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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kina Grannis' move from the stairwells to the stage

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Here are some things you probably remember about Super Bowl XLII, played on February 3, 2008: The New York Giants (the “David” of our little story here), on the heels of a David Tyree jaw-dropping fourth quarter catch, beat the (you guessed it, Goliath) New England Patriots in a nail-biter, 17-14. Remember that one? Well here’s a bit that’s not on the game’s wiki page. Right at the end of the first quarter, crunched in between marginally funny car insurance and Coke commercials, Kina Grannis got her big break. The winner of the Doritos “Crash The Super Bowl Contest,” Grannis’ music video was chosen from a mammoth pool of applicants, chosen for the top ten and eventually whittled down to the three finalists, all who sat in a room together in Phoenix wondering whose video would appear at the selected moment (only at that moment did Grannis herself find out she had won). The time since has been a blur for the singer-songwriter, as she’s continued her maturation from a sheltered college musician to a confident young professional constantly honing her craft with the deluxe re-release of her breakout record, Stairwells.

What was playing around your house when you were growing up?
Kina Grannis: A lot of James Taylor. That’s what I really grew up on and I think that’s what really gave me a love for the sound of a guitar and singer-songwriter type music.

Tell me about teaching yourself the guitar. Why did you gravitate towards that, and how much of a challenge was it for you?
KG: It all happened really, really quickly. It’s all kind of a blur at this point (laughs). I found a guitar one day and it literally just occurred to me that I could play it. So I went up to my room and was listening to the radio just trying to figure out how to play what I was hearing. Once I realized that it was a tool that would enable me to sing, which was my real passion at this point, the facts that my fingers were bleeding and that bar chords were beating me to death didn’t matter (laughs). I know that I would be able to sing all the time if I learned it, and I kind of got addicted.

Why did you add the ones you did? What made those fit with the original vision of the record?
KG: I have a lot of new songs that I was eager to share with people, but for some reason those four just felt right. They seemed to fit musically the most and I think they were the ones that I was singing and sharing the most with everyone else.

Talk about the title of the album, which I know has a lot of significance for you.
KG: I had started songwriting a couple of years before [going to college], but I was very shy at that point still. I didn’t want to be singing right in front of people. I thought I’d be annoying them or something. So O discovered these stairwells where I could go escape. Not only did it sound awesome in there, but not many people were in there (laughs). So I would escape to them and experiment a lot. That’s where I wrote a lot of my music in college. When I was naming this album, I was going through all of these names but they all seem kind of forced. And then one day this one sort of hit me, and it seemed very obviously and appropriate in describing me as an artist and how I sort of grew up as an artist.

When you first moved out of those stairwells and started playing public — did you struggle with that at first?
KG: It was definitely a challenge. I remember the first time I played for a friend, I had probably been playing for about six months at that point, and I think I just sat there for an hour playing the first chord and taking big breaths in like I was going to start the song but couldn’t do it (laughs). It was really awkward for me and really uncomfortable at first. But something in me just kept making me do it.

Your initial claim to fame, if you will, was the Doritos Super Bowl contest. How’d you get involved with that?
KG: I originally found out about the contest through a friend in advertising. I figured ‘that’s easy enough, I can enter.’ All you needed was a video of yourself playing an original song. I made one and entered it and kind of forgot that I had entered. And then a couple weeks later I get a call from the people at Doritos saying they wanted to let me know I had made it to the top ten. Completely surreal experience. I realized I had a month or two months of voting ahead of me where I needed to campaign and get my music out to the world. That’s when I started YouTube, figuring that I should be giving people soethign back in return for voting everyday. I started to do a video everyday, which was really huge in getting my a following. That was one of the better things that came out of that whole experience.

And I’m sure seeing your video air to millions of people during that game was pretty mind-blowing.
KG: One of the craziest moments of my life. We had no idea who was going to win until it played. They flew the three finalists out to Phoenix for the game and said ‘one of your videos is going to play after the first quarter.’ I remember the commercial started and I heard my guitar part start. At that moment, I’m fairly certain I just started crying. My whole family was there and we were just hugging and crying. It was really special. While I don’t thin I registered at that moment what it really meant, I knew something was going to change.

You actually turned down the record that came as part of winning that contest, right? That seems like a bold move for a young arist.
KG: The contest did come with a deal with Interscope. We took some meetings, and they’re obviously very good and capable people. But we kind of had a different idea of how we would move forward. They wanted me to take a dew months to developed and write a new album with some songwriters. But for me, I had been developing for the last six years of my life (laughs). I had an album ready and was ready to share that album wit the world. I couldn’t have imagined doing it the other day. It was definitely the right decision for me.

You mentioned the positive effects the contest had on your social media prowess. Is it fun to be involved in this industry that’s so connected?
KG: It’s amazing. I feel so fortunate that I’m able to connect to my fans so quickly. People talk about the music industry going crazy, but for the independent artist or people starting out, it’s the most amazing thing. There are no barriers. You can reach people instantly and connect with them on a level that you’ve never been able to before.

Tell me something you’ve learned on your first tours that will always be invaluable to you.
KG: Never, ever ever leave anything in the trunk of your car (laughs). My first show of my first tour, we figured we could probably leave a couple things in the trunk. So we did, and I went back the car the next day and everything was gone. Everything. All stolen in the night. It was pretty devastating. And now I’m paranoid. I won’t even leave the car for a moment if there’s anything in it (laughs).

Kina Grannis with Imaginary Friend. $15. 9 p.m. Sat., Apr 23. Vinyl at Center Stage, 1374 West Peachtree St. NW. 404-885-1365. www.centerstage-atlanta.com.

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