Interview: Grieves

Our loveable Low End Lowlife Matthew Bayfield interrogates Rhymessayers Grieves

Posted on May 23rd, 2012 in Features and Interviews, Rhymesayers / By Matthew Bayfield
Interview: Grieves In the bowels of London’s Xoyo club Bearded’s Lowend Lowlife Matt Bayfield met up with Grieves, one of Rhymesayers most poignant and thoughtful lyricists, to talk about the state of hip-hop, exposing yourself to children and other forms of highbrow artistic expression.

Bearded: Always nice to see some proper hip-hop out and about on the roads, the last Rhymesayers tour in Europe was a sellout, how are you feeling about this one?

Grieves: Yeah good. I mean last time we checked tickets for this one were “doing really well”… I don’t know what that means but it’s not a very big room so probably pretty close yeah.

B: Compared to venues in America is this substantially smaller?

G: Well yeah, but I like playing rooms this size though because A: you sell it out and it tends to be that the people who buy tickets are more people who wanna be there, so you’ve got a room full of people and no one’s like “ah my friend dragged me and I’m drunk so I’m gonna be the dude at the back who goes BOOOOOOOOO!” you know you don’t have any of that, you have just your die-hards and the room’s full and that vibe, that particular kind of energy is the shit, and that’s why I like venues this size. Y’know, if you are able to do that with ten thousand people that’s great but any size room it’s the best feeling.

B: It’s interesting because most indie rappers from the UK would struggle to sell this out to be honest.

G: No shit?

B: Do you follow UK hip-hop at all?

G: No, not really. I mean, I know Dizzee Rascal. I was watching some of your music channels in the hotel bar yesterday, not MTV but it was just all pop and mainstream stuff and like, I’d never heard of any of the popstars on there. But it was quite different to our stuff, it was all like hot chicks with tattoos and like, heavy dance stuff.

B: Yeah the whole dubstep thing has gone through the roof here, as well as in the US of course with like of Skrillex and people.

G: Oh shit yeah and like, I heard a bit on a Rihanna song the other day and of course the whole Britney Spears thing a while back.

B: Is that something you’d go in for? I mean your album is very much bespoke in terms of sound. It doesn’t tend to use samples and pre made pieces so much, do you care a lot about that?

G: No I do, I care a lot about that. Music has to be cohesive from the lyrics to the instrumentation; it should all feel like it fits. Yeah the last album Together / Apart had no samples, 88 Keys And Counting had a few samples on it.

B: Yeah that’s got the Tom Waits sample ‘Dirt In The Ground’ on it right?

G: Oh yeah that’s on ‘Irreversible’ we took it off the Bone Machine album. I mean I sample, I sample for inspiration a lot. Sometimes I find I’ll just be taking bits of vocal out or some instrumentation or something. I’ll go and buy like, the most shitty records, listen to them, maybe I’ll sample them, chop parts of the sample out and layer it all up just to fill up that negative space in the background.

B: Are you musically trained at all then?

G: Self taught really. If I hear something I can sit there and replicate it… It might take me a while but I can do it. I don’t really care how long it takes, you know I got nothing better to do. That’s kinda my musical process I suppose.

B: Right, is it just a matter or noodling about, or do you start with a plan like “I’m going to write a song about…”

G: I try not to do that because when I say “I need to write a song about this” I kind of box myself in, I go with the feel, like er, a mood. You know you have piano in the background which is, say, haunting, but the drums are kind of hard, but it’s still melodic so it’s like, what does this remind me of? How do I match my first line? Something haunting or poetic then a lot of the times it just works it’s way into what’s happening.

B: Yeah because your stuff is really honest. Do you find it, not embarrassing to play, but do you get self conscious about performing it in front of people? There must be a big jump from writing it alone with your headphones on to a room full of people.

G: I mean there’s always this thing of when you first play songs like that in front of people who have never heard you before it can be a little uncomforting I guess. Like we went on tour with T-Pain in the United States and that’s like, you know, a strange clash. There was also Gym Class Heroes on it, that helped us out because they’re more, y’know Travie (McCoy, Gym Class Heroes emcee) is pretty open in his music and lyrics by pop terms, and his fans, they’re cool, they’re young kids though, so not that they don’t get it but they don’t wanna be honest about that emotional stuff, they’ll be like (adopting a faux-gruff voice) “that’s gay, that’s so gay, you’re stupid, you’re a bitch” and it’s a bit like A: I’ll kill all you. B: Shut the fuck up, you don’t know what you’re talking about. So it was kind of uncomforting but we found a way to do it. Although my music is on the more melodramatic side of things sometimes, there is a lot of humour in my life. I don’t usually express it in my music but I like to have fun, I like to party really hard, so we brought that energy to the stage and worked it around the songs and the kids were like (adopting an airhead girl who probably keeps a dog in a handbag’s voice) “Yay I like this, this is kinda fun” so it’s like sugaring the pill you know. We sugared the more bitter medicine for those kids and it really worked. The scene that happened after that tour, seeing all the kids respond to it, being like “oh man” and discovering this kind of music was just beautiful. Y’know we’re not gonna get all of them but if we play in front of five thousand kids a night we are going to connect with a lot more younger people.

B: I was gonna say, because a lot of the Rhymesayers label stuff is quite intellectual for a younger audience, people like yourself and Aesop Rock, it’s not the easiest thing to digest.

G: Yeah. You know I think it’s harder for younger kids, I mean these were like young kids, I’m talking like 13.

B: Can they even get into venues for gigs and that over there?

G: Well yeah because we were like playing to arenas, I mean like T Pain is huge and Gym Class Heroes, it was big, it was like the biggest venues that we’ve ever played. But getting to expose ourselves to err… No that sounds fucked up. “Getting to expose ourselves to kids is great!” But getting access to that market, and getting to give them that sugar coated pill was great because Rhymesayers reach a lot of people, but getting to break into that market can be really, really hard. Those kids are there because they listen to the radio, or because their friend listens to the radio, because they think it’s cool. They hear what other kids are listening to and they listen to it… And those kids were only listening to it because they heard it on the fucking radio. It’s not that all kids are this way, but when you’re that age you are influenced by the things around you more so it’s hard for them to find something like Rhymesayers unless it’s really prominent in your school or the friends that you run with, so that’s why a lot of kids listen to radio; they don’t know any better. Sometimes we get on the radio too, but a lot of that top 40 music is popular because it’s force fed. It’s right there, in front of your face, you can’t avoid it… And it’s catchy. Every kid likes that, they don’t want to think about it, they just need that feeling.

B: Oh yeah, see I can never tolerate the success of Rick Ross in that respect, the mind boggles really for me.

G: Yeah exactly, you just dangle a carrot and a horse is gonna want it.

B: You see I didn’t realise for a while how big he is over in America, I mean he’s absolutely massive.

G: Huge. He is huge.

B: You see I’ve always listened to him in an ironic context to be fair, and I do enjoy it.

G: You see I think we do too. I think that’s what it is, but you do it long enough that you LIKE it. Y’know it’s like… Lil Wayