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Ride the Lightning: A Conversation with Griz

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When you watch a lightning storm exact its fury upon a landscape, it is glorious and mesmerizing. It is the raw unleashing of a direct current from up above. Instantaneous. Unpredictable. Unstoppable. One of the true wonders of nature. It might just kill your ass too if you are in the wrong place at the right time. But just as the conditions of a thunderstorm must overcome atmospheric inhibition for lightning to even be, so too must the creative process overcome that internal threshold of both conscious and subconscious interference to thrive and come alive. That is because it is perfectly innate for each one of us to doubt every, single damn thing that we think and do. The clouds form in the mind, obscuring judgment, proliferating the noise of inner-dissent as the ever-increasing buzz consumes, spreading its darkness deeper within.

There are those that get caught out in that storm, left wandering until there is seemingly nothing left to do but stray afar. And then there are those of us who somehow, some way are able to make friends with the black. Calmly waiting out the uncertainty until those electrical impulses begin to gather and spark familiar all around. Impulses of vision and of sound. Dancing inside and throughout one another until that white light booms with a bolt of clarity right between the eyes, strange and bright – pure inspiration. Grant Kwiecinski, better known as Griz, would be the first one to tell you that he is no stranger to these moments of inner struggle. But at only 23 years old and with two successful albums already cut, a third in the works, the Big GrizMatik project and a budding Liberated Music label, one might easily wonder how on Earth this kid out of Detroit could know any false moves. Or maybe it is simply just a matter of luck and being in the right place at the right time? Especially when considering that he is less than three years removed from being discovered on SoundCloud of all places for his now immortalized remix of Aerosmith’s classic “Dream On.” Then again, who is anyone to say? All I can conjecture is that you don’t cover that kind of territory in a few short years because you somehow stumbled onto the keys to the Cadillac built of EDM glow party wet dreams. It is because you know how to not only navigate through, but also manipulate those storms of creative ambiguity and self-doubt to your advantage, take nothing for granted and strike it while it’s hot. Honor inspiration and it will honor you back. Summon that burst of electrified-glitch-hop-sax-superbass-and-soul-right-between-your-eyes lightning and ride it all the way to the Cain’s Ballroom, where this Thursday night it will be comin' in hot! With that said, I recently had a conversation with Griz and here it is.

MC: Thank you for taking some time to talk today. For starters, I got to say, your sound just wreaks of soul and swagger. Some pretty nasty electro-funk indeed. When it come to your music, what about it has the soul and the swagger inside of it all at once?

Griz: Dude, that is a lot like the dinner I had last night. It was this sushi joint and this Italian joint all in the same place. So I started my meal with sushi rolls and then ended it with pizza!

MC: No shit?

Griz: Yeah, sushi and pizza all at once. So like soul and swagger - Sushi-talian. You know?

MC: So that’s your analogy?

Griz: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s my analogy. That's my swagger analogy of soul and swagger. Soul-swagger. SOOOOUL-WAAAAGGGGER. That shit is tight!

MC: I think you might have just added something to the English language dude (laughs). So all sushi-pizza debacles aside, what about your approach to music encapsulates both soul and swagger?

Griz: Maybe some of the hip-hop influences along with the soul and funk influences. You know, playing those two things together can have swagger and can also be soulful. Really, it just comes down to the feeling behind it. Back when the term "swagger" was invented, that was the swagger. Big brass bands and huge horn lines all day. That is the O.G. swagger, which is now the new school soul. The soulfulness being things like the minor key, the blue notes and the sultry sax that is both hard and sad. Things like that you know. But also…Sushi-talian (laughs).

MC: Again with the damn“Sushi-talian” (laughs). But anyways, we have touched a little bit on the old school influences. Tell me more about the present day influences in your life. Regardless of whether it’s a completely different genre of music, a painter, a poet, whoever - who and what inspires you to get after it?

