Grayson Erhard is a local Denver singer/songwriter specializing in tap/slap acoustic guitar playing. Mile High Feedback learned of him recently while he was performing at the One Year Anniversary Songwriters Showcase at Stem Ciders in December. Since then, he has blown up on social media with his original song Manifest and the surprise duet with Stevie Wonder. We got to learn a bit of Grayson’s history, the incredible experience of performing with Stevie Wonder last month and how he approaches the art of songwriting!
By Veronica Lee
Grayson Erhard, Colorado native and singer/songwriter guitar tapper, found guitar in a much different way that he experiences playing it now. Back in high school, it was all about the heavy metal. Ripping and shredding in to guitar riffs, how complex and badass could they get? That was the goal, not skilled with a melodic soulfulness, but just plain cool. Until he found a YouTube Channel hosted by Candyrat Records, an independent record label that specializes in instrumental guitar playing and hosts some of Erhard’s now personal influences and collaborators. “As a young metal guitarist, I was just seeking out the craziest guitarists in the world. I just wanted to learn all their stuff. Back then I wanted to be the best guitarist until I (later) learned it was such a subjective thing. I found these incredible acoustic guitarists playing in ways that I’d never seen in my life before and I thought that was the coolest thing.”
Through six or seven years, Erhard developed a style of his own that emulated and expanded upon some of these new influences. He incorporates the use of a slap style, a technique that uses the body of the guitar as a percussive instrument, while also tapping along the fret board and hitting the strings in a different way than most guitarists are familiar with. While this style is extremely entertaining to witness, and many guitar players enjoy watching one another be innovative and adventurous, he felt that there was something missing or lacking in this genre. There was something that was inaccessible to a more mainstream audience, and he wanted to be the one to develop and build the bridge in that gap. “I really want to take it in a direction that’s more accessible because that’s kind of the issue with that genre of guitar playing. There was really only one artist (I found) that was truly making songs. Like, writing songs. With a distinct theme, a distinct melody and structure.” He feels, though, that this is a task he’s up for and ready to take on. “It’s a challenge for me to write a killer song and strategically place that slap stuff in and expose that style of playing to a lot more people, because right now it’s a pretty small niche.”
Grayson first found success in a track he released late in 2016, Manifest. A tune that incorporated all of his slap/tap style guitar playing along with melodic vocals that followed the traditional setup in most standard songs. This was his first taste in the viral frenzy of social media. The video now boasts close to 1.2 million views on Facebook and is being featured by record label Candyrat Records. While this was exciting, and a small taste of what can happen, Erhard had no way of preparing for what was to happen next.
It’s a big deal to be one of the artists to be selected to play at the official showcase for the National Association of Music Merchants bizarre in Anaheim, CA. A prime opportunity to network, meet other artists and professionals in the industry from a worldwide draw, and expose a more influential audience to one’s music. The chance of encountering someone famous or being awestruck by a past influence is not uncommon, however, Erhard wasn’t playing in the main convention. This day, Erhard was playing to a lobby full of people in the adjacent hotel; he recalls his preparation and a conversation he’d had with a friend just before arriving, “I’m playing a cover of an artist that’s here this weekend, who knows what could happen!” That song that he chose to feature just happened to be Superstition by Stevie Wonder. “I finished the song and Stevie was walking down the hallway of the Marriott, it was pretty lucky he was in that building halfway through my set.” Fortunately, an audience member was able to catch the entire interaction on her phone and we can see Stevie making his way through the crowd, even joining Erhard on stage, so they can duet to the legendary song. “I admitted I didn’t know the lyrics to the second and third verse and he’s like ‘Well, let me teach you the words you don’t know.’” They begin playing together and Erhard remembers what it felt like, “I went into a daze. I did snap in to it when he did this vocal run that blew my mind and I was like ‘Oh, shit! Yep, this is happening right now, I’m playing with Stevie Wonder.’”
