Interview with YouTube Musical Genius Grant Woolard
Grant Woolard is one of the more intriguing Youtube artists. The Japan-based, University of Virginia educated user creates videos on a wide range of topics, in a wide range of styles. Whether he’s sending up famous speeches or blending Beatles songs together into a delectable truffle, Woolard always seems to hold the viewers attention, sometimes for as long as 6 minutes. I recently had an opportunity to “sit down” with Grant and ask him about his creative process. His answers to my meddling questions were just as thought-provoking as his videos.
What made you want to start a YouTube channel in the first place?
Back in 2007, when I was supposed to be studying biology, I wrote several pieces for piano and decided to post them on YouTube, but I didn’t start making videos on a regular basis until about a year-and-a-half ago, after watching MysteryGuitarMan’s videos. This new medium exited me because I could combine my interests in music, editing, and comedy.
Were you classically trained to perform at the musical level that you do?
I took classical piano lessons from age 7 up until my second year of university, with a couple breaks in between. I don’t have a teacher anymore, but I think I’ve improved the most since I started recording myself for videos, because it has forced me to listen to all my imperfections and correct them.
Your Beatles mashup vid is quite unique and impressive. How many hours did it take you to play with their songs and piece together the perfect medley?
Finding melodies that blended well was a long process of elimination. It took at least a week-and-a-half, working several hours a day. I’m too embarrassed to do the math. It was definitely a labor of love.
Are you surprised when one of your videos takes off on YouTube, or do you make some of them while thinking to yourself, “This is going to be a hit.”
I usually don’t expect a video to be a hit, but I try to make every one as accessible as possible. My channel is obscure and I’m trying to get as much exposure as I can, so when thinking up ideas I give priority to those with wider appeal. But at the same time it has to be an idea I personally love, otherwise I couldn’t go through all the trouble to make it.
Your grading famous speeches video is amusing, especially the bit where you take a swipe at Obama’s speeches. The sketch left me curious. What was the last speech you wrote?
The last speech I wrote was in Japanese. I could have done with a speechwriter myself, and I’m very glad it wasn’t graded.
I think your Biology with the Beach Boys vid should be required viewing in middle school sex-education classes across the country. Don’t you agree?
Thanks. I’d be flattered if even one teacher ever used it in the classroom. I think I would have actually enjoyed biology if the Beach Boys had taught it.
Talk about about why you created the “Part of the World,” Little Mermaid parody. Have you asked Japanese locals what they think about it? If so, what kind of responses have you gotten?
Basically, I loved the song and wanted to pay homage to it through parody. I searched for a situation like Ariel’s, in which one longs to venture into a world he or she has been sheltered from. I realized that the Japanese phenomenon of “hikikomori,” which refers to geeky, reclusive young people who have completely withdrawn from society and sometimes isolate themselves in their bedrooms for years, was a good theme to work with. At the same time I hoped it could bring to light a serious social problem in Japan.
Japanese friends who have seen it said it was funny, but I’ve had trouble promoting it in the Japanese-speaking world. Unfortunately for me, satire is an alien form of comedy in Japan and not as many Japanese people are familiar with the original song.
I assume you do you do all your own photoshopping and video editing, correct?
That’s right. It’s one of the main reasons I can only put out a video every 2-4 weeks. I wish it were my full-time job.
How old were you when you first picked up a camera?
Disposable Kodaks aside, I started using a camera (a digital SLR) in college. I really didn’t get into video until about a year ago.
How long have you been living in Japan and do you prefer it to the U.S.?
This is a tough question. I’ve lived here for almost 4 years, and naturally there are things I love and hate about both countries. Japanese culture fascinates me but I sometimes become frustrated with the endless formalities in which it is entrenched. On the other hand, while American culture is less intriguing, the casual lifestyle and independent American spirit are things I’ve come to value more since living here.
Check out Grant’s YouTube channel if you like having your hair blown back.
By Juniper Jettison. Note: Juniper Jettison’s actual initials might be WP.