GRiZ hopes to funk up electronic music

Boulder-based electronic artist GRiZ is slated to perform tonight at Red Rocks — his biggest show yet. (Joshua Hanford / Courtesy photo)
Boulder-based electronic artist GRiZ is slated to perform tonight at Red Rocks — his biggest show yet. (Joshua Hanford / Courtesy photo)

By Quentin Young

Grant Kwiecinski said he was an unethusiastic student at Michigan State University when he started playing music at house parties in a co-ed co-op community.

“That’s kind of where everything started,” Kwiecinski said as he pondered the progression of his music.

Known to fans as GRiZ, the saxophone-playing electronic musician is preparing for a sold-out headlining show at Red Rocks Ampitheatre tonight. The Detroit native moved to Boulder three years ago and — along with Big Gigantic, Pretty Lights, SunSquabi, EOTO and other local acts — is helping to plant a flag for electronic music on the Front Range.

The Red Rocks show is GRiZ’s biggest yet, and he said it is a personal affirmation. In 2011, he said, he dropped out of school and moved to Boulder, broke, to pursue music. He told his family he was “going to give this thing a shot.”

They can see the results firsthand Friday, he said, because they’ll be in the audience.

“It’s kind of like witnessing the best possible outcome of something where you were like, ‘Well, I hope that goes well,’ ” said Kwiecinski, who previously has played support sets at the famed Colorado venue.

Friday also will be a big night for Boulder-based SunSquabi, which will be making its debut at Red Rocks. Kwiecinski called SunSquabi “hometown heroes” and said he often collaborates with the band’s guitarist, Kevin Donohue.

SunSquabi drummer Chris Anderson said GRiZ first crossed the Boulder band’s path in 2012 when they both performed at the electronic dance music festival Sonic Bloom in Pueblo and Kwiecinski caught SunSquabi’s set.

“He came up to us after and said, ‘I really like what you guys are doing,’ ” Anderson said.

Anderson said his father, also a drummer, has played Red Rocks with the Boston Pops and offered some advice to his son when Anderson moved to Boulder, where he attended the University of Colorado: “If you’re going to do anything, go to Red Rocks.”

Talk about obeying your parents.

Art in his roots

In high school, Kwiecinski’s mother would catch him making “terrible-sounding, stupid electronic beats” when he was supposed to be asleep, Kwiecinski said. At Michigan State, he studied pre-med, business and psychology, but the only subject that really interested him was art.

“One of our classes, the whole semester we just tried to answer the question, ‘What is art?’ ” Kwiecinski said. Finally, the instructor asked students to write their answers, and Kwiecinski, in a cheeky but honest answer, wrote, “Art is everything.”

In 2010, he moved his “underground” shows at the co-op parties to Mac’s Bar in Lansing, Mich., where they’d sometimes pay the then-20-year-old performer in beer. One of his first out-of-town shows was in Colorado, and that’s when he met Nick Guarino, a fan who runs and became a business associate. After the show, Guarino invited Kwiecinski back to his Boulder home and showed him around town.

“He was the great influencer,” Kwiecinski said. “I could tell he was genuinely inspired by the things I was doing and was able to put his mind in a place for it to inspire other people.”

Kwiecinski moved into Guarino’s home in west Boulder three years ago, and hasn’t left yet.

Taking it back, old-school style

Kwiencinski’s earliest productions were “100 percent pure electronica” that had a shallow understanding of his craft and musical roots, he said.

Grant Kwiecinski, better known to fans as GRiZ, has a passion for funk and soul music — and plays the saxophone. (Joshua Hanford / Courtesy photo)
Grant Kwiecinski, better known to fans as GRiZ, has a passion for funk and soul music — and plays the saxophone. (Joshua Hanford / Courtesy photo)
“Then I smoked a bunch of weed and listened to old-school hip hop,” he said. Beats from artists such as A Tribe Called Quest and Jurassic 5 entranced Kwiencinski. He said he discovered the art of sampling and dug into the origin of vintage music parts that hip-hop producers mashed-up into new music.

“I started doing my research,” he said.

This led to his passion for funk and soul music and, for an electronic musician whose trademark is live sax, an increasing tendency for his music to reflect such tastes.

“It’s interesting, funk music didn’t hit me first, it is the most recent thing,” Kwiecinski said. “It happened backwards.”

A line is being connected through hip hop from modern artists such as GRiZ back to old funk and soul masters. “Now I could go straight to the source and make Earth Wind & Fire 2.0,” Kwiecinski said, adding, “which is the current goal.”

His production practices are moving backwards, too. For his most recent album, 2015’s Say it Loud, he decided against modern techniques of sampling other people’s music and instead used samples of various musicians he recorded while traveling the country.

His move away from samples is largely compelled by the legal hazards of copyrighted material, he said. But it also tracks with his growth and ambitions as an artist. For all that the Internet has done to fuel his career, one of his future objectives is to achieve radio play — which he sees as essential to reaching the highest levels of musical success.

And he wants to be in a band — a live band.

“No computers, just 100 percent GRiZ, live funk band,” he said. “It’s so fucking rad to play in a band … With a live band you can get this pure, visceral enjoyment out of it.”

He stresses that he’s serious about putting a live band together, but it’s a project for another time.As a performer, he pines for the live vibe, but he said there’s nothing like the sound of an electronic show.

“You will not be able to get that kind of like crazy, intense energy from a live band,” he said. “You just can’t do it.” Live bands are incapable of matching computer-made “crazy, awesome, electronic noises,” he said.

Intense. Crazy. Awesome. That’s what the capacity Red Rocks crowd will be expecting. Asked how he feels in the run-up to Friday’s performance, Kwiecinski said his friends and family ask him that same question.

“I actually thought about it this morning and had this crippling sense of fear,” he said, chuckling.

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If you go

What: GRiZ, with The Floozies, Manic Focus and Muzzy Bearr

When: 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4

Where: Red Rocks Ampitheatre, 18300 W. Alameda Parkway, Morrison

TIckets: Show is sold out


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