Interview: GRiZ

GRiZ is a 27-year-old sax-playing DJ and music producer from the Detroit area, and describes his music as “future funk” – an apt name for his tasty mix of classic funk, electronic music, and soul, with some touches of jazz and hip-hop thrown in for good measure. He has released five albums, including his 2011 debut End of the World Party, 2015’s Say It Loud, and last year’s Good Will Prevail. Check him out, and you’ll agree that his music truly is a funky good time!

This interview was for a preview article for for Griz’s concert on 10/15/17 at the Santa Barbara Bowl. It was done by phone on 9/28/17.

Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at your upcoming show? What are you doing on this tour?

GRiZ: You know, we’ve done so many tours – I think that at some point we’d like to think that we’re really good at it.

We do a fucking awesome show. There’s something for everybody. There’s a super chill moment; there’s a really awesome, jubilant, loud, and fun dance moment. It’s like a good party, man. The fans themselves bring such a great energy to the show, and that’s such a big asset to us – just really awesome people and great venues, spreading a positive message to people, all under this cool get-down-and-party-with-us vibe.

JM: You’re from Detroit, and I’m always amazed at what a rich musical history Detroit has. In your opinion, who’s the ultimate Detroit musical artist or band?

G: Oh, man. Instead of one exact person, let’s just say Motown, Hitsville. That is Detroit music. Historically, I know that right now maybe Hitsville isn’t a thing. It’s a museum now, you know. But that’s what it is, man. I mean, Motown – that’s Detroit. That’s the Detroit sound.

JM: Do you feel any special connection with the Detroit techno and house music innovators, people like Derrick May?

G: They’re like my brothers in electronic music, in a way. I don’t think that there’s a huge crossover between their scene and myself personally, as far the actual technicality of what the sound is. But, I mean, they are syncopated rhythms with instruments on top of it, so you have that.

I remember when I was growing up, going downtown and going to small electronic raves and parties and stuff, and those guys were like kings, and they still are. They’ve influenced me a lot to be pure to form, trying to cultivate a scene of something. That kind of ties into the Motown thing. They created a scene, crafted it, and we’re trying to do a similar thing. Following in their footsteps.

JM: What do you remember about the first time you came to California? Was that for a gig, or to visit?

G: The first time I came to California, I came to see this thing called EDC Los Angeles, first of all back when it was a thing, and second of all back when it was at the Coliseum. It was awesome, man. I went in, I walked down Santa Monica, I was on the beach. I was like, “Man, Cali is super cool!” Weed, palm trees and stuff. It was quite the experience.

JM: Listening to your music, I really love the funk influence that you have. This is kind of a silly question, but what is the secret to being funky?

G: You need to wake up with that shit, man. The secret to being funky… Funk is like an attitude. That’s why I always thought that funk music was so hard to pin down, as far as what it actually was soundwise. It’s like an attitude. You can tell if someone’s funky. It’s interesting, because if something smells bad, a common colloquialism is, “That’s got a funky smell about it.” In one way, it’s like this is a certain kind of thing, but also it’s like anything that’s nasty, “Oh, that’s funky!” It’s like a feeling, it’s an emotion – it’s not really like words. So much of funk music isn’t really about what you’re saying, it’s how you’re saying it, and how you’re playing it.

It kind of knocks off from jazz a little bit. Jazz is sort of like an attitude, and it’s more of an intellectual property sort of feel. There’s a really important study about it. Jazz is like rock ‘n’ roll’s alternative cousin. Funk is just loud and has no remorse. It’s the one that everyone’s crowding around, and is super extroverted and in your face. It’s rad. Funk is rad, man.

JM: Is there a particular funk musician or band that you’ve been most influenced by?

G: Yeah, James Brown – a hundred million percent. Earth Wind & Fire is huge for me, and the times when Jackson Five is funky. The Swampers – they’re the rhythm section for everything. They’re Muscle Shoals cats, like they’re Muscle Shoals’ resident band. They’re the guys that played “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, everything that you know but you don’t. They’re like country bumpkins, but they’re the funkiest cats of their generation.

JM: There’s so much music available nowadays. What is your strategy for standing out from the rest of the pack?

G: Not trying to stand out. There’s just not space for people who are trying to be not like other shit. It would suck if every time I made a song I’d be like, “Man, does this sound like something else that I’m not trying to be like?” or “Does this sound original enough?” For me, it’s like, does it sound good to me? Does it feel good to me? Because music for me, as much as it is like intellectual property, it’s so much more of an emotional property for me. It’s an expression of emotion.

[My approach is that] I’m just feeling something. I don’t even know what I want to make musically. I’m just going to feel a bunch of stuff. I’m not going to think about it too much. I’m just going to put some drums together and try to feel this feeling, and that’s a great place to start. I think that what sets GRiZ apart is just like I have this very clear-cut and honest dialog with my emotions. I don’t want to betray them, because they’re there to enable me. I just listen to that, and follow my heart.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

G: It’s always going to be really hard, and it’s never going to get easier. Even with being more successful, you’re not going to be like, “Oh now I get everything.” You’ll always have these breakthrough moments where “Everything makes sense to me”, and “I can see clearly.” But then there’s always going to be those moments of doubt, and those difficult times. And nothing’s ever really going to change. You are this person, you are the same.

Just focus on all of your most positive feelings, your constructive feelings. You can write something about sorrow and heartbreak, and that’s constructive, too. Just focus mostly on creating and being a constructive person, and don’t worry when things get hard because they’ll always be hard. Just do it for the right intention. You’re here to be a musician, so make music, and don’t worry about anything else. It’ll all come. You can work on the other shit later. Make music first.

JM: What do you have in the works? Are you thinking about a new album?

G: Yeah, I’m always working on new music. Like with this new album or whatever that I’m working on, it’s not so much that I’m ready to make a new album, but I’m ready to make new music and tell my story through music to myself, like a personal journal. Then at some point when it’s finished, I’ll share it with people.

Beyond that, I’m just really focused on having the best tour we can possibly have – new sets, new music, new edits – interesting things – a new stage set-up. People haven’t seen this show before, and I’m excited to show it to them. It’s really cool.


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