Griz: I really think Wes Anderson's and Quentin Tarantino’s films are awesome. Those two would be it as far as inspiration outside the realm of music goes. Everything from Anderson's visual perspective of the world and dry sense of humor to Tarantino's funky craziness that's sometimes super brash and violent, but also super sexy. As far as music though, I feel like it’s the personalities of the people who really rock that are so influential on me. And some of them are very good friends of mine like Dominic Lalli from Big Gigantic. His personality and his resolve to write more and more music is super inspiring. Or then there is someone like Sonny Moore (Skrillex), where his music and admitted fan-ship about how he is such a music lover is so inspiring. And you can always see him changing and growing from that too. Then there is someone like Derek with Pretty Lights, who is a homey of mine. You can tell that he is sooooo mellow and kind of dark, but also a super beautiful soul as well. He is very curious by nature - always. He’s kind of like hip-hop: always wanting to make the freshest “check-check check it out” kind of shit ever. These people - they are crazy, man. I’m like, "Your brain just doesn't function the same.” (laughs) I guess I figure myself to be a pretty normal dude most times? But you have those moments where it’s weird. Shit gets strange (laughs).

MC: Would you say that you have to tap into that craziness a little bit in order to really capture the rawness that is inside deep down?

Griz: Yeah man! Totally. I think it's just the way you feel about yourself and how that comes out in your music. And there's no recipe. If there was a formula for inspiration and creativity, ahhhhh fuck, then everyone would be drinking that. For example, I smoked cigarettes for six years but just recently quit. And sometimes I'm like, "Man, I feel like I really need cigarettes to be able to grunge my saxophone playing out!” So I can get this certain vibe out of my music. But ultimately when you get down to it, I don't think that's the case at all. It’s just about how you feel about life and you don't necessarily need cigarettes or drugs or alcohol or whatever to come up with super-wrenching, soulful music. That's not the culmination of the experience. Those are just coping or celebratory experiences. There's definitely not a formula for that. It's totally secret and hidden within each and every one of us. I think that we're just all trying to find the key to it.

MC: I read somewhere that you write about six songs a week on average. What are your thoughts on trying to stay proactive all the time? Is there such a thing as being too prolific for your own good?

Griz: Uhhh, I don't know. No? Yeah? It's such a sensitive thing when it comes to music and being an artist. There are all these different prevailing philosophies and it comes down to who you are talking to at the time. I'm sure if you ask Diplo, he'd say, "Be you, be weird, but write your own solid tunes, finish them and put that shit out!" Go for mass content, you know. Whereas with me, I feel like I'm going to wait for that lightning to strike and keep brewing small storms and see if it fucking hits. I'm trying to brew up some magical shit that will make me feel that inspiration. I don't ever want to release something where at one point with that song I wasn't saying, "Damn, this stuff is just cool as shit or this made me cry or this made me dance like I've never danced before or this made me think about some shit that other people definitely need to know about!" This is so important to me. This is lightning in a bottle. You just have to experience it for yourself.

MC: What happens when you get in that live setting and the crowd is going nuts during a brand new track or a section of a new track, but deep down your instincts are telling you that it’s not quite there yet, it’s not quite ready and it just needs more focus in certain areas? How do you work through that dilemma?

Griz: I feel what you are saying. But you know, even if you can just present something, then go for it. I'll play “half songs” all the time. I will just continue working on content until it is dope. But even if it's not to where I'm able to finish it, I will still play it out at times. And sometimes when I’m live I will just be stuck on DJ tool #36 (laughs). You know, it might just be a cool thing that I will only play live. And it's not a song that I ever need to release. You don't have to release everything. That being said, I definitely have this one tune that I've been opening my sets with that has to be finished. I am working on it right now and this is the tune and when you hear it you're going to be like, "That's the one he was talking about. The one with the sax drop in it!” It's fucking sick and unlike anything I've ever wrote but exactly like everything I've ever wrote. You know what I mean? You're going to be like, "That's a Griz tune, I know it!" And then you're going to say, "Uhhhhhh, FUCK YEAH!" So that's what's up with me right now. I want to hear this song all the time. I want to skateboard to it. I want to have sex to it. I want to play it live on the sax. So I've just gotta finish this tune! (laughs)

MC: Would you say that being in the live setting really helps you flesh out new material and get your bearings? I mean, regardless of how the crowd is reacting, does the energy you feel onstage and the way everything in your set is playing off of each other able to give you the right litmus as to whether shit is working or not?

