If you’ve ever wondered what the music industry will look like when the millennials take over, look no further than GRiZ.
The rising electronic-music star, 24, has been shaped by the challenges of his generation, but his no-hand-holding-necessary work ethic and ingenuity—not to mention his rebel heart—should put the fears of anxious Gen X and boomer music fans to rest.
Grant Kwiecinski grew up in one of the most famously depressed cities in America. The desperation in Detroit translated into some lean times for the former Michigan State University student, who has an intimate familiarity with tuna-fish sandwiches and plain spaghetti. But it also made for a hungry music scene. GRiZ, who has rocked crowds at festivals from Coachella to Lollapalooza, says the poverty in his hometown breeds resilience. And drive.
“There’s so much support, but there is also so much competition because everyone is working so hard to make it,” the musician says, reached by phone in the studio in Boulder, Colorado, where he’s putting together his third album. “The level of creativity and art there is so high, it really pushes people to move to the next level. It’s a really intoxicating vibe and a really great community.” (And, of course, a fiercely loyal one; think Trick Trick declaring Detroit a “no fly zone” for rappers who don’t pay respect to the local scene, allegedly running Rick Ross out of town last month.)
Luckily, GRiZ hasn’t just had to shoulder his generation’s burdens; he’s also benefited from its advantages, including early access to technology (he started honing his producing skills on his computer at age 14 and booked his first gig via SoundCloud) and the follow-your-dreams ethos popular in education. Add to that, his mother, like many Gen Y parents, encouraged his lofty goals.
“She comes from a very rigid household, a German family—there was a proper way to do things,“ he says. “With me, she was always like, ‘I just want you to be happy.’ ” Despite not having a lot of resources, his mom bought him an old upright Steinway piano to practise on as a child, and arranged saxophone lessons from a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The sax now figures prominently in GRiZ’s live show, which merges funk, hip-hop, soul, blues, dubstep, and dance music into a satisfying sonic smorgasbord.
One of the most refreshing things about GRiZ is his approach to distributing music. He makes enough money off his shows, he says, and so he dropped his 2012 debut, Mad Liberation, and last year’s Rebel Era through a free download on his site.
“It’s a philosophy that was born out of my own inability to find music and pay for it,” he explains. “I never had a credit card. If I really liked an artist, I would be searching for ways to bootleg that shit: some crummy copy from some random website.…I just want to be the person to free music for these kids.”
He sees this adventure in open-source music as both a spiritual and a political act. “In this day and age, I really just don’t want to sell people on something. I don’t want to have to sell you sound. I don’t like selling emotions. Or ideas. I just want to give you these ideas and inspire people.” He adds: “I don’t think that if I was this age a decade ago that I would even be able to do what I’m doing.”
GRiZ plays the Pemberton Music Festival on Friday (July 18).