After a short hiatus, JamJews is bringing back our Artist of the Month series with a very special guest, Grant Hilsenrath! Hailing from the Five Towns on Long Island, Grant is rocker with deep Jewish background. A staple in the Long Island Orthdox community he is from, he developed his skills playing a heavy rotation of gigs. His skills on the guitar and as a singer are only made more impressive by the wide versatility of styles he is able to play, allowing him to always match the mood to the moment. Without further ado, please enjoy learning a little bit more about Grant and his music in his own words!
JJ: What is your Jewish background like?
GH: I grew up modern orthodox. I’ve kept kosher and kept Shabbos my whole life. My parents sent me to yeshiva day school since I was in nursery school. My dad took me to shul since for as long as I could remember. When I was young I could be found somewhere in the shul playing Yu-Gi-Oh cards while the adults were davening, but I could always be found on the bimah at the end for Adon Olam.
JJ: How has your music been inspired (or not) by Judaism and Jewish music?
GH: I generally don’t see my musical preferences being inspired by Jewish music. When I write, it more resembles works of the Beatles or Head and the Heart (two bands that inspire me).
JJ: What is your current Jewish practice and identity like?
GH: I’m still modern orthodox. I keep kosher, Shabbos, daven (pray) every morning with tefillin, and try to go to shul on Shabbos. I try to keep up with some Jewish studies even though I work full time and I’m a grad student. My passion for Judaism has grown even in a world of growing secularism.
JJ: What bands have you been in?
GH: Compromise! Compromise is the band two friends of mine and myself created in high school. We still play together when we can (we have since added a fourth member, but that spot has rotated across the years).
JJ: What is your favorite style of music to play?
GH: I particularly love acoustic playing, but there’s nothing quite like playing rock and roll.
JJ: If you were to create a themed tefillah (prayer) service in any genre, what would you choose and why?
GH: Disney themed!!!!!! Fun fact: in college there were very few people to lead Yom Kippur services. The Chabad rabbi couldn’t do it all so he asked if I could do Shacharit (the morning service). I didn’t know any tunes well enough, so he said, “I want people engaged. Do whatever you’d like.” So my Yom Kippur davening consisted of a few Beatles tunes and a bunch of Disney stuff. I had people singing along quite nicely to A Whole New World sung to some random prayer.