You can call him by his name Grant, stated Grant Kwiecinski’s press agent.
She was responding to a terse question, just before our interview. Above all the questions I prepared, I forget to ask whether or not he preferred his given name or the name he gave himself for the stage, GRiZ.
The 28-year-old out of the Detroit suburb of Southfield is laid back, despite preparing to embark on a summer tour across the country to support his latest album “Ride Waves.” His sixth studio album, and first since his 2016 “Good Will Prevail,” is already on the Billboard charts. It’s his second time on the Billboard charts, “Good Will Prevail,” peaked at No. 169 on the Top 200 chart.
“Ride Waves” comes out swinging with collaborations with Matisyahu (“A New Day”) and Wiz Khalifa (“Find My Own Way”). The strength of the wave the album is floating upon comes after a break from nearly a decade of touring and doing something Kwiecinski loves doing best, working with fellow artists.
Kwiecinski is a unique nugget in the electronic dance music world. Yeah, he’s known to get up and play the saxophone. That’s his niche. And, there’s that time he came out to the world to say he’s gay. Oddly enough, his stance with the LGBTQ+ community within the EDM world is unique. But, in the studio, during the creative process, he likes to set other artists up. He’s a music producer, in addition to being a DJ. He said he likes inviting vocalists on his work, because they often bring in another layer he may not have initially seen.
“When you are involved with other people in that creative space, letting other people contribute to it creates a completely new dynamic,” he said. “Something that is pure, and original, and beautiful. Something that is palpable, almost a magic that defines the essence of what a vibe is.”
Kwiecinski said he caught Khalifa as the two were in their respective studios. The two artists had virtually chased each other as they were each on the road, touring. Though their schedules did not allow for a meet up in person, Khalifa lent his contribution on “Find My Own Way.” “When I work with people, I really want to make sure that the collaboration as an exciting thing for the other person,” said Kwiecinski. Matisyahu was another such artist he wanted to reach out and work with, ever since he was in high school. The two seemed to bond, he said, as they banged out “A New Day” in just two days.
The album features Snoop Dogg and DRAM, too.
Kwiecinski’s music is a dynamic blend of electronic glitch, hip hop, jazz and funk. He described his early following of EDM as the path “it wasn’t going,” artists who were not mainstream but who were helping define new genres, glitch, dubstep, and drum and bass before them all. He developed a following after dropping out of Michigan State and dropping his debut album “End of the World Party” in 2011.
A state of mind
GRiZ is a state of mind, more so than just a stage name. Kwiecinski said it’s a place that allows people to come in and be who they are. As with his collaborative work, he’s a strong believer in the power of positive thinking. When Kwiecinski came out in an op-ed piece in Huffington Post in 2017, the political climate could not be worse. The general public appears to have regressed in its ability to embrace the differences of individuals, and politics are polarizing. His choice to step out had nothing to do with politics. “It was important to me that this thing was about music,” he said. “Not being a person, but the music first.” He wanted to come out long before but waited for the right timing. He wanted his declaration to fall upon fans who already loved his music, and not have it be the reason fans are drawn into it. Initially, he said he was “frustrated” that he could not see someone like himself represented in the world. “It kind of frustrated me that I didn’t see a representation of myself in gay culture,” he said. “I didn’t see a gay DJ. … I didn’t see myself in the culture.” Kwiecinski does not talk about politics. He avoids it altogether. But, he said he knows there will always be arguments against differing views, but that it’s important to step up for yourself.
“Facing controversy is really important because it helps you define yourself when you have to stand up for who you are,” he said. “I accept and love myself. That’s important. Because, even though there’s always going to be controversy and people who are going to disagree with you, there’s also so much love.”
When he took his break from touring early last year, he walked away from social media. For nine months, he didn’t look at Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. To him, he said, they were all a distraction.
“I found that it’s not really necessarily about focusing on the negative and finding a way to get over that,” said Kwiecinski. “It’s just like changing the channel. … It’s just about finding the place where you feel comfortable and fit in. That’s what I’ve done. I’ve been able to find a community of people who support me. Hopefully opening up to a larger community and opening up more doors to allow people to accept themselves and find a safe place to be them.
That’s what the GRiZ thing is all about.”