Andy Grammer endured a difficult sophomore pressure.
After three years of touring behind his self-titled debut disc (with its infectious single “Keep Your Head Up” and campy video starring his friend Rainn Wilson) he returns with the upcoming followup “Magazines or Novels” and an intimate “Back Home Summer Tour” that hits San Francisco this week.
The former Santa Monica street busker, 30, who reached No. 1 on the Billboard New Artist Chart in 2010, used to test his latest material before sidewalk crowds, gauging from their reactions whether he had a potential monster. That’s no longer the case.
“I had my whole life to write a bunch of crappy songs, and then play them in front of people and think, ‘all right, that one out of these seven is really good, it’s a keeper,’” he says. “But on this second album, to be honest, I probably wrote about 50 songs where I was just trying to write a hit. And you could feel it in those first 50 – or at least my manager and I could. They just weren’t right.”
It took 50 additional attempts to arrive at the dozen diverse cuts on the sonically-adventurous “Magazines.”
It runs the gamut from playful faux-reggae (“Holding Out”) through the spoken-word-ish “Masterpiece,” a Victrola-scratchy “Forever,” the vocoder-metallic “Pushing” and “Honey, I’m Good,” a pop-sculpted hillbilly hoedown.
Lyrically, he’s brutally frank. In “Red Eye,” he sings “I lost perspective of who I was/ I hit the wall.” In the kickoff single “Back Home,” he says, “We won’t forget where we came from.”
But getting back to his old inventive self wasn’t easy, the composer explains.
Two years ago, he got married to his old college sweetheart, Aijia Guttman, a singer/songwriter who records as Aijia. She provided a good sounding board for his work, though he only played her the cream of the crop. “She gets it,” he says. “The song ‘Honey, I’m Good’ is basically about hot girls, and she’s not in love with the sentiment. But as a fellow songwriter, she said, ‘That’s a good one – you’ve got to keep it.’”
Grammer says he got his groove back – and “got to the good stuff” – after he asked himself: “Who are you writing this for? For a commercial reason, or because you want to make great art and give it to your fans?”
IF YOU GO
Where: Great American Music Hall. 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.slimspresents.com