Grieves talks Winter And The Wolves, touring and finding balance in the music business [Interview]
Vancouver, BC – It’s impressive to listen to Grieves speak. He has so much passion for his music that it makes you remember what the game is all about. Winter And The Wolves is his most recent album reaching the charts of the Billboard 200, and since it’s release in March he’s been touring almost non-stop.
HipHopCanada’s Holly Brown Bear, spoke with him over the phone about touring, music, relationships, and Rhymesayers as well as his upcoming tour through Canada. Check it out below and be sure to catch Grieves in a Canadian city near you in early October.
“Why is it rappers feel like they have to show each other their balls? It’s so frustrating to me and the fact that I’ve come to the realization that I’m not playing that game and I’m just happy whether I’m sitting on the keyboard, up on the stage, or doing post edit vocals alignments for someone I don’t even know, I’m happy. I am successful in my own eyes.” – Grieves
Interview conducted by Holly Brown Bear for HipHopCanada
Photography by Jenavieve Belair
HipHopCanada: So how have you been? I noticed on your events that you’ve been on the road almost non stop since about March.
Grieves: Ya, pretty much April – we’ve been on the road since April. It’s been a long one and I kinda blame myself because I told my agent and my manager I wanted to get it all out of the way in the beginning so I could have a little family time and personal time for the rest of the year but I guess I didn’t take into consideration that that’s a lot of work and when the work clears I’m never satisfied. I just want more, so here we are, going on another tour, so it didn’t work out like I planned. But it’s good to be busy, especially with so much time between records.
HipHopCanada: And I guess that’s the challenge in being a creative artist is that you have to find that balance with always wanting more and your having goals. Although it’s a strength it must also be a weakness.
Grieves: It totally is, but you know as frustrating as it can be the work and everything that goes into it, I’m good at it. I don’t mean that in a cocky way like you’d expect most rappers to, I just mean that it’s just that I can do a four month tour where a lot of others might break down after three weeks, and I like it. I enjoy it.
HipHopCanada: Being on the road, when you first went on the road, was it something that you immediately enjoyed or is it something that you had to get used to?
Grieves: When I first started touring it was 2004-05 and I was working 2-3 jobs and I didn’t enjoy what I was doing in my life and I would go to work and I would just think about music all of the time. I was going to music school, paying out of my own pocket. So when I started touring it was like a vacation that consistently strictly around my interests. And I call it a vacation because I was paying for it wasn’t a job I would save up and pay for it and then we’d go and play for no money – it was a strange thing but I loved it. It was really fun. The first big professional tour was in 2007 and it was with Atmosphere and I loved Atmosphere and it was a big opportunity for me. It gave me a chance to see how everything worked and instead of sitting back and viewing it I jumped in headfirst and took advantage of it and made myself involved, whether it was with Slug, or J-Bird or James at the merch table I was just kind of everywhere because what I was familiar with. It wasn’t “oh I’ll play a show and take my money and fuck all ya’ll.” Because that wasn’t my mind frame, it was more like “I don’t get paid for this, and I have to work my ass off, but I like it.” So I was at the merch table selling Atmosphere and it was a good feeling.
HipHopCanada: I think that’s the problem with a lot of rappers these days is that they have a huge ego complex but they don’t want to put in the work, or even ever collaborate or have the time to talk to people after shows, when really that should be at the root of it all, your fans and fellow musicians. I think that’s part of your success is that you haven’t gotten away from that. I’m a huge fan of Rhymesayers, they always come out with really quality musicians and I was wondering how signing with this label has changed your career as an artist and how exactly you came to sign with them?
Grieves: I met them and I probably could have had an opportunity to join them a lot sooner but I decided to go off and make some bad mistakes. I got involved with a whole crew and wanna be record label that just wasn’t good for me. At the same time I think it was kind of a good thing because if I went straight from nothing to Rhymesayers that would be my reality instead of learning what the bad taste in your mouth is like. So I went through that and I got taken advantage of and it was just a waste of time and really bad situation. It was exasperating and just really hard to do and by the end I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I was on the phone with Siddiq, a friend from Rhymesayers, he was just talking to me about the business and what my options were at the time and by the end of a few weeks he offered me a deal with Rhymesayers. And at this time I had already built up so much I couldn’t just take any deal, it had to be the deal we would want to take anywhere so I think it gained us a bit of respect that we actually sat down and told them what we wanted and what we were looking for and it turned out for the better. We were all really happy and I think that’s important.
HipHopCanada: As much as it must have sucked to have those kind of experiences it sounds like that was something that helped you really appreciate where you are at now, having those negative experiences brings out your passion and drive and now that you have what you wanted it just keeps you on your toes.
