Wednesday, March 15, 2017

An Interview With GRXZZ

In a genre highly saturated with inflated egos, recycled beats, and copy cat emcee's, GRXZZ and his long time friend and producer for this record, ALLOVIT, are a shining beacon of fresh ideas and invigorated passion. GRXZZ's latest release, DIGITAL BATH, "is a story about isolation and the people who save you from it." Brutal honestly takes precedence as he weaves his story over the well crafted beats laid down by ALLOVIT. Tracks like "affiliated" and "forest" featuring fellow Nap Town emcee, Sirius Black, are straight bangers with upbeat production and slick lyricism. These songs are the anthems to a late night of hanging with your homies. Other tracks, like the closer "NIGHT DRV", take a slower, more laid back approach to GRXZZ's clean flows. ALLOVIT's synth work really shines on this track, with layers of digital goodness washing over tight hi-hat work and a tastefully toned down bass and snare sound. GRXZZ's vocal and lyrical abilities on "villain" stand out to me the most. Namely, with the softer delivery of lines like "She always claimed she could read me like a novel, and it would scare if I thought she could. I'm made of flesh but the rest of me is hollow, and that's something we both understood." He shows that he is capable of more than just straight fire and can turn it back a notch without losing the intensity of his delivery.  

Overall, this release is obviously a product of intense dedication and a keen sense of style. There's something for both casual and dedicated hip hop fans to appreciate and enjoy. With that being said, I like to dissect the lyrics and themes of the majority of bands I interview and have them go deeper into the inspiration and meaning behind them. Not for GRXZZ. I feel like GRXZZ has put a lot of time and effort into presenting his thoughts and emotions exactly as he wants them to be portrayed. If you truly want to know the meaning or understand the backstory of his songs, grab a solid pair of headphones. Or better yet, roll something up to smoke and hop in the car with some friends or a lover for a late night drive, put DIGITAL BATH on the stereo, and let GRXZZ tell you exactly how it is.

1. Before we get into where you are now, let's talk about where you've been. What where some of the factors that pushed you to pursue a life as a musician?

Well, my mom is an accomplished instrumentalist, as well as a music-educator, and my father is a former stage-actor and lifelong jazz fanatic, so music (and performance) has always been an integral part of my life.

2. I understand that you where in several hardcore bands before you got involved with hip hop, including being the first bass player for WOUNDED KNEE. What was it about hardcore and the DIY community that drew you in?

I met three of my best friends when I was 11, and they started a punk band (that eventually became the indie/emo band Pessoa) when we were, like, 14. So accompanying them to shows was my introduction to that world. But I'm not sure what kept me there once I started making music and booking my own shows. I think I was just an angry kid, and that community seemed to be built around catharsis, something I needed desperately.

3. Speaking about catharsis, on your new release, DIGITAL BATH, your lyricism explores the feelings and emotions of isolation, depression, and suicide. Where did the inspiration for this album come from?

Every project I've put out, thus far, has just been a snapshot of my life during the writing process. So, once Tim and I decided to put an album out together, DIGITAL BATH ended up as a description of specific moments during that 2 year span. Among other things, I struggled with substance-abuse, endured an unhealthy relationship, and lost one of my best friends, all while working on the record. So the songs just tell that tale. Though I gotta say, I think it turned out more optimistic than I had anticipated. Most of the really bleak material failed to make the cut once we started piecing everything together. I love making very honest music, but there's absolutely a level of transparency that's uncomfortable to me.

4. It's not rare to hear people reference bands' and artists' work as reasons to keep living or a way to get through a tough time. It's often something for them to relate to. When you put this record together, did you think about the possibility that you getting personal about your experiences may help someone get through whatever troubles they may have going on? How does it feel to put yourself out there in such an emotional way?

To be honest, I never think about that. I feel like once you're making music with other people in mind, in any context, it loses some of its authenticity. But if my coping mechanism serves to help someone else to deal with their own internal chaos, than I'm delighted that we can both take something meaningful away from the process. When I was in a hardcore band, maintaining a pessimistic narrative in my lyrics was expected, and was easily hidden behind loud guitars and screaming. But now, as an emcee, the lyrics are front and center. If I say something really fucked up and sad, people notice immediately. So I have to be more selective about the things I choose to say if I don't want a bunch of concerned phone calls, and that's kind of annoying. I try to find a middle-ground: transparent enough to be relatable, but ambiguous enough for some interpretation. I realize that I sort of contradicted myself a little bit there. I guess what I mean is that I always create the music with no filter. What gets released, however, is something completely different.

5. You mentioned earlier that you struggled with substance abuse. Drugs and drug culture are a seemingly integral part of hip hop culture. Mainstream success of hip hop has even been accused of being a leading factor in the rise of drug use and abuse. How do you think your relationship with substances has impacted your music? What do you think about society's views on drug use and it's connection with hip hop?

For better or worse, my struggle with drugs and alcohol has always made a huge impact on my creative process. The beginning of every bender is always productive for me, creatively speaking, but the longer it continues, the more chaotic the rest of my life becomes. And as earlier indicated, that chaos is the inspiration for a lot of my music. So it's a cyclical thing. I have misgivings about portraying my drug use in music, but it's a part of my life. I just always try to communicate how unhealthy I know it is, and how quickly things can turn against you if not addressed properly. With hip-hop specifically, I think the issue is that no one is talking about the comedown. Cats will be drinking lean and eating Xanax every day for 3 months straight, and then wonder why they're so emotional and weak once they stop. I think it has a lot to do with why we see so many rappers having public breakdowns on the internet. Not having drugs after having lots of them will fuck you up something awful, and can lead to some awful episodes. If people talked about the come-down more, people would be less inclined to seek out those highs.

