Backstage at HARD Summer last week, Sean (Xaos) and I (Caleb) had the unique pleasure of sitting down with the creative mind that is GRiZ. He’s a 23 year old DJ/producer/saxophonist/madman from Detroit who has become known musically for basically doing whatever the hell he feels like. We sat down not knowing what to expect, but knowing it was going to be thoroughly entertaining. We’ve never been more right.
(Disclaimer: it was a 20 minute interview and it’s long as fuck, but 110% worth the read, the dude is hilarious)
(Extra disclaimer: If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, at least read his long last paragraph, it’s genuinely fascinating stuff)
Caleb: So, we’ll get right into it! How was your set?
GRiZ: It was awesome man, fantastic. I was like bringing out my trumpet and guitar players, like trying out this new thing, having a lot of fun and trying to like open up the set and bring in some more live instrumentation. More than just me playing saxophone, and that’s been really challenging but also really fun at the same time.
Caleb: Right, we were going to ask you about that! And you went long because Tommy Trash was stuck at the airport right?
GRiZ: Yeah, shit man I feel bad for him! Like this festival could not be more packed, you know? So that was cool that we got to play more time for a bunch of people who probably didn’t know who we are, represent something different at this festival.
Caleb: For sure, and does someone just come up and whisper in your ear, like, “play another ten!”
GRiZ: Yeah! It was actually my manager Ben who came up and was just like “keep playing, I’ll tell you when to stop” and I was just like, “word.”
Caleb: So does that mean your sets are relatively free-form?
GRiZ: Yeah man, I mean like they have an arc, you know? Like I start with the super 100 BPM exemplary grid stuff, that’s like funk and soul, and then kinda go from there, kinda keep going up in BPM range, then like duck back down only to come back up and finish strong. The whole set kinda moves from like funk/hop to like funk/crazy/soul-trap/in-your-face-dubstep/saxophone/fuckin’ whatever *laughs* dubstep sax man.
Caleb: Definitely creative, and not something you hear with any “run-of-the-mill” DJ, and I think everyone appreciates that. Alright so one thing we were interested about is—because you’re kinda a showman beyond your creative music thing—if you had all the money in the world to just put on the dopest production ever, what would that look like to you?
GRiZ: Oh man, I was—I got really stoned and was thinking about like what would be the most ridiculous thing, and like, there would be a ramp over the stage, and we would have cars that were on fire like jumping over the stage with people who were also on fire on unicycles balancing on the cars that were jumping over the stage, with acrobats on their shoulders. And then the acrobats, in the middle of the air, would jump onto those swingy things, and they’d swing off. And then you could like throw chicks into the crowd, like blast them from cannons into the crowd; that’d be the ultimate crowd-surf, like the Evel Knievel cannon kinda shit, and like, because we had unlimited money, you would invent like some crazy power-wristband things so no one would break their wrists when people jumped into the crowd. Then the whole thing would take place on the moon. Right? Because… unlimited, you know? And the whole thing would be in antigravity; saying “everybody jump!” would be fucking next level, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the fizzy bubble drink just going nuts.
Caleb: Definitely next level. Well, we’re waiting for that then!
GRiZ: Me too. *grins*
Caleb: Great, and in terms of your saxophone playing, did your musical vision for your shows begin with saxophone and evolve into electronic music, or was it the other way around?
GRiZ: Definitely the other way around. I was at Michigan State University and I took a year off from all music. I was producing music since I was 14, then went into college and was just all like—fuckin’ on the record or off or whatever—like, do drugs and fuck people, not like fuck people over but like fuck people, and have sex and skip class and just like do college! Like you know what that is and everyone has a great time and gets fucked up, and now we’re all in this shitty music industry *laughs* trying to make sense of what the fuck is going on. I mean we’re sitting on a fucking bench in the middle of where-the-fuck-are-we California *laughs again* outside of a festival like who created these rules? Someone who’s like five years older than you. But there’s cops here, there’s parents here, so it’ll all be good in the end or something *laughs* But anyway I was doing that, and I was DJing like co-op parties, like frat house for guys and girls, and it was just like the hippies, and I was DJing that. But instead of like “DJing” I was playing all my own music, this is sophomore year and I had gotten back into making music and was like fuck the whole “just party” thing, now I wanted to party and work and skip class to make music because music is the coolest thing ever—for me, at least—and I think that I was listening to like some funk shit or something, and I was like “man, I play sax, I want to recreate this sound really badly. Like how can I do that on stage?” and I was just like bringing the sax to shows and there’d be a mic and I would just play into it and it’d be fun. I just decided it was going to sound like shit and I wouldn’t know the parts, but I’d just play some shit, and sooner rather than later I became known as the dude who played sax live, like EDM sax or something, and it just kinda started sticking really well! I really enjoy it and enjoy toting it around; it’s a good extension of me, like because I don’t sing! I wish I could sing, but my voice is within the saxophone I guess.
