Grant Kwiecinski (a.k.a. GRiZ) separates himself from other EDM artist
by infusing his funky dance music with his sax-infused beats. He
credits his remix of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” as his big break, but it
was the release of his first album, Mad Liberation, that truly
skyrocketed his career. Over the past two years the Detroit native
went from DJ’ing college parties, to opening up for Bassnectar, and
eventually headlining his own tour. At 23-years-old, GRiZ has become a
master of electronically-inspired melodies, inventive instrumentation
and circumventing the existing constraints of the music industry. In
addition to manning his own controllers and computers during
performances, GRiZ regularly incorporates the use of a jazz-rooted
woodwind instrument – the alto saxophone.
We had a chance to hang with GRiZ on his bus before he played a show
at The Blue Moose Tap House in Iowa City, IA and talked about his
incredible success story, plans for next year as well as working on
his new record label.
Axiom-Nation: Let’s start simple, where did your interest in the arts begin?
GRiZ: I played piano just because I liked music so much. No one in my
family has a musical bone in their body, which is strange. When I was
a young kid, maybe like three or four, my mom would play me this movie
called Fantasia, which you probably know is Disney’s, and the world’s,
first-ever, true visual and music combination. I watched it so many
times on VHS that I burned the tape out. My mom bought me a new one.
So, beginning with that, I just wanted to play piano, or play
something. Then I chose to play the oboe in band. I couldn’t tell you
how stoked I was to choose my own instrument. It was like sex for the
first time. Like, ‘I can choose whatever I want.’ So, I chose oboe,
because I really wanted to play “Peter and the Wolf.” I just wanted to
play that one song. Then I found out it wasn’t even the oboe. It was a
clarinet. And, the oboe was an insanely-difficult instrument to learn,
especially because it is a double-reed instrument. My mom was like,
‘Pick a different instrument. This one sucks.’ So, I chose to play
saxophone, because there was a girl I had a crush on in the class. She
played saxophone. And she was really good. She was in first chair, and
I wanted to sit next to her, so I got pretty good. And then I got
better than she got, so I sat next to her.
AX: What is it that is so special about Detroit’s music community?
GRiZ: Well, to begin with, it was special to me just because it’s
home. Like I said, there’s no place like home. That rings really true
with me. For me, it feels like sometimes you play other places and you
might be a little misheard, or people might not understand what the
music’s all about. Coming from a place where Motown records is from,
and that whole entire concept, I feel very much understood. I feel
like a part of it. Maybe a new mover of it. So much of this new
future-analog, you know, gritty, bass-hyper sound. I feel like we’re
trying to push it forward. Also, the Detroit music community as I know
it as a whole, is segmented into all these different things. It’s
amazing that Detroit is the birthplace of, or at least the main
proving-grounds for, all these types of music – one of them being
Motown. The other big one of course being the house movement of the
90′s. So, there is a lot of rich cultural-history when it comes down
to the origins of particular genres. Now, I don’ think it’s the most
hopping scene as far as the current state of affairs. But at least in
electronic music, which I pride myself in being very much a part of,
people are taking this music in so many different, and amazing,
directions. There is a massive resilience that goes along with it too.
Other scenes have so many people to go and support you and see shows.
There is more of a larger thriving culture. Maybe a more successful
musical culture, but the Detroit music scene is undeniably the most
AX: Do you feel that by adding saxophone to your live performances
you’re helping bridge the gap between organic and electronic music?
Kind of disproving the myth that EDM is just someone standing in front
of a laptop pressing play?
GRiZ: None of it was ever trying to debunk a myth or anything. The
intention was purely the fact that I had played saxophone. This was an
instrument I was good at, and I really wanted to do something else on
stage. I really wanted to do something more than quote: “press play”.
I really wanted to have more of an extension of my breath into sounds.
And playing a live instrument, which within the EDM scene sounds
taboo, I think that it contraries the taboo of not playing a live
instrument on stage. Because for centuries music was only performance
and practice based. It wasn’t recorded sounds it was like “we are
playing this for you now, it will never ever again sound like this. It
will sound like this only tonight or today or this morning.”
AX: Do you have any advice for fans who may be pursuing a career in music?