Griz: Yeah man, a little bit. You can't be thinking to yourself, "This is going to be a good tune or not a good tune because everyone jumped up and down or not or everyone was going crazy." Especially if you set it up wrong or poorly mix your transitions. I mean, it can still be a good barometer for it. If it's really not doing it and you're not still feeling it, then maybe it's something that you should not release at all. But I don’t ever see that happening, man. If you're really feeling something then everyone else is really going to feel it too. With the majority of the music, it's not like it is going to flop. I mean, who cares even if it does anyways - it's just music. Let's be honest, (laughs) if you are in it just to make money, you better find something else cooler to do. Because otherwise your life might be sourly disappointing.

MC: Ultimately, it can't be about just trying to make a buck. It really just comes down to fulfillment. Having that purpose in life. If you were to define fulfillment, whether it be through musical aspirations or anything in life, how would you define that right now?

Griz: I think I find fulfillment through communal happiness right now. At this exact moment I'm on tour with seven other amazing people. And I feel really fulfilled when I can lead this group into success where everyone has their share of the win. That is fulfillment to me and it just really feels amazing. Everyone is just like, "YES!"

MC: And speaking of being that leader, that guy who has the vision, you have your own label, Liberated Music, which includes acts like The Floozies and Manic Focus. When it comes to guys you want to bring on, what do you believe they should embody?

Griz: The whole label thing is not like, "I want to have a dope label so I can make a bunch of money and sell a ton of records and open up a store." I want to be a good conduit and outlet for the people who don't have as much clout yet. The ones who are going to fucking crush it and have an awesome attitude about it. These guys like Matt and Mark with The Floozies and J-Mac (Manic Focus), they have the right attitude. They want to make music that is funky and soulful and imaginative and fun and plays out well live. And people love it and connect with it and it builds culture and it's thoughtful. Not just super organized and synthetic. It has a heartbeat to it.

MC: And with Liberated Music, what kind of ecosystem are you wanting to establish? Would you like to focus more on nurturing creativity within these producers you bring on? Just how involved do you want to be with their maturation?

Griz: Ahhhh man, as much as needed I guess. Or maybe not at all. It just comes down to letting these cats do their thing. At some point they are probably going to be a lot more popular than I am. But yeah man, these guys rock. They know exactly what they want. I'm just here to help them out with whatever they might need help with and put a cool name to it. It's all our name. Liberated Music is for all of us. I don't want to be the fucking CEO, you know. I hired somebody else to be the CEO of the company.

MC: Speaking in terms of the same realm as PLM, would you like to get to the point where you take a showcase of your own people out on the road with you?

Griz: I have intentions to do all things cool, righteous and amazing - and make those things happen with my crew. There are lots of things that we want to do with the record label. There are a lot of things that other record labels don't do that we want to do. But you know, we are the little cats who are just trying to sell a couple of tickets to a show. I’m not trying to push anything or push anybody into anything. There are a lot of people that want to absorb popularity and do anything possible with it. To really hustle hard and push it. But you just gotta take it one step at a time. When the time is right to do some cool shit, the time will be right. You know, I've already toured with The Floozies and J-Mac. And there are a lot of things that go along with a PLM showcase. And there are a lot of things that I don't want my thing to turn into. It's an "us" thing and it's not the "Griz Music Showcase." On the roster, we are all under Liberated Music, which is the big picture. We are going to be us and everyone else is going to be them. And that’s what's up.

MC: Yeah man, and I can appreciate your humility and not wanting to take credit for everything. It’s always better to let things happen more organically. And not to harp on the whole PLM thing, but with the saxophone you do play a more live instrument in the traditional sense. So it seems pretty inevitable that you put together a live band with guys like Matt and Mark Hill or whoever.

Griz: That's funny you say that because I was just talking to Matt. He's like, "We should do a live Griz band. I want to come play for you man!" And I definitely want to do some shit like that. It sounds so fun. But once you start doing it you gotta keep doing it. I brought a trumpet player and a guitar player onstage with me for Snowball in Denver. We did practice sessions and deconstructed tunes and it was fucking awesome! It was my first time really doing that and I was really stoked on it. But personally I don't think that I am ready to do that. It’s a big financial commitment. But then again, it's not about making money either. It's not about that at all. To involve so many more people and so many new facets seems a little premature. So we're just going to let this thing kind of grow and do its thing.

