'Say It Loud': GRiZ Recounts His Album's Long Road to Future Funk Redemption

griz 2015
Courtesy Photo

The Boulder-based artist traces his new LP’s evolution through three cities and a firestorm of creative frustration.

Freezing rain slicks Brooklyn’s streets, but GRiZ and his music are both staying warm inside Studio B.

Grant Kwiecinski slouches before the sprawling '70s Neve console that helped lend his album a temperate analog climate. "Get the Funk Down" screams a sticker on his well-worn laptop. Against a futuristic backdrop of stacked compressors and flickering effects units, the lanky blonde producer/multi-instrumentalist swigs a beer and speaks candidly of self-doubt.

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Say It Loud came from many, many small battles,” GRiZ says of his new album. “From I hate myself and I hate this to I love this and it's my favorite thing… to this is the best thing in existence. Then comes another thing, and this is the worst thing ever… and how do I mediate all that shit? Of course, it’s just your own ego getting in the way.”

Ego and an entirely new creative approach. While his previous album, Rebel Era, was fully created on a computer, Spotify sampling issues convinced Kwiecinski that its follow-up needed to start from scratch with original source material.

Coming off a grueling nine-week tour, Kwiecinski returned to his native Detroit for a week devoted to writing. He soon found himself in the studio instead, improvising with a tight local band named Will Sessions that a friend had introduced him to.

“Computers are really patient,” he says. “They can sit there all day. It’s a totally different situation dealing with humans. They can be tired or overly excited. You're in the tracking room being like, ‘Please play something cool,’ and you've got a whole cast of people looking at you like, ‘This better be sick, dude.’ I would have done it differently going in, but the end results -- the moments of magic -- were insane and amazing.”

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GRiZ’s next stop was Brooklyn, where he spent four days recording horn parts in our present setting’s sister studio. The Boulder, Colo.-based artist devoted another three days to the “daunting process” of running hundreds of recordings through analog tape machines, then started trying to meld the audio with electronic elements.

“By that time, I had a full album’s worth of crazy shit that, like, I hated,” he recalls with a grimace. “Everything got really dark. I wasn’t smiling when I was making music. I kept getting stuck and it wasn’t progressing. I loved both these mediums, but they weren’t mixing together. It was like trying to paint on water.”

He turns up the Neve's volume. Relaxed horns shimmy in to support twinkling guitar chords.

“See this horn line is amazing to me, but it never led anywhere,” he laments. “This isn’t something I can play to a bunch of people. I didn't want to take all this time, spend all this money, and invest all this personal character into making an album that's just for headphones. I gotta have ammo, man.”

What was the tortuous process’s turning point?

“Getting rid of the idea that I was trying to write a modern funk album,” he answers. “I need to write GRiZ songs. I'm listening to Shaolin Afronauts or Lettuce and being like ‘I'm not a band, I'm a producer.’ Be a fucking producer who plays saxophone.”

So Kwiecinski scrapped “almost everything” and dissected the recordings into little loops that were easier to reconstruct within a club-focused format. Talib Kweli got back to him with vocals for a song that would become “For the Love,” contributing to the forward momentum. The creative barriers finally fell on a formative two-week retreat to Medicine Bow National Forest with a group of friends that included members of Brooklyn trio Exmag and Lettuce’s Eric Bloom.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a better time in my life,” he says. “Your only mission is to hang and write music. We all had the same goal. That’s how I want to live my life. I’m not there yet. Sometimes you get that, sometimes you don’t, but when you get it, man, it’s beautiful.”

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GRiZ’s album was finally coming together. Exmag introduced him to Los Angeles singer/songwriter Orlando Napier, who ended up featuring on guitar-driven first single, “A Fine Way to Die,” and wistful soul ballad, “Turnin.'” He flew to Los Angeles to work with a children’s choir on album opener, “The Anthem,” an experience he characterizes as both “the most nerve-wracking point of [his] life” and a “freaking magical moment.”

Layering booming 808 kicks and twisted bass synthesis beneath live funk instruments, Kwiecinski also finally managed to lend tracks like “It’s All Good” and “Get Down” the muscle they’d need for dance clubs without compromising musicianship. He closes his eyes and sings along as they play, shaking his chair with pantomimed drum parts.

With a fervent yet diverse fan base ranging from kids who crave “the bass in your face shit” to joint-puffing jam band adherents, Kwiecinski was acutely aware that his release had a lot of boxes to check.

“For ‘The Anthem,’ a lot of my fans were like ‘oh man, he's getting lazy making just like a pop format tune that everyone's doing these days,’” he says. “But on this album, I wanted to write songs with vocals that would get stuck in my head, not just movements of instrumentals. That being said, I still write a lot of music for the heady music community, and I fucking love those guys. That music must be represented”

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He points to his finale’s working title: ‘Trippy vibey shit v2.’ While the instrumental song was officially christened “Headspace (Time Is On Our Side),” its psychotropic guitar lead and resonant echoes certainly live up to the original billing.

“I wanted to capture what it’s like to take an acid trip in a song,” he says. “Your manic highs and lows, confusing middles and all that kind of shit. The beautiful and the dark.”

With the album complete at last, Kwiecinski headed to Mardi Gras in New Orleans to celebrate. But he couldn’t resist the studio’s call. Say it Loud’s freewheeling bonus track, “Take it High,” was born in an impromptu one-night jam with Ivan Neville. Loose and carefree, the throaty funk sing-along stands in stark contrast to the prolonged focus and frustration that produced its counterparts.

Kwiecinski knows he captured something special in the session. Once Say it Loud is released, he plans to return to Big Easy and pick up his next project right where this one finished.

“It gave me a lot of faith that I have yet to write my favorite song,” he says with a smile. “I’m still searching for it.”


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