Rob Grant talks new album, songwriting with pop star daughter

Rob Grant sits at his mother’s piano in his real estate office in downtown Saranac Lake. Grant, father to pop star Lana Del Rey, recently released an album of piano tracks titled “Lost at Sea,” which features his daughter on two songs. (News photo — Aaron Marbone)

SARANAC LAKE — Rob Grant is known as many things. Around town, he’s a real estate broker. To his daughter’s devoted fans, he’s “the Robster.” Now, he’s making a name for himself as a pianist.

Sitting at a rebuilt Steinway — his mother’s — inside the Rob Grant and Associates Real Estate office on Broadway in downtown Saranac Lake, he lets his mind wander and his hands sail over the keys. The office fills with the sounds of “Hollywood Bowl,” the closing track off his recently released album “Lost at Sea” and one he wrote with his daughter Elizabeth, better known as the pop musician Lana Del Rey.

Grant calls her by her stage name “Lana” when talking about her now. Recalling her childhood, she is still “Elizabeth.”

The Grant’s home always had a piano, and he always played it for his own enjoyment. His daughters Caroline, or “Chuck,” and Elizabeth, or “Lizzie,” would sit with him and sing, never in a formal way.

His official musical collaboration with Lizzie started during the recording for her “Blue Banisters” album. He was visiting her, and she heard him messing around with a tune on the keys. She started to sing, Grant said, her voice and lyrics responding to his notes.

What came out of it was “Sweet Carolina,” the final track on the album, with lyrics on Lizzie’s mind about her sister, who just had a baby.

This is how they always write, in a spontaneous way. “Hollywood Bowl” was written in 30 minutes.

“She either loves something or hates it,” Grant said.

Grant never had a piano lesson and can’t read sheet music. He plays it all by ear. This makes his compositions hard to duplicate.

“I honestly never play the same thing,” Grant said.

When he’s struck with a new tune, it gets recorded on his phone. And when he goes into the studio, he brings these phone recordings to cue himself in.

He had been a fly on the wall for Lana Del Rey recording sessions for years. When people in his daughter’s musical circle approached him about recording an album of his own, he was suspicious it could happen. But he landed a record deal with Decca Records.

Decca required several things — 14 songs, all short in length and a narrative to the album. This sent him on a “dream-like” voyage and he wrote a whole narrative for the album.

Most of the songs are shorter — 2 to 3 minutes. But the way Grant prefers to play, these are all 10-minute songs. A 3-minute song is much too short.

He describes entering a sort of “hypnotic state” when he sits at the keys. He wants the listener to be in that space, too.

Grant said his songs have struck a cord in the wellness music community. It’s a big space.

“The whole world is basically on edge,” he said.

Many people feel “lost at sea,” and he hopes his music brings a bit of comfort.

The album, released June 9, debuted at the very top of the Classical Crossover Albums chart, No. 2 on both the Classical Albums and New Age Albums charts and No. 75 on the Top Current Album Sales chart.

Part of the album’s success can be attributed to Lana Del Rey fans listening in on her father’s musical endeavor, bringing a pop audience to his ambient piano album. He’s a big figure among her fans. A recent video taken in Mexico shows a crowd of fans shouting “Hi!” and “We love you!” to “the Robster” as he walks out of a building.

Because of this, the music press has dubbed Grant a “nepo-daddy,” a spin on the term “nepo-baby” for someone who achieves fame or success because of the prosperity of their parents. While nepo-baby is somewhat of a pejorative term, Grant was unphased by the nepo-daddy word.

“I’m gonna own it,” he said.

As soon as he was given the title, he immediately registered the domain name nepodaddy.com. This page is now a shop for his merch. A line of tropical shirts went on sale there earlier this week.

Now, Grant was successful in his own right as a real estate broker, adman and seller of domain names. So the term “nepo-ouroboros” might be more applicable.

Though he has embraced the “nepo-daddy” moniker, he said having a child become a household name and famous pop musician was difficult on their family for many years. In the first years of Lana’s rise it was “surreal” and not easy. Fame brought criticism, controversy and conspiracy theories about her and her family — theories that she was an “industry plant,” or that her father bought her record label. He said they read many things that weren’t true.

