Rooftops and rips featuring GRiZ

Rooftops and rips featuring GRiZ

MusicOctober 10, 2017 By Brian Frederick

Growing up is growing out. Few are aware of this more than Grant Kwiecinski, better known to millions around the world as GRiZ. He and I are on a walk through Denver’s RiNo Art District strolling down Larimer Street during a busy lunchtime hour, watching as a dozen artists begin work on murals for a street art festival going down over the weekend. In the midst of the hot summer afternoon, he readily admits to a high he’s still on from playing two of the most important shows of his life, a back-to-back debut of his full band at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. 

If this scene were to play out in Denver 10 years ago — hell, even 5 years ago — the narrative would have been different. For one, we’d be walking around a downtrodden industrial complex, stepping over junkies and actually being able to find a place to park. There wouldn’t be young professional types bragging about start-up prospects and advanced yoga positions over plates of chilled nigiri and Maiale Al Mare — whatever that even means. 

Yet as Denver’s grown, so too has its magnetic pull to international artists such as GRiZ, a music producer type with his hands in all kinds of electronic genres. Before, he split time between Boulder and his hometown of Detroit. Though with a newly purchased home dead in the thick of Colorado’s renovation period, he says he’s ready to connect back with a big city, somewhere he feels he can give to the community — if nothing more than buying a cup of coffee at one of his favorite local spots down the street or handing a cigarette to a beggar as we walk by.

“Things happen to you and it invariably does change you, not to your core, you can’t change who you are, you’re stuck with it, so you might as well embrace it.” - GRiZ

“It’s been a minute since we hung out last, how’s life?” I ask as we navigate the bustling alleyway corridors.

“Same kid really,” he replies with a massive grin across his face, something he wears often. “I just live in Denver now.”

Although “live in” is a fleeting concept when you’re an artist on the road multiple months out of the year. Our time together, he admits, is in the middle of the longest break he’s had in half a decade. While still climbing toward the apex of a fruitful career, he explains how the past 12 months have been some of the craziest: building the band, collaborating with multiple companies on marketing goods, building stage shows, running the All Good Records label and designing merchandise for it … and yet somehow still finding time to write new music.

Do you feel like you’ve found your niche and want to stay safely inside of it, or is this where you pivot and continue reinventing yourself?
“I don’t want to grow out of the person that I was, [he says while tapping himself on the chest.] I’ve been asking myself that question a lot recently, like, who am I, what are the things I’m doing, do I like what I’m doing — just trying to check in.”

We continue to walk past artists, pausing briefly to greet fans who recognize him and even speak with a red-headed dude he’d met at a bar recently but couldn’t remember his name. He’s at the same time a legitimate part of the neighborhood yet an elusive celebrity all within a hundred yards of the interactions. Not minding the interruptions, Kwiecinski tries to carry on about GRiZ, noting that while traveling, the feeling doesn’t exist that he’s actually “there,” if only just physically as part of the foreign landscape. 

Though it’s clear, he’s home now.

After a few loops around the neighborhood, we scale his multi-level home to the rooftop overlooking a crowded street down below. The spot is a newly appreciated haven for him and his friends, a place they visit twice a day if possible. They climb up once in the morning, “to greet the sun,” and again in the evening, to say goodbye. 

So you’re just keeping yourself locked down with work right now?
“It’s awesome, because it’s helped free my mind from the doubts. That’s the scariest thing is pushing forward with new things — the band, sounds, whatever it is. You go through life and relationships happen, or new music happens, or new life experiences. Things happen to you and it invariably does change you, not to your core, you can’t change who you are, you’re stuck with it, so you might as well embrace it. Embracing it though, you get the best qualities out. That’s just called learning. Learning is hard.”

I avoid asking him about an op-ed he penned for Huffington Post back in the earlier part of June, even though it would have fit nicely here. It’s the one where he came out publicly and appeals to the youth of America who find themselves in similar positions he was in growing up. It’s a lengthy dive into the experiences he endured growing up gay, and the obstacles he pushed through in America’s historical culture of heterosexuality. 

