At the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards on January 26, 2020 " Ageless Songs for the Child Archetype" won the Grammy for Best Children's Album. The album's artist, Jon Samson, received the Grammy along with the album's producer Al Walser, who is from Liechtenstein. For Grammys awarded in the "Best Album" category, Grammys are awarded to both the artist and producer. We talked with Mr. Walser about his incredible accomplishment and what brought him to where he is today.
Congratulations on your Grammy! What does this achievement mean for you?
First of all, thank you very much. I think Jon and I really worked hard and tried to make a great meaningful lasting album for the most precious among us, the kids. When we were finished with the production, which really was not that easy, because both of us kept hearing new things that we wanted to tweak and change, we were very happy with the production. We’re both perfectionists but it’s also the expertise and experience of us as producers to recognize when it’s done. So to see it recognized by the Academy in this way, of course is very humbling.
On a personal level, quite honestly, when bigger things happen within my music journey, I often immediately reflect back to where I started, because let’s be honest, it’s a real stretch for a kid from Schaan (Liechtenstein) having dreams in the entertainment industry. The journey is so personal but also unique in that regard, because there were no footsteps to step into. There was no sketched out path from Schaan into the international music industry so you can imagine how people reacted when I told them at a very young age that I wanted to be in the music business.
For a Liechtensteiner to have dreams in a skiing career is one thing, that can be traced to tradition and history, but in popular modern music as a singer and/or producer, not many could relate to it to put it mildly. So yes, this and many other achievements I was fortunate enough to experience throughout my journey, I guess should also be seen as a testament to the strength of one’s inner voice versus the noise hitting you from the outside in.
A children’s album must have been a very unique project, especially one that is described as therapeutic for children who fall under the autism spectrum or suffer from anxiety, ADD and other challenges. What brought you to work on this album and did the process of production differ from past works?
You work with different people on different albums, in different genres, and oftentimes you also work alone. My very first Grammy nomination years ago was actually in the Best Dance Recording genre. Working with Jon was certainly great. I also respect him a lot as an artist. We’re both artists and producers, so we had a real good understanding of every little part of the process. We’ve actually been communicating for years prior to us finally working together. Being a father of two myself certainly made the whole album even more relatable to me also on a personal level. From a music production point of view, and I always said that throughout the process, many of the songs , when you listen to the production without the lyrics, are songs you would also hear on the pop charts. We tried to keep the level of production up to the standards you would hold for pop tracks being sent to mainstream radio.
You grew up in Liechtenstein where your career lifted off in the 1990s starting as a radio personality on our local radio station Radio Liechtenstein. Can you tell us more about your journey as a musician and performer? Would you say having grown up in Liechtenstein played a role in how you formed your career?
The Liechtenstein family history on my mum’s side actually goes way way back. My forefathers were in part responsible for writing the Liechtenstein constitution. My great great grandfather was mayor of Schaan around the turn of the 19th century. But that was a long time ago. And growing up, I didn’t even know about my forefathers' history. For me personally, one thing I can attest to, is that my journey certainly was a unique and extreme experience in many ways - challenging and not always easy. I started out finding myself as a little biracial child in a society that on the outside was just different than me. And we’re talking early and mid 80’s now, in a double landlocked country. Beautiful country, but also for a child growing up, the circumstances are what they are. Regarding my music journey, on one hand, you do have a great school system, where they really prepare you well and make it affordable for you to also participate in sports and music. Although at some point I just couldn’t wait to finally finish my Gymnasium school [academically-oriented secondary school] stint. Back then you were 20 by the time you finished the Matura [school exit exam]. On the other hand, I grew up at a time in a country that didn’t have a TV station, no radio station, no entertainment print magazines whatsoever that would or could push one of their owns out to anyone. But it never bothered me. In fact, I became part of the change early on when I started doing my shows on Radio Liechtenstein, and also learned journalism while I was simultaneously still in school. I was on the air the week when Radio Liechtenstein launched. It became quite clear though that if I was going to be serious about my journey in music, I would have to leave the country. So I spent a lot of time in Hamburg, Germany, from where I was able to branch out internationally all over Europe and Japan. Mostly as a pop singer, songwriter and producer.
You’ve been living in the US for some time now. What was behind your decision to make the move to L.A. and how has the experience been for you?
After my stints around Europe and Japan, that were all done when I was based in Hamburg, Germany, I came back to part-time work for Radio Liechtenstein. I was back to doing shows and being a journalist and did everything I could imagine doing at a station, from hosting the leading morning show, to reporting about news and creating reports. There just came a time though where I felt I was still too young to be repeating myself in what I’m doing, and thought maybe I could become a reporter in the US , and report back to stations in Europe, which I did. The US certainly also brought an additional broad spectrum of diversity into my surrounding which I appreciate a lot. Let’s not forget, from what I know, I’m Liechtenstein’s first biracial boy. That’s yet another level of a unique experience for me growing up.
What do you think about most if you ever get homesick for Liechtenstein?
You know we all are very blessed to live in an age where technology and planes really make it possible to still be in touch with your parents and friends in Liechtenstein. It also helps to not loose the Zeitgeist from where you started your journey. But I think when you grow up on the chocolate and bakeries from Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Austria, many will tell you that they miss that a lot (laughs). But staying in touch is like a window into another world that the internet really allows you to do, via newspapers, TV interviews I watch online; and I also try to get my two sons to not loose touch with their parents' origins via those tools or through summer visits in Europe.
I also have a big Soirée event that started in Liechtenstein, now in Zürich. I’m blessed to know that my annual Rebel&Caviar Gala is now a staple in the Swiss Gala calendars. It annually brings me back to Liechtenstein just around its national holiday in August. The event is similar to my annual Soirée I host during Grammy weekend here in L.A. Those two events really became very close to me. Part of the event is now also the Living Legend award ceremony where I awarded R&B/POP icon Dionne Warwick and CNN icon Larry King among others, with the Living Legend Trophy.
Any future projects we can look forward to?
There’s one big one on the horizon, my Christmas TV Special, that is slated for the end of this year. I purposely produced it in a very timeless and unique fashion. The special includes brand new Christmas songs that I’ve written. I’m really very excited about it. And it also includes the Christmas Story “Alex The Reindeer”, a Christmas story that became an Amazon Bestseller last year that originates in Liechtenstein.