developing these little stories every now and then.

When you’re writing about heartbreak, is that based on experience? Or is it more of a thought experiment?

It’s a mix. Because I’m with the same girlfriend that I’ve been with for a while. I’ve only ever been with one person. But the heartbreak kind of comes through the experiences of other people. Like I’ve witnessed my sister go through a very harsh heartbreak. I’ve witnessed my friends go through the same thing. I’m always there to comfort them, and I want to know what they’re feeling and stuff.

Obviously when I write love songs, I have experienced that. So I can write about that wholeheartedly and direct it towards my girlfriend so that I have brownie points at the end, and I can say, ‘Haha, this one’s about you. Now you owe me something.’

Photography: Max Lin

Does your girlfriend ever get annoyed when you write heartbreak songs?

She doesn’t get like, pissed off, but she’s like, ‘Are you okay? What’s going on? Did you not talk to me about something?’ I’m like, ‘Nah nah, it’s just a song.’

This year has been massive for you after the release of When We Were Younger in June. What’s been the biggest pinch me moment?

One of the more notable ones was opening for Rex [Orange County] for their Australia/New Zealand and Asia shows. That was nuts for me, because I’ve looked up to Rex for quite a bit and doing that is a dream gig. Another one would be when my song with Lime Cordiale got listed in Woolworths, so they’re gonna start playing the song in Woolies now, which is sick. And doing the whole touring thing. It’s pretty ridiculous in my eyes. I’m just like, damn, I’m in demand right now.

Does external validation matter to you?

I just love the mundane things. I think the more challenging of a space you can get your music into, the cooler it is. Like, for me, getting into Woolies, going in newspapers, even trying to get on Smooth FM would be sick for me. I think as much as I love the attention of people my age and younger, I’d love to grab the parents as well. That, to me, is the biggest compliment.

Photography: Max Lin

People love your TikToks, and you’re kind of goofy online. But do you ever feel like you don’t want to be the class clown, because you want people to take you seriously?

It’s a mix. Because sometimes when I do feel like that, I catch myself thinking, like, why am I trying to be cool right now? It’s a battle. I want to know where the line is for myself. Where’s the line drawn between being goofy and being serious? It’s a constant evolving thought.

What have those moments been like, where you’ve caught yourself and asked: why am I acting like this?

I think it was during the time when I was making TikToks being like, If you love feeling like this, then you should listen to this song, this is my sad song. Stuff like that. I think when I started taking TikToks less seriously and doing more dumb shit, that’s when I was like, alright, now I can actually be myself. I feel like that’s already taking a step into being more credible than being TikToky and grabby and whatnot.

You have a month off in January. What do you want to do with that time?

I don’t even know—I really want to go on a holiday. Because I think if I were to give myself credit, I believe I deserve one.

Photography: Max Lin

Grentperez is currently on his Australia/New Zealand headline tour.


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