When Scott Harris and Tim Kubart were both struggling to make a living by singing “The Wheels on the Bus” to babies at a Long Island play center in 2006, they never even dreamed that they would become Grammy Award winners.
But Sunday night, they will both walk the red carpet at Staples Center in Los Angeles as Grammy nominees, alongside top stars like Kendrick Lamar who leads the night with eight nominations and Drake, with seven nods. Oceanside native Harris is up for the prestigious song of the year Grammy for co-writing the Shawn Mendes hit “In My Blood.” And Farmingdale’s Kubart is nominated for best children’s album for “Building Blocks.”
“We were just doing the hustle of trying to make a career in music happen,” Harris says of those days. “We had the same intentions and I think we were the same age. We had just got out of school and realized we had to make a living.”
Kubart remembers that even when they were starting out they had a plan. “I was taking as many ‘Mommy & Me’ classes during the day so I could think about writing music and playing concerts at night,” he says. “I remember Scott was all about making money in the morning so he could write songs with pop singers at night. It’s very, very cool that we are both doing what we wanted to do.”
Of course, Harris and Kubart didn’t have easy roads to the Grammys.
Harris, 34, played in bands like Low Tide when he was at Oceanside High School and then formed the Scott Harris Project, which did national tours, while he was in college at SUNY Oneonta.
“I never loved the way I sang,” Harris says. “It was more about playing the songs I wrote so people would hear them.”
He says shifting his focus from performing to songwriting happened organically. “I would get feedback like ‘The songs are really good, maybe someone else could try singing them,’” he says. “I didn’t even know that was a possibility. For me, it was perfect. I could go into sessions and collaborate with great people and write a song in a different genre every day and not have to worry about performing them.”
His songwriting had already started to draw fans, landing on projects with Jessie J and Krewella. Then Harris met then-teenage Vine sensation Shawn Mendes and something clicked. Not only have they collaborated for a string of hits – including “Life of the Party” and “Treat You Better” – but all three of Mendes’ albums.
“We have a connection,” Harris says. “We are constantly texting each other working on songs.”
And that connection helped spark “In My Blood,” which made Mendes the only teenage artist to top Billboard’s Adult Pop charts four times. “We thought it was a special song when we wrote it,” Harris says of “In My Blood.” “But we didn’t know it was that special… And I don’t care how confident you are. No one ever thinks they have a song that could win Song of the Year.”
Harris has been a Grammy winner before, when The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” which he co-wrote, won the best dance recording Grammy in 2017. “That was surreal to be there, but that award was announced before the Grammys aired and we found out before we even got there,” he says. “This will be much more nerve-wracking… It’s definitely crazy. It’s the best possible award for a songwriter.”
For Kubart, the best children’s album Grammy nomination for “Building Blocks” (Tim Kubart Songs) is also extra special. Though he already won a Grammy in the category in 2016 for his album “Home,” Kubart, 34, struggled to finish the new album.
He revealed his reasons to his fans on Twitter. “A year ago I couldn't get out of bed because I had been laid off from my dream job,” wrote Kubart, who had been the host of “Sunny Side Up” on the Sprout network. “I had lost all confidence in myself and if I had anything to say. I didn't leave my apartment for weeks. My friends Matt (Puckett, engineer and co-writer) and Dom (Fallacaro, producer) pulled me out of it saying we needed to finish the record.”
He feels that “Building Blocks” turned out better than its Grammy-winning predecessor. “I wanted to write more universal songs, especially in the choruses,” says Kubart, calling from his home in Farmingdale. “I wanted to write songs that work for any age groups – for kids and their parents – to do both at 100 percent.”
And he hopes to get another Grammy win – not necessarily for himself, but for the fourth-graders at his alma mater Woodward Parkway Elementary School in Farmingdale who appear on the song “We Are Growing” and would share in the award.
“That is the coolest thing,” says Kubart, who also tours with Postmodern Jukebox as “The Tambourine Guy” and is looking forward to the group’s show at the Beacon Theatre on Feb. 21. “We recorded 90 then-third-graders from Woodward and now they’re all nominated for a Grammy. That is really, really special. They sound absolutely beautiful.”
WHAT The 61st annual Grammys
WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. Sunday, CBS/2 (Pre-telecast awards handed out starting at 3:30 p.m. on grammy.com)
MORE LI CONNECTIONS AT THIS YEAR'S SHOW
This year’s Grammy Awards has a distinctly Long Island sound.
In addition to Scott Harris' nomination for Song of the Year and Tim Kubart's nomination for best children's album, the Grammy telecast will be hosted by Alicia Keys, who may have sold her Muttontown home but maintains her studios in Glen Cove. The preshow telecast where the bulk of the awards are handed out, now known as the Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony, will be hosted by Valley Stream’s Shaggy, who is nominated for a Grammy this year himself, up for best reggae album for his “44/876” collaboration with Sting.
“The Grammys are a weird thing for me,” says Shaggy, calling from the studio in Brooklyn where he is working on his follow-up to “44/876.” “I won with ‘Boombastic,’ and then I’ve been nominated many times with bigger, top-selling albums and never won.”
He says he is hoping for another win this time, though. “I would love for us to win it because the experience was such fun, a real feel-good vibe,” he says. “But outside the Grammy, we’ve already had really good fun touring. We smiled a lot the whole way and we have become great friends. I saw him two days ago when we shot a commercial and he said, ‘Everything I don’t like doing, I don’t mind doing with Shaggy.’”
“John Williams at The Movies,” from the Floral Park native, is up for two awards — best engineered album and best classical compendium. In that category, he will compete with Lynbrook native Jeffrey Biegel, who is nominated as part of the London Symphony Orchestra on Kenneth Fuchs’ “Piano Concerto, ‘Spiritualist’.”
“The nomination validates everything I’ve done for the last 25-plus years, recording new works by living composers,” Biegel says. “It validates all that work.”
Though the legendary Williams seems like a favorite in the category, Biegel is still hopeful. “John has won so many awards and if he does win again, it’s more validation for him,” he says. “But he is already etched in the history books. If Ken wins, it would add a lot to his career, to music in this place and time. It would point to the future.” — GLENN GAMBOA