Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Order your copy here.
“I know I’m not Joni Mitchell, but I’ve got a dad who plays like Billy Joel” – Hollywood Bowl from Lost At Sea, 2023
In a backyard in Tuna Canyon, Los Angeles, between the miniature putting green and the miniature waterfall, underneath the miniature version of the real Hollywood sign 15 miles southeast from here, a woman in a $32 electric-lime beanie bearing the slogan INSUFFERABLE is instructing her old man.
“Dad, chin up, maybe a little tiny bit.”
From beneath a baseball cap that says LOST AT SEA, dad tilts his head a notch.
“You could do that point thing you were doing before – Blue Steel!” daughter says with a laugh, urging dad to get his Zoolander on. He jams his piano-playing hands further into a leather Prada mac and stares into the middle distance.
Insufferable, happy with her work, laughs. Inscrutable, happy to be directed in the way of the photo shoot (his daughter has some previous here), ploughs gamely on. Not many 69-year-olds, he’s thinking, get to do this kind of thing. And if he’s going to be parented by his kid in the art of looking good, of creating a mythos – think: silver fox at play in a Munchkinland version of Palm Springs – who better than the eldest of his three children?
Dad is Robert England Grant Jr: advertising copywriter, turned rustic furniture salesman, turned real estate (mini) magnate, turned internet domain name mogul, turned, in the summer of his 70th, debut album recording artist.
Daughter is Lana Del Rey: metaphysics and philosophy graduate Elizabeth “Lizzy” Woolridge Grant, turned musician and songwriter who, since 2010, has been responsible for nine studio albums and approximately 900 shades of obsession. This year, in the summer of her 38th birthday and her first headline slots at Glastonbury and BST in London’s Hyde Park, she’s released Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, her sixth UK number one and the album with 2023’s biggest first-week sales to date. And now she’s helped launch her dad’s next act.
Even by Del Rey’s vaultingly high standards of alchemical artistry and mystique magicking, to assist in the metamorphosis of a retired near-septuagenarian with serious Hawaiian-shirt and shark-fishing habits into the year’s most fascinating musical newcomer? That’s some metaphysical voodoo right there.
Even more brilliant: the fact that ocean-going Rob Grant’s album, Lost At Sea, a suite of gorgeous piano pieces, mostly instrumentals, with does-what-it- says-on-the-tin titles like The Mermaid’s Lullaby and The Poetry of Wind and Waves, is great in a spa-friendly, chill- out, present-for-your-mum way. Also the fact that he’s great, a slow-talking, shoe-eschewing, nakedly honest, utterly charming dude with a life richly lived, a family deeply loved and a wide-eyed wonder at the turn his life has taken. And, finally: very much brilliant is Del Rey’s pride in, and happiness for, her dad, not to mention that the Grants’ two hook-ups on Lost At Sea – the title track and the closing Hollywood Bowl, both of which feature her lyrics and vocal – are up there with the best of the Del Rey catalogue.
There is, then, only one thing that’s insufferable on the set of THE FACE’s shoot at a private home in Sun Valley, on the northern rim of Greater Los Angeles. And it’s Del Rey’s headgear, not the cat in the (other) hat. Rob Grant is just Cool AF.
Still, both agree that hymning her dad’s piano-playing, in that glorious, climactic collab Hollywood Bowl, as being up there with Billy Joel’s is stretching things. Grant shrugs sanguinely about this poetic licence. “Poor Billy Joel,” he says, chuckling. “But I’m sure he’s got a good sense of humour. [The line] came in the moment. We’d created this beautiful song and those were the lyrics that came to her. It raises a pretty high bar for me. But that’s fine. I’ll go for it.” Or, as Del Rey says: “The vibe was good. And he plays so well.”
Equally, certainly, no one’s under any illusion about how, well, weird all this is. To have a white-haired dad write a bunch of tunes (out of nowhere). Make an album with producer Jack Antonoff (Del Rey, Taylor Swift, Lorde). Sign a record contract with Decca (the near 100-year- old, classical-leaning label). And appear in high-end, high-discernment style magazines (um, this one)? It’s a colourful yarn worthy of the character-rich, old-Hollywood Americana of Del Rey’s earliest songs. Only this story happens to be true.
