Grown Folks, you may know George Tandy Jr. best from his piano driven, soul-stirring anthem “March”. We caught up with George to talk about his debut album The Foundation, where the song “March” came from, growing up with musical parents and he dropped some wisdom on us about the honor, yet the danger, of being compared to other artists.

GFM: Let’s start off with the album. The debut album is out now. Can you talk about the meaning behind the title and the vibe of the album?

GTJ: I’m super excited about the album. It took me quite a bit of time to get it together. I’m very grateful about it. The title is The Foundation. It represents a few things for me. First off, nothing lasts without a strong foundation so I figured it’d be an appropriate title for my debut album– you know being a new artist and people not knowing who I am and where I’m coming from. Also, I feel like when you listen to the music on the album you can hear all the different musical influences that I’ve had in my life– jazz, classical, R&B, hip-hop–everything. I snuck all of it in there in a subtle way. I’m really proud that I’ve been given the opportunity to express myself freely with regards to the type of music that I like to make and the type of music that I like to hear. Thirdly, I feel like the relationships that I’ve built along this journey– it’s taken about nine or ten years to get together–are also the fabric of the foundation of not only my career, but of my life and everything I believe in. I feel like my relationships– if I can keep those in tact, then I’ll have a very strong foundation and a nice future. We’ll be able to share a lot of victories together.

GFM: Speaking of a nice future, you’ve had some nice moments already. You’ve gotten to play the Steve Harvey Neighborhood Awards and you’ve been at Essence Festival. What’s the biggest thing you can imagine happening to your career in the future?

GTJ: I try to stay pretty practical about things. I mean I have big dreams. I want the whole world to be Team Tandy you know, so I guess my first show outside of the country will probably be significant for me. Other than that, I’m just happy to be able to do what I love and do it with a group of people that I feel like have my best interest at heart and do it in a really honest way. It would be cool to be recognized for the music. I’ve always wanted to get first place in something … in sports in school … so if I can get an award or something for my music that would be pretty cool. Something to tell the story. Add some zest to the story I guess. From Starbucks to a Grammy or something like that. (laughs) That would be cool. I don’t know, we’ll see. I just love performing so as long as I can do that I’m happy.

GFM: What was your reaction the first time you heard your music on the radio or went somewhere and your music was playing in the background?

GTJ: I was in a radio station doing an interview and they were about to play it. They played it, so I heard it from within the radio station. It was emotional ’cause it was unexpected. I mean I knew they were gonna play the song, but I didn’t really know how I was gonna react to it. Up until then everyone else had heard the song on the radio and I hadn’t. So to be inside the studio and watch them press the button I was like, ‘woooow.’ You know?

GFM: I know “Jaded” is the second single now from the album, but I wanna personally thank you for the musicianship on display on” March”. You spoke earlier about being able to make music from an honest place. Can you talk about where “March” came from, because it’s so organic to me. It’s so authentic. Not to be cliche’, but there is something that is just very honest about it. There’s not a lot of production going on as far as a lot of sounds and smoke and mirrors. It’s just you and your voice and the piano and I just appreciate … like I said … the musicianship on display and the honesty of it.

GTJ: I appreciate that. Thank you. I’m glad you feel that way. That always feels good to hear. “March” came about naturally. I was sitting at the keyboards. I was just playing a couple chords. I was like, ‘this sounds nice.’ The original version of the song had a different back beat to it. I’ve had multiple recordings of the song and it had a militant back beat so I was just kinda whispering, ‘march,’ to myself. I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m gonna do with this. I don’t really know why keep saying march,’ but I usually don’t ignore my first instinct. So, I tried to find a way to make the song romantic… romantic and about love and relationships just because that’s how the chords felt. And since I was putting march in there, I was like well, ‘how many different ways do we march in life? All of us? What do we have in common?’ Alright, well then I’m gonna dedicate the verses to romance and I’m gonna dedicate the choruses and the bridge– I’m gonna dedicate those things to some more universal idea of marching through obstacles. Because I feel like as I was writing it and as I was performing it, I was realizing how our own internal struggle with realities … our own unique realities… is what determines whether we’re able to sustain the meaningful relationships we have in our lives. And somehow that’s what that song became a representative of. Hearing people’s feedback as I performed it, and watching people’s reactions and kinda attributing it… going through my own struggles while I was performing the song… it just turned into it’s own… it just kinda came alive on its own. Even with the whole album, as far as the musicianship, I just wanted to make sure I took an approach where people could hear my voice clearly. I’m very honest about my skill set. I’m not a powerhouse vocalist. I’m not a classically-trained pianist. But what I am… I’m an artist and I’m really passionate about what I do and I understand space and time. It’s kinda like when I’m making music… it’s kinda the same way when you set up furniture in your house. You put things in places so that it works for you… so that it’s effective… so that it sets a certain tone. I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t over do it or I guess… under do it. You know? I just wanted it to be just right– just enough for the message to be conveyed for people to be able to hear where I’m coming from and feel it, so it could be more than a song and more like an experience.

