Today, we take a trip inside the dynamic and brilliant mind of DJ, producer and multi-instrumentalist GRiZ as he presents his seventh studio album Rainbow Brain in its full, illustrious form.
From start to finish, GRiZ’s Rainbow Brain is laced with beautiful intention as a project that feels the most radically authentic to his own path as an artist. More than just songs, or collectively, an album — these are audible experiences that have defined GRiZ as a trailblazer in electronic dance music, as well as a positive force of good.
Recent singles “Astro Funk,” “Vibe Check,” “Tie-Dye Sky” and title track “Rainbow Brain” are joining the party, but there’s so much more to explore. For optimum results, play out the continuous mix and let your imagination run wild. May the album’s fluorescent soundscapes that defy space and time be your only guide.
In the exclusive interview below, Grant Kwiecinski aka GRiZ gets real with us on every level, discussing all things Rainbow Brain, including musical influences, psychedelic experiences, upcoming shows and more. It’s not all butterflies and rainbows, however, as he also touches on the struggles of lockdown, missing human connection, the lesson of letting go and allowing things to be perfectly imperfect.
Listen here and scroll down to read what GRiZ has to say!
GRiZ – Rainbow Brain
First and foremost… Coming out of over a year in lockdown, how does it feel to be back?
It’s so sweet! It’s a little bit nerve-wracking coming up on playing some of our marquee events and things that we have planned. Like, this is the shit we’re getting back into — these are the GRiZ events we want to tell you about, advertise, and have you come see…
Because, in my head I’m such a perfectionist and one thing I’m going to keep telling myself that is a lesson… Lessons for me, they’re never fully learned. It’s just practice. And the practice for me is: It is going to be what it is and it’s going to be perfectly imperfect. Then my organizational brain is like, “Ok, cool! Let’s make sure that we get everything so good and the music is so perfect and on point.” All that kind of stuff.
So, it’s actually been an amazing process. Amazing in a sense of not always good, but it has caught me in amazement. Is that a word? Whatever. Let’s go with it! The lesson of letting go has been the deepest and most course setting lesson for the pandemic.
Then, going back into playing shows, it’s like — let’s keep learning and just let go into the experience of the world. Which is, we’re going to play our music and it’s going to be a lovely affair because it was built from love and wanting to have a lovely evening of music for everybody. The celebration of light, getting back into it. Then, my heart gets in align with the intentionality behind it and then things get really, really sweet. So, that is where I’m at currently.
How has your creative process shifted over the course of quarantine and has the intention of the GRiZ project changed at all?
Definitely. I think it keeps swirling and I’m realizing more and more that I’m a chameleon of my own creative ambition, because it’s so dynamic. To put myself inside of these rules that I kind of put myself in over my entire career — and always try to break outside of those rules — but, “What does this thing need to be for myself? For other people?”
The creative process has really taken me on a journey outside of those things. Breaking outside of this terrible box that I energetically and emotionally put myself in when I’m sitting down and creating — like, “What does this need to be?” It doesn’t really need to be anything other than the expression of the journey.
So, during the time of the pandemic… Wow, it started off feeling like this beautiful, fun sleepover thing. We’re all drinking wine every night and having fun, pillow forts, watching movies and memes and shit. You know? Then, it’s like “Damn, I’m losing the sense of my life’s purpose,” which at the time was to function in the space of live performance and throwing parties basically with people and these celebrations of life. And coursing away from that was so depressing. Losing that essence of being with people. We’re literally being isolated and losing that connection to each other.
So writing music during that time really came in a beautiful space of — Alright, let me let go, into this feeling with abandon and create music that is giving me the energy that I really need. Which is, I need to throw my own personal dance parties in the studio on the daily to keep my sanity! So, that is the motivation right now for the project, is to utilize this space as a form of spiritual satisfaction. It’s not that it hasn’t always been so in line with that, but it has definitely been a life saver. I’m so excited to be within the condition of wanting to bring people together. That is the big thing — cultivating culture and letting people set up and live their culture through the GRiZ space the way they would like to do that. Giving it 100%. Let’s do this right and set this space up so people can express themselves and create culture together again!
You’ve obviously stayed busy making tons of new music… Can you describe how Rainbow Brain came together with its title and concept? That moment when you know it’s happening…
I took a pandemic trip to Chicago. Pandemic trip… Shit! And that’s where we wrote the title track with ProbCause and Chrishira [Perrier] and I was like — “Damn, this thing is really about us as friends,” being the creators.
