Ready for the Spotlight

Grant Larcom (’21) has experienced 3,500 people watching and listening while he plays a piano solo. And he likes the feeling – a lot. His love for the piano and performing is taking this Union City native to stages across the U.S. and beyond as he regularly tours with Postmodern Jukebox, the traveling musical collective that transforms popular music into vintage genres. 

The ability to play the piano is an enviable talent – in some cases, a gift – and the 24-year-old takes performing to the next level as he carves his own niche in the competitive Nashville music scene.

Larcom was encouraged but never pushed into his love for music. His father, Danny, owns an HVAC business in Union City, and he developed his musical interests while listening to his mother, Lori, play church hymns at home and for local nursing homes. He began piano lessons at age 5, and he continued to study for the next 18 years, including classical training that covers pre-1900s music. 

“It (music) was always a major part of my personality,” he said. “ … As early as my memories go back, it was piano, piano, piano.”

He participated in the Union City High School marching band starting in eigth grade, where he learned teamwork and, later, as a piano major at UT Martin, when he discovered his love for jazz piano and honed his technical skills. He chose UTM because of familiarity and cost, and as a University Scholar, the cost of his education was largely covered. His college choice also allowed him to perform in multiple ways by playing different kinds of music.

“I got to do a lot of different styles of music all at the same time and learned how to do those effectively,” he said. “I learned how to manage my time and learned how to practice effectively.”

Dr. Elaine Harriss, UT Martin professor of music, began teaching Larcom piano in eigth grade, and he continued to study with the longtime music faculty member through completion of his undergraduate degree. Harriss remembers Larcom’s excitement for music and music theory.

“I remember him bursting into my studio excited that he found a new way to look at music theory from a website or to show me that he got the extra credit question on a theory test,” Harriss said. “He was ‘turned on’ learning about music theory. This interest spearheaded his University Scholars project, a Mini Music Theory Book, and influenced his senior project on jazz piano.”

Larcom recalled two performances in his musical journey that solidified his passion to perform. The first was his high school senior recital at the Obion County Public Library in Union City. His family announced the recital in the newspaper and was surprised with a larger-than-expected turnout, including people they didn’t know. 

“That felt really cool to me that there was this hidden community of people that apparently had been following me online on social media and knew of me who I didn’t know about, and they came out to support me in person,” he said. “ … I’d say that was a pretty defining moment for me in terms of just believing that there are people that care about what I’m doing, and that felt really great.”

His other career-affirming performance opportunity happened in September 2021 at Summerfest, held annually in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and billed as “the world’s largest music festival.” He learned that Jackson-based musician Hunter Cross, who owns a record shop called Third Eye Curiosities, needed a keyboard player after Cross was invited to play at Summerfest. The two artists had never met but connected for a quick rehearsal before heading to Milwaukee the next day.

“We played and then packed up our stuff and went and watched ZZ Top at the same festival,” Larcom said. The experience of playing for “complete strangers that actually appreciated what we were doing” confirmed that Nashville was where he wanted to be.

While recitals and concerts had their place in Larcom’s musical development, playing extensively at church helped him to reach other important milestones as a musician. 

“It (playing at church) got rid of all of my anxiety when it comes to performing for a large crowd,” he said of his four years playing piano for Union City Methodist Church. The experience also allowed him to experiment freely because his offertory selection involved playing his own arrangement of a hymn. “I learned how to make something from nothing on the fly and make something sound beautiful. It served as a place where I could experiment freely, not be judged by it.”

Larcom moved to Nashville in January 2022, joining countless talented musicians attempting to make a living in the music business. It’s not an easy life, and Larcom arrived fully focused on what he wanted to accomplish. 

“A lot of people move to Nashville with big ambitions, and then they settle for the Broadway bar scene because it’s quick, easy, reliable money. That’s the trap of Nashville. You fall into that bar scene and then you never get out,” he said. “But I am not in that bar scene. I’ve stayed really far away from it.” 

A short time later in March, Larcom’s journey led him to Postmodern Jukebox.

Larcom first listened to PMJ in 2015 and was a fan of the music and arrangements. He didn’t know that PMJ founder Scott Bradlee had moved the organization’s headquarters in recent years from Los Angeles to Nashville. 

