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It’s not unusual for real estate agents to moonlight as serial entrepreneurs — and with a resume stacked with professional detours, Rob Grant, the founder and broker of Rob Grant & Associates Real Estate, is no different.
Except, perhaps, that the former restauranteur, shipbuilder and furniture retailer just released his first solo album, “Lost at Sea,” at the age of 69. Oh, and he’s the father of six-time Grammy Award nominee Lana Del Rey.
With the album’s release earlier this month, the broker and pianist’s latest endeavor on Decca Records includes two new songs, “Lost at Sea” and “Hollywood Bowl,” featuring Del Rey, who since breaking into the mainstream in 2011 after uploading her songs “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” to YouTube, has been showered with accolades, most recently with the release of “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” in December.
Inman caught up with Grant following news that his album had topped U.K. charts as the country’s No. 1 classical album. He shared more about “Lost at Sea’s” meditative tunes, his real estate career and what he thinks of his daughter’s fame, following her metamorphosis from Elizabeth Woolridge Grant to internationally known singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey. Here’s what he had to say, edited for brevity and clarity.
Inman: Thank you for making the time to talk with me this afternoon.
Grant: My pleasure. You know, I’m a big fan.
Glad to hear it!
Yeah. I think you folks have done a great job. [Inman is] basically the industry Bible.
High praise! I appreciate that. I’ll pass it along. And congratulations on your new album.
Yeah, thank you. We woke up to some really great news this morning. Which, you know, I feel blessed — especially at my age — to be able to wake up releasing a new album and then going No. 1 in the U.K.
That is pretty fantastic.
Yeah, we’re waiting to see if we can pull it off in the U.S. But it’s wonderful to get it confirmed, you know, in the U.K., so absolutely.
Have you heard the music yet?
I got a chance to listen to the two tracks with your daughter — “Lost at Sea” and “Hollywood Bowl.” I found them both very peaceful and calming and great listening, so I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the album.
Yeah, that is the purpose. The album, I wrote it to really kind of share very meditative, peaceful, Zen-like instrumentals, which I always find, when I play the piano myself, it’s almost like self-medicating. It’s so calming. And really throughout my life, I’ve always played the piano privately. And I can play for hours and just kind of drift off into this really beautiful state of mind. So you know, the fact that I’ve now got the chance to be able to share that kind of music with the world is really cool. Just such a gift.
Absolutely. We are all benefiting from that.
I’m glad you like it.
Has creating your own album and releasing music always been a goal of yours?
Well, not necessarily — in the early years, I was busy like most people raising a family and running businesses and you’re paying the bills and you really can’t think too much about music. It really wasn’t until I got more involved out here in L.A. with my daughter, and I would go into recording sessions with her. And when she would arrive late at one of these recording sessions, I would slip in early and tell the engineers to just go ahead, hit record, and then I would play and that became a pattern.
A couple of years ago, my daughter and I recorded our first song together, which is “Sweet Carolina,” which is the last track on her “Blue Bannisters” [album]. And it’s a beautiful, you know, very soft piano ballad. Kind of similar to “Lost at Sea.” And from that point, I became very interested in recording and one thing led to another and the more involved I got out here with the producers, and engineers, you know, I got to know Jack Antonoff really well and Jack and I really hit it off. He’s a great piano player and he loves my playing. So he would listen to my piano playing in the studio. And he would immediately start producing, he’d start adding sound effects. And pretty quickly, I’d say we’ve put together five or six really beautiful instrumental pieces.
And my manager Ben Lawson with TAP Management, heard those samples. I had sent those to London last year and he immediately wrote back, ‘I love this, I can get you a record deal.’ And I was skeptical. But I continued to record and then two weeks later, he called me back and he said, ‘We just got you a big record deal with Decca in London.’ That started the whole process and then because I’ve written two pop gems, “Hollywood Bowl” and “Lost at Sea,” I’m also signed with Interscope and Universal so I’ve got three labels, all of whom are doing a fantastic job of marketing the music and knowing which demographic to target. So it’s been a really wonderful joint effort on the part of all three labels both here in the U.S. and the U.K.
So now the question is where do you go from here?
Yeah, that is a great question. What is on your mind?
