Sincerity and calmness would be two words to define DJ and producer Grant Kwiecinski, better known as GRiZ, as he sat backstage in his signature varsity jacket the few minutes before stepping onstage to headline last Friday’s sold out show at The Intersection in Grand Rapids.
Originally from Southfield, the authentic sounds created by this 23-year-old are not just noteworthy, but innovative and timeless. With two albums under his belt, and a third slated to come out this fall, Kwiecinski is traveling nonstop around the nation. But he still calls Detroit home.
By utilizing a variety of layers within his music, playing his saxophone for most songs, and incorporating samples from old vinyls, this young man has an edge against the competition — for good reason. He’s headlined at well-known music festivals like Lollapalooza and Snowball and has come a long way from the days of DJing in basement parties at Michigan State University.
“I had a five-year plan, but I achieved my five-year plan way too fast,” he says. Hour Detroit sat down with Kwiecinski to chat about his Michigan roots and future plans.
How does it feel to be back in Michigan? Does it feel different performing here compared to other places around the nation?
I think there’s only one other place that I get this sort of hometown feel, and that’s Colorado. Between these two places, Colorado and Michigan, it feels like you’re walking into a room of people who actually know who you are. It’s really amazing, and they connect with you on such a deeper level, it’s like a homecoming.
Tell me about your newest album. You obviously incorporate the saxophone in most of your music, but how are you changing it up?
I’m trying to incorporate the saxophone into a horns section, so I’m starting to make it less of a solo instrument and more of a rhythmic instrument. So it’s something that plays with the track more. I’m trying to make the sax more a prominent part of the track and make it really shine through. This new record, I’m not really settled on a new name yet. I’ve got a few floating around, but I’m doing some very new special things.
I’ve been doing a lot of sampling in my career, which is going and grabbing old vinyls from the 60s and 70s — any era really — including some disco shit. I’m taking small cuts, and incorporating that into my songs to give it that kind of classic sound.
I’m trying to recreate that classic sound with musicians today, like going into recording sessions with other artists who can add a unique sound. We’ve done this in Detroit with the dudes from Will Sessions, which is a funk group, and I’m working with a ton of people to create songs that have old, instrumental vibes, so I have original samples to choose from.
Your music has many layers to it, and incorporates many different musical elements. What are your newest ideas to keep things fresh?
Well one of the people sitting in this room — this guy Dan Hacker, his project called Muzzy, from the Mad Liberation record days — we’ve been working together and he’s been playing guitar with me to help write some tunes. We have Dan singing on some records, and have him playing guitar on a lot of them. I’ve got a bunch of samples worked in there and a bunch of digital and analogue instruments as well. On this new record I just purchased an analogue synthesizer to add some more depth, and for me it’s all about creating an environment of sounds, this overall vibe. So when you listen to a song everything is glued together, and that takes a lot of layers to establish that. Many of the new tunes have that nasty electronic vibe to it, where people can really dance to it, but they also sound organic and just nice enough that you would be able to play it out of a record player.
You travel around a lot, but have somewhat of a home base in Detroit. What does it feel like to call the city home?
I’ve got a studio and also live with my brother Cort in Detroit, and one of the things I really noticed was prior to college, I spent a decent time seeing shows with the Scrummage Dudes, which is like a small artist collective in downtown Detroit. I spent a lot of time in their warehouse, and going from that to senior year of college where all my friends didn’t have jobs yet or were looking for jobs, and many either moved out of town or moved to downtown Detroit — I chose Detroit.
A lot of kids are moving downtown lately, and I’ve seen this transformation on a cosmetic level. Of course there are many political problems that have corrupted Detroit, but many people really are coming down to invest their time and creativity into making a mark on Detroit. You have all these little marks being made right now from just kids, and I think that open-mindedness is driving a lot of the change we are seeing.
How did your most recent collaboration to design a varsity jacket with Akomplice begin? What does it symbolize for you, or is it just a fashion statement?
The second show I ever played in was in Colorado and my manager had this varsity jacket that was made by Akomplice, and I went on stage with it and said “Listen, I can’t take this off,” but I obviously had to give it back to him. Our relationship with Akomplice grew over time, and when it came down to it, I just really wanted to work with them. I wanted to design a new varsity jacket from the ground up because one, I really like the team idea, and when everyone’s wearing it, it’s hard to describe how awesome it looks. We were recently at Snowball in Colorado and everyone was rolling around with these varsity jackets, I thought, “wow we look mean, we look good,” and it made me proud to be there. It just unites us, and lets you know this is the crew, don’t mess with us. It’s really nice to have a sense of belonging, and I want to be identifiable in these jackets.
You’ve gained a lot of popularity over the last couple years. What are some of your new goals?
I had a five-year plan, but I achieved my five-year plan way too fast. The new five-year plan is something along the lines of taking everything the way it is, but expanding it even more in the most organic and natural way possible. The plan is to always make sure the new fans we are picking up are actual, real fans. I want to work on cultivating a culture, not just getting more popular.
To follow GRiZ’s tour or listen to his newest album, visit: mynameisgriz.com