EMURG’s Unsung Heroes: Chad Grennor of Annandale

As we continue our Unsung Heroes series, we dig in to find out all we can about Chad Grennor of Annandale.

EMURG: Who is Chad Grennor and can you give our viewers a little history about yourself?

Chad: I grew up in the south, outside of Atlanta, in a town that used to be somewhat on the edge of rural. Suburbia has kind of swallowed it up, but it’s where I learned the value of having to work hard for what you want to achieve. I was drawn to rock music early on… I got my first toy guitar sometime around 1986, and I’m sure there’s still some home video of me out there somewhere rocking out to Bad Company or Fleetwood Mac. In fact, I really need to thank my grandad for cranking the stereo in his ’79 Buick Electra (yeah, that’s right… 8-track player and “Concert Sound”) and introducing me to Iron Butterfly and Black Sabbath. My other grandfather was into music, too, and I spent a lot of time at his place listening to him pound out tons of crazy old ragtime and bluesy old piano tunes, and sometimes he’d put on some big band records and old gospel records on their console stereo. I actually have that piano at home right now.

My folks, too, have been beyond supportive throughout my development as a musician. They did, after all, buy that first guitar…  Hours on the road spent playing our own brand of “name that tune” during family trips really helped me tune in to all flavors of radio music, and they were even there for the start of my first band back in high school. It’s really cool to have family wholly believe in what you want to do.

My first solid band during high school was a couple long-time friends and a new guy in town, and they’re all still making music. I definitely wouldn’t be writing this without Jason, Michael, and Dave. Thanks a ton, guys! After high school, we all ended up going to different colleges and sort of went our own ways… I think it was healthy, though.

During college I started making acoustic music, but I really wanted to have a female vocalist in the mix…enter: Ashley… Somehow between earning degrees in physics and nuclear engineering I found the time to build a fairly extensive catalog of acoustic rock music with Ashley, and we were a staple in the open mic songwriting scene in Atlanta before we relocated to Knoxville.

When we got to Knoxville, we decided to take our acoustic act and make it bigger…and much louder. We played around the scene for a few years with our new friend Allyn, and established a pretty decent presence. But, as things tend to do, our group changed and morphed and expanded and contracted and wound up simply taking a break.

This breaking point, actually, came right at the beginnings of what was to become Annandale…

EMURG: You describe your band, “Annandale”, as being project of musical refuge, rebirth, and self-discovery. Can you explain how your band came to be and why musicians and fans alike should take notice in Annandale?

Chad: Annandale came about when both Ashley and I needed a fresh start with music. Things were changing, and we got an extremely rare opportunity to go write and record some new music in a new setting with a couple of our biggest influences. We learned so much about ourselves during the process, and when we brought the record back to Knoxville we were very excited to put together a full band to take the sound and the positive energy to the stage.

We came across some wonderfully talented and excited musicians that wanted to be a part of the Annandale project, which turned out great! We have really become a pretty solid band, and the new music we are creating and performing is definitely making an impact on me. I love the direction we’re going, and I’m very excited to see how 2014 turns out.

Musicians, and fans, should really take note of the honesty and sincerity in our music. We’re not out to follow a gimmick or a trend, we’re doing this because we love how it makes us feel. Annandale started things with the bar set pretty high with our EP, Moving Forward, but that’s exactly what we intend to continue to do. We’re here, and we’re going to be making some noise.

EMURG: It seems that Annandale is also a family affair as well with your wife, Ashley, manning the role as the lead front-woman of the band. How does it feel to be in a band with someone that is not just a powerful singer, but also your wife?

Chad: Being in a band with my wife is pretty awesome. We’ve been making music together since late 2004 when she noticed I was seeking a female vocalist for my acoustic project at the time…so, really, it’s pretty much all we have known. Being creative together, sharing the stage, and pushing each other to go beyond what we think our limits are is so much fun. I wouldn’t want it to be any different.

EMURG: Where does Annandale’s inspiration come from when writing music?

Chad: In general, Annandale songs start with a simple riff on an acoustic guitar. Sometimes these riffs won’t make it to the rehearsal space, but when they do we can usually jam out a few different directions that we can take the song. We’ll hone in on something that stands out as particularly powerful or important and call that the chorus, then wrap the rest of the song around that idea. It’s a very organic experience because Ashley, Zack, Sara, Danny, and I each bring a unique perspective on how a song can be crafted to convey certain feelings.