So the next step, and you know everything I’ve done is brand new, honestly, I’m so outside my comfort zone at this point. There’s no going back — the next step would be live performance. Because the question keeps coming up, are you going to tour? So that’s something which I’ve got to really kind of come to terms with.
I am going on tour — Tuesday, we’ll be flying to London, because my daughter’s doing Glastonbury. So that’s a huge festival with around 150,000 people, and then there’s Hyde Park, that’ll be in July, Ben would like me to perform there, we’ll see. And then Newport Jazz Festival, which, you know, that’d be a very relevant venue and given my album is ocean based.
So we’ll see. My motto is, always say yes, just kind of go with the flow. And so far that’s worked. I’ll reach a point where I’m probably so deep, so far in the deep water and over my head, I’ll instinctively know when to pull back. So far, it’s worked. I have to say, it’s been a hell of a ride.
I can imagine. Yes, that’s a lot of new things to encounter in life.
And the people are really wonderful, you know, really supportive. They’re all very excited. They’re all very creative, and they’ve all accomplished great things. I’ve become good friends with Jon Batiste, and he heard my music and he wants to collaborate with me. He’s a hell of a pianist, you should see that guy play. So the more people you meet, the sort of greater the synergy there is out there. I’ve got a wonderful producer in Australia, Luke Howard, who is famous for the ambient, that really kind of mystical, wonderful, mysterious ambient sounds. If you play, on my record, if you play “The Mermaids Lullaby,” that’s a great example of what Luke Howard produced and he took a one-minute piano composition and stretched into this six-minute, airy, beautiful, mysterious, kind of underwater experience.
He’s slowed the traditional piano down by four [times], and then began to layer with different production values and the result is this really … it’s like going into a hypnotic dream state. And it’s a wonderful piece to, you know, meditate to or do yoga or really anything. We had a bunch of different producers working on this album. We had Jack Antonoff, of course, and then we Zach Dawes, we had Luke Howard … We had a number of different producers, all of whom kind of add their own style and magic. So it’s a really collaborative effort.
Fantastic. So I did want to ask you a little bit too about your pre-music background. As you know, our publication is largely for real estate agents, and I know you’ve been involved in that industry, but it also seems like you have started up a lot of different companies and I was wondering if you’d be willing to share more about that.
Sure. I’ve kind of always been fascinated with different ventures, and I’ve owned restaurants — I had a restaurant in Newport, Rhode Island, called Espresso Gardens — I had a boat building company in Warren, Rhode Island, where we build 16-foot fiberglass daysailers.
And then here’s a crazy company, which kind of evolved out of that boat building company — [a hand-sewn sail company], which really in effect were billboards [with advertising on them] called Creative Sail.
I launched a rustic furniture company called Grant’s and we made really beautiful, high-end, one-of-a-kind pieces, which appeared in the Saks Fifth Avenue windows. And we would, we would actually pay Amish farmers a bounty to find these really unusual shaped cedar limbs, and depending on the configuration of the limb, or the tree trunk, we would build the piece around that.
Then, I think it was 1991 — I had worked on Madison Avenue for 10 years at Grey Advertising. I was a writer. So that was kind of my corporate gig. And you know that was a fascinating time. I can tell you all kinds of stories about that.
But on the more entrepreneurial front, after I had my first child, who, by the way, is Lana Del Rey, we had our first daughter in New York City. I realized the game had changed and we were going to have to probably move out of New York and either find a place in Long Island or Connecticut and that meant I’d have to start commuting. And I really did not want to commute — I saw what it did to the guys I’ve worked with at Grey, they’d just come in beat up. So I thought, it’s time to change. And I had always kind of gone down to this beautiful bookstore [at the base of Grey Advertising’s building]. And I used to go down and look at the books in the windows. And you could see these beautiful books about fly fishing in Vermont and covered bridges, and and I thought to myself, ‘What in God’s name am I doing here?’ I want to be up there. You know, I want to be the guy in the waiters fly fishing.
So when did real estate come into the picture?
Well, we took the big plunge, and we we moved up to Lake Placid, New York. And, of course, the last thing anybody needed up there was was an advertising guy from Madison Avenue. So I had to totally reinvent myself and that’s when I began to buy real estate.