One day he was scrolling a Facebook group for musicians when he saw a casting call for Nashville talent. Sensing this was the break he sought, Larcom submitted a one-minute audition video “and then waited, and waited, and waited.” He finally received a call and auditioned live with veteran PMJ pianist Jesse Elder. All of this happened in March, “And then in July, I got an email with a tour offer to do two months in 36 cities in the U.S. … and that email changed my life 100%.”

Larcom said PMJ began as a “Motown tribute to Nickelback,” but the group quickly transformed into a much larger concept by rearranging music from multiple artists. 

Today PMJ audiences hear a variety of popular and rock songs arranged in old classic music styles. He referenced “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio performed as a swing cover as an example to show PMJ’s creative musical range.

PMJ’s audience appeal is the musical arrangements and not the cast, so several versions of PMJ can tour at the same time in different parts of the U.S. and the world. This means more potential opportunities for Larcom and other musicians to perform, and he’s impressed how well the music is received by young and old audiences alike who are treated to a big-time production. 

Larcom has played a range of well-known venues that include the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, where he performed a solo in a packed house of 3,500 concert goers.

The shows generally include 12 musicians and singers who travel together on large buses, and Larcom has no problem with the extended travel, which can last six or seven weeks; overseas tours have lasted more than several months. The group boards a bus at 10 or 11 p.m., settles into private bunks, travels all night and awakens with the bus parked in the city where PMJ will perform. The cast members then have free time until they attend a sound check scheduled well ahead of the evening show, followed by more free time before show preparations begin.

“So, for some people, it’s extremely sustainable (the travel). For some people, it’s probably not,” he said. “ … I think it’s a treat in itself just getting to see all these different places all at once. I like traveling, though, so if you’re content sitting at home all the time, maybe it’s not for you.”

Larcom not only enjoys touring, but he also enjoys the people associated with PMJ. Recalling his first tour, he has nothing but positive feelings about the entire experience. 

It’s very rare that I get to be around 10 other world-class musicians who just speak the same language as I do,” he said. “ … There was no more anxiety. … It was the most welcoming, open environment I’ve ever been in.”

Larcom’s practice routine is much different these days compared to when he was taking piano lessons or attending UT Martin. The expectation for Nashville musicians is “play a song that you’ve never heard before and nail it,” so he must stay at the top of his game. However, instead of scheduled practice time, he plays to satisfy his musical curiosity and improves by exploring and creating at the keyboard. Conversely, PMJ rehearsals are structured and divided into four eight-hour days. Larcom knows that other musicians would love to be in his situation, so with no day being typical, he stays flexible.

Along with his musical gifts, flexibility and patience might be among Larcom’s most valuable assets. He would remind other young musicians that the music business ebbs and flows, so he has other talents to fall back on, such as web and graphic-design skills. Despite his early success and varied talents, it’s not always been easy to persevere.

“I think the goal for everybody in life should be to find something you love to do and then figure out how to make a living off of it, and that’s what I finally have been able to do,” he said. That said, Larcom has had moments when he’s been tempted to rethink his future.

“Even after this last tour with PMJ and I hadn’t heard back from them for just a little while, I was like, ‘This is it. This is it.’ I was considering moving back home,” he said. Fortunately, PMJ called again with another touring opportunity, and Larcom has remained in Nashville to pursue his dream.

Elaine Harriss is among those who isn’t surprised by Larcom’s early success.

“Grant thoroughly enjoys making music, and he does it well,” she said. “His pianistic technique, his understanding of music theory, his facility with various styles of keyboard playing, and his ensemble flexibility are the musical characteristics necessary for his chosen field.

“He also has the interpersonal skills, which make him easy to work with and he’s interested in trying out new things.”

As he makes his way in a competitive and uncertain business, this talented musician can’t help but look back to when his parents encouraged him to take piano lessons. Their support pointed him toward the stage and ultimately to the next tour destination – wherever that takes him. 

Grant Larcom is in a place he wants to be, and he and his piano welcome the bright lights as he shares his musical gift with the world.

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