I hold my friends so dearly in my creative space because I just really fuck with creative people. And I can definitely include you on this, Karlie — the writers, the people that are manifesting and making and creating. Creation to me is not so one dimensional, like it’s a musician or whatever. It’s somebody making something. That’s an idea. Those are words. I love the words and spelling — and spelling is like casting spells in the way that you create words and dialogue really is like magic. Manifestors, creators, I gotta include and shouts out to that!
Also, as us as writers within a song and being magicians in that space… The idea of magic and what is magic and that dust of psychedelia intertwined. That was when it really started feeling like things were coming together. I was kind of creating into this void of — “Let’s make some dance music that’s fucking awesome, because I’m feeling like shit and I just want to feel dope about myself! So I’m gonna write a bunch of dance music that feels really good to me and is motivating me to fucking not lose my mind!” There was a point where that magic was starting to coalesce into this list of a story, of a book of spells within my computer. Like, “Damn, alright cool! We have a body of work here.” Now, how does this coalesce further, manifest, into a narrative or a story or a collection of sounds, spells, that we want to share with people. That was the epithets of it, going to Chicago and being with ProbCause and Chrishira. Just connecting with people again was — “That’s it! That’s the one!”
Since you mentioned psychedelics… Have you had a super prolific trip while on psychedelics that has guided you in your music?
Yeah, one of the most profound experiences that I’ve had… Now I’m connecting the dots… Was in Chicago on my friend’s rooftop with my other buddy Freddy Todd. We started making music in the exact same time and place — that’s a long story for a different time! He’s one of my closest music friends and also just friends in general… We were in a band together in high school and shit… Middle school even. And he had just finished his album called Neon Spectacle Operator — which, I don’t know how he comes up with these titles but I’m so fucking jazzed and inspired by his creative brain. There are very few on this planet like his!
And there was an experience where I really felt super at peace with the concept of separating my energetic soul from my physical body and astral projected out of my body, watched myself leave, and was projected into some sort of extraplanar space plane where I was standing at the edge of this grid into a sunset of infinity watching the cosmos drift by. And this green alien wrapped me up — I would say alien, but not in the traditional sense of it was like Alien vs. Predator alien — but a non-human form, swaddled me essentially and let me know that everything was ok. I had never felt more in tune with my spiritual energetic self. Understanding that this separation between spirit and human body — the inevitable separation which I think manifests itself in the form of what we call death, or the way that I personally understand it, a passage beyond human physical form… I’ve never felt more ok with that.
My psychedelic journey has continued to blossom since then. A lot of this record was created throughout the pandemic while enjoying and going on journeys with psychedelics and experiencing. Also, times of deep sobriety, because I needed a break from all the drinking that I wrecked my brain with at the start of the pandemic, which definitely led to a deep depression. Spending time also being sober and continuing my meditation practices and getting really deep into that connection.
A lot of this music was inspired and continues to be inspired by those spaces. The way that the album art was created was a direction of some of the imagery that came to me from that experience in Chicago. So, Chicago seems to be a little bit of an energy vortex for this album and for me in general.
That’s awesome! Shifting into musical influences for the album… It sounds like a lot of old school dubstep…
One of the tracks on the album is called “548 Mac Ave,” and I didn’t really know how I wanted to tell this part of the story. It seemed like a kind of tongue in cheek way to do it, but that’s the address of this place called the Monty House. That’s a co-op at Michigan State University where I went to college for three years. Then, eventually, I graduated in the very Kanye way… Uhhh… I decided I was finished. [laughs] And I went out to Boulder, Colorado to exclusively pursue my dream and do music. But that place holds a lot of the inception of the narrative of me falling in love with DJism and live music performance. At that time, all the music I was playing was Flux Pavilion, Doctor P, Rusko — and Skream, Benga, Coki.
That early dubstep sound — it did this magical thing for me, where in high school I was listening to Crime Mob, Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz, Paul Wall, and then the West Coast hip hop, so a bunch of Jurassic 5 and A Tribe Called Quest. But there was this really deep connection to Dirty South bass, sub music. I was really connected to that because we would rock around in our friends’ cars and they would have subwoofers that would bump and blast in 808s. I’d be able to hear in first period when my friend were late to class because I could hear them roll up with the subs in their cars just shaking the fucking — Ya know? My first hour was right next to the parking lot so you could hear it. I’d be like, “Oh, that’s my buddy Trent or my buddy Bo pulling up to school — Hey!” [laughs] It was such a visceral, I don’t know… It fucked me up!
