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Internet superstar Conan Gray releases 2nd full album 'Superache'

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

CONAN GRAY: Hello. My name is Conan, and I made this YouTube channel a few days ago. I just thought I would introduce myself before I'm all like, here I am; here's a video.

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

When Conan Gray uploaded his first video onto YouTube nearly a decade ago, it's fair to say he couldn't have imagined where it would lead him. He posted little confessionals to the camera and videos of his daily routines, as well as song after original song, with a lilting voice and lyrics that cut surprisingly deep for a teenager.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TREEHOUSE")

GRAY: (Singing) And I wish in this moment that I could have died right there.

DAVIS: The internet took notice, and so did record labels. Now Conan Gray is 23 years old and has been listened to tens of millions of times. He's out with his second full-length album, "Superache."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEOPLE WATCHING")

GRAY: (Singing) Cut people out like tags on my clothing. I end up all alone, but I still keep hoping. I won't be scared to let someone know me. Life feels so monotone, but I still keep hoping.

DAVIS: Conan Gray joins us now from New York. Hey, Conan. Welcome to the program.

GRAY: Hello. That was an incredible intro. I feel - I'm emotional right now.

DAVIS: Let's start with YouTube. You know, you created this space for yourself there. What was it that made you want to put yourself out there to sort of build that audience?

GRAY: I was just a bored, lonely kid. I mean, I grew up in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Texas. And I just felt like I needed somewhere to put stuff on the internet. And in typical Gen Z fashion, I had no idea that that stuff would live on the internet forever. So I just thought I was talking to myself, really.

DAVIS: How do you feel about that space now?

GRAY: I'm very wary of the internet now. I respect it.

DAVIS: Really?

GRAY: It's a powerful thing, so I like to kind of treat it with as much caution as possible.

DAVIS: Why caution?

GRAY: I don't know. I think it's a space that you can get really caught up in. And you forget very quickly that real humans have very different emotions in real life.

DAVIS: I've read that when you were trying to get your first album together, you wrote a song every single day of the year.

GRAY: Yeah. That's about right. Yeah. I usually write a song a day.

DAVIS: Is that still how you work?

GRAY: Yeah. I write basically every day. I do all of this 'cause I'm obsessed with writing. It's the love of my life.

DAVIS: Let's listen to some of your music. This is one of your tracks. It's called "Summer Child." Here's a bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMER CHILD")

GRAY: (Singing) Oh, summer child. You don't have to act like all you feel is mild. You don't really love the sun. It drives you wild. You're lying, summer child.

DAVIS: Who are you talking to there?

GRAY: I'm talking to my best friend. I think we all have those friends that kind of are these, like, bundles of joy and are always trying to exude, like, love to everyone around them. And I just wish I could tell them, like, I know you well enough to know that you don't always feel like that, and you don't have to convince me that that's the truth, and you can be whoever you want to be around me.

DAVIS: You've spoken about adapting your work as you started touring more to try to give the audience in the venue a certain kind of experience. But you're also someone whose career was kind of boosted by the internet, alone in your own space and all the pressures of sort of being viral and going viral there. Is there tension between making music that you feel is true to you and the music that people want you to make, especially as you grow?

GRAY: I think to say that I'm not ever pressured in one way or the other would be a lie. Of course, I feel pressure. I'm, like, terrified of people. But I think that in the end, it's always the honest songwriting that's very true and very real that ends up resonating the most with people. So the pressure of, I don't know, any commercialism is always dwindled by the fact that I would have no commercialism if I didn't just tell the truth with songwriting.

DAVIS: One of your songs is called "Family Line," and the opening of it is just heartbreakingly direct.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FAMILY LINE")

GRAY: (Singing) My father never talked a lot. He just took a walk around the block till all his anger took a hold of him, and then he'd hit. My mother never cried a lot. She took the punches, but she never fought till she said, I'm leaving, and I'll take the kids. So she did. I say they're just the ones who gave me life. But I truly am my parents' child.

DAVIS: Violence seems to have been a thread in your childhood. Is that something you've talked a lot about publicly before releasing this album?

GRAY: It's something that I've always kind of been afraid to talk about because I think it is kind of a taboo thing to speak on things that were rough from your past. And in the past few years, I guess I've realized that it's nothing to be afraid of, and the fact that it feels taboo is a reason to actually talk about it. I wrote this song kind of in the midst of me realizing how much it affected me and how much it affects me still to this day. And, I think, in a way, singing the songs really is what makes me feel like I'm able to get over it. But writing it is truly traumatic. It's not, like, this therapeutic process. It's almost like digging up old graves.

DAVIS: Here's some of the last track on the album. This is a song called "The Exit."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE EXIT")

GRAY: (Singing) You already found someone to miss while I'm still standing at the exit.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

GRAY: (Singing) I'm still standing at the exit.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

GRAY: (Singing) I can't hate you for getting everything we wanted.

"The Exit" is a song about just the fact that I really do write all of my songs about, like, the same three people in my life.

DAVIS: Who are they?

GRAY: My high-school crush, essentially, and then my best friend and then one other person that I've had feelings for. But it's the same three people. I mean, I've liked other people. I've felt emotions for other people. But I just have very few muses, I guess you could say.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE EXIT")

GRAY: (Singing) We had matching wounds, but mine's still black and bruised, and yours is perfectly fine.

DAVIS: I read in another interview that you said in making this album, it was like scraping your ribs for every last drop of what you wanted to say. So how do you plan to make music going forward? What have you learned about your life and translating it into music?

GRAY: You know, my first album was just my introduction. It was just me saying like, hi; like, I'm Conan. I've been heartbroken once when I was 17, you know? Like - and it's kind of just a first impression. But with this album, I was like, oh, so I actually have to talk about some of the other things, I guess. And that's what made it feel like I was like - like, it was really a miserable process, to be honest, of, like, having to open up. I'm such a closed-off person a lot of time, and I think it just kind of felt, like, I guess, scary, intimidating.

DAVIS: Do you get any feedback from fans? - because you really put yourself out there from a male perspective. And I wonder if you hear from other men that maybe it's nice for men to have big feelings and big moods in songwriting.

GRAY: I guess it's something that I don't really think about. I feel very much like my music is just kind of for anyone and for everyone. But it is, I think, an important reminder sometimes, I think, for a lot of the men that I grew up with that, you know, there's tons of emotions that everyone feels. It's kind of, like, a connector rather than maybe, like, some kind of saving grace or something.

DAVIS: Conan Gray - his new album is called "Superache." Thank you so much for talking to us.

GRAY: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DISASTER")

GRAY: (Singing) This could be a disaster. There's so many factors, like what if you freak out, and then we're losing it all at the critical chapter, where I say I love you and you don't say it after? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.