In 2019, when GRiZ last graced the cover of DJ Times, the world was a little different.
Back then, the Detroit-born/Denver-based DJ/musician – aka Grant Kwiecinski, 31 – was still buzzing off the release of his sixth studio album, Ride Waves. The vigorous tour schedule that followed took him to theaters and festivals around America with an energetic and eye-candy-filled spectacle that successfully morphed DJing and live musicianship – both electronic and traditional. Of course, GRiZ had plenty of showstopping moments, whether he was dropping beats, rocking the mic or wailing away on his saxophone to funkier jams like fan fave, “The Anthem.”
Fast-forward a year, and the entire industry’s shut down. But while the DJ/live-music scene struggled with the restrictions that the pandemic imposed, GRiZ made a conscious decision to remain a positive force through music, and he did his best to pivot in the most creative ways. Of course, that included some live-streaming, but mostly it meant that he’d make a new album.
As he was working on the project that became Rainbow Brain, GRiZ made his third-annual Camp Kulabunga wellness retreat a virtual event. He also spun sets for virtual festivals like Proximity and Brownies & Lemonade’s Digital Mirage, Trap Nation and Chill Nation’s Room Service. His executed his annual charitable Christmas celebration, 12 Days of GRiZMAS, and he went live on Instagram plenty.
As for the recently released Rainbow Brain album, it delivers a satisfying plate of cleverly moshed-up genres – silky R&B grooves, whopping dubstep elements, Jamaican riddims, all hooks and songcraft with massive sonic moments. In addition to the dubby-manic title track featuring ProbCause and Chrishira Perrier, Rainbow Brain features high points like the classic-rave-meets-dub “Tie-Dye Sky,” the ultra-groovy “Astro Funk,” and the robo-soul-reggae “Vibe Check.”
As GRiZ prepared to embark on an album-supporting tour of big venues, which includes spots like Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre and New York’s Brooklyn Mirage, we caught up with the multi-talented DJ-artist/performer.
DJ Times: Describe your pandemic experience.
GRiZ: It started as kind of what felt like a big sleep-over. Every single night was like, watch movies and stay up late and no work in the morning, which very quickly turned into: Wow, this is really a huge bummer. And I thought that people are dying, the world is sick. The entire world is sick and scared, and I needed a break. So, the best way for me to do that and to cope is to be creative. And so I created my own time-machine, my own vessel to be able to get off of this fucking planet, and to be able to create some relief, and some inspiration, and that was this album.
DJ Times: How were you able to keep your mental health in check and stay positive through the lockdown situation? It was a rough one, especially for the DJ community.
GRiZ: Yeah, we were suffering, and a lot of us didn’t make it out. I first and foremost made sure that I needed to take care of my team. So, we did that financially, made sure that they were good – everyone from my lighting director to tour manager to sound engineer etc. Then the next step was letting go. That’s the lesson that I will continue to learn throughout my entire life. I don’t think I’ve ever fully learned it because letting go is a practice, and not something that you just do once. And I was letting go into the creative process, but this was also letting go of planning, of letting go of my purpose, which was to be a performer, and letting go into the potential of what could I do with my time.
DJ Times: How did you go about it?
GRiZ: That created a new purpose. That would create that sense of making existence. And that was also letting go into those places with depression and moving through it and not around it. And by way of moving through it, I was able to create music that helps me on my journey. There were these moments of relief, and these moments of celebration and joy in such a dark time. Yeah, Rainbow Brain was the process of letting go and experiencing joy on the other side of darkness.
DJ Times: How helpful was live-streaming for you? What purpose did it serve?
GRiZ: Basically, being like, “Hey, are you still there?” And it was a joy to be able to connect with people in any format. Also, it gave my team a sense of purpose because we created a live-stream. That was a charity live-stream in December for our “GRiZmas” events series. It kind of got rid of some of the stagnation and put our heads in such a positive space. And what that turned into for us was kind of like the first pass, and the inspiration behind Rainbow Brain the movie, which premiered a day ahead of the album release. We did this live-stream and we’re like, “Damn, that was so cool and fun and we really enjoyed it. Let’s do it again, but let’s do it on a bigger scale, with the different kind of intentionality behind it.”
DJ Times: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve realized during this period?
GRiZ: Even without the platform of live shows and being together, it was really beautiful to see how connected people were, how they were attempting to stay connected, and how they didn’t really give up on that. Everyone’s so resourceful and, given that this one thing is being cut out of my life, I was also really surprised to see how creative everybody got. It’s like, OK, cool – let me figure out something else to do… and so many new things came out of that creatively as new career paths or ambitions. Time was spent on the discovery of things that people perhaps didn’t have the time to learn about themselves previously, and I was really surprised to see how much of the effort everyone gave it. We were all taking care of ourselves and supporting each other. I was so delighted. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen before. It’s amazing.
DJ Times: What informed this album, sound-wise. This album is more dubstep-forward…
GRiZ: It was the process of letting go of what needed to be, and letting the universe in for me. What I was craving… I was just fucking craving an escape, and exploring that. The whole thing is just letting go, let go of all the bullshit – this is the right path.
DJ Times: This album is best enjoyed when played from front to back and presented in form of a continuous mix. What’s the process like putting together a sonically cohesive body of work?