Manifest did give him the first taste of a viral experience and “as an original song (for it to go viral), it gave me affirmation as an artist.” However, this was at such a different level. “I woke up the next day to being featured in The Rolling Stone and then it just went nuts from there. Billboard Magazine and Huffington Post, then I started getting calls from Good Morning America, the Good Morning America’s of several countries like Japan and Italy. The UK, the BBC called me and it was even in Australia and New Zealand. And it was all so positive, it was so nice to have and to be able to do that for people with Stevie because you get on social media and see how negative everything is. You can’t scroll past three posts without seeing something about all the crap that’s going on. I think the reason it went so viral is because it brought smiles to the faces (of) everyone that saw it.”
And that’s the kind of experience that Grayson is looking to give to his fans, even if his songwriting doesn’t seem to always reflect that. “I don’t take myself that seriously but I’ve had a really hard time releasing songs that show that. A lot of my songs have been really serious and deep and I’m currently trying to lighten things up a bit because I don’t want to be a dark artist.” His song Cave was even originally written with lyrics that tell a story of a friend that was struggling with drug addiction, that later became a strictly instrumental song. “A lot of artists write about struggle and people connect with that more that they connect with happiness. If I’m feeling joyful, that is the hardest time to write for me.”
When it comes to the business of writing, Grayson admits he doesn’t have a set standard as to how that’s accomplished. Writing riffs as they come and recording sounds that are sparked during moments of creativity, he then tends to go back and find things that fit well together or are in similar tunings. The messages he conveys with his lyrics though is what really has transformed over time. “I write poetry and I write lyrics as I feel things and that was a big lesson I learned. I used to write lyrics based on thoughts rather than feelings and that’s kind of where Manifest is a nice balance of the two. It had a feel to it and soul so I’ve completely rethought my lyric writing process.”
What’s the difference in writing a song from a thought vs a feeling? Things become easily over complicated, adding additional notes and riffs to make things sound interesting or to become more challenging when Grayson admits sometimes it’s simply just sitting back and letting the music do the work. “It’s really when I listen back to it. I tend to add more than it really needs when I write from thought, I over analyze it actually becomes actually more dull and absent whereas when I write from feeling it’s coming straight from my soul. It’s not coming from my brain, it’s coming from my soul, from what I’m currently living. It’s so much more authentic and real, and more revealing of what I’m going through. I’ve had to get over the fact that my life is going to be a bit more public now, it’s a lot more sensitive and vulnerable but it’s also more endearing when you listen to it.”
And the things he feels and struggles with, what he writes about and shares with the world, are things that are extremely relatable. “I don’t write stuff to be fresh, I just write from the soul. (Manifest) felt right because it’s an issue that I still face, constantly being distracted and not being able to focus, even on my own career because I’m constantly checking my phone, constantly checking social media and I can’t get anything fucking done. It’s an issue that everyone is faced with.” The constant and relentless updating of social media, checking newsfeeds, being connected to cellular and wireless devices daily is making society more connected. But does this constant connection actually keep up from interacting in the present tense, here and now? Erhard knows that in order to see a problem in society, one must start and ground zero, oneself. “The thing about Manifest is I’m trying to write these lyrics provide solutions as well. But I know that I have to live that, I have to be that. I feel like a hypocrite sometimes when I’m constantly on my phone or on social media because that is driving my career but I have taken weeks off to go focus and turn my phone off. I do try to be the lyrics that I sing but it is a challenge.”
So, what’s next for Grayson Erhard. After reviewing single sales, Grayson decided it was time to take the leap and pursue music full time. “I had to quit my job” he tells. “I’m excited. This is exactly what I’ve wanted to do.” It got to a point that he was working 16 hour days; 8 hours of web development for Greystone Technology and 8 hours of music focused work. Just in the month of January the amount of upkeep that has been necessary, between interviews and emails and website updates put Erhard in a precarious position when he was faced with a Performance Improvement Plan. He has since been offered to stay on as a freelance consultant, however, with the current momentum in place that seems like an unnecessary and unlikely move back. He’s currently working on an album, covers of artists that have been helpful in his career trajectory to show them “how much they mean to me and how much I appreciate their support.” Also, Grayson will be reuniting with fellow Candyrat Record recording artist Ian Ethan Case in the Meet the Beast Tour which includes multiple Colorado dates. They will be playing The Soiled Dove Underground on March 12 at 8pm. Much to come from this young artist and he will continue to be on radar with Mile High Feedback.