As she watches Grant pick out another Hawaiian shirt, Del Rey stands talking with her sister, 35-year-old Caroline “Chuck” Grant. A well-regarded photographer, the middle sibling is also here to lend moral support. (Their little brother Charlie, 30, an LA-based filmmaker whose main hustle is real estate, isn’t on set. Nor is their mum Patricia – she’s back on the East Coast, where the elder Grants have homes in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and on Anna Maria Island on Florida’s Gulf Coast.) Both girls marvel, affectionately, at their dad’s fashion moment. To Lana, he’s just a “rando”. To Chuck, this is akin to “a glitch in the Matrix” – an observation, drawls Rob, “which is fabulous!”
Lana, Chuck: how confusing is all this, your dad embarking on a music career at his age and stage of life?
Lana: “Not confusing at all. I would expect nothing less. I don’t think anything could surprise me now, just in general in life. If a pig flew by, I’d be like: check that out! I think our first thought was: great.”
And not concerning?
Chuck: “No, it’s not concerning. It’s a glitch in the Matrix just because it’s usually me shooting my sister. Or just me taking the photos. And I haven’t seen my dad wear a sweatshirt ever in my entire life.”
Lana: “Or a suit.”
Chuck: “Or a suit. So it’s just like: damn, we’re doing this now. But I feel like he’s very [comfortable]. It makes sense to me.”
Rob, how do you feel about being music’s first proper Nepo Daddy?
Rob: “Well! I went out and registered the domain nepodaddy.com. And we’re going to come out with a whole line of merch that’s Nepo Daddy-branded. I can show it to you. It’s really cool stuff.”
So where other artists trying to make their own way might be like, “having famous relatives has nothing to do with my career, I’m not that, that’s a bad look”, you’re saying, “fuck it, let’s have some fun with it – and make some money while we’re at it”?
Rob: “Oh, totally. No, I’m all for Nepo Daddy. And I also registered nepomommy. com. You know, I’ll listen to what the kids are saying… in the comments on Instagram or Twitter. I just crack up. Another one is ‘Robert Fucking Grant!’, after Norman Fucking Rockwell! [Del Rey’s 2019 album]. So I went and registered that name, too.”
How did we get here?
Firstly, Rob Grant is no fool and all heart. He’s aware that being the “father of…” lands him music industry attention and opportunity that any other retired entrepreneur could only dream of. He’s managed by his daughter’s London-based team and his first co-write was Sweet Carolina, the closing track on Del Rey’s last album, 2021’s Blue Banisters. That song began life when he was in LA, staying with Del Rey in her home. “He was playing in the living room – he likes my red piano – and I really liked the melody,” she recalls. “I put my VoiceNotes on and started singing.” Simple as.
Also, his family’s support and encouragement have been priceless.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without them,” begins this barefooted first-time interviewee, softly, when we sit down to talk after the shoot. “What’s so interesting is how artistic the entire family is,” he continues, mentioning that cousins, aunts and uncles along the Grant bloodline can also play music and sing. “But that is obviously late blooming with me.”
And, you might say, pioneering. As he rightly points out, the “typical story” in terms of musical generations is the case of someone such as Billy Ray Cyrus, “who was an established artist. And then, of course, Miley grew up in an environment of music and became a pop star in her own right. Here, we’ve got an upside-down world.
“I think the whole experience is really fascinating. There aren’t a lot of parallels right now in the music industry,” he continues with some understatement, “where you’ve got a 69-year-old father coming out with an album the same year his daughter has released a big album. There isn’t any script that you can follow here. So for all of us, we are just going day by day.”
Grant has played piano for most of his life. “But I never had a piano lesson. I can’t read sheet music. I’ve never had any kind of formal training at all. I play intuitively. And when I sit down to play, I can play for hours.” He’d do that when Lizzy and Caroline were young, and remembers how “the girls would stand there by the piano and they’d sing” to the chords and melodies that flowed straight from his brain and through his fingers. “They would just hum or make up their own words.”
