Grieves Interview: (Preview of 5/19 Hawthorne Theatre show)
Written by Hannah Cantrell on May 10, 2015
On May 19th, 2015 Seattle rapper Grieves will be performing at the Hawthorne Theatre. I was able to interview him before his show to talk about his rise as a Pacific NW rapper and his upcoming “Out of the Rain” tour. As you read in the interview, Grieves worked extremely hard to make it into the rap game with limited resources. Also he is exceptionally witty and prefers to joke around rather than take things so seriously all the time. If you are into hip-hop, this is a show I promise you will not want to miss.
Tickets are available here.
Hannah: So you came onto the alternative hip-hop scene in 2007, how much longer before that had you been making music and/or interested in hip-hop?
Grieves: Man 2007, I was 24 years old and I’d been making hip-hop since high school by that point. I’d been writing music most of my life, it’s just that I was in s*** bands, nothing that made sense or mattered all that much. When I discovered hip-hop and Rhymesayers, it was much more of an honest outlet. It was how I wish things were and how I wished I was. It then started to click for me as far as the process of making music goes. High school is where I started writing a lot; it’s a really impressionable time in someone’s life. And the only problem with that is that I was living in Colorado and there weren’t a lot of outlets to back me up. There weren’t any hip-hop studios or professional hip-hop artists coming out of there. There wasn’t much of a hip-hop culture, and there wasn’t any local scene. So I ended up going to college in Washington, and that’s when I discovered this kid who was a big part of the hip-hop scene in Seattle. He told me a lot about his experiences and stories, and from there I branched out and started my own thing. It really all started here in Seattle.
Were there specific rappers from Seattle that influenced you?
There was already a scene in Seattle when I got here, and it was already very competitive because nobody had done there since Sir-Mix-A lot. But we didn’t have business, managers, or agents, and there wasn’t management or booking companies. It wasn’t real and it wasn’t accessible to people. Really the only way to get on was getting on these hip-hop shows, and that was run by one person. When I first moved to Washington I was living in Olympia going to school, and I had bumped into a fella out there, we had some common interests and he turned out to be Macklemore. I’ve known him for over a decade. I came back to Seattle and he was still in Olympia for a while after I moved. He ended hooking me up with that person to do the shows with. But I ended up doing my own thing, booking my own shows, and running a venue in the U-District. I did it myself because I didn’t want to work off the work of others or kiss anybody’s a** doing it. I watched other people do it and it’s not me. I wanted to be working and have a life in music, so I did everything I could and started touring a lot; that’s when I met Rhymesayers and Grayskul. But if it was anyone around here that influenced me to do something, I would say it was the people that were holding me back. It’s the people that wouldn’t put me on that forced my hand into creating a career for myself. I have nothing to prove to anybody, I never have, and never will; when I want something, I want something. If it wasn’t for them, if it wasn’t for how shut down the city was when I got here, I might have become complacent. I’ve seen so many talented people that just fall into this local bull**** and for me it was so much more than that. I don’t want one piece of pie; I want the whole damn pie.
It’s funny because when people compare Seattle to Portland, Seattle’s thought of as the bigger hub of music. But it seems like the Portland rap community is more supportive than Seattle’s is from what you’re telling me.
Well you know Portland wasn’t the easiest place to break into either. I was getting love in Seattle way before I was ever getting love in Portland. But we were scenes divided; there was the Portland hip-hop scene and then there was the Seattle hip-hop scene. It’s not like there was beef, but there wasn’t a lot of help getting each other on. To me it was always so frustrating because you are right there and I am right here. There was such a wall there for such a long time, but it was such a different time. The problem with Seattle was there weren’t local fans because no one had broken into the high schools until the Blue Scholars. They had really figured out how to do that and that spread down the west coast. That started creating local, NW hip-hop fans; you never saw that until the Blue Scholars broke that open. You have to give that to the Blue Scholars, without them there would be no Macklemore, and no expansion down the west coast. And now we have fans, but still no business because it’s still very independent. Macklemore has his own office down by the waterfront (Seattle), but he hires everyone himself. If he’s going to have a major label cat come work, he’s going to buy him out; that is an indie f****** powerhouse. But this doesn’t create jobs for people or for a community; it doesn’t do anything for the NW. It does put eyes on Seattle, and that’s great, but it doesn’t help these kids get their music out there.
Do you want to help people in Seattle pursue their dreams in music and tell them that it is possible?
I do and I don’t; there’s an appropriate way to donate and be associated with charitable organizations. And then there’s the way where you give all of your money to them and don’t know what’s happening to it. And I feel the same way when it comes down to guiding people. I can bring you on tour and expose you to a broader audience, but you’re going to have to work for it. I can bring you through the studio, tell you the things that I’ve done, show you my work ethic, but I can’t do it for you. I feel like I’m playing favorites, but I want to help those who interest me because I care about it more.
I know that you were touring with Atmosphere before eventually signing with Rhymesayers. How did you become apart of their tour and ultimately end up signing with Rhymesayers?
