On a cloudy closing day of the Counterpoint Music Festival, we received the opportunity to sit down with Grant Kwiecinski, the saxophone wielding, future funk phenom, who has taken his illustrious alter ego, Griz, from the local college bar to sold out shows across the country. With only a few minutes to peel back the many layers of Griz‘s enigmatic vitality, we found that the man behind the brass is a thoughtful, worldly ambassador of rhythm and soul that personifies an amalgamation of ancestral reverence and the imminent expansion of future sounds. He is an old soul that keeps one foot in the past, while sprinting toward an undefined finish line. We caught him mid stride and unbarred his plans for taking his next album into uncharted territory, the inspiration for the Griz sound, and how his novel Liberated Records started as a label specifically for Griz productions, but has since morphed into an outlet for anyone catching the future funk vibes.
With the previous night’s set still fresh on everyone’s minds, we were eager to hear the young artist’s plans to bring 2013’s “Rebel Era” (download for free here) to a close and cultivate a new sound for the next release. “The big thing is the execution of everything and experiencing music and the creation of music differently and incorporating…new styles, new patterns of beats, new constructions of songs and taking more time to change. [I want to] write different songs and so the new EP is not going to be a new EP. That idea is gone. My focus is coming up with the next record that is going to be the next full length thing. I personally like the idea of producing movies instead of TV shows. So that’s like your EP to your album.”
“I personally like the idea of producing movies instead of TV shows. So that’s like your EP to your album.” –Griz
To demonstrate the objective of making a record as an unbridled testament of his creative expression, Grant took us back to when he began the Griz project and revealed how his past influenced his next venture. “[Back then], I wanted to come up with the new contemporary funk album and so I made it and then it wasn’t like something you’d get up on stage and play in front of people as one person, ya know? So [for this album I’m] flipping that idea and going back and making Griz tunes.”
From there came the challenge of bringing his contemporary funk concept to the dance floor. “I’ve been working in between Detroit and New York, and we’re heading out to Los Angeles once the [Power in Numbers] tour is over in June. I’m working with a bunch of studio musicians, guys from Antibalas, Daptone Records, and this guy in Detroit called Will Sessions. So, [it’s working with] a bunch of these funk groups and actually getting in the studio with people and having a funk band in front of me and being like, ‘Ok, A-minor…drums at 90 BPM…give me this…bring in the bass’ and we’re recording the whole time and it’s on the spot like pure creation, which is like the most amazing, most beautiful, most empowering thing I’ve ever been able to do. It’s like whatever you’re feeling and thinking it’s like these guys just bring it to life in front of you. It’s pure magic.”
At this point we had to pause, for this process sounded some-what familiar. We brought up Pretty Light‘s A Color Map of the Sun and asked if Derek Vincent Smith had raised the standard for electro funk by utilizing studio musicians in order to chop up the recordings and resample their performance. He looked us square in the eye and denied any creative correlation to the Pretty Lights‘ album, “I’m not creating original samples, I’m making songs in the studio with these guys on the spot…we’ll make like eight songs a day and some of them will be good.” To clarify his process, Griz explained the personal benchmark he holds for all of his music. “The standard for me was always ‘Fantasia.’ Like this new adaptation of something and for that, it was the visual aspect with orchestrated classical music. [‘Fantasia’ was] such an interesting idea because it [was] so new and no one had ever created cartoon animated sequences to like the envisioned idea of classical music ya know?”
In relation to what ‘Fantasia’ did for animation by pairing cartoons with orchestral music, Griz went on to describe his intentions to be the catalyst that will propel funk music into undisclosed territory. “So, [previously] I was trying to change funk music by pairing hip-hop with it and dubstep with it and putting these things together and then it was like…I’m going to get sued if I keep doing this. Now, I can afford to sit in the studio with these guys and actually do it and build relationships with actual players.” “I really care about how these people feel about the music and how they want to do it, and being able to let them do whatever they want because I trust these guys. We’re building trust and they kick ass, it’s amazing. They are way better musicians than I am and it’s nuts being able to see these guys.”
“It doesn’t happen that often, it’s like a rare thing and you’re like Wow, this is really awesome. These people really, really click and I don’t have to set my boundaries with them.” – Griz in reference to his current studio sessions.
While the wheels are turning on the new album, there is still much to be done and Griz appeared reluctant to pressure himself with a deadline. “I’m currently writing it and I have a few songs that are demos right now. We’re working on getting features like singers and rappers etc.” As we pushed for an actual time frame for the release, Griz calmly stated, “Whenever I’m feeling it.”
From the new album, we pivoted to discuss Griz‘s other main stage attraction, Liberated Records, who is entering their second year as a label. “I needed to release my music on some subsidiary of something, people wanted to release my music, and I didn’t want to release my music on anyone else’s thing cuz ya know, [my music] wasn’t their thing. I wanted to create my own thing, ya know? Something that was mine and ours.” While adapting to his new role as label head, Griz pointed out that sitting in the driver’s seat has been an entertaining, yet educational excursion. “It’s fun. We’re all taking a leadership role man. People look to you for advice and all this kind of stuff but…it’s funny how fast some things change in just two years. I’m not any different of a kid ya know? I’m still asking people for advice. I’ve experienced a lot of shit in two years, but I’m in no position to be like I am the master guru of all of this stuff.”
Griz went on to outline some advice for the aspiring label, “Biggest lesson is: do it yourself. I know that sounds really shit. I know it sounds kinda like a cop-out. There are a lot of lessons that I could be like, ‘Make sure you do this, do this, do this, make sure you never do this, make sure you always do this, ya know? But, the best way for someone to come out with their own product is to not listen to the way anyone else is doing it right now. That’s the main thing man. You’re not listening to the way other people are interviewing shit, and if you are, than you’re coming up with the same interviews as everyone else.” As for Liberated Records, “It was like I have this cool idea, I know some cats that might be down this, let’s make our own little family and hopefully it grows and we’re doing the right thing with the right people. So far it has, so I’m very happy with the way it’s been going man.”
Our interview took place the day after his performance at Counterpoint Music Festival and we noticed there were quiet a few campers declaring a frustration for being forced to choose between seeing Griz or the electronic rock pioneers STS9, whose sets overlapped. While discussing the schism of electro funk fans to two different stages, Griz displayed a great moment of humility and admiration for the veteran rockers. “It was heartbreaking for me man. It’s funny because I don’t think there [were] a lot of people in the crowd that I was playing to last night that understood what Sound Tribe Sector 9 means to EDM. I wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t existed. It’s like a big deal man. When I’m thinking of the word ‘prolific,’ like what does that mean to me? I’m like Sound Tribe Sector 9 is the perfect example…like it kind of breaks my heart….I’m just the new kid that plays sax ya know? Like it’s pretty dope, it’s kind hip-hop, sorta bassy, mostly funky but ya know, [everyone should] go watch the master’s live performance.”
After only a few minutes with Grant, we were left in admiration for the high level of passion and curiosity he has for further defining the enigma that is rhythm and melody. Even as journalists, who have spent a lifetime researching, discussing, and writing about music, we came to realize we are only able to see the pale pastels of the sound spectrum, while Griz lives in the past, present and future of a wide palette of tones, textures and colors that comprise the world’s musical timeline.
We’d like to thank Griz for taking the time to chat with Your EDM and we’d like to give a special shoutout to Magnum PR for arranging the meeting.