Naperville singer-songwriter Grant Milliren is a man of plans. After last year’s touring season was pretty much canceled, he put his alternative sound out there in any way he could closer to home: He played a regular livestream series. He took on outdoor solo performances. He refused to sit still, always keeping his eyes focused on 2021.
This year, Milliren is already on the road, cramming upcoming weekends with regional shows and anticipating openings back around Chicago and the suburbs. But with his livestreaming capabilities already operational from last year and a set of new songs in his pocket, he’s planning on packing all the spaces in between with his musical pursuits.
Milliren took a few minutes to answer some questions about his upcoming year and this past weekend’s release of his charming and heartfelt new single, “Comeback Kid.”
Hidden beneath its upbeat melody and structure, “Comeback Kid” seems to be a reaction to some sort of external animus. What was your mindset going into writing this?
You hit it right on the head, man. Under the upbeat melody and timbre of the song, it’s about the desire to prove something to the world unapologetically. With the pandemic putting my summer tour to a big halt, my mindset was to release a song that would put me back up on the map. A song that would give folks hope and a triumphant spirit to stay motivated during the toughest of times. All in all, Comeback Kid is a song about getting knocked down and running back into the fight.
Is there a particular message you’re trying to convey through the song?
I think there is a litany of messages being floated around in this track, but the over-arching theme is to smile through the crap moments life will throw at you. Don’t get me wrong, you need to take time as a human being to process, hurt and struggle. And that’s all a part of the song. But from start to finish, Comeback Kid is taking you through the process of loss to triumph. I just want people to know they’re not alone. There’s too much of that going on nowadays and I wrote the song to speak against that type of lonesomeness.
As a solo artist, your experience during last summer’s pandemic lockdown seemed to have been different from that of full bands, who found it harder (or impossible) to find venues to play. What were some of the challenges you faced performing in 2020? And how does that look different now that things seem to be loosening up some in 2021?
The COVID-19 pandemic hit everyone right in the chest. Whether that be solo artists like me or full bands. But being a solo artist had its perks in that regard. I was able to book a decent number of local outdoor sets to pick up the pace from the shows I lost out of state. But just because I was able to do that, doesn’t mean things were very pretty. You had to be incredibly cognizant of people’s personal space so that made it difficult to talk with existing and new fans after my sets & I had a tough time finding motivation on some show days because it felt like the world was working against me and my musician friends. Now that things are loosening up in 2021, I feel like we have this thing under control enough to where we can interact with folks in the safest way. It feels like a rebirth in a way since I just released this new single, and venues are eagerly booking entertainment again. Life is good.
In addition to in-person performances, you worked hard to keep your fanbase strong virtually over the last year. What did you do, and what was most successful in that regard?
I started streaming live on Facebook and Instagram a few times a month. Using the best equipment that I had at the time, I was able to still provide entertainment to those who wanted to listen. I did some collaboration streams with my musician and hometown friend, Drew Dvorchak, which allowed us to throw our new music and favorite covers out into the air. The most successful part about this was that it was a choice move on the consumer’s end. I started the stream, I put up all the links and did the leg work so folks could log out from a long day of at home working and enjoy some tuneage. And ultimately, the folks tuning in is what made it successful. It’s nice to see support from people you know but also building your fan base with people who have heard of you through the grapevine. I’m beefing up my audio and video set-up in the hopes of kicking off a Thursday or Sunday Night weekly stream on all social platforms. I’m targeting June 2021 but hoping to be up and running beforehand.
After this weekend’s release of “Comeback Kid,” what else are you focusing on this year?
This summer is all about releasing new originals and playing a ton of music around the Midwest. You can catch me releasing a new original song every 6-8 weeks this year in addition to playing 8-10+ live sets in states such as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan & Wisconsin. The summer of 2020 wasn’t a bust, but it didn’t feel like a gain to me. I described it as a ‘going through the motions’ tour. I can’t wait to start my 2021 tour, spend copious amounts of time in the studio and play live stream sets. But in the end, the most exciting part about this is the connection between me and new & existing fans. Come hang with me this summer!