In March 2020, Marc Griffin (known best by his stage name Marc E. Bassy) was in the middle of his tour in support of his last record, 2019's PMD. But just as he was heading back to the West Coast for a string of shows, the Bay Area-born artist was forced to scrap his performances because of the brewing pandemic.
He was devastated, he admits. But he immediately got to work, creating an influx of new material. Like many in the music industry affected by the global shutdowns, Griffin initially thought perhaps COVID-19 would subside after a few months, and he planned accordingly. But the virus didn't subside as he anticipated, and he didn't like the idea of releasing an album in the middle of a health crisis. So, he waited, and kept making music.
Now, his new album has finally arrived. And the wait has proven to be worth it. Titled Little Men, this is perhaps Griffin's most mature, most conscientious record yet. It's also his latest on his own label, New Gold Medal.
"This is the second album I made independently," says Griffin, speaking with Variance immediately after the album's release. "And it's crazy because there's no more adults in the room. We're the adults now. So it was really on me to make sure that the mixing, the mastering, the engineering—everything—was at the highest level possible. When I started off with major labels, that's one thing they generally do for you."
Noting the pressure of having to "really be resourceful and do it all on a budget," Griffin says he wouldn't change a thing. "I was just trying to outdo myself now. And I'm proud of it," he says of the new LP.
For many artists, they dream of the big label support, hefty advances and a team of handlers. But Griffin has been down that road already, both with his previous band 2AM Club and in his solo career. So his perspective is an interesting one.
"I've had hit singles and I've had no hit single, but bigger touring," he recalls. "So it's hard to say. But it's a process. And I feel like I'm always working really hard to improve. And you know, we take the improvement from our own assessment, not just how we did on the chart."
While plenty of artists lament the importance of the charts, especially in the years since streaming overtook actual music sales, Griffin has had firsthand experience with the gamesmanship behind the scenes, and from his viewpoint, the numbers don't lie.
"It's different in every scenario," he cautions, as he explains his own experience. "I was on Universal Republic—big hit-driven place—and they decided that one of my songs could potentially be a hit. They went to push it and it was a top 10 record. Seeing that was beautiful, but you don't get fucking paid when they do that. You need a song to be four-times platinum, probably at a minimum. If they do a major campaign, before you see real money—because they don't tell you how much money they're spending to market and promote your record—they just do it, then they tally it up and say, 'This is how much you owe us before you start to see any of your royalties.'"
Griffin acknowledges he hasn't charted on Billboard's Hot 100 since going independent, and he won't rule it out in his future, but his bank account is in a better place.
"It's much more difficult to chart independently, I admit that. But now I'm probably making five times, maybe 10 times as much money," he reveals. "On a major label, you'll get 15% of your streaming income, so it's kind of crazy. As a streaming artist, that money can actually add up for you, but not when you're on a major label."
As the singer reflects on his post-major life, it's not necessarily from a sense of disdain but rather from a sense of wisdom. At 34 years old, Griffin has been through the system. He's been elevated and celebrated and seen plenty of highs and lows, from his own experience and from watching his peers. And that experience is partly what inspired his new album, and his decision to call it Little Men.
Recalling his years growing up with two younger sisters and seven younger female cousins, while being raised by his mom and two aunts, he says he was always somehow the baby in a strange way, because he was the only boy. And it's an image which follows him as an adult and especially as a musician living in Los Angeles, where he says it can be hard to grow up.
"It's like the Peter Pan syndrome," he says. "There's a lot of guys here who—they get a little bit of money, they get a nice place and there's so many beautiful people, and so much access to a good time. So much temptation. Sometimes it's hard to do the things that society would deem with growing up. And a lot of the problems and a lot of the personal issues that I talked about on the album have to do with it being difficult to grow up fully. It's hard to get married. It's hard to have a family when you're making music in L.A."
He continues: "So Little Men is like, 'I'm a man, but I still have this Peter Pan syndrome.' Like I can never fully grow up here. It was actually my sister's idea. She's like, 'I have an idea for your album. I know you're going to hate me when I say it.' She thought I was going to take it personally, but it was actually such a good idea. It was really my sister Lucy that coined the Little Men title."
Fans can also rest assured, he has heard their feedback about the lack of familiar R&B cuts on this new record. And he plans to address those concerns with an extended version of the project early next year before he hits the road on tour.
"It's going to be all the R&B tracks I didn't put on this album because it didn't fit," he says. "Because I know my fans were looking for that from me as well. So that's going to come and then, it's going to be tour and then I think we're going to actually go overseas after that. So I think 2022 will be about playing all this music live and just really promoting and just singing better, playing better, looking better, feeling better. That's gonna be the focus."
He adds: "I'm also writing songs, so that's not gonna stop. You know, it was two years of not being able to do that. Being in the house. Being away from everybody. I anticipate the next year will be very much focused on being outside and playing for the people." ■