Live from The Hi-Fi in Indianapolis 
6. Sometime starting in the 80's, we saw the both relatively fresh counter culture movements of punk and hip hop begin to merge. Hardcore bands would open for hip hop acts and vice versa. In later years, that started to die out but it seems like Nap Town has continued to carry that torch for some time now. People like Jake Amrhein (WOUNDED KNEE, STRANGER SEX, Galt House Records) have been hosting shows and festivals that merge hip hop and multiple variations of 'core and screamo for some time now. Where do you think this connection stems from? What are your thoughts on the Indianapolis music community and the artists coming out of there?

Well, to me, Indianapolis had two significant musical movements. The jazz and soul scene in the 60's and 70's, as well as the punk and hardcore scene in the late 80's/early 90's. Both spawned legends, and created waves for generations of artists to come. So with those two movements as our foundation, it makes perfect sense that the hip-hop and punk-rock communities are so intertwined here. But if we leave Indianapolis out of the conversation, the parallels between the two worlds is unending. Punk and rap come from the same spirit. It's intelligent fury. The same energy just manifests itself differently in people, based off of their surrounding and the people they spend time with. There's an episode of Dave Grohl's HBO series, Sonic Highways, where they go to DC to explore the two major underground movements in their musical history, being, of course, hardcore punk, and go-go (an east-coast variation on 80's funk and soul.) Minor Threat did these HUGE 'punk-funk' shows with go-go bands, and afterwards, the crowd would protest apartheid at the South African embassy together. I swear, when I heard about that, so much made sense about what me and my friends do. Also, I just wanna re-iterate how great Jake Amrhein is. Dude and I have been friends for over a decade now, and he's been working his ass off for the city the whole damn time.

GRXZZ and Jake Amrhein
7. Speaking about friends, ALLOVIT, aka Tim Sharkey (WOUNDED KNEE, G R I E F S E E D S), did the production of DIGITAL BATH. What was it like to work with your old time drummer and long time friend on this record?

I genuinely can't say enough about the dude. He's one of my favorite drummers ever and he has an intuition with music that I've never seen in anyone else. He's also just a great person. Working with him during this process has been amazing. I can be very difficult to work with, at times, just because I'm such a perfectionist. He remained patient and hardworking through it all. So really, all the victories on DIGITAL BATH are his. When Tim played me the first batch of beats, he had just started a few months prior. Everything was incredibly raw and fresh. Seeing him go from a novice to creating his own sound in a year's time was incredible. And G R I E F S E E D S new shit for the split tape with Sirius Blvck tho... FIIIIRRREE. That band is so good. 8. It's apparent that y'all are a tight knit bunch in Nap Town. Along with working with Tim, Sirius Blvck did a feature on "forest" off of DIGITAL BATH. How was working with Sirius? Do you plan to work with him more in the future?

Sirius and I have been making music together since 2011, and before that, his old band, Indian City Weather, played some shows with my old band, Opponents. Apart from being my friend, and being great to work with, Sirius is one of my favorite artists, period. So, yeah, hopefully we'll work together a lot in the future. It may not always get released, but I think we'll always like making music together.

9. As a respected veteran of the DIY community and as someone who is friends with some of the more prominent members of that community, how do you feel about the current state of DIY? What does your involvement with the DIY way of doing things mean to you?

I think DIY ethics, and culture, is only getting stronger. Independent musicians are more accessible than ever, and monetizing your output has never been easier. While the principles of DIY were thought to be exclusive to punk and emo bands, the reach, and appeal, of those principles has extended into hip-hop and soul music too. So when I made that transition, I kept the same work-ethic and set of ideals. If I can do it myself, it's done. If I can't, I call on the help of one of my many amazing friends. DIY isn't just about working alone to me. It's about working as a community of motivated individuals.

10. What brought on the change from playing in hardcore bands to emceeing? Were there any artists or moments that where pivotal to your transition?

Honestly, I just got old. Being in a hardcore band, particularly doing vocals, is just hard on the body, and I had been doing it, on and off, for almost fifteen years. So once I met Niq (Sirius) and started rapping, I realized that I wasn't physically able to do that AND be in a hardcore band. I made the call at what ended up being Opponents last show. After our set, I was laying on the stage, aching and about to vomit, when Niq approached, chuckling. He said, "you're done, ain't you?" and he was absolutely right.

11. You're an experienced musician and artist, both in the hardcore community and the hip hop world. Do you have any advice you would like to offer to up-and-coming artists and people just getting their foot in the door?

Well, I'm not rich yet, so I don't know how useful my advice could really be. But i would want them to know that starting out is a slow motherfucking burn. Shit is going to suck for a long time, and then, one day, it won't anymore. Until then, just love what you do, and be proud that you're contributing your voice to the conversation.

12. Both musically and personally, what are your dreams and aspirations? Where do you want to see yourself in the future?

To be honest, I'll be shocked if I live another decade, so I rarely look beyond 3-4 years at a time. I'd like to quit smoking cigarettes. i'd love to play the piano well. i'd like to write a horror film, But more than anything else, I'd just like to make enough money with music that I can quit my job, and i'd like to see my friends do the same.

*Edited by Haley Szczepanski


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