Grieves: Those things only suck when you’re going through them, but when you get through that storm it’s a beneficial tool to have in your pocket to understand what it feels like to go through that. Even negative experiences can be turned into positive ones. Go through your shit, take your ass woppin’ and understand why you had to go through it.
HipHopCanada: Over the course of your career what do you feel has been your most important developments as an artist and as a person?
Grieves: Well, I mean the career is a development and that’s a big thing because when I decided this was what I wanted to do it wasn’t like “I want to be a rapper, I love the words and the beats in my headphones” it was more I wanted to live for music. I love music and I just want to be around it. I would say my progressions and steps forward from 2007 until now is just to be in the direction to live in music and not just to be a rapper and to feed the ego it would be just to surround myself with the things I love and care about and make me want to wake up in the morning and go do it. For me that’s a huge accomplishment, because even just talking to my girlfriend she’s like “I’m 25 and I don’t know what to do with my life, should I go back to school?” you know? Everyone’s got that frustrating thing and that’s a natural feeling, but you know I’m 31 years old and I’m happy with what I’m doing. You know I’m not rich, I’m not wealthy at all but I’m happy and I’m surrounded by the people and the things that I care about and it’s good.
HipHopCanada: I think that’s one of the most important things in life that people tend to forget is that money isn’t what’s going to make you happy, it’s going to be following your heart and your passions and it’s really great that you’ve found that for yourself.
Grieves: Well hip-hop is just so competitive, like I have five other interviews today and I can guarantee that everyone of them is going to ask what I think about Macklemore because we’re from the same city. Where I’m getting with that is that people spend so much time fucking with each other about who is or who isn’t more successful. You can even listen to someone’s first hip hop song and there’s gonna be some dumb bullshit about them being the best, like “I’m iller than…” Why is it rappers feel like they have to show each other their balls? It’s so frustrating to me and the fact that I’ve come to the realization that I’m not playing that game and I’m just happy whether I’m sitting on the keyboard, up on the stage, or doing post edit vocals alignments for someone I don’t even know, I’m happy. I am successful in my own eyes.
HipHopCanada: It’s too bad in the hip-hop scene how people tend to feel like they have to tear people down in order to get ahead where really people should be building each other up and helping each other get ahead in their careers and grow as artists. It’s good that you’ve grown beyond that.
Grieves: Well nobody really helped me until I got to the Rhymesayers point, none of the local guys showed love, except Greyskull. They were the ones who brought be on tour with Atmosphere, and I might not be where I am without them. Trying to get shows, trying to get exposure, trying to be a part of something, you always had to fight for that and I hated that. It was very discouraging, it didn’t really make me want to be or feel like I was actually part of something and now that I’m in a position to give back I don’t act on that side of things. Granted, I don’t help everyone out cause I don’t wanna fuck with people that aren’t like-minded, like if I don’t believe in what you’re doing I don’t owe anyone anything, you know?
HipHopCanada: So your new album was great, and I really enjoyed your video for your song “Recluse” – what was your favorite part about making that video?
Grieves: It was a hard video to shoot, a very meticulous video just because of the way it was shot, but I got to spend the day with DJ Funzo whose my close friend and the director Maria is a phenomenal person and I love seeing the way she works. She’s got that crazy genius, the things she brings to life are just so cool to me. She did our video for “Boogie Man” from Together Apart – she’s got that crazy genius. The things she put together are just so cool to me, I feel like such an oddity around people who are able to be creative and artistic around people who could bring things to life that I could never even fathom. She made it as easy as possible for as difficult as it was, I didn’t have to travel, I just had to bring a lot of clothes, and a bunch of beer, and I just sat and drank and had a good time.
HipHopCanada: That sounds like a great experience and like it was a lot of fun. So, in researching your most recent album, Winter And The Wolves I noticed it peaked at 57 on the billboard 200 – that’s quite an accomplishment! How did it feel to realize it made it that far?
Grieves: I didn’t even know that it got that high! I don’t look at the numbers, because that’s not me. I don’t look at internet comments. I try not to, sometimes they make it to me, but I try not to think about numbers or comments just because I’m here for music. My manager Matt, he does the numbers stuff, my job particularly is to keep a steady mind and make music, but if I’m constantly like “last time we made 57 and this time we made 63, what did we do wrong? Where did we fuck up?” you know? Because I’m like that I will pressure myself with those things and I don’t want to do that. We just built an office in Seattle and the whole purpose of that is that I can have my studio, and everyone has offices, there’s the merch, and Matt can focus on business, and I can focus on music, so if we have to consult each other we can, but we don’t have to. Sure there are people who do everything “I do my own beats, my own lyrics, my own mixing, my own mastering, my own art, my own booking, my own managing, my own merch” it’s like… ya that sucks, it can’t be very good for you, and might be why you aren’t getting ahead because you really need to focus on the music where others should be focusing on those other aspects.