Vocal melodies and lyrics usually come last in the process, and this is on purpose.  We want to feel out how the song behaves, the energy it conveys, or where the dynamics might need to change to drive home a point. Once we have a melody, we’ll start composing lyrics that ultimately have a positive spin. They are usually inspired by situations either we have experienced, or that our friends have experienced. In all of it, though, our main goal is to create some awesome tunes that can help someone get through whatever bad times or even awesome times they’re experiencing.

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EMURG: You’ve worked with some pretty big names in the music industry such as Clint Lowery (who produced your debut EP) and Morgan Rose. How did you connect with such two big names in the industry and how did their involvement in your music influence your music? Do you have an interesting story that you would like to share from your ventures with Clint and Morgan?

Chad: Well, actually, here’s where I get to tout the benefits of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Ashley and I saw Sevendust while on the rock cruise Shiprocked in 2011, and decided to start following them a little closer on social media to see what was going on with their band. In early 2012, Clint posted an update that he was looking for a few bands to produce, so I followed the instructions and sent an e-mail…

Within a couple weeks, Ashley and I were in touch with Clint and the good folks at Architekt Music in New Jersey. We had just come off a different music project, though, and needed a studio drummer to make Annandale a reality. Morgan happened to be available, and after only five days in the studio with all of these amazing people, we birthed the Moving Forward EP.

Without the guidance, expertise, positivity, and co-writing that both Clint and Morgan provided throughout the whole process, Annandale wouldn’t be here today. That was the adventure: making something out of next to nothing…and getting to do it with the help of a couple of my biggest influences.

EMURG: Who inspired you to become the musician you are today?

Chad: Musically, I have a fairly broad range of influences. I grew up on the classic rock that my folks were listening to: Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac, Bad Company, Floyd, Zeppelin, etc. I found the grunge-era stuff pretty quickly in my teens, focusing on Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Nirvana, and later Alice in Chains, Sevendust, and Tool and the like… So, that’s still my happy place for sure. But you can certainly still catch me spinning some Loretta Lynn or Emmure on occasion.

As far as who actually inspired me to get out there and play the way I play, I’d point the finger at Jerry Cantrell, Corey Taylor, and Billy Corgan… and still, more recently, working with Clint Lowery has brought an entirely new perspective on what it means to be passionate about my art and my craft. He has made a rather profound impact on the way I approach songwriting, and for that I’m sincerely grateful.

EMURG: What are your current views concerning the music industry?

Chad: I think Hunter S.Thompson said it best: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

He is right that things are crazy out there, and there is definitely a big emphasis on the industry part of it, but I also think that it is changing. There’s a shift, not really in the balance between the music and the industry, but in the accessibility of both sides. The tools to succeed in each realm are more readily available than ever before, so to remain relevant and in the ears of a listener, artists are having to get more creative with their craft and industry-types are being stretched into new ways of doing business.

The biggest change I see in all this, though, is that an individual can now make so much more noise with their initial efforts, especially if they are willing to put in the time to learning how to be creative with the industry side of things. I’m happy to be around for this paradigm shift, really, and I can’t wait to see how it looks in the next ten years.

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EMURG: As being a relatively new face to the music scene, what is the best piece of advice that you can give to an up and coming musician who wants to make it in the music business?

Chad: Do what makes you happy. There’s a place for it, there’s an audience for it, and there’s an avenue to get it there. Be present and persistent, though, because nobody cares quite as much as you do about what you’re doing. Stay after it, and keep it loud.

EMURG: What is one thing that Chad Grennor cannot and should not live without when touring?

Chad: One thing? I was prepared to answer with Q-tips, or deodorant, or my flat cap… but I think the real answer is my contact lenses. I get pretty cranky when I have to wear my glasses for extended periods of time, especially if it involves playing guitar.  I apparently rely pretty heavily on my peripheral vision when I play, and that’s almost non-existent when I’m wearing my glasses.

EMURG: What’s next for you and Annandale? Can fans expect any new music or touring from the band in 2014?

Chad: What’s next is always the question… we’re working hard on new tunes, for sure.  We’re also talking to a few producers about recording another EP this year, so fans can probably expect that sometime this fall. As far as touring goes, we are working on expanding our regional reach, so keep an eye out for a few long weekend-type tours this spring and summer; we’re ready to get out there.

EMURG: . Here’s a biggie…what do you want to leave behind as an artist for future generations who want something more from their music?

Chad: The idea that, somehow, things can be ok. Music was (and is) a sanctuary for me, and I like the notion that I might be able to create that for someone else.