Caleb: For sure. That brings us to another question we had about your musical vision; we were reading your EP description that you have on your website (scroll down a bit on the main page), and we thought it was really interesting! A lot of the time artists don’t go that in depth about their vision for the album, so I was wondering if that sentiment is a result of your music—sorry I keep asking you these “which came first” questions—
GRiZ: No it’s cool!
Caleb: *laughs* Great, so making your music did you come to the realization that this was the way you tried to make sense of the world? Or trying to make sense of the world did you find your way into music?
GRiZ: It’s a chicken or the egg situation. Um… Man! I don’t know, that’s a tough question, I’ve never been asked this before! I think it kinda just happened along with it you know? The music happened, and it was like… you don’t really have to explain yourself until someone asks, you know what I mean? And not in the sense that you’re asking me this question right now, but that’s just how I felt about stuff. It wasn’t like a developed thought, it was more just how I feel about music, and I feel like the music is more created as a reflection of how you see things, the people you choose to interview, or the way that you structure your website is definitely like a reflection of how you feel about the world too! Like you’re influenced by a bunch of different stuff, and that was kinda like the development of it, living as and being an artist, and trying to understand who I was as a musician, and then kinda deciding like “OK yeah this is how I feel.” Like I’d be running into problems or things that’d happen and I’d decide “this is how I’m going to handle this situation, this is now how I believe about this shit.” Like before no one was like, “yeah so like… how does electro-funk or electro-soul/future-funk impact or sit within the realm of EDM?” I’m just like… like I don’t even know what these fuckin’ words are, and no one has said this shit to me before, and this is kinda just a development. Like this too will change eventually, and that’s why I always stand on free music, I always stand on not trying to sell people the idea of emotion or whatever, you know, because music is so emotive, and just letting it flow freely into the world. It’s like a rollercoaster ride, you know, you don’t want to sell somebody on that shit, I’m not writing a fucking book… Like you can’t even fuckin’ touch it! You can’t touch digital music if you tried, like you could do this (waves hands around) all day trying to touch the air inside your speaker, and all you’ll ever touch is air particles. You can’t buy that shit, that shit’s ephemeral, that shit’s for now. So then like just have it, live it, be it, enjoy it… That’s what I love.
Sean: That’s a great philosophy. First, I’d like to say on the record that I listen to “Gettin’ Live” every morning on my way to work. It gets me woken up, feeling like I’m ready to attack the day…
GRiZ: Yeah man!
Sean: Anyway, from Detroit—Now I go to school in Chicago—seeing the influence of Detroit and the Midwest on Hip/Hop and techno, do you ever find that you’re listening to the “classics” and stuff like that to influence you going forward?
GRiZ: Yeah definitely! I mean, that’s a lot of the music that I like, you know? There’s something about hearing the way that they process, like, a horn line in the early 80’s/late 70’s. That sound, to me, is like the coolest sound ever. It just sounds like… I want to wrap myself in a blanket with it, fuckin’ sleep next to that shit. So I’m trying to do that, like I want to do that, but I don’t want it to just be like a bunch of soul tunes. I want it to fucking explode, you know? So yeah, I’m always drawing from the inspiration of dudes that’re not just making the good songs but also the good sounding songs, like the people who engineer that shit really well. Like my favorite shit right now has been this group called “Mars.” And they don’t make my favorite songs, but like man those horn lines are just… fucking amazing. That’s a five-star meal right there.
Pause while Flosstradamus’ “Rollup” drowns out our voices from their set at the closest stage.
