By Dee Lockett
Singer-songwriter Andy Gruhin wants to be the next “Boss.”
Two years ago, Andy Gruhin got dumped. So, he picked up his guitar and wrote one of his first songs. Now, at 18, he may become the new face of Hollywood Records. This self-proclaimed “brand new kind of singer-songwriter” is attempting to single-handedly save the dying genre before the end of his freshman year of college.
While attending Berklee College of Music for a five-week summer program in 2008, Gruhin qualified for the school’s songwriting contest with “Little Piece of Summer.” It was then he first heard the name David Perl, a promotions executive at Hollywood Records. In a strange coincidence and stroke of luck, Perl happened to be Ben Berman’s (Gruhin’s best friend) uncle.
Gruhin describes Berman as his biggest supporter. “If you’ve seen Entourage, this kid is like ‘E’ to me,” Gruhin quipped. Berman describes his best friend’s music as a “jaggedly emotional sound that resonates with anyone with a pulse.”
Each of Gruhin’s songs comes to life with a lyric. His songbook stays in his backpack in case he has a burst of inspiration, and he’s even started to think in stanzas. Each lyric comes from the heart and the music that accompanies the words writes itself, he said.
He is currently growing as a musician, undergoing the transition from amateur to professional that begins with the search for a record label. For Gruhin, this search was easy. “First try. Man, I got way too lucky.”
Gruhin mourns the loss of passion and storytelling that used to be a staple of all singer-songwriters. “I want to bring that back and I feel like it’s my responsibility...I don’t see anybody else trying to,” he said. He models his style after the likes of Tom Waits, the Avett Brothers, Damien Rice, Conor Oberst, and Max Bemis.But his respect for these musicians pales in comparison to Gruhin’s admiration for Bruce Springsteen. His father Mark Gruhin sang “Thunder Road” as a lullaby, and Springsteen’s influence has had a lasting effect on Andy’s musical style. “I have a pretty good sense of talent,” Mark said. “I recognized it in Bruce way early in his career before he became the superstar that he is today. I see that same gift in Andy.”
A testament to Gruhin’s “old rock ‘n’ roll soul” is the purity of his songwriting. Bob Halligan, Jr., Gruhin’s songwriting professor at Syracuse University, describes his sound as “angry,” “raw,” and “passionate.” Gruhin tries to be honest about his feelings in his songs: “If I’m writing an angry song, it’s going to sound angry, and it’s going to be loud and in your face,” he explained.
His EP, World Out There, is a reflection of his honesty. Although it is jam-packed with uninhibited emotion, Gruhin strives to distance himself from the “emo” label by stressing the importance of sending a message through his songs. He describes songs like “World Out There,” “Little Piece of Summer,” and “Sore Losers” as developments of his understanding of the world.
“When I say ‘It’s a fucked-up world out there,’ it’s saying that something so good or something so bad could create the opposite of one another," Gruhin mused. “There’s no other adjective to explain the whole growing up process. It’s just fucked-up.”
After Berman heard “World Out There,” he sent the song along to his uncle, which started the collaboration process with Hollywood Records.In a rare turn of events, Perl requested that Gruhin come to New York City at the end of the summer to play a few songs for the label. Following this audition, Gruhin became a “development project” for the record company, one of the first steps in the process of getting signed. He has been asked to return in six months and has since built a strong relationship with Perl.
For Berman, this comes as no surprise. “I had passed through hundreds of other artists, but none really measured up in the raw emotion and old school I had been searching for,” Berman said. “Andy Gruhin changed all that. I knew he was talented, but over the last year, his musical climb has been astronomical.”
Gruhin then decided to recruit his father to be his unofficial manager. Mark Gruhin, a business lawyer, happily accepted the offer and is currently the primary banker for his son and manages his Web site. Yet he is quick to remember his primary role: “I am always his father first. That job is mine forever; a new manager he can always get,” Gruhin said.
His job as a father will be especially crucial if and when Gruhin needs to decide whether to stay in school. “I sincerely doubt that my dad would ever let me leave school, nor do I really want to because I love Syracuse so much,” Gruhin said. “But if it had to come to that, it would have to come to that,” says Gruhin. He described being both a student and musician as a hectic balancing act, but also welcomes the challenge.
“I have never been truly happy unless I was either playing or in the studio or just writing a song. I love it,” Gruhin said. Gruhin cherished advice from Ricky Orbach, a high school friend of his father’s and talented musician: “Embrace the word no. Because the more no’s you get are going to build you up toward eventually one day getting a "yes.”
Now that a major label has shown interest in him, Gruhin may feel pressure to alter his sound in order to cater to Hollywood Records’ “tween” demographic. Artists such as Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers are both signed to Hollywood Records, and have openly admitted to embracing a more pop sound as a means of adhering to the Disney image that coincides with the record company.
For Gruhin, these industry pressures aren’t an issue. He insists that people will understand who he truly is simply by listening to his music. The blunt anger, sexuality, and pain in the lyrics of songs like “Sore Losers” and “Without My Wings” express his raw and honest nature.
“I hope that Andy is able to spread his heartfelt message of [the] love, longing, and surprisingly compelling struggle to understand the human condition in this crazy world to a truly massive audience and that he can get the recognition as a real rock ‘n’ roll artist that he most definitely deserves,” Berman said.
Gruhin's ultimate goal is a career based on longevity and a strong, devoted fan base. Becoming a one-hit wonder like MC Hammer is utterly unacceptable for him. “If I ever do make it in the music industry, I don’t want to burn out,” Gruhin said. “I want to do exactly what Bruce did and that’s play as much as possible and write music that has meaning to people. I want to inspire people. I want to bring that fire back into people.”
Photo of Andy Gruhin by Max Jackson