A couple of weeks ago I met up with Grenier at one of my favorite local spots Forage for a little food and friendly discussion. What I think both of us anticipated was a brief discussion about his upcoming projects, but what ended up happening was a close to hour long conversation about creativity and the state of music. I left feeling the opposite of disappointed… sure I was like 30 minutes late to my next thing but the topics we discussed was something I felt needed to be expressed. So instead of a carefully edited, introspective piece from me that took days to organize and edit down, below you’ll find an honest conversation between myself and a musician who’s very clearly spent a lot of time not only working with others but also thinking about how to work in new ways.
This all came about by the premiere of his stunning music video for “Intentions,” which came out on Symbols last year. You can watch the video below but I highly suggest clicking after the jump to read about Grenier’s multitude of new projects, including ones with Archie Pelago, Eprom & Hejfund, and The Glitch Mob. I’d love to see others’ opinions on the rest of this, perhaps open some insightful discussions.
LD: So [your manager] told me you’re working on a lot of collaborations. I know about your one with Petey Clicks…
G: We are … well let me back up. I’ve been this solo artist for over six years now, living in San Francisco. That’s my home. It was a cool but isolated existence, making music up there. There’s a big party scene there, people love to go out. And because of that for me it’s not a city that I felt was really conducive to working. So I decided to move to Los Angeles because I really wanted to work with people. I’m a worker bee. I’m a blue-collar producer.
LD: I feel like that’s why a lot of people move here. To work, and to have more access to people that just want to work too.
G: It’s like… success and fame and all that are all relative to me… to work. The project with Petey was just one I wanted to work on. We just really get along, even though we’re a very unlikely pairing in a lot of ways musically. We have very different styles but we both really like each other and have a similar taste in some ways. I think those polar opposites lend themselves to creating some kind of weird, cool shit. So we’ve landed on doing an EP together. We’re making stuff that is definitely rooted in different things but it’s just this weird new sound.
LD: I did an interview with Petey a while back and he said the same thing. That you guys come from different places and mindsets but when you work together it just clicks. [ed note: CLICKS. ha. good pun.]
G: Yeah it’s nice to have that new outlet of creativity. Our friend AC Slater’s working on this project called Night Bass that I’m really excited about too. I love this idea because I’m all about hybrids in genres. I’m not a purist. It’s why I don’t make straight genre music. It sometimes confuses people when my music is being presented to the marketplace, but I love that. That’s another reason I love parties like Lil Death.
LD: Well that was the whole premise [the founders] built it on. Kind of like the minute someone called it a certain type of party, they’d show up the next week like “Whoa, what the fuck is going on?”
G: Exactly. Which that brings me to my next project… I haven’t talked about it really. Yet. I’ve been working on this project… this album… for two fucking years. I mean, full-time worked on this thing. I did it with this avant-garde, electronic-ish jazz band from New York called Archie Pelago. We wrote all this material together about two years ago, in San Francisco. They came from New York and I borrowed this studio and we just wrote and wrote. I took those 15 sessions and composed this album out of all that. And that’s getting released in April, and again it’s this weird hybrid of styles and vibes. Non-genre music.
LD: How’d you link up with these guys in the first place?
G: Distal. He hooked us up. I think there was a bit of mutual admiration happening and then I heard this remix that they did of a Distal track. It was so fuckin weird, and so cool. And it blossomed from that. We got in the studio in New York, and in the first 20 minutes we literally wrote two songs. And we were just like, “Whoa. There’s a lot here.”
LD: So that’s a full album? Coming out in April?
G: Yup, full album. I did all the artwork and everything for it. I got this amazing painter from Australia to do this beautiful painting for the cover. It’s a very home-listening album. A lot of dense music connotation happening in a lot of it, but it’s very much a melody based, hang out type album.
LD: Well that’s what I like to listen to, haha. There’s definitely a lot of stuff I enjoy hearing from a club or live perspective, I mean that’s what I work in. But there’s just as much stuff that I just want to vibe out to at home or on a walk. And I’m definitely becoming more appreciative of that split between the two.
G: I mean, we all live these very dynamic lives, and I think that there’s a time and a place for everything. The music that has the biggest impact on me and my life is not club music. And I think that informs some of the decisions I make as a producer when I am making club music. But I recognize the difference.
LD: When I first got into ‘dance’ music, I was under the impression that if it doesn’t sound awesome hearing it at a festival or a club, then I don’t really care. I didn’t understand it. It was just so new to anything I had liked or cared about before, that I cornered it into that club pocket. It took me a long time to ‘get’ the non-club side of dance music.
G: I am exactly the opposite. I would go to the clubs and get excited by club music that reminded me of non-club music.
LD: Yeah, I came from the hardcore / ‘scene kid’ scene, so I came from a mindset that if you didn’t want to lose your shit at shows and leave the venue sweaty and possibly bleeding then it wasn’t right.