Three decades on it’s this methodology, if you can call it that, which has brought us to this point. In June 2021, Grant and Del Rey were in Hollywood’s Conway Recording Studios taping Sweet Carolina, the unbidden Grant composition to which Del Rey had, again, made up her own words on the spot. One day he turned up early and she was running late. Parking himself at the in-house Steinway concert grand, a piano previously used by the New York Philharmonic, he asked someone to press “record” and he began playing. Seventy-five minutes later, he stopped. A brief, worrying silence from the assembled engineers and producers quickly gave way to relief: no one could believe what he’d just played, off-the-cuff and unrehearsed.
Encouraged, Grant spent more time in Hancock Park, creating further instrumental pieces. Only a few months later, in early 2022, by the time the ceaselessly prolific Del Rey was working on the album that would become …Ocean Blvd, her dad had created a dozen or so compositions. He played them to Antonoff, who was instantly mesmerised. “Any time I play for anyone, you lose them, they kind of go into a trance,” says Grant. “Which is cool, because that’s what it does to me.”
Del Rey’s management at TaP Music in the UK were equally smitten. The team, who also shepherd the UK’s Eurovision entries, could see potential for Grant’s music, not in what we might call the “classical lite” field but in the booming “wellness” space. As Grant puts it: “This is literally music for a troubled world. And that’s why the wellness space has grown.” He says that, according to Decca, who signed him in London in early summer 2022, “the wellness space now is bigger than the classical and jazz [worlds] combined. And it’s getting bigger, because the whole world is on edge now – I mean, with good reason. So hopefully, when people hear this music, it’s going to transport them. Relax them. And they’re going to feel good.”
Does he wish that he’d done this 30, 40, even 50 years ago?
“It’s a good question. I don’t know if I would have been ready back then. I was busy raising a family and running the businesses and all of that. There really wasn’t much room for playing the piano.”
Lana, Chuck: When you were kids, was your dad a cool dad?
Lana: “He was definitely cool. He was so easygoing. I never heard him yell one time. I thought of him like playtime… I haven’t seen anything ever affect him.”
Chuck: “Well, once though…” [Leans in, whispers to Lana, both sisters cackle]
Lana: “She accidentally hit him with a toy when she was young.”
Chuck: “Crocky is my crocodile that my grandma crocheted. He’s so long and so cool. I was spinning him around one time and I whacked him right in the nuts. That’s the only time I saw [him] go off. I was like, woah, I haven’t seen this!”
As well as being a cool dad, Rob Grant was a busy dad, one blessed with a keen eye for a business opportunity. In his twenties, in the 1970s, he was a Don Draper-type on Madison Avenue, working as a copywriter for advertising agency Grey Group. But after Lizzy was born in 1985, he and Pat realised Manhattan was too expensive to raise a family. So they moved upstate to Lake Placid, “which is beautiful, but very, very remote.” That made commuting unthinkable, so career options had to be reassessed.
At various points, Grant has owned a boat-building company, a restaurant in Newport, Rhode Island, and a rustic furniture business. The latter did well enough to be featured in the Christmas window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue. “But I wasn’t into it. I just didn’t care. So I closed that. Now, I did love real estate.”
Buying and selling properties, he became a licensed real-estate broker with his own “small, boutique firm… I own commercial buildings, self-storage and stuff like that. So that’s this other, alternate reality, which is how [many] people know me.”
And as any good realtor knows: location, location, location. “One of the reasons I got into the internet was that it allowed me to expand geographically and not be trapped by where I was.”
Grant “got into” the internet in 1996 when, as he puts it, “no one cared, it was too young”. But with his Madison Avenue experience, he could divine a “huge opportunity” with domain names.
“I thought to myself: these IP addresses – which essentially create brands like cars.com – may eventually have value as the internet grows. I began to buy them.” Flexing his real-estate experience, too, he realised that people looking for property would search “intuitively” for the geographic region. “If you were interested in Miami Beach real estate, that’s what you type in. And this was long before we had Google or any of the mature search engines. I had this profound revelation that if I could acquire all of these generic descriptive domains, I could literally create a franchise.”
