Grieves plays his first proper Montreal show

From a barf-soaked bed in Iowa City, the Rhymesayers rapper told us about the game-changing methods behind his latest record & his feelings about Macklemore.


Seattle-born Rhymesayer Grieves, in town on Sunday night in support of his latest record, Winter & the Wolves, is known for raps that serve punchlines and pensiveness in equal measure. Refreshingly, he’s the same guy on wax as he in on the phone, where he brought us up to speed on things in advance of his first-ever Montreal gig, apart from an 11 a.m. set at the 2010 Warped Tour.
It was actually about 11 a.m. where he was when we spoke. On a Monday. And even at his worst, Grieves is the best.

Darcy MacDonald: How’s it going, man?

Grieves: Man, I am so fuckin’ hungover.

DM: Grieves! Where were you? It’s Monday morning dude!

Grieves: I was in Iowa City and I shouldn’t have done what I did, but I did it. I threw up in my bed, Darcy.

DM: Aw, come on, man!

Grieves:  I know! At the Sheraton. I threw up in my bed, Darcy!

DM: (laughing) That’s a terrible look! But oh well, at least it wasn’t your real bed.

Grieves: I know! At least it wasn’t mine.

DM: Well, you know, you signed up for the job. You’re the guy who’s supposed to be doing that, really.

Grieves: It’s a hard life, but someone’s gotta live it, right?

DM: Just don’t choke to death on it and everything is gonna be okay.

Grieves: My roommate for the evening tried to help me. (Now) the story to tell about me is gonna be that story. “Good job baby, you’re like David Hasselhoff on Baywatch!”

DM: If that happened to you in Iowa City, I don’t even wanna think about what’s gonna happen in Montreal.

Grieves: I don’t know what’s gonna happen to me either. Because I was hanging out with Canadians and all of a sudden I was throwin’ up in my bed.

DM: Other than a Warped Tour date in 2010, this is your first official Montreal show, is that right?

Grieves: Yeah, same with Toronto. I’ve been an asshole, I haven’t been coming.

DM: You motherfucker! So you actually have your own support on this tour, too, I understand?

Grieves: Yeah, I’m touring with a guy from Seattle named Fearce Vill, and I have a Canadian with me, SonReal.

DM: So how’s it going out there? You guys have been at it on the road for a minute, no?

Grieves: Yeah we have been at it for quite a bit now. It’s been good, man. It’s both of their first times touring the States, so for them, they’ve been really excited. For me, it’s been a better turnout than we ever expected, so it’s been good.

DM: Do find that social media pays off when you get to a city where you’re not sure what your market is like?

Grieves: I think the promoter is a dead job almost, at this point. I think a lotta them just go, “Alright, I’m gonna give this guy what he wants to come here and hope that his Internet presence will bring people into the show.” That’s what we experience, personally.

DM: So does it work? Are the followers following, so to speak? I saw it happen recently here with an Atmosphere show that had literally no local promo and was damn near sold out.

Grieves: We show up to clubs and there’s no posters and whatever, but I think that’s kind of the times right now. The Internet is the biggest thing on the Earth.

DM: I’m sure it’ll go well up here any way you cut it. So I just got my hands on the new record, Winter & the Wolves, and I find your music is a bit pensive, if I can put it that way. It’s got a headphone quality to it, in general. But I was surprised — this is a poppy album! It seems to me to be the most like, shimmering thing I’ve heard come out on RSE in a lotta regards. And I mean that in a positive way. You’re a good singer, man.

Grieves: Well thank you, man. The more I explore that world, the more I wanna touch it. And I think that happened on this record.

DM: And the guy you have guesting on there, who also sings sometimes-

Grieves: B.Lewis.

DM: Right, thank you. So together, you guys sound almost a bit Frank Ocean-influenced at times, and again, I mean that in a positive way.

Grieves: Oh, really? See, B made a lot of the beats, he was the producer for the record, and he’s got some pipes on him. We’d get in the studio and he’d sing it out, like a demo version, and I was like, “Nah, man, that’s the final version man! That’s how it sounds!”