G: I was always able to compartmentalize. I grew up on punk, ska, I went to jungle parties. I was really physically into it. But I had this inner world that this other stuff was the soundtrack too. It was very personal. I love crazy, high-impact music. That shit gets to me on a very deep level. But I grew up on stuff like Brian Eno too. That’s one thing I really love about this YouTube generation. They’re not listening to a radio station that was programmed to play a certain genre. There’s this total freeform openness where kids can draw influences from different styles and ideas because they have immediate access to them. When I was a kid it was like, if you didn’t know about hardcore or acid house, that was it. If you hadn’t bought those records, you didn’t know it. It wasn’t going to influence you. I read this interview with Disclosure, they were talking about Detroit. These two young kids talking about how much Detroit has influenced them. If they were that age when I was, no way would they have said that. They would have been like, “Detroit? What happened there?” It’s amazing.
LD: And because of that, the music that’s getting made, by the younger generation especially but beyond that too, is starting to delve into those explorations. Nobody is making one type of thing. And with all of these
different influences people are more forced to create their own sound. On the radio you hear the same 10 songs all day. But now with this YouTube generation you have billions of artists to rotate through, it makes it so that no two people have the exact same rotation of artists they listen to from day to day.
G: Walls are being broken down. That said, we all know that with any ‘genre’ there’s a middle of the road sound. There’s a style that works better in all situations. As much as I agree that music is more open-minded now, there’s lots of people making stuff that they KNOW has worked and still will. There’s plenty of people that have researched the formulas. But music is still exciting. Speaking of which, another project I have is one with Eprom and a guy called Hejfund. It’s still very much in the embryonic stage. We’re writing music… and it’s weird as fuck. The way I look at it is how can we make fun, high-energy music… but make it weird as fuck. And dark too. That’s all I can really say at this point, only because it’s still being developed.
LD: [Your manager] told me about this dualing-DJs thing where you and the guys face each other in the middle of the venue while you’re DJing?
G: I basically feel very passionately about two things: One, that I think what happens, amongst many things, when money comes into an equation is that people start playing it safe. Sometimes people stop using their imagination. I’m fed up with not seeing any risk-taking. I’m not seeing people introduce truly new ideas or doing things that are out of the box. Amongst many other things, one of those is the way we experience a DJ set. Just straight up where the DJ is in the room, that makes no sense. There’s no reason why most of these DJs should be UP on a STAGE. That’s not DJing. That’s performing. And fair enough, there’s room for performers. 12th Planet, he’s a great DJ but he’s an electrifying performer. People, including myself, want and should want to watch him. But I think there are ways on how to break down this DJs-on-stage thing, how to rethink ‘why is the person playing the music the farthest away from the sound system, the people dancing… why am I [as the DJ] barely even IN the room, why are these lights on me?’ It’s not about me wanting to be shy or mysterious, it’s about me wanting to be a part of the experience.
LD: Yeah it’s weird. When I’m in the crowd at that sort of show it’s strange to me that people all face one direction. And when I’m in the booth watching it’s even weirder that everyone is looking at you. But it’s a Catch 22 because these stages and these touring shows are getting bigger stages with more intricate visual set ups and the shows are filling more and more that makes the experience you’re trying to create more difficult.
G: Here’s the thing, if DJs and the dance music world are going to continue to rise, continue to do events at a scale that rock shows do, we need to do something more fucking exciting. I find that these festivals and these clubs get woefully boring after a while because it’s just the same stuff every time. There might be more lights or a slightly different 3D mapping, but it’s the same. There’s gotta be more than that. Kids in this generation aren’t a part of the wild chaos that came with seeing a live band. Why can’t I experience the same edginess, the same risks of something like a punk show?
LD: But DJing at its core is so very different form a live band because by definition there is no rawness. You’re not producing live, you’re playing a bunch of mixed and mastered tracks that more or less sound exactly the same every time you or someone else plays them. At a rock show the voice and the guitar and drums …that’s not prerecorded. That sound is being created right there in front of you. There’s no other moment where what you hear at a rock show will sound exactly the same as the next time.
G: I think kids are yearning for rawness. I think that’s part of what’s appealing about Skrillex. We all know he’s a talented and able producer, but there’s this chaotic nature to him. Kids love that. That’s what they want. It’s not glossy or perfect. He takes risks.
LD: Once you’re thrust into the tour circuit though in any genre it’s like an impossible hamster wheel to get off. Especially in dance music now because that’s sort of the easiest and the most spotlighted way for up-and-comers to blow up. If you make a record that gets big you’re thrust into this tour circuit, these labels getting in your face, and all of a sudden everyone expects something from you, and even if you want to stop and say “Wait, I want off. I want to do something new and crazy!” It’s just hard to get off the wheel.
