5 Questions with Rags #65 - Grieves

I first saw Grieves here in my hometown Victoria in 2014. I was on assignment for a now defunct website, sent because I was the resident hip-hop guy on staff. I didn't know anything about him other than his affiliation with the legendary Rhymesayers, but I left a fan. I got home and right away I dug into Winter & The Wolves, the album he was touring at the time, and found someone with a respect for the craft of rapping – deft, nimble rapping with dense lyricism that revealed a deep intelligence and emotional knowledge. This was smart, affective rapping. But then things went pretty quiet and I heard very little from the Grieves camp until last year when he released the fucking phenomenal Running Wild. A snapshot of personal evolution, Running Wild finds Grieves' sound evolved and grown into new places while at the same time being stripped down to an ultra-personal core.

A birthday is a perfect time for a little reflection and I linked up with Grieves for a 5 Questions shortly after his 34th birthday, and he was gracious enough to let me pick his brain as to what he learned over his last complete orbit of the Earth. “The years go faster every year, it's hard to take a lesson from each one. Last year I focused more on not giving a shit about what other people expect of me and just do the things that my heart requires. It took awhile to actually do that. An album like Running Wild is definitely a prime example of me just going with what I wanted to as opposed to sticking to my same formula. It goes beyond that to the stuff I make for myself in the studio, the work that I do for others in the studio and what I'd like to release to the world in the future. Where I'm going creatively...I feel like I've been hung up trying to follow in the footsteps of what got me where I'm at as opposed to creating new roads to create new steps.” Thankfully for me, and hip-hop heads everywhere, these new steps still include releasing dope music and touring. And now, more than three years after I saw him that first time he returns to Victoria (Thursday, April 5, Capital Ballroom) in support of this record that you should definitely listen to if you haven't already. And if you're in any other cities on the graphic below, catch him right now in your fine city. Or travel to a nearby fine city and see the homie. Also, in case I wasn't clear, make sure you listen to Running Wild.

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1. What was the first album you bought with your own money?

I actually bought three in the first go. I was mowing lawns and whatever else knucklehead kids do to get money and I bought Green Day Dookie, Offspring Smash and, for some fucking reason I don't know why, Aerosmith Get A Grip. They had a bunch of curse words and I was like, “Ooooh shit.” It was my dirty secret, that there was a bunch of cuss words. In 5th grade.

I remember I was in this camp in Chicago before I moved, I think it was called Chandler Sports Camp, and pretty much parents just dumped their kids off so they can get shit done in the summertime. There was this older camp counsellor I remember sitting with on the bus and he was like, “What do you know about Green Day? Offspring?” And he put the headphones on my head and was like, “Whaaaaat?!” It changed my perspective on cool music. I was listening to my dad's music – soul, blues and a lot of folk. I just kind of thought that's what it was. I didn't really challenge it. I didn't dislike it but I hadn't experienced something I liked for my own. Still to this day I feel like I could recite Dookie from front to back, from when I was in 5th grade.

2. When is the last time you did something for the first time?

We just did the European tour where we didn't have a tour manager. Normally when you tour overseas you gotta hire for somebody to do things for you like drive on the Autobahn, speak to all the promoters in the different languages. This time I was like, “Ahh, we don't have money for that.” So we just did it ourselves and it was crazy. Driving on the Autobahn for the first time, pretty wild shit.

What was the most surprisingly challenging thing about managing your own European tour?

It was actually surprisingly easy. I think I built it up in my head. Like, it's foreign. I don't know what the road signs mean, I don't know if I'll be able to properly communicate with promoters. We're so used to how things things work over here in North America that stepping out of that comfort zone is weird. There was a lot of build up but once we got over there and got in motion we thought, “Ohhh it's the same!”

3. What's your favourite household chore?

I think shampooing the carpets is oddly satisfying. You go forward and spray the water down then you bring it back and watch it suck the water up through the plastic part and you go, “Oooooh yeah!” And you can see how fucking gross it is. If we're moving out of an apartment or something, that's mine. I'll spend hours doing that shit.

4. What's your most positive memory of a teacher growing up?

I never took to school that much when I was younger. I needed things explained me to in a more creative way that the usual three ways that teachers stylistically teach. They don't have the time or funding to reach every individual kid. It's very one-sided and it sucks and I always had a hard time with it. I kind of wrote it all off, especially in high school. “No one's gonna keep me here, so fuck y'all.” I was into drugs and I was selling shit and it was all bad. I ended up getting hemmed up pretty bad and going through the legal system. I was given a few ultimatums. I feel like I chose the right one of those and the end of that tunnel came when I was offered a one-way back into the school system through an alternative school in Colorado called Centennial. You have to go through a six-week process, like a boot camp to get into the school. You aren't the shit. You're not a gangsta. You're not whatever you thought you were when you came in there. You ain't doing any of the shit that you were doing before. You're a human being. “Love each other, respect each other because no one gives a fuck about you.” You gotta get each others backs. They built this is dope, amazing community and I'd never been affected by education like that before. Being there and talking with the teachers, I was inspired. I was pushed to be more of a creative person. If I didn't get something that teacher would sit with me hours after school to explain it, find a way to reach me. It's actually why I moved to Washington because I went to school at Evergreen to be a teacher, because I was so affected by that process. I realized that you can't carry that torch on that easily. When you go to university you can't graduate in being that teacher, unfortunately. I had a lot of problems with that and I went to music instead. So, not one teacher but a whole school. It changed my life.

5. If you could spend the day with anyone living or dead, who would it be and what would you do?

I'd really like to spend a day just fucking off with Bill Murray. That would be rad. Just a day in Manhattan with Bill Murray. With a couple grand. I wanna be able to do the Bill Murray Situation.

6. The guest question comes from the funky homie Qdup...What's something you've been trying to accomplish musically that you haven't been able to reach yet?

I've been trying to put the production foot forward. I'm known as a rapper – you know, people don't read liner notes anymore and I'm not a very braggadocio person. I don't want to talk about all the things that I do. But I've been behind the boards with every record. I want to do more. I want it to be more of a low-key situation where I'm doing TV and film scoring. I produced a record for a group out of Seattle that I'm pumped about and I'd like to do more of that. I'd like to pick up more group projects where I'm working with a specific artist or a group. Bring them into my studio and crack that sound, build it from the ground up together.