“I’m on my way to try to master certain aspects of my life to become a sensei of my own personal Zen.” - GRiZ

With over 21,000 shares and countless headlines written about it in other outlets, I figured he’d said what he needed to say in 1,100 of his own words already. But something like that doesn’t just go away. We never discuss it specifically there on the rooftop, yet it’s still an obvious parameter in his method of progression.

And you have to take what you learn and apply it to everyday life, don’t you?
"Yeah, of course, it’s like learning patience, or personal love, acceptance — it’s not something you can just do once, focus on once and it’s done. It’s not a homework assignment. It’s like mastering a skill like guitar or something. It takes years to master. I’ve been learning, I’m on my way to try to master certain aspects of my life to become a sensei of my own personal Zen [laughs].”

Right, mastering the art of just being you.
“With that progression it seeps into me career wise. I’ve been more creative than I ever have been in my entire life. I’ve been more productive. I’m so hungry for painting and expressing this picture of myself. I’m so hungry for that. Being an artist has given me a big release and relief from it too.”

Between sips of iced coffee and rips from a hand-blown pipe, we twist through topics like anyone does stuck in deep conversation. He tells me about his circular theory on life: why people say it has an end when circles are really an infinite line with no room to take a break. Even if we physically cease to exist, our kids, our music, our impact all continue regardless of how little or big the circle is when it was created. 

It’s heavy talk, bordering on stoned distraction. But it gets back to business quickly, more so about his past collaboration with Great Divide Brewing Co. (a limited release of Chasing The Golden Hour Ale that sold out within hours), his ongoing relationship with Native Roots, a jacket collaboration with Akomplice clothing and plenty else.

Where do the ideas for this stuff all come from?
“I look at it like this, here’s a bunch of stuff I really want to do, so I’m gonna do it. I’m in this position, if I come up with an idea, I can just do it. I like to consume myself with work because I like the experience of working through it. Learning. Doing. Experiencing. It’s so satisfying to my soul to put an idea into action.”

Was that attitude the catalyst for the band? Red Rocks is a hell of a place to debut a new project.
“It was the right way to do it; it’s the only place I’d want to do something like that. We did it, it feels great. I had that idea after my second Red Rocks show, I thought, ‘You know what, we can do this with a live band, it would be sick.’ But then I was like, ‘I want to do it, and want to do it tomorrow, but should wait it out. Wait for the right opportunity.’”

You took a bit to get it right, how did that process go?
“What we had to figure out was who could take the reigns. Who was gonna help me figure out how to communicate this music. If I’m the point guard, I need my center. So I met this guy, Stu Brooks, a fucking amazing person, a personal role model for me on how to live your life. … And he makes awesome coffee. We would drink, like, six cups of coffee a day, it was maniac shit — I love it.”

Now looking back, do you think you’ve ever failed at anything getting to this point?
“Oh yeah, lots of songs. That’s pretty symptomatic for music for me. You know, personal relationships go like that too. That’s just the balance of life. You’d be fucked if you thought every single thing you’d ever try was gonna turn out good. If that’s your mentality and you get so upset because something doesn’t work, you’re gonna have a tough time. ‘Sometimes shit just ain’t gonna fuckin’ work’ is so empowering.”

Just then, we’re interrupted by a loud voice from below. It’s the HVAC guy, coming to fix the air conditioning. We climb off the roof and greet him at the front door. He tells Kwiecinski his kids love watching “DJ GRiZ” on YouTube, and don’t believe it when he tells them he built the DJ’s house. He also has a small pinch of homegrown he wants us to smoke. He says it’s fire. 

Having been moved into the house for close to a year, but spending hardly any time inside of it, he hasn’t yet learned the ways of owning a home. Outside of the brain-pulsating lights, earth-shattering subs and fans screaming for miles to watch him and his people perform, he’s enjoying this time being “normal” for once, a chance to be grounded he calls it. 

Well I guess this is growing up.

[all photos Jason Siegel, courtesy GRiZ]