G: Exactly. But that’s why you need to have the balls to put a wrench in the gears. I think that’s what will make [this] music exciting again. There are ways to work this system too and bring something new to the table. And it can just start with rethinking how a DJs decks are set up.
LD: Another problem that I’m seeing, it might be just an LA thing, I don’t know, but nobody is fucking dancing at these shows. They’re too cool.
G: I’ve talked about this a lot with my friend Chrissy Murderbot. That’s a phenomenon of the coasts. We talk about how DJing on the coasts are the worst gigs for that reason. All of those cities have people that are entirely too consumed with being on their phones and being ‘seen’ or playing politics… or just straight up BORED. Other cities, where people go to fucking lose their shit and sweat and if they leave the club a mess that’s what it’s about. This music is meant to be played loud, it’s meant for people to go crazy to.
LD: I’ve seen a few risk-takers here and there, but mostly I just remember them as phenomenal performances. And there’s some people that aren’t necessarily HUGE risk-takers every time but just have really, really good knowledge of how to work a room. Like Jimmy Edgar. That’s probably one of the reason everyone at that Berlin Boiler Room was dancing. Louisahhh!!! too. She’s getting SO good. And it’s because she’s THERE, she’s very present. When she DJs she’s very in tune with where she is, where she wants the room to go. And that’s the important thing to me.
G: I couldn’t agree with you more. If you go in and things aren’t the way you want them to be, the club, the sound, the opener, but you still go in with a positive attitude, get in the moment, you’ll have a good show. People will remember it. There’s plenty of DJs that approach it as just a job, they clock in and clock out, just another day type thing. But man, when I was a kid, growing up seeing Nine Inch Nails and people with new weird fucked up ideas that were almost frightening…. I loved it. I loved being challenged as a fan, asking questions and seeking answers. Now I see these clean cut DJs with a logo behind them and I’m just wondering where it all went.
LD: Yeah and safe is very boring. I think you don’t need to be raw or edgy to be exciting. Like you can do you and make art and go in and get dark or weird and if you’re into it and people are into it as well it’ll be great. But in that same sense if you’re there to have a grand ol fucking time, to get fun and silly, and people are too, that’s just as thrilling. People like Salva, you watch him and he’s having a fucking blast playing. And if you’re there to have a blast too that’s just as exhilarating and memorable as a good rock show.
G: Yeah, yeah you’re right. Skream is the same way. He can play disco for dubstep kids and get them to be into it because he’s having such a fun time.
LD: And the best part is he still dances to disco like he did to dubstep.
G: Hahaha, yeah. You can tell the difference, it changes the air when someone is like that.
LD: The DJs that do it right are the ones that make you feel it on your skin. They’re the ones that when you leave the club you know that every opportunity you have to see them you will take.
G: The truth is everyone has a bad show every now and then. But what it comes down to is I’m just looking for new ways to take risks. It’ll take a lot of work. But that’s what I want to do. I came here to build and create. And actually another thing I’ve been working on is creative work with The Glitch Mob. They needed all this new stuff for their new album, artwork, style, art direction, you know. They came to me asking for help and I was able to bring a new, cool and edgy vibe to what is really just a BIG band. Big. Playing Coachella big. It’s a big stage to stand on but it’s nice to bring the sensibility I have, it makes things exciting and mysterious and fun and weird. That’s another thing that makes me appreciate all the sort of collaborative work I’m doing, just really developing a creative community. I love it, that’s why I am here.
LD: Whoa, that’s really cool. I’ve noticed a lot of their little aesthetic popping around.
G: We worked with this guy Aerosyn Lex, he’s crazy talented. I just really helped implement his work. The vinyls, the final products.
LD: So jeez, you’ve got quite the workload. Am I missing anything?
G: Yeah, you know I still make music on my own and I’m doing a few remixes here and there but most of my time and energy is spent on this collaborative work. Honestly, I think unless you are a certain personality type, I think it’s difficult to put themselves in a position to come up and execute big projects by yourself. Working with other people lends itself to bigger and better ideas and risks. Unless you really want the spotlight on just you, it’s hard to do it by yourself.
LD: What’s happening with this music video?
G: The music video was made by this guy DJ Dials, out of San Francisco. He’s a bit legendary. He’s a really talented visual artist, he’s a crazy dude. He made this really beautiful video, with these sort of shapes hitting the water all rhythmically timed to the song I released on an EP that came out on Kastle’s label Symbols. A track called ‘Intentions.’ The video is beautiful, it’s rad. It’s cool.
LD: I love Symbols. I’m so happy [Kastle] really found his niche.
G: Yeah. He’s got a good vision, and he’s executing it well.
LD: He’s one of the people who’s introduced me to a lot of what I am into today.
G: He’s how we met!
LD: Yeah!!! Well dude, it’s been a real fucking pleasure. This is going to be a long ass editorial but I am excited about this.
G: Likewise. See you on the internet. Haha.