LOS ANGELES – Backstage at the Grammy Awards is always a grab bag of appearances.
Most years, the biggest winners of the night don’t bother to do the press rounds (noted exception, an extremely gracious Sam Smith last year), and this year was typical. No Kendrick Lamar or Taylor Swift in sight, although Mark Ronson did come back to chat before he received his biggest award of the night for “Uptown Funk,” record of the year.
Most artists are genuine and polite and say all the right things. And then sometimes you get a goofball like Kirk Franklin, who bopped onto the riser in the press room and proclaimed, “Whas’ up, y’all?” before cajoling a journalist in front of him to hand over the apple from our school lunch meal boxes.
“This is a very good apple,” Franklin said, taking a bite (apparently he brought it with him into the photo room, too).
The other character this year was Thundercat (aka Stephen Bruner), the bassist and producer who was integral to Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” album.
Before he could answer any music-related questions, he first had to explain why he had, what he called, “a genuine Luke Skywalker lightsaber” hanging by his side.
“Thundercat, why do you have a lightsaber?”
Eyebrows raise and a sly grin appears. “Why wouldn’t you have one?” Then he joked, “It’s as heavy as a wrench.”
Lightsabers. Definitely a new one.
Here are a few other tidbits gleaned from backstage at the 58th annual Grammy Awards Monday night.
Jason Isbell: The two-time winner was candid in discussing his lifestyle change. “I never quite hit bottom, but there was a point when I realized (wife) Amanda was not going to put up with my drunk ass any longer, so I told her I needed to quit and that I couldn’t do it on my own, so she called a lot of people to hold me to it. I’ve enjoyed my life a lot more.”
Ronson and his well-coiffed hair: The British producer and mastermind behind “Uptown Funk,” which won three Grammys, said the song came about while he and Bruno Mars were in Mars’ studio in Hollywood. “I said, ‘Let’s jam something out,’ and he got on drums and (producer) Jeff (Bhasker) came with that line, ‘Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold’ and we thought, we’re on to something here. But it took us seven more months to finish the tune.” Ronson also expressed his satisfaction with his and Mars’ Super Bowl performance. “It was so amazing that Coldplay brought us up and let us do our thing,” he said.
Meghan Trainor: By the time the best new artist winner got backstage, she had changed into a curve-hugging black gown, but her emotions were still in high gear. “I still can’t breathe,” she said. “I’ve been crying since I got off the stage.” Trainor spoke of her appreciation of former Atlanta record mogul LA Reid and was candid in her pleasure at being recognized as an artist and not just a songwriter. “I know my songwriting is pretty cool, but I want to be seen as the artist, the face. I love being recognized as the artist.”
Earth, Wind & Fire: “We’ve never seen a stage we didn’t like, even if it’s little,” Philip Bailey joked as he and Ralph Johnson and Verdine White crammed together. Naturally, the topic of recently deceased EWF mastermind Maurice White was discussed and Verdine shared that his brother was aware that the band was receiving a Lifetime Achievement Grammy. “I made the call to ‘rice and I did push him to try and come to this one. He was very proud of it,” Verdine said. He added that his brother’s “ability to play on hit records (as a session drummer for Chess Records) gave him an opportunity to know what was commercial and then, with his jazz background, he was able to fuse all of those types of music together.”
Chris Stapleton: The newly mind Kentucky superstar greeted the press corps at the end of a long day with a genuine, “How’s everybody holding up?” Still humble, Stapleton said all of the awards bestowed on him these past few months, and especially the two Grammys he won on Monday, is “an incredible, surreal kind of snowballing thing. It’s something that doesn’t fully soak in for a bit and we’ve been so busy that it’s still soaking in…but it’s a wonderful gift.”
Alabama Shakes: In her flowing beige gown and cape, hair teased to the ceiling, singer Brittany Howard looked every bit the chic rocker, while her three bandmates looked pained. When asked if the band could have ever dreamed of winning three Grammys in one night, Howard smiled and said, “I didn’t expect one time in one night. I never imagined. I know it sounds clichéd, but even standing on stage performing and having to speak to that many people and knowing our family and friends were at home, it’s really surreal.”