GRiZ: Never give up. Always understand that in order to grow you have
to be open to learning new techniques and trying new things but
keeping you heart in it. I have an unheard of amount of failed
projects but that is okay by me. If I’m not completely feeling a track
I won’t release it and that is also okay. Just keep pushing and don’t
get lazy. Have fun with it. After all it’s music and first and
foremost comes from and should please yourself.
AX: When you and Dennis (Gramatik) get together as Grizmatik, the fans
go nuts. Do you have any plans for future releases, such as an EP or
GRiZ: I would love to. I love making music with Dennis, he’s super
talented and his taste for music is fantastic. Right now he’s a little
busy doing stuff, and that seems to be the general theme, so when
things start to work out better, we’ll get more done. It was
originally just something we were doing for fun, but interest in the
project began to exceed our own capacities. So now, we have all these
outward demands to write songs and get stuff done and I have a lot of
stuff I want done too. It’s a lot, but it’s never too much. We’re
right in the thick of it, every single day.
AX: How did you and Dennis get hooked up to begin with?
GRiZ: We had the same booking agent, and Dennis had a tour in the
spring of 2012. I wrote some little blurb on Facebook, and Hunter (the
agent) pushed me and he read the blurb, and it was something about the
release of Mad Liberation. He basically said, “I want this guy on the
road.” So I was out there, working on a song and Dennis- who was and
still is one of my idols, I mean he’s a musical genius at producing-
saw this tune I was working on, said “we should finish this together.”
I was blown away, and from there it’s all history.
AX: Pretty Lights has his live band now, Emancipator has his ensemble.
When will we see you on tour with supporting musicians?
GRiZ: Sooner than you might think… Dennis, Dominic and I are
plotting something.. well let’s just say, GIGANTIC
AX: Why do you insist on giving music away for free when people are
clearly willing to pay for it?
GRiZ: The main reason to distribute music for free was that it seems
morally wrong in a sense. Like, I know I work hard at this stuff and I
spend a lot of time doing it, but at the same time I don’t want to
sell anyone an emotion. I want people to draw pure inspiration from
the music itself and just take it for what it is. You don’t have to
pay me before hearing this music fully, I just want you to experience
it for what it’s worth. It’s not to be purchased and to collect, it’s
to experience and to live with. We did this interview in Minneapolis
and I think I said it pretty well then: “I’m not a theme park, I’m not
going to sell you a ride”
AX: I really dig the concept behind “Rebel Era” and think many can
relate to the message. Would you like to elaborate more on this theme?
GRiZ: People are not happy with what’s going on in the world and
they’re speaking out against it. That kinda incorporates the idea of
rebel era; in this era of rebellious attitude in human nature. That’s
kinda what’s going on in the world…what drove inspiration for the
album. That’s kinda human spirit. While the theme of the album
revolves around the idea of the general life struggle with one’s self
and one’s place in the world, at the same time it highlights the idea
that each and every one of us is reaching out toward a new future that
we are all a part of. Despite the enormous differences that divide us
I like to think that my music, as well as artists like me, just want
to spread love all over. In fact the ideal purpose for the making of
this album is to put more emotion, feeling, and quality into music
other than screaming through sound. Not make party music, but
insightful, thoughtful stuff tunes. What we’re doing is creating an
initiative through social change. The way of looking at the world in a
different way looking at the world in a more collective way, a ‘we
are’ not ‘I am’ kinda thing. That’s what I really hope to be the best
and spread the most. I want people to love each other, man. I want
people to be engaged with each other and have empathy instead of this
individual desire to perpetuate oneself in a competitive world. You
know, it’s a cooperative world not a competitive world.
A.X: What’s your take on the integration of dance music into pop culture?
GRiZ: The long answer is really long. So I guess I could condense some
of what I feel here. You have terrible things like the negative social
impacts and rampant drug use. Then you also have the beautiful
conscious understanding of new music, the spread and popularization of
the EDM sound style, artists with a means to create careers and follow
dreams, unity and social harmony through electronic dance music. I
believe that pop culture is and will always be a little fucked. There
are those who dislike popularized things and those who only have time
to find things that are popular for the reason that they are maybe not
all too interested in it all. The haters and the movers and the
shakers will keep pushing pop culture to change. Some of it will
spastically catch on, people will hate on it for becoming popularized
and the cycle will repeat. Nothing new here. Just a different time and
- Adam ‘Grizzly‘ Epstein