One transformation is obvious in the cover photo of “Elements,” a great follow-up disc. The Southern Californian’s shoulder-length tresses have been replaced with a spiky pixie cut that has shocked many of her fans.
“A year and a half ago, I cut off almost 20 inches — it was a lot of hair,” says the folk-pop singer, who plays in The City this week. “But it just felt right at the time.”
There was a method to the madness. Her locks had to stay long and luxurious for the meticulous 22-month “Arms” shoot.
“Then, basically I looked that way for the entirety of promoting ‘Stairwells,’ which ended up being three years. So I came home from my last tour date, and I’d just had a birthday, I’d just moved and I was about to start writing for the new album. So I thought ‘You know what? New chapter in my life. I don’t need my hair!’ So I chopped it off.”
Other changes are buried deep in the frank lyrics of three key tracks — the gently-strummed ballads “Little Worrier,” “Forever Blue” and “Oh Father,” with the line, “I’ve never known a darkness so immense” — from “Elements,” produced by Matt “Aqualung” Hales. Grannis’ feathery, soulful trill belies the serious subject matter.
“I’m constantly worrying about the past, and about the future and what it holds,” she explains of the first number. “And I finally realized that there’s no point, that filling my life up with worry is only making it sadder and scarier.”
“Forever Blue” regresses Grannis back to childhood, when she would cry nightly, imagining the eventual death of her parents. But she never confronted mortality until last year, when her grandfather passed away.
“So I’ve been thinking about impermanence and coming to terms with it,” she explains.
“Oh Father” was inspired by a harrowing drive to a secluded cabin she took for a songwriting retreat, where her car almost skidded off the mountain. “It was this big moment of me needing to be brave and strong when I’m usually not,” she says.
The gorgeous “Write It in the Sky” is sunnier, celebrating Grannis’ August 2013 marriage to her longtime collaborator Jesse Epstein.
But mainly, she has learned to use her compositions as therapy. “If I didn’t write songs, I think I would have gone crazy by now,” she says. “So music has been really good for me, that’s for sure.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $20 (sold out)
Contact: (415) 861-2011. www.snagtickets.com