Isaiah Grass’s “Dance In Love” wasn’t released specifically for Pride Month, but it’s certainly fitting. The nine-track collection of dance remixes of his previous tracks is packed with energy, in line with this weekend’s two-day music festival Pride in the Park and Chicago Pride Parade Sunday.
But Grass’s more recent releases showcase so many other facets of the city’s northwest artist, including his new single “I Need You,” which recently earned him an ambassadorship with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Grass, who was born in North Carolina and grew up in South Carolina, said his musical interests were nurtured in his church choir and the performing arts high school he attended. But his songwriting grew out of a need to express himself after childhood experiences.
“I was looking at one of the poems from a long time ago. Everyone gets bullied sometimes and has bad things in their life, but I had written something that I had to deal with. And when I wrote the song, ‘I Need You’, my latest issue, which is about mental health, I looked at a lot of experiences that I’ve been through,” he said. “When I was making it, I wanted to have something that I can think about with other people. I feel like a musician, God has given me the opportunity to have a platform to share my story, my lyrics, my music or even me to people, and hopefully it can help them. If I go back and look at poems I’ve written and other stories, just let me know I’m following my heart and still doing the right thing.”
Grass, who started his professional modeling career in New York, has been writing music for years. In early 2020, he was scouted to audition for “American Idol” and that gave him new exposure and a bigger platform, but also new challenges. A hack of his website, internet profiles and identity left him reeling, but he looked for musical possibilities and a new song, “More Than Friends,” which plays the precariousness of online contact with strangers.
“Everything was just really messed up. … And I went through a really big mental block in my heart where I really felt like, ‘Okay, I think I’m done making music. I think this is the breakthrough will be’ point,” he said. Instead, he wrote the new song, which garnered reactions from fans and friends about experiences they were going through, pushing him into a new productive mode.
Through his NAMI ambassadorship, Grass said he hopes he can shed some light on mental health issues and remove some of the stigma.
“Mental health is such a serious thing to talk about. Nobody wants to talk about their problems in their lives.… We all live in this world where it’s social media, putting on the perfect smile, putting on the perfect clothes, and making everyone think that our lives are great,” he said. “And I wanted to share with people that it doesn’t matter what people show, if you can see it from a singer’s point of view, who can remove that filter and just say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m human,’ and I hope this can help you,’ then maybe I can get people out there.”