“When I play the piano, I feel wonderfully lost… Adrift on a sparkling sea. The music flows through me with no resistance. No thought. Lifting me like the ocean swells, hypnotic and mesmerising. I feel and hear the notes before my fingers touch the keys. I play by ear. It is completely intuitive and very spontaneous.”
Rob Grant is an accidental recording artist.
He has never had a lesson on any instrument in his life. No kind of formal musical training at all. He can’t read sheet music. But when he sits down at a piano, something magical happens. Notes flow from him. Melodies come unbidden. He can play for hours. Emotion overwhelms thought, and out pours composition after composition, piece after piece. Bringing peace after peace.
“And that’s what happened at the Conway Recording Studios in Los Angeles last June,” begins Grant. He was in the studio with his daughter Lana, to record a song called ‘Sweet Carolina’, a piano ballad they had just written together.
“I came in early, and all the engineers and producers were there. I said to the guys: ‘Look, I’m gonna go in and play, you just hit record.’ And that’s what they did. So I played for roughly 75 minutes on this gorgeous Steinway concert grand, which had been shipped from the New York Philharmonic.
“I played nonstop and, afterwards, I walked back into the control room. And everybody was quiet. I’ll never forget that silence” he continues.
“I thought: ‘Oh, shit, that’s not a good sign! This is gonna be a little embarrassing.’ But I said: ‘Well, what do you think?’ And they all just stared at me… and said it was beautiful.” I remember a huge wave of relief that washed over me. So I began to feel then that I might have something which other people could really enjoy.”
“I can play the piano for hours, creating music that pulls me into a deep meditative state. The music is very hypnotic. When I stop…It’s like waking up from my own dream.”
“I’ve always had a deep love for the sea…its calming effect on my restless spirit. A place where I am completely at peace. It’s the inspiration for all my music. Since I was a child growing up in Rhode Island (on the shores of Narragansett Bay) I have always been around the ocean and nature. From the time I was 10 years old learning how to sail…first in little Sunfish boats and then later in these sturdy 16′ Cat boats. And by the time I was 15 years old, I was sailing the Atlantic Ocean, often alone, in a 24-foot sloop. A Columbia Challenger. A beautiful sloop which I named ‘Erewhon’ (‘Nowhere’ spelled backwards after the utopian novel by Samuel Butler). And when I play the piano…I can feel that same powerful ocean flowing through me, through my fingertips, and through my music”.
“Rob Grant has lived a life – several lives, in fact, none of which had involved recording studios. He’s been a Mad Man on Madison Avenue, writing copy for ad campaigns. A Restaurateur in Newport, RI. Establisher of a rustic furniture business in upstate New York. A boat builder. A real estate broker. Proprietor of one of the largest collections of internet real estate domain names. A keen shark fisherman (he always puts them back)”.
There wasn’t, then, much time for anything else for this serial entrepreneur and family man with a wife and three children. But then, as his daughter enjoyed huge success under her stage name Lana Del Rey, Grant watched with immense pride and admiration. She had proven that you can be an artist in your own right, a songwriter on your own terms, a phenomenon following only your own arrow. Creativity knows no schedule, and age ain’t nothing but a number.
So, in spring 2022, when Lana was in LA’s Henson Studios with Jack Antonoff, working on her upcoming, ninth album – which, when it’s released later this year, will be Lana Del Rey’s third album in little over a year-and-a-half – Grant got to it.
“I was staying at her house and each morning I’d wake up, get a cup of coffee and come downstairs. I was the only one in the house other than the animals: two huge German Shepherds and a couple of manic Bengal cats that would run all over the place and jump on top of the piano while I was playing.
“And I’d start to play. I would create instrumental songs, which I would record on my phone. I would then bring that into the Henson studio where Laura Sisk the engineer was, and she would record me playing these same songs live on a big Yamaha grand.
“Then Jack would come in later. And right away, he loved the music. We were very simpatico, so Jack just started to work on the music. And out of that came this beautiful session of five songs, which he produced.”
Several days later I recorded three more songs with my daughter and Laura Sisk.
Of that set, one song “Lost At Sea” was recorded at the Henson studio. It’s an absolutely beautiful song, gossamer light, and heart heavy featuring Lana Del Rey’s vocals. “What happened there is exactly what happened when we wrote Sweet Carolina together (the final track on the Blue Bannisters album): Lana is listening to me playing piano and she hears something that triggers a lyric. Right away, she starts singing. Creating these beautiful lyrics that just meld with the piano. Very quickly, we get her mic’d up in the studio and she begins to compose these lovely lyrics over the music, just ad-libbing…its as though the song is writing itself, seamlessly.”
“And, literally, we created that song in one or two takes. “Lost At Sea” is so beautiful it’s the title track to the new album. I think the best music happens that way. It’s spontaneous and raw…just a burst of creativity. There’s no friction, and it all just flows naturally. When I play the piano, the same thing happens for me – if I come across a note or a chord progression that hits my ear in the right way, and I really love it, I’ll immediately start to create a song around it. And the song will naturally come together and take its own shape. Some of my best songs happen that way – and I can play for hours in an almost dream-like state.”
And all that laid the foundation suddenly for a possible album.
“The music has colour and texture. The bass notes are dark and sombre. The high notes are white and light.”
Rob Grant played his freshly conceived and composed music to Tap Music, London-based managers of, amongst many others, Lana Del Rey. After they’d gotten over the shock of what they were hearing – in a nutshell, “Lana’s dad made this?” – they played the demos to several UK record labels, including Decca who straight away could see the potential in Grant’s piano music: calming music for a troubled world.
Quickly, a deal was struck. And Grant began on the next stage of his late-flowering musical odyssey, to shape his demos into a narratively coherent album of blissful, elevating, transporting, soothing music.
To help organize and arrange Grant’s music, Decca brought in one of the top ambient producers in the industry, Luke Howard, based in Melbourne, Australia.
“Luke was the perfect choice.” Grant said. “He had the right sensibilities and feel for my music. “He could listen to a song and instinctively know the right way to treat it.” The result is a beautiful collection of hypnotic songs that lift and sweep the listener away on a dreamy ambient journey.
“I know my story’s very different, and it’s very unconventional and upside down,” he acknowledges with a smile. “It’s a fascinating journey, and how we’ve ended up here is kind of mindboggling. Nobody could have predicted this. Not in my wildest dreams. I’ve kept it very quiet. None of my friends have a clue – none of my family, even beyond the kids and my wife, have any idea.”
Ultimately, though, he had no choice. He had to do this – why? Because there was no other option.
“This music has always been inside me.”
He reaches – as this lifelong, ocean-going outdoorsman often does – for a parallel in nature. “I found something really interesting. It’s a flower that blooms once, but only after being on this earth for 80 years. It’s a very rare flower found in the mountains in Peru and Bolivia. They call it the Queen of the Andes. That’s kind of how I feel: this music has always been inside me, waiting for the right moment to bloom.”
“There’s a beautiful song towards the end of this album that my daughter and I wrote together. It’s called ‘Hollywood Bowl’ and it tells a story… an origin story. The piano is so beautiful and the vocals are so powerful and sweeping. The night we recorded that song, I remember listening to the first playback and then looking at Lana and Laura… feeling almost stunned… and they both were smiling. I knew then we had something magical.”
“This album is filled with beautiful and ethereal music. Let it wash over you and pull you like the moon pulls the tides. Listen to it like the distant surf breaking on a faraway beach.”