MC: Most definitely. You have to be careful not to stunt your own growth.

Griz: Yes. And right now it feels super renegade because it's not so formal. That's kind of the cool thing about the Griz project. Right now, it's still in its infancy and it is so young. It is very malleable and very versatile. It is just one dude up there with a saxophone crushing shit and dancing his head off on stage. You know, just giving it his all and yelling at people into a microphone. Hopefully everyone is getting down with it and has that righteous energy. That's where I am trying to keep the Griz project at the moment. But maybe I can bring this whole live band thing out in the future. You know, just kind of keep things where they are at for the time being, but keep on writing good music too. I'm only two albums deep into my career so far. I got some time.

MC: For me personally, I am a firm believer in visualizing success and putting those things out to the universe that I want in life. So with that in mind, whether it is your own musical growth, that of your label or anything else under the sun for that matter, what would you put out to the universe this very moment? No inhibitions whatsoever. No bullshit. You say to the universe: “This is something I have to get ahold of. This is what I need and am willing to pour all of my energy into!”

Griz: Yeah man, speaking of albums. I’d say it would be that one record, that one album. I know that I am searching for it. I keep on getting closer and closer to it. And I don't think that any album that I've come out with yet is "not it," but I don't think that any album that I've put out so far is "it” either. I am just searching along as I make the journey. And I don't think it will ever end, man. But just whatever that next album is - it’s going to come. And it’s going to totally knock your socks off! It will come. I just have to be patient and keep brewing up thunderstorms. Create that lightning and make that magic moment. It will happen. I know it. I can feeeeeel it!

MC: What about this experience is spiritual for you? What gets it to the point where it transcends the ordinary and transcends the party bullshit? Where you're getting that fulfillment on a much deeper level?

Griz: Ahhhh man. The sultry, sexy, slow, deep moments, you know. And they can be filled with bass and rattling elements, but also those "OOOOMPH" moments. You can close your eyes and just float through time and space in that weird moment. That is the psychedelic, fuckin' deepness where you can really connect with the music. And it could be the really raging elemental parts while your going hard as well. But for me, it's the point where it goes from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet - you feel rooted. It's a shared experience that everyone feels at some point - hopefully.

MC: Being an artist, I’m sure there are times when you doubt yourself. Regardless of what direction a person is going in, everyone has their own inner critic that questions everything. So what happens when you doubt yourself? How do you work through that?

Griz: That's a good question man. I do that a lot. And you're right, everyone is their own worst critic. But that's what kind of keeps it all moving man. A lot of times I say to myself, "This is the worst shit ever. I hate it. I fucking suck at making music! I can't believe I am like this. I have to play a show tonight and play fucking terrible music for these kids and everyone is going to hate it and I am going to have to live with the consequences of being a street artist! But…you just gotta keep doing it. You just got to have the resolve to better yourself. I just have to get better and somehow find a way to better my sound. So if it’s one of those things where this song or that song really isn’t working because it's not gelling and there is no glue to it – you find a way to make it stick so it can sound electric and sound powerful and real damn emotional. A lot of times when I go through moments of self-doubt, what ends up coming out of it are these moments of lightning. Those rare streaks of lightning that just hopefully land. And sometimes they do and it's like magic. And sometimes they don’t and it's disappointing. It's all worth the magic in the end though. You just have to keep trying.

MC: One last thing, what is going through your head right before you take the stage every night?

Griz: “LET'S GO!”…and also…"Please don't fuck up."

Tickets are still available for Griz's "Power in Numbers" show at Cain's Ballroom this Thursday night. The opening acts will be Michal Menert and Late Night Radio. Please be sure to follow Griz on SoundCloud and check out his website for all information regarding free downloads, news, tour dates and more.

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To read more stories about music festivals, the Tulsa music scene and the surrounding area, please subscribe to my work on this site. Your support is greatly appreciated.

- Matthew Cremer

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