I toured with Atmosphere because I was working with a group out of Seattle called GraySkul, and I had a studio here called “Robot Room.” We were helping them out with some recordings at the time, and Grayskul got asked to go on Atmosphere’s tour. The problem was they didn’t have a DJ or a van. I had a van, DJ, and they believed in what I was doing and that it would help me. We went out and drove around while I DJed for them. They were able to work out a deal for me to rap during other people’s sets. I ended up partnering up with guy and doing this label situation after that tour, which was a terrible idea. It was a really bad experience; I lost a lot of money and faith in the music industry. I look at it as a blessing because without having gone down that road, I would have walked into some more serious situations. After I got out of that label Rhymesayers came to me and asked if I wanted to talk to them. They got me at a great time; I was really f***** up about the situation and they were like the light at the end of the tunnel.
Back to touring with Atmosphere, what was it like being a young rapper touring with a group that has been in the rap game since the late 90’s?
I had played with a lot of acts by that point in Seattle, but I hadn’t toured like that; it was an experience for me for sure. I’m such a grinder and focused on that, and while everyone else was getting wasted and talking to girls, I was at Atmosphere’s merch table. I was learning how they do it and their system. I was watching Slug’s show from the side and every single thing that happened. It was a great chance for me to skip some steps and learn from the pros first-hand. That Atmosphere tour was the turning point for me. I quit my job and I haven’t done anything but music since. Music is a career, which means I have to do it even when I don’t want to. It’s no longer this outlet or luxury, it’s a necessity. People think “Oh that would be so easy” but it’s not that way. We do everything; we have an office where my manager, tour manager, and myself are working in 9-5 everyday. It is an around the clock business, and in between that I have to find time to write songs.
Rhymesayers has an extremely impressive roster right now with groups like Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and Aesop Rock to name a few. Has it helped your music improve being apart of such a dynamic label?
I don’t know…. there’s a way to say yes. I get bigger advances, so I am able to spend more money on making a record. And while I’m saying that, for anybody that’s reading, you have to spend a lot of money to make a record. It’s not what you think it is at all. The reason why it’s not okay to download music is because people spend so much money recording records. But yes I do think my music has improved, because I get a larger allowance to do more creative and powerful things with music.
How would you say your style has changed and/or grown from your album “Together/Apart” to your newest album “Winter and the Wolves?”
Yes, I feel like my style changes every record. Every year I become a more educated artist, because I spend so much time doing it. Whether or not you may notice is completely different. There are so many things to learn in music that you may never notice. I’m influenced by the people around me, and the hip-hop records that come out. Also by the people I tour with because I see how they do things and a lot of that comes back to the studio with me. But they’re still my records: Am I a substantially better MC? No. Am I a better musician? I don’t know. Am I having better ideas? I would say yes because they are new to me, which is exciting. People fear change; there’s always those fans that want me to keep it how it was 10 years ago. But I can’t do that for 10 years straight, it is just insanity. Things change from the environment around, to where you live, to how you see things and everything changes which is supposed to be art.
I’ve noticed you interact with your fans quite often on social media. Do you think your online presence has grown your fan base?
That’s what social media is: it is where things are now. People expect so much from artists, but it didn’t used to be that way, it used to be more mysterious. But now people hit me up on Instagram and if I don’t respond they’ll like every single one of my pictures. Because I know you see this, because you just responded to “ilikecats69420.” You know people just have so much more access to you then they ever did before. And you can fight it all you want but that’s never going to change. You need to give it time and start being interactive on Facebook. People know every single thing that is happening in each other’s lives from there. Facebook is important for people to know when your album is coming out or a tour coming up. But it has to be an everyday thing, whatever it is you just have to do it. People want a personal experience. We go ahead of time and come up with social posts for the month. Social media truly makes a difference.
Right now you are on your “Out of the Rain” tour; what was the inspiration for the tour and its name?
We were driving in the rain to Salt Lake City and I was doing some graphic design on my computer. I took a picture of the rain and put it into Photoshop. When my manager asked if I had any promos for the tour I showed him this. He liked it and it became the tour advertisement.
Where is your favorite city to perform in? And what place would you want to perform one day?
I love playing in Minneapolis; it is such an important place for what I do. Playing there feels like I am accomplishing something every time I’m there. As far as a place I’d like to play but haven’t, is South Africa. I would love to go to South Africa and of course Australia. There’s a huge hip-hop listening out there and I just haven’t made it out. I had two chances but it didn’t work out financially.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Yeah I grease and shave a wolverine. Then I chase it around the backstage area to try to catch it, and I’m giggling the whole time; it’s just a joyous event. I have an exotic animal dealer, so he’s able to provide me with a wild wolverine at every venue. Other than the shaving, they’re not harmed- a little naked and scared, but they’re fine. They are ferocious and resilient creatures.
What’s next for you? You released a teaser “Cougar Catnip” a few months ago, does this mean a new album is the works?
That was an introduction to my porn career. I’m not going to be in front of the camera, I plan on being behind the camera. But no, no word yet on a new album. The time for me to start would be after this tour.