The cool connection here was that I finally, at that time of hearing this dubstep sound, this bass music sound — I was like, “Damn, this sound is a trippy version maybe, or a dance version rooted within reggae dub roots,” and I felt so connected to that! Like, this really feels like it’s for me! This feels so new and undiscovered. I remember showing some of my friends what dubstep was at the start, and they were like, “Damn, this is awful.” I was like, “I love it!” And there was this connection of spirituality between the beats and the bass and the rhythms of the synth tones in the bass and the way the sub would interact that felt a lot like rapping, instrumentally over this beat. I was like, “Damn! That is so fucking sick!” And I’m absolutely just dissolving into this sound. There are slight homages to that within the creation of this record. This sound is so fucking badass to me and that was giving me a good vibe!
Can you share some of the differences, creatively, between Rainbow Brain and your other albums? For instance, you have the continuous mix… I’m a sucker for those! It’s the little details that make it really special!
Yeah, there are some really cool details. There is this interlude called the “R O Y G B i V interlude” and the bells in it, there’s this arp — and that’s a sample of Reading Rainbow.
Yeahhhhh! And then, within that, all the vocals are also sampled from an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy. Also, in my song “Tie-Dye Sky” is Bill Nye being like, “Alright, give me all you got!” There are these small little fun things… There’s also a recall of a melody from “R O Y G B i V interlude” into the last song which is called the “The Echo Tree.” And “The Echo Tree” is something that we’re going to see in the movie that is created for Rainbow Brain. (Watch here!)
There are all these tie-ins and creating from that sense that the entire body of music was all speaking and compounding upon itself was so fucking fun to do! I love creating stuff that has such a deeper context. I think in the past I’ve kind of soiled it by speaking too much on what it’s supposed to mean, instead of letting people feel their own interpretation from the thing. I’m gonna kinda just let this one happen a little bit more.
The major differences… The continuous mix was inspired by a mix series called Late Night Tales. There’s a bunch of different DJs who’ve done their guest mixes on it. And also from BBC Radio 1 essential mixes that I fuuucking love. So, that comes inspired by those spaces and specifically the Bonobo Late Night Tales continuous mix. You just press play on this shit and gotta vibe throughout it!
And storytelling moments as well… There is also included within the Late Night Tales this bit of narrative. So there’s this spoken word piece at the end of it that I find really endearing and special. Intertwining spoken word into it and these audio journeys…
I also wanted to make sure each track, you could play it out or hit play on Spotify and it would feel like a complete song. Also, it was a new challenge to have every single — the album is 23 songs long, but almost half of those are ‘tweener tracks. So the album was built in a way where you can listen to all your favorite songs, but also you could press play at the start of it and there’s all these transition moments that get you from song to song. It has these kinds of — my friend Lane would call it a “butterfly checkpoint.”
Yeah, his story is going on a psychedelic trip through the jungle in Thailand. This was a year before I went with him there, but we did the same journey on the same head full of doses… But every single time they would get to these clusters of butterflies they’d be like — “We’ve reached the butterfly checkpoint!” So there’s all these little checkpoints throughout the album that are getting you to the next destination.
I love that! You mentioned this album is the most authentically true to yourself — What does that feel like, putting something so personal out there for the world to hear?
It sucks, but it’s liberating. The tricky part about sharing stuff is that it becomes not yours anymore. Like if you introduce an object into a space where there’s only one viewer, the entire perception of what that thing is is only from that viewer’s perspective, and therefore is only defined by that one person and therefore the reality of that thing is that one person’s description of it. It’s only in our reality through that one person’s perception of it, and so therefore it’s that one person’s thing.
As the creator, now it’s currently only mine. As soon as you give that to people, the catch 22 of it is there there’s so much beauty… I find so much beauty in the way that people see a body of work — whether that’s a piece of writing, a painting, a piece of architecture, a dope gardening job — the way different people create these different perceptions about it and write these different stories about it in their minds and share that narrative… I find it so beautiful that that opinion can be different, because being able to have these different variations of storytelling is really such a spice of life.
You could bring two different people into a situation of “it rained at the water park.” One person is like, “That was so cool because this,” and one person is like, “That ruined my day because of this.” Neither person is right or wrong, it’s just two different things. The negative part of it for me is that this thing that was personal then becomes defined by other people and that’s not something I can control.
So, going back to that narrative of letting go. Literally, if you love something, let it go. I’m letting go of all this shit that I love so much, and have birthed and conceptualized and created — and now I’m entrusting it to other people to share in that narrative and to tell the story of what this thing is. As a creator, for me the best way to always go about it is just letting it go. Letting those stories be told by everybody. Then that becomes what that thing is — it’s no longer what you just made it. It’s what everybody thinks it is. It is as beautiful as it is difficult to let go. Herein lies the practice. We keep doing it.
Generic, but important question — What does the album mean to you?