GRiZ: I’ve been wanting to put together something like this for a while. Besides, like, “Acid Mix,” I don’t really have public mixes or a continuous body of work. I’ve always admired that so much in what I’ve heard from other people. “Late Night Tales” continuous mixes, especially the Bonobo one, where you can just put it on and just kind of like listen to somebody’s vibe. Putting it together was kind of tricky because they wanted individual songs, each real song, I guess. The album exists in its own way, but I also wanted it to flow. The best way to achieve that was have 10 30-second songs that were the chaperones from song to song, the shamans, that would take you from one idea to the next.
DJ Times: Any favorite tracks on the album?
GRiZ: I feel like that always changes because, at one point, each one of those songs is my favorite song while I was working on it. And my answer today is going to be different from a year from now because I’ll probably get totally sick of some of the songs. But, I am currently partial to “Another World.” I’m partial to “Burn Up the Floor.” I’m partial to “My Tech.”
DJ Times: Now there are seven albums in your discography. Are the experiences of releasing an album similar with each record?
GRiZ: Yeah, I think…I just want to get to fast-forward. Once it’s out there, it’s done. It’s really exciting to be able to stand on the cusp of it and be like, “I can’t wait for people to hear all this stuff and interact with it.” At one point, all this music was purely just known by the person that created it. So, for the track, “Rainbow Brain,” apart from [vocalists] Chrishira and ProbCause, nobody had heard it – it’s just our thing. And so, the entire life of this song was only ever created by our three consciousnesses. Once you release something into the world, the nature of the song changes, because it becomes defined by every single person that’s listened to it and creates an opinion about it and creates a narrative about it.
DJ Times: They have their own experience with it…
GRiZ: Right, they’re enjoying this space and they might say, “Hey, remember when we are camping when we listen to that?” Or, “Remember that festival – we were listening to that song and then all of a sudden our friend did this and it was such a crazy moment?” And this song means this whole memory for those people and the idea of the songs change. Sometimes I hear these stories and I love the idea of the songs being released out into the world and having people create these brand-new stories and narratives around them, these pieces of audio. The way that people enjoy it is so crazy. And so, that is the biggest gift to me… to be able to be a part of people’s lives. Yeah.
DJ Times: How has the bass-music scene, specifically, changed since you first emerged?
GRiZ: Completely… this kind of music. Rainbow Brain is majorly informed from the origins of it. And that’s kind of my development through it. It’s hard to get to. It’s the breakbeat or the jungle or midtempo, which are all different styles, but those kinds of things have found their ways in and out of it – or not at all.
DJ Times: Any examples?
GRiZ: Drum-n-bass is having a small resurgence, like, the style of riddim-rhythm from that world. That was something that just popped up in the past few years. That’s the kind of change – bass music kind of flowed into dubstep out of some sort of glitch-hop/trip-hop sound or the dub sound and all these things got merged together and kind of turned it into “bro-step” and happening around house music. Then Future Bass happened, like the trap boom that happened, and now we’re kind of on the cusp of possibility of flowing through other different styles – it’s always evolving. What makes it so interesting is how it’s so elastic – it pulls from past things and makes them future.
DJ Times: How would you say that your productions have evolved?
GRiZ: They probably got more explorative. How did they change? I used to be only making glitch-hop sounds, and then dubstep things, and then electro-soul things, and then really wanting to make a bunch of funk jams and really playing saxophone and wanting to incorporate a ton of vocals. Then, I was falling back in love with some of the older sounds that I was making at the time. I was making those more modern and experimenting with blending other styles within that – I was getting better at it through practice.
DJ Times: That’s a big mosh of styles…
GRiZ: Life is so fluid. I don’t think it could ever be one thing because the way that I see myself, the way that I feel into the universe is so fluid. It’s not stagnant. It’s growing and it’s never up or left or right or down or towards the center or behind, you know? It’s in all directions in all spaces at all times, like an expansion within the infinite.
DJ Times: We’re doing this interview at the end of another eventful Pride Month. As an openly out artist, what do you think people can do to raise awareness on important issues that impact the LGBTQ+ community?
GRiZ: Listen to more gay artists, listen to them more, and let them talk. Don’t try and recontextualize what people are saying, or try to be the voice of somebody else. Let them talk. It’s their time to tell us what they need. You know, I’m not settled. I don’t think I know what anybody specifically needs, but if you don’t let them talk or let them be the narrative, then you’re just truncating what people have to say. And they’ve been misrepresented for such a long time. Let them talk. Let them have the power. Give them the steering wheel to drive.
DJ Times: Now that the world is opening up, what are your feelings about performing again?
GRiZ: This year, this story keeps unfolding, day by day, conversation by conversation. And that’s always exciting to me, as I enjoy living my life, I continue to come out with creative projects because that’s the way that I live. I live through being a creative person. And that’s not always musical, but the majority of the time it comes back to the music. That’s the thing that drives my soul. There’s always more of an adventure – and I invite people to it.
DJ Times: What helped inform your sound when it comes to your more bone-rattling bass productions?
GRiZ: People have done it before me. I’ve always been inspired by my contemporaries and working with them. Collaboration is always being able to work with people, seeing how they work, seeing what they like and the way that they’re raised. Just having conversations with people is really inspiring – and the way that certain things feel differently in altered states of consciousness.
DJ Times: Final questions: What’s your studio set-up like these days? How do you tap into your creativity there?
GRiZ: A couple saxophones, a couple guitar amps, a Strat, a keyboard, speakers, and the computer. I turned my garage into a new studio. So, I spend eight hours a day here. I made a space that felt really comfortable and really conducive to just being able to check out. You know, this is my spaceship. This is my place – a space where time does not exist. You know, when I get into a flow state, writing music, there’s just no time. My brain isn’t thinking about that.
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