Grant began “buying up all the major cities” to prefix their names to the domain name “realestate.com”. He turned his attention to Europe and did the same. Then Latin America. He went “essentially around the world, acquiring what became the largest privately held real estate [domain name] portfolio. To this day, I have this portfolio where I’ll selectively sell off domain names when the price is right. And I’ve been doing that now for the last 25 years.”
He gives me an example. He registered torontorealestate.com for two years for $75. One year later, he was offered $5,000 for it. Intrigued by that sharp uptick, he gambled on holding. Two years later, he was offered $75,000. “Make a long story short, I sold that domain for $145,000. Now, that’s one domain from a collection. At one point, I owned 10,000 domain names.”
To this day, Grant is “sitting on a big catalogue of these really valuable generic domains like tropicalfish.com. I go into a vertical and select what I feel is the best descriptive domain and acquire it.”
Hence Rob Grant having the foresight to register nepodaddy.com. He’s not only having the last laugh. He’s having the first laugh, too.
Lana, Chuck: How will you feel if some people view your dad as the first musical Nepo Daddy?
Lana: “You know, he’s fucking trolling them half the time. And then the other half of it, I don’t know what [he’s doing]… But I’m a real go-with-it girl. You could tell me to jump into the LA river if it was full enough, and I’d be like, let’s [do] it.”
But you want him to be taken seriously as an artist on his own merits, not because of who you are?
Lana: “Doesn’t matter. Because look at what people say about me. If I believed [that], I would have jumped off the fucking bridge a long time ago.”
Chuck: “Yeah, I would have stopped doing photography if I thought that it mattered.”
As Del Rey says: look at what people have said about her. Early in her career, she was accused of all sorts of things. Of being fake. Of being an industry plant. Of being a rich girl whose daddy somehow purchased her a record deal.
“Our family, honestly, has been plagued with all of these allegations,” says Grant, sighing slightly. The slurs against his daughter are the only thing that even vaguely cloud his perennially sunny disposition. “She had to endure all of that conspiracy theory. It’s so hard for the public to understand that a young girl could actually have accomplished it all entirely on her own. I mean, yes, we were supportive. But the theories that were floated out there, that I bought her record label contract – absolutely absurd.
“It’s typical of our culture,” he goes on, “that people find it really hard to be able to give someone credit. And I’m already experiencing that. I had a friend, just 48 hours ago, who felt that the fact that I could produce music and make an album was something that happened because of her.” Grant throws up his palms, mildly.
“You just have to tough it out. I know we’re gonna get all kinds of pushback. But I do want to set the record straight for Lana: she did all of that on her own.”
The family, he adds, have become used to such snark. At the same time, though, he can now see at play what he describes as karma. “This persistent mythology that she was somehow helped by a rich father,” he begins, rightly pointing out that he doubts a man would have had to contend with such digs, now has an echo, in that “the Nepo Daddy is going to face the same criticism. But I love it!” he says, flashing a pearly smile. “Because that’s life, right? And while I listen to all those comments, I will be selling Nepo Daddy hoodies, crop tops and T‑shirts, ha ha!”
Are you ready for your close-up, Mr. Grant?
“Ha ha! I am! You saw me out there [during the shoot], right? I’ve just taken to it very naturally.” He mentions the video for Lost At Sea, directed by Chuck. “They had cameras in my face and we shot it on a 55-foot ketch [sail boat] off Marina del Rey. Gorgeous. Yeah, I’m totally ready. I’m having a ball.”
For this ineffably chill man, though, blessed with a lifetime of success and a high-achieving, talented family, there’s one thing about this late-life pivot that gives him pause.
“Oh, God, yeah, I’m on TikTok. You have to be. Have I taken to that readily? No! But I know it’s something you’ve got to do. I’m comfortable with Instagram and Twitter. But TikTok’s new and I’ll have to grow into that.
“Really, though, all of this is new – first interview, first main shoot. But I’ll tell you what: I’m going to approach all of this with a wicked sense of humour. And I’m just going to enjoy the hell out of it.”
GROOMER Tiago Goya PHOTO ASSISTANT Arvin Rusanganwa PRODUCTION ASSISTANT John Simard