GFM: It takes a lot of confidence to put your skill set on display that and not have it be so production driven or beat driven. It takes a lot of confidence. Especially for a new artist in this generation of other artists who are being played on the radio so I commend you for that… for just giving us a song that just breathes and we can just breathe to.

GFM: Speaking of musicianship, you come from a family of musicians. Tell us about your musical background.

GTJ: I’m fortunate. I basically grew up on stage. My dad is a jazz keyboardist and a producer. (He is) an amazing performer. When he gets on those keys… when he gets on stage, I’ve never seen anybody as passionate as him. He’s probably my primary influence as far as being passionate about music. My mom is a singer. I have two sets of parents. My biological mom is a singer and my love mom, as I like to call her, is a vocal coach. My step dad also just loved music and was always playing music around the house. All my siblings played an instrument at some point or just loved music. I just grew up in it. I was fortunate. They put me in band. I was always just attracted to rhythm and sound. I wanted to be like my dad so when I got my first keyboard I broke down and cried like I won the lottery or something like that. Music has always just been a safe place for me–even within my own household. You know we all have challenging times in the household when we need something to go to that feels like a journal or a safe place. That’s where I went. I would go to my keyboard and it would all make sense to me. And it still does. Anytime I pick up any type of instrument, I just feel like I’m able to express myself freely. It feels like a dialog with me, the universe and the rest of the world– even though they might not know that they’re gonna listen at some point. (laughs)

GFM: I read that you didn’t want to be compared to other artists in terms of being labeled the next… and you can fill in the blank of whatever artist you’ve been compared to… that you said that you’re the next you. With that being said, who is George Tandy Jr.?

GTJ: First off it’s always an honor to be named in the same sentence as other artists that have made a huge impact on the world with their music or their art. So I’m always honored, but at the same time I would be doing myself and everybody an injustice if I didn’t make sure that I was clear about there not being any imitating going on. And I understand (that) psychologically for people when we come upon something new we have to compare it to something to know how to find its value. So I get that. But myself as an artist… I feel like first of all I am a human being, and I use music as a tool just like anybody else to express themselves. I think as an artist… if that’s what the question is about… as an artist I am honest and accessible. I’m emotionally accessible within my music and I’m on a journey. I’m still figuring that out. So I’m not gonna let anybody else figure that out before me. I don’t think that would be fair. I don’t think that would be fair to them… or fair to me… or fair to the end result. So, I just love music. I love people. I love performing. I just hope to make the best music possible and really use it to open up dialog with the world that I might not otherwise have had a chance to do. I used to say, ‘you know I am music.’ But really I am a human being. I’m fortunate because I have a platform now, so now I can represent groups of people that I care about in certain situations that might affect some significant change in the long run. So, I’m kinda trying to keep my eye on the big picture if that makes any sense.

GFM: I think it’s okay to… and I think that’s very profound what you just said… I think it’s okay to want to define who you are for yourself and not let anybody else do that. I remember when Venus and Serena Williams were very young players– still in their teens. I remember them having an interview with Bryant Gumbel and saying something to the effect that ‘we are the best,’ or they’d said that maybe earlier and he asked them about that. One of them said, ‘well if I’m gonna compete and if I’m gonna win, I have to think I’m the best. I can’t walk on the court thinking my opponent is the best. I’m the best.’ So, I’m just saying that in terms of how you were saying that you don’t think it’s fair for anybody else to define you. You need to come up with your own definition and I think that’s a wonderful perspective… and a very honest perspective too.

GTJ: I like this topic. I think that one of things that we do sometimes as human beings on a day-to-day basis– whether it’s sports, art or just everyday living– is that we find ourselves comparing ourselves to each other. And in that process we can lose ourselves, and we take away from the opportunity to create ourselves. I agree, like in hip-hop– the battle rappers, and the emcees and all the rappers– they have to go in thinking, ‘yo, I’m the best rapper,’ because that’s the nature… that’s how it all started. And in art in general for me– I’m not necessarily gonna go in saying I’m the best “this”– but I am gonna say there’s room for me on this stage. There’s enough room for all of us on this stage. There’s enough light for all of us on this stage. And when it’s my turn, it’s truly my turn. You know what I mean? I’m always gonna see it that way.

Get to know George Tandy Jr. His debut album, The Foundation, is available RIGHT NOW on iTunes and some retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy.

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Speaking of YouTube, watch the short biography video below, also called The Foundation that gives you a little insight into who George Tandy Jr. is.