HipHopCanada: I noticed quite a few of your songs are about relationships, or perhaps failed relationships. Have you found being a musician and going out on the road has ever effected your relationships or have you been able to find a balance?
Grieves: Ya, I mean distance is always a problem and it’s not something just musicians go through. I think everyone goes through that and that’s why I wrote the song “Smoke on the Water” because I feel like when I talk about these things people just think “oh here he is giving me another whole, oh woe is me. I get to travel the world doing what I love and can’t hold down a chick because of it.” And I know it seems like that but when I write those songs it has nothing to do with “I’m gone” it has to do with the fact I have lousy taste in women. It’s true, we all like the things that make us feel, and sometimes we like the things that make us feel like shit. “Smoke In The Night” was about distance, but it wasn’t about travelling. It was about the distance between people and what happens. The career does make it hard in certain aspects because you meet people who think you can achieve something for them. You don’t meet the most honest people sometimes, where at the same time you do. But when it comes down to it I don’t think it really has to do with being an artist or travelling. If you want to be happy in your life with love you have to realize nothing ever goes perfectly. Life fluctuates, life is a frequency, it’s an undetermined thing, it moves and you have to be able to accommodate that. Some of the biggest fights I’ve ever been in is just because I’ve been in a bad mood and decided to comment on something or she decided to comment on something that didn’t need to be commented on and it’s based on a lot of human instincts like pride or ignorance or frustration. For me what’s been working is I’ve been with the same person for about three years now it’s a matter of admitting when you feel like those things are about to happen. I could come home from a long day at work and she could say something and I could be like “this is one of those moments where I kind of want to freak out” and she would say something like “oh shit” then it’s like we could talk about it or we could just chill out for a minute because I know it’s happening. I know it shouldn’t and just talking about it really helps. I know it’s so cliché “just talk about your problems” but really it does help. As for the distance, we let the distance make the conversation for us and then we have it. We don’t talk on the phone everyday. Also just talking to each other because you want to talk to each other and not because you have to.
HipHopCanada: I noticed on your Twitter account that you were pretty excited about having a day to yourself at the house to relax and play video games. What is your console of choice? Any games your obsessing over right now?
Grieves: Well, I’m an XBox dude, but first off I gotta say I’m not a huge gamer. My manager and my tour manager on the other hand are and they’re like my brothers so there’s a point where you gotta accommodate to your friends but I do enjoy it and I got an Xbox awhile ago as a bonus. I didn’t open it or touch it for a long time but then I finally did and started playing more and then I met some people in the gaming industry and became more and more involved. Personally, right now I have to say the Assassins Creed has to be my favourite because they’re amazing and they’re HUGE games. It takes forever to play them and I need that because I didn’t grow up playing first person shooter games unless it was at an arcade. Puzzle games were always better for me and that’s one reason why I like Assassins Creed is because it’s a good balance of the graphic violence entertainment that is sort of rewarding from video games and the puzzle solving aspect that I like.
HipHopCanada: When touring, is there an area you really enjoy or an area where the fans have been overwhelming?
Grieves: Minneapolis has always been really good. It’s probably been one of our largest markets that and Denver I’ve always been looking forward to. You know I’m a Colorado boy, so you know it’s always an exciting destination when on tour like “this is great but, when we get to Denver?”
HipHopCanada: Being from Colorado, how do you feel about the legalization of marijuana?
Grieves: Well it’s also legalized here in Seattle as well, it’s cool. I don’t smoke so it doesn’t affect me directly but I know that money goes towards education which is hilarious at the same time because I got kicked out of school for selling drugs and now they’re funding school by selling drugs. It’s a good place for the money to go and they tax the shit out of it so I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the country followed suit. You know, ‘cause money talks. Money always talks louder than morality so regardless I think the rest of the country follows.
HipHopCanada: No doubt, and it sounds like it would be better to be taxing it and using it on such positive resources instead of spending the money to send people to prison over it. Well, it’s just about two weeks now until you’re here in Vancouver, how does it feel to be coming back to Canada?
Grieves: Ya it’ll be fun. I’m ready, I love Canada and I think I’ll get to see SonReal while I’m there and the Sweatshop guys are in Vancouver so it’ll be really exciting to have like a little family reunion, it’ll be nice.
HipHopCanada: Well everyone here is really excited to have you; a lot of friends of mine are stoked to see you on stage. Thanks for taking the time to chat. We’re really look forward to seeing your show.
Grieves: Oh, thank you. It’s been great, see you in Vancouver!
Interview conducted by Holly Brown Bear for HipHopCanada
Photography by Jenavieve Belair