But she didn’t let it stop her singing, he said.

Now, he said she is finally getting the recognition as a poet, writer and singer that he’s felt she deserves. From Bruce Springsteen to Billie Eilish, other artists are acknowledging her contributions to art.

The first five years were really tough for her and tough for her family. Lana was singing about tough personal situations, bearing stories one would usually not talk about in public.

“It’s what an artist does,” Grant said.

His daughter is an “honest and sincere writer,” and he said “it comes with the territory.”

The vinyl release of “Lost at Sea” features photos of the family on the inside and the music video for the title track is spliced with home footage of him and his kids when they were young.

Grant has not yet performed these songs live for audiences. He sort of skipped that step, he said. There’s a possibility he will join his daughter as an opening act on her next tour, but that’s up to her.

Grant has recently been traveling around the world with Lana on her first tour since 2019. He can be found just to the left of the stage.Tours are grueling, he said. But despite the physical toll they take, he loves it. Tagging along is a “once in a lifetime thing” he couldn’t pass up.

To stand on stage and feel the visceral excitement of 65,000 people, Grant said that energy can’t be compared to anything else.

A couple weeks ago, he spent three hours at the piano at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. He said he’s got enough for a second album at this time.

– Metamorphosis – Grant describes coming into his musical career at the age of 70 as feeling like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. It was a big artistic pivot and it said it’s confused a lot of people. It caught them off guard.

“A lot of them didn’t even know I played piano,” Grant said. And now he’s got an album.

Grant now lives in Florida, but when he’s in Saranac Lake, he said he’s still seen as a normal guy around town.

Though the music on “Lost at Sea” is calm, there is a deep sense of longing behind it that betrays Grant’s restless nature. He’s always been restless, looking for the next thing. This is not the first time he’s found a brand new life.

Before moving to the Adirondacks, Grant worked as a copywriter for Grey Advertising, a large firm in New York City. He worked his way up into an office with windows but burned out.

“You were no better than your next big idea,” he said.

Tired of hauling Lizzie’s baby carriage up flights of stairs and partially inspired by the sylvan images of people flyfishing on book covers in the window of a Manhattan bookstore, he walked away from that career and found a home in Lake Placid, where he had camped as a kid.

He started a rustic furniture company named Grant’s but his heart wasn’t in it. Then he got into real estate.

“Back then, you could by a home in Lake Placid, get this, for like $25,000,” Grant said. “You could buy a building here in Saranac Lake for 15 grand. I know. I bought eight of them.”

It was a real estate “gold mine” as he bought old homes and commercial buildings, fixed them up and flipped them for a profit.

“In 1996, I discovered the internet,” Grant said.

He learned about the unique domain names for webpages and saw an opportunity.

At $75 a pop, he quietly bought the domain names for pages like “adirondackrealestate.com.” He still owns that one. Pages like “torontorealestate.com” and similar unclaimed names all over the world he held onto to sell. At one point he claims to have had the single largest portfolio of real estate domains in world — more than 10,000.

This investment did not pay off for years. But after a New York Times headline on “wallstreet.com” selling for $1 million, people were bidding for these domains like crazy. He’s still selling them to this day.

He described a similar risk in putting out an album — not a financial risk, but one of confidence. Putting it out to reviewers was opening it up to criticism. But at his age, he decided he doesn’t care.

“I just turned 70,” Grant said. “Don’t feel it. I feel really young.”

Grant can carry on conversation for hours. But the moment he sits at the keys, he is silent and lets them do the talking. After chatting about domain names and real estate, his music speaks about the sea — or more specifically, the sea of emotion inside everyone — something deep, mysterious, comforting, impressive and beautiful.

“There is sort of an edge to it that’s maybe sad. It kind of comes from someplace inside me,” Grant said. “Like my daughter who also has that melancholy edge … that sad girl pop. I have the same thing. We share that same DNA.”

When he’s in town, Grant said he’s been coming down to the real estate office at night and playing the piano there. It sits right up next to the window. If someone is walking by on a quiet night feeling lost at sea, they could hear it through the glass.

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