I’d buy homes, and I’d renovate those homes and then of course, we’d resell them. And I got very lucky because I got into the market at a time when prices were very cheap, very depressed. It was before Lake Placid had really been discovered. And so I began to buy up a lot of single-family homes and some multifamily buildings and then I had a crew that would renovate those and then we put them back on the market. And you know, we’d make three or four times our investment. And my timing was just fortunate.
As I got involved with bigger buildings, I ended up buying a bunch of commercial buildings that were mixed-use — retail, multifamily, office. Around 1991, I had a lot of people coming to me asking my advice on what they should buy in the way of real estate. A lot of people said, you know, you should really get your broker’s license. And I thought, yeah, that might make sense rather than just kind of giving everybody free advice. So I I formed a company, Rob Grant & Associates Real Estate, and I think I started that company just as one of the worst recessions hit. So that was a tough launch back then, and I remember we had to really tough it out for about three or four years before we even turned a profit.
By 1996, then I had a number of agents and we were doing well but I felt that it was a very limited sort of geographic scope. And I had been watching the internet, which was still in its very early stages. And I became fascinated with IP addresses, which are domain names. And I had this epiphany one day that if people were looking for real estate, they weren’t going to look for Rob Grant. No one knew who Rob Grant was, but they did know what Adirondack real estate was, or Saranac Lake real estate, and that little light bulb went off.
And I began to buy domains, and very quickly, I thought, ‘Well, if that applies to me, it also applies to every broker all over the country.’ And very quickly, I began to buy domains in all of the major urban areas and within several months, most of the major cities within the U.S. Then, I began to buy over in Europe and London, realestate.com, etc., and then moved into South America and Asia, and eventually acquired the largest privately held realestate.com portfolio in the world.
Back then, you’ve got to remember, there were no search engines. There was no Google, there was no Yahoo. So the only way people could search was intuitively. So if you were interested in tropical fish, you would type in tropicalfish.com and that’s how you found things back then. Now that was 25 years ago. So an investment back in 1996 … that took probably five years to really become a validated concept. And what was fascinating with that is, I had to keep paying the renewal fees on all these domains. And by all these domains, I mean I had 8,000 to 10,000 domain names. And there was still no proof that my theory was correct.
Then in 1999, The New York Times ran a big story about wallstreet.com being sold for a million bucks. And then shortly thereafter, the floodgates opened and you had this mass speculation. It was like the gold rush for domain names and very quickly, domain names became a viable asset that people would buy and sell.
My mantra is, keep everything that works and know when to get out of things that don’t work. So I got out of the furniture business. My heart really wasn’t in that. I got out of the boat building thing, I got out of the restaurant and I’ve only kept those things which truly bring me pleasure and also make some kind of profit. So now I’ve moved into music. That’s a whole new frontier. And really, I did that not to make money, but I did that because I’m fascinated with music and piano. And I want to see, you know where that’s going to take me.
Do you think you’ll continue to collaborate with Lana Del Rey or other high profile musicians in the future?
Well, here’s something folks don’t know — Lana Del Rey and I already have other songs we’ve written. We had a song called “Sunshine,” which we wrote together. It’s a beautiful song. So yeah, we’re definitely going to be releasing more music and also I’m going to collaborate with other artists, the first being Jon [Batiste].
Great. One more quick question: Did you have any inclination when your daughter was younger that she would become a big star?
Yes. Honestly, from the time she could walk [I knew]. She was singing before she could walk. She was literally like a little songbird and she had a beautiful voice, even back then. And you could tell she was fascinated with music. And then, throughout elementary school, she would be in all of the plays and the musicals, and then in junior high, in high school, so it was always there.
But you never know just how big the potential is. And she’s the one who had this extraordinary drive to succeed. It was just remarkable to watch. And, you know, I have a lot of dads who come up to me, and they’ve got very talented daughters, and they always say to me, ‘What’s the secret?’ And I say, there really isn’t a secret. It’s whether or not that child has this extraordinary ambition to succeed, against all odds, and I do mean all. And that’s Lana Del Rey.
Thank you so much for the conversation.