Shit… What does it mean? It means we’re continuing to tell the story. It means there was never a period on what happened in the past — it was just another space, it was another comma, it was not an ellipsis, not a punctuation mark that there is a dot-dot-dot. I am continuing to find myself in the space that I’m creating and we have more pages in the book to write.
Having just celebrated Pride Month, I want to talk about its importance and the safe space your project has created for the LGBTIQA+ community… Can you share what you’ve experienced from coming out until now?
I think from then to now I’ve found how important it is to have queer friends. That’s something that was so missing in my life. To bolster myself by sharing in that community instead of just being a part of the community but having zero relationship to it, besides maybe having a boyfriend or something… Ah, shit! It’s so important to feel supported and to feel like I’m not such an outcast. Because I’m not — and neither is anybody in the alphabet mafia. Y’all got people out there!
For me, the way I see it today and especially through the genesis of the more socially conscious side of TikTok… There’s amazing people on there talking about it and all these perspectives. From the subservience of Gen Z culture feeling very abandoned in how genuine Pride Month feels due the commercialization of the capitalistic machine putting rainbows on everything and disseminating that out into the world in such mass that it loses its inclusivity. To seeing people in the older gay culture — crying on a TikTok — talking about, “If I saw that as a 7-year-old queer person walking into a WalMart and seeing Pride shit in a rural town, that might have just saved my life.” To get that kind of at least offering of normalcy and exposure in the world is really important.
Right now, the way that I feel about the LGBTIQA+ space is wanting to continue to keep my mind open and just listening. I don’t think I’m going to be the person that has answers for anybody — other than it’s important to listen and to talk and share even if it’s a “stupid idea,” there’s no bad ideas here. We need to be able to share the way we’re feeling and hopefully those spaces we’re sharing in can be safe spaces. And hopefully those are conversations with people that are willing to listen to what you have to say, not admonish you for having a different idea. I think the most beautiful conversations will always happen between people who are genuinely interested in, “Why would somebody feel something that’s different than myself? And let me get into that!” That’s a relationship, that’s being relational! That shit is hella beautiful!
And, no, it’s not easy, because I think I was always conditioned in my life to have an opinion and be right about it. I’m debating and also needing to constantly validate my existence. I have become a very defensive person. I need to be self-assured. People are challenging me all the time. Every single time I get challenged, the perception that I’ve made about myself — my life’s truth is being shook! And every single time that happens I feel vulnerable. If I’m not having a conversation into a space where my vulnerability can be respected and taken care of, then I feel threatened — and that’s scary.
I’m hoping Pride Month can continue to be a place of differing dialogues between people where we’re being relational instead of confrontational and hopefully that will create growth instead of stagnation.
Thank you for that answer… I feel like you’ve cultivated that kind of community with your fanbase…
Trying. Really doing what we can with it. These people are so dope, and sometimes we just don’t realize how dope we are because people are trying to fuck with us. And that sucks! That’s hard to deal with. Not everybody has safe spaces where they can exist, share ideas and express themselves. I hope that the GRiZ community is always a place where people can feel safe with each other, to be able to grow together. It doesn’t always have to be about the music — and it sure as shit does not always need to be about me. Hopefully it can be about each other first.
Exactly! So, shifting into some safe spaces and celebrations… You have so many shows coming up including three sets in one night at Red Rocks! What’s it been like pouring your heart into all these different performances?
I feel like I told a bunch of people what kind of mountains we’re gonna climb — and we haven’t done it yet. So, I gotta get to training. I gotta get some new fucking hiking boots and break that shit in! We’re like, “Ok cool, now we’re gonna do fucking Everest!” And everyone’s like, “Yeahhh!” And it’s like, “Alright, are we really ready to take on this challenge?” We’ll get there! Warming back up to it. Getting my mind and my spirit right into those spaces…
Just been doing a bunch of free shows. I just want to be in front of people playing music and bringing people together. What is that fucking like anymore?! And it’s great! I’ve been doing it with abandon and that’s been a lot of fun. I’m here for it.
It’s a shame that any of this stuff costs money in the first place, so just be able to offset the weight of it all — and be like, “Yo, we’re gonna do this! Have fun! Show up! Bring the crew! Don’t bring the crew! Meet the Crew! Cool!” Meet some new people. That shit is so fun. We’re warming up to it. I’m feeling ready!
Which date will be the first time you’re throwing down the new album?
We will hear it live for the first time together… [pauses]
I’ve low key played it already at a free show for the people. Because I’m fucking… I don’t know. [laughs] I think patience is something in my life that I’m not the best at practicing. But, in its true form — in its most thoughtful form — will be the first night of GRiZmas in July in Wilmington, North Carolina at the end of this month.