Grabbitz is one of those artists who’s always writing, every single day.
As a little kid growing up in the ’90s in Buffalo, New York with older siblings, Nick Chiari wanted to be Trent Reznor or Chris Cornell. Then as an angry teenager, he wanted to be Eminem. As an adult, he wanted to be some combination of Skrillex and deadmau5. Grabbitz as a project has produced thousands of tracks in countless genres leading up to the latest release, Better With Time.
Out Friday on Monstercat, Better With Time follows his Friends EP and a series of singles also released through the label.
Asked how this record differs from his previous releases, 22-year-old Nick says, “It strays a lot from the dance-music format. There’s not necessarily a buildup and drop; it’s more of a song structure. I’m still flexing on what’s been going on in dance music, which is a lot of sound design, punchy drums and beats. But instead of using those kinds of things in the usual way, I’m incorporating them with live instruments you’re not used to hearing in dance music, like cello, violin, bass, acoustic and electric guitar.”
His use of the word “flex” to describe the sound of his music sticks with me — it’s electrifyingly confident. But I also notice he didn’t bother to flex on the fact that he learned the electric cello just for the occasion of playing on “Get Out” as well as the intro and intermission tracks, I had to ask him who did the instrumentation on the record to find out. He also did vocals, guitar, drums and piano, all of which he’s taught himself over the years. As someone who claims he’s never really experienced writer’s block, Chiari definitely knows how talented he is, but he isn’t a jerk about it.
“When I say I’m at a point where I can flex, let me give you an example. One day for fun I took ‘Watch Me Whip’ and used a trap dubstep format with buildups and big drops, and it made it crazy. That kind of music is easier for me to make now because I’ve been focusing on different ways of utilizing sounds to keep things interesting for myself. If I were to confine myself to Grabbitz being a trap or dubstep guy only or any one type of sound, I wouldn’t be fulfilling myself. I have to be able to go where I want to go artistically.”
The sound of the record started with the song “Better With Time,” Chiari loved it so much he wrote the rest of the tracks to go with its style. Since he writes every day, track selection for an album release happens by scrolling through endless rough project files to find ideas that stand out and bringing them to life in Logic.
“I loved ‘Better With Time’ so much I wanted to make sure that all the songs had that same feel,” he says. “It has drum ‘n bass in it yet it’s not drum ‘n bass. And it has drumstep in it but it’s not that either. It was a full fledged song, it’s got a hook, but it’s dance music. I wanted to mesh dance music style with my old alternative rock style and that’s how this record happened.”
The single, “Float Away,” and “Cold” featuring LAYNE are tied as my favorite tracks for completely different reasons, yet the former flows seamlessly into the latter. “Float Away” gets me like vintage Coldplay mixed with Porter Robinson. “Cold” is a LAYNE and Grabbitz sexy electro-trap-house duet with enough pop sensibility to be utterly infectious.
Unsure of what else to call his music, Grabbitz is putting his flag down and declaring the new territory he’s in “Alternative Dance.” This space has been pioneered by bands going as far back as Nine Inch Nails and Soulwax, who paved the way for acts like Savoy and Big Gigantic. Better With Time can appeal to young EDM fans who grew up on emo rock and pop radio but is intelligent and original enough to win over the toughest critics, including toughest of all, Mr. mau5 himself, after hearing Grabbitz cover one of his songs.
“He heard my vocal edit of ‘Silent Picture’ that I sang on and wanted to finish it,” Chiari recalls. There’s no release date yet, but the deadmau5 endorsement let the EDM hive mind in the Twittersphere know that Grabbitz is the real deal. “The most important thing that came of it was the validation that I’m making quality music.”
The format of Better With Time is also worth noting — it has an intro, two tracks, intermission, two more tracks and bonus mix. Chiari insists it’s not a concept album, but does romanticize the idea of the album experience.
“I wish we still put on vinyl and listened to a record from start to finish and not just for nostalgia reasons, I’m too young for that. It’s taking the time to listen to what the artist has to say, and it will be cool again someday I think,” he says.
Actually, this is somewhat of a condensed-soup album experience for the modern ADD-J listener — eight tracks total that blend cohesively together, but can also each stand alone.
Better With Time will be available this Friday via Monstercat.