DM: His voice is cool. And your own singing chops being what they are, I find that all around it made the album very approachable. It doesn’t sound like you tried to make a sing-songy rap album, but it does touch on that at times.

Grieves: I have never even heard a Frank Ocean song in my life.

DM: Seriously? You know, when you’re hungover, that’s the perfect music to put on.

Grieves: Well, I guess I need some Frank Ocean today.

DM: Almost sounds like a drink. “Have yourself some Frank Ocean and snap right back from that hangover!” But I’m making that observation and I’m an old man who can handle the thought of creative evolution, but do you get the fans like, “Aw man, this is some poppy shit” or have people been appreciating it?

Grieves: Yeah, well, some people. Some of the backpackers are like, “Ahh, you fuckin’…this ain’t no real hip hop!” But they wouldn’t know hip hop if it bit ’em in the cock hole.

It happens a little bit. It’s not crazy or anything. You can get a negative response to everything you do, there’s always gonna be someone out there. But overall it’s been really good. And the risks that I took, I think, came back in a direction that I really didn’t think they would. A lot of the fans and you know, people, have responded to those songs that are a little bit more poppy. It reached them in a way that they are probably not used to, and they do really well.  And I’m not talking like, money-wise or anything like that. It’s just some songs resonate a little bit more than the last record, which is nice.

I like the idea of a grassroots, poppy record.

DM: So B. Lewis, how much of the production did he do? And how was it to collaborate with someone new?

Grieves: He did about 65 per cent of it, I’d say. And I did the rest. He produces for Bad Rabbits, and they’re one of my favourite bands.

It was great man. It opened me up in a way that I needed so badly. When you work with someone that you’re so familiar with, you fall into similar surroundings. And I wanted to break all those for the new record, and we couldn’t seem to do that. No matter how much (regular production collaborator) Budo and I would sit down and try to do it, we couldn’t. So the new producer aspect really brought something new to the table, new sounds, new ideas. And a new method that I needed so bad. It was a game changer for me, man.

DM: On the first couple of tracks, and I don’t wanna misquote you, but you talk about being sorta outta the picture for a while.

Grieves: Yeah, it’s true. I was gone for a while

DM: Why?

Grieves: Life happens, you know, pretty much. Life happens. It was callin’ and I had to answer.

DM: Did it appreciate the answer or spit it back at you?

Grieves: No, it was good. For personal reasons I needed that time to be me, to get my life together. And it worked out good. I’m glad with the time I took off.

DM: So back to record, what circumstances did you collaborate with B. Lewis under?

Grieves: I would fly out to San Jose, which is where he lives. I’d go out for a week at a time and we would make a song a day from scratch. So he’d start making the beat, I’d start writing, and we’d record it, and we’d do that every day for a week.

DM: That’s so dope. How many trips did you make?

Grieves: Enough that we had like probably 30 to 40 songs, which we cut down to 14 or whatever for the record. So quite a bit. It was a nice getaway.

DM: Now I don’t wanna make you uncomfortable or try to make you the spokesperson for the entire indie rap community of the world, but what do you make of the whole Macklemore thing, man? I’m asking you this specifically because to me, you are in the league of the indie rapper where all it would take would be one person to look at you the right way and you could be in his shoes. That’s how I see it. Candidly, it pisses me off when I know so many dudes who have been at it longer that deserve a Grammy they’ll never get.

Grieves: He was smart enough to capture what he captured. As far as business and preparation goes, that dude did a phenomenal job. And you gotta respect that. He took something that we’ve all been harbouring and holding close to our hearts for a really long time and he took it and gave it to the world. Which I guess none of us thought of. And he did a really good job of it.

DM: I guess I fear that it couldn’t happen twice.

Grieves: It can’t. It can’t. Because at that point it looks like mimicking, or whatever. And the world is ignorant to the things that, you know, to the music that goes on behind that veil. And if it started to come out more I think that, yeah, maybe it would feel that people are mimicking that kind of thing without knowing that that’s what existed long before. ■


Grieves performs with openers SonReal, Fearce Vill and Orphan at la Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent) on Sunday, July 20, 9 p.m., $11.50/$14