Caleb (yelling over the music): Is this kind of scene something you really feel is full of people who appreciate your music the most, or is it kinda just a way to broadcast it?
GRiZ: Both! *Laughs* Only a Sith Lord lives in absolutes, like it’s not one way or the other.
Sean: *Laughs* Great quote.
GRiZ: But yeah I mean it’s definitely a really really great place to broadcast something different, right? And also I really love, like, the energy they’re creating, like I was saying I want it to explode, so like I also feel like this is the platform that I feel is home in some ways too… I want to live somewhere in the middle of everything, like I don’t necessarily want to be all the way at one side or the other. Like I bet you could ask anybody here who thinks about music and they’d give you a similar answer, like nobody… even the most “EDM-y” dudes or chicks that’re producers out there wouldn’t be like “oh yeah, I’m EDM as hell!” They’d be like “No I’m doing all this new shit.” And everyone’s new and different sounding, like that’s cool man, it’s cool that everyone considers themselves a part of new music, different music. Everyone here’s just trying to be—or maybe not trying to be—but it is counterculture.
Caleb: Right, by being here they are “counterculture” whether they’re trying to be or not.
GRiZ: Yeah, yeah.
Caleb: And in terms of making a set “explode,” you were talking about how you shape it with BPM specifically, where’s your favorite moment in a set? Like where, numerically speaking?
GRiZ: Oh, I recently have been a huge fan of the 128 to 140 change, like it sounds like it’s going faster… my favorite moment, I guess, not even numerically, is when things sound like they’re going faster and getting more intense, and then you cut back to a minimal “Aaaaa” (makes a long groan that drops in pitch) so I’ve got this thing at like 88 BPM that I get into, right, so I go from 88, drop down to 80 BPM on this one joint, and then, as it goes up 8 BPM in the 80 BPM range it feels like a much bigger jump than like 140 to 145 as a ratio of BPM. But 8 BPM difference at 80 is a big change. So it builds up builds up builds up then drops back into an 808 kick, like an old sample…*sings* “Oh lord please don’t let me be misunderstood” you know the part that goes *sings (for like 20 seconds)* I just like being able to look out and be like, “You motherfuckers! I love you guys, this is awesome!”
(Sample in question starts at ~0:30)
Sean: I would ask one last question, so going back a bit towards your album philosophy, I was asked recently by one of my friends at school—for a journalism project—whether or not “EDM culture” revolves around the music, or if the people and the drugs are an excuse to get away, in the same way you mentioned participation in counterculture before. Like how do you feel the ratio is between the music influencing the culture and the culture influencing the music?
GRiZ: I think you just start putting way more people into it that aren’t like… necessarily music listeners. It starts to become more of a party than it is like a show, so you’re playing in front of 14,000 people, or 30,000 people, and you can’t guarantee it’s 30,000 music-heads, but I’m gonna play music for the heads that is also party music. So what’s gonna happen is that I’m gonna do my thing, and the people that’re there for the music, they’re gonna get what they wanted, and the people who came to party are definitely gonna get what they wanted. And a lot of the time the music revolves around the scene, and a lot of the time people feel like they revolve around the party. I feel like the person playing the song or creating the song… well, I feel like there have been a lot of discrepancies with that. Like, let’s talk deaths at a music festival. It’s a very touchy subject.
Right, so listen to Flosstradamus in the background right now. When they say “turn the fuck up” that’s like, you ask Josh (J2K, one half of Flosstradamus) and be like, “so is that a piece of artist integrity, or are you just asking people to get as fucked up as possible, like potentially dangerously?” And I’m assuming the answer would be somewhat like, “No that’s like ‘I turn up, I showed up, I’m here, like let’s be as present and in the moment as possible,’” not “let’s fucking party til we die.” You know? And I think I’ve started understanding that side of the culture a little bit better, like when I’m saying “Get the funk down!” I’m not like, “let’s fucking chug a keg and fucking be disrespectful to people!” No it’s like, “let’s get down as much as possible.” People understand so many things so differently, and that’s the beauty of life man. You are not them. I am not you. I am me, and I can only explain myself so well, and it’s great to see how people interpret stuff.
Caleb: Well thanks so much for your time, it was a pleasure!
Thanks for reading! We also interviewed the Chainsmokers, that’ll be up soon!
Icarus and Xaos