If there’s one man who represents the strength of the people of Detroit, America’s poorest city, it’s GRiZ. A producer, songwriter, and saxophonist who blends huge beats with huge horns. With new album, Ride Waves, released last month, I speak to this exciting artist about his latest record and its features which include Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa. Also, the all-important studio elements that went into the album, and how he leverages his success to lift his community.
“This album was like writing a book,” GRiZ tells me, from his home studio in Denver, Colorado. “I wanted to write a narrative. But at the same time, I wanted to freestyle, no holds barred. Just to freak out with no rules!”
GRiZ, real name Grant Kwiecinski, was born and raised in Southfield, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. The city famously became the largest US city to file for bankruptcy in 2013, and a swathe of buildings were left derelict and abandoned. However, recent years has seen some wonderful regeneration, particularly in old theatres and music venues. So, despite being born in a city that has endured struggle, GRiZ joins the rich heritage of Detroit’s musical legacy, a very important place in genres spanning Motown, techno, jazz, hip hop, and rock.
He took up the alto sax (the planting of a very important seed) and piano in elementary school, and later dropped out of Michigan State University to focus on his burgeoning music career, where he had been a regular DJ at parties. First album, End Of The World Party, was released for free in 2011, and saw him begin supporting such acts as Bassnectar and Pretty Lights.
So with that new record on the way, we first deal with the star-studded features GRiZ had along for the ride.
“One was Bootsy Collins, who, if you don’t know, is one of the ultimate funk legends,” GRiZ says. “In fact, without him, funk music might not exist in the same way.” He’s not wrong - Collins rose to fame with James Brown in the early ‘70s, and later as a member of Parliament-Funkadelic.
“We also had Wiz Khalifa feature,” GRiZ continues. “That one turned out really great - we had some gospel choir on there. He doesn’t rap about weed at all on the song, which is crazy for Wiz Khalifa! It was a little different for him, and really tested his writing ability; he did a great job elevating the song.”
However, a big-beats dance record with hip hop collaborators shouldn’t have you thinking this is an all-out, glass-clinking party album.
“There are certain songs on the record that play into depression and anxiety,” GRiZ says. “It’s important for me to shed light on, and work through those emotions, and honour them in a constructive way. These tracks are hopefully safe places to have catharsis and emotional release from those feelings. But I do try balancing into the positive realm as much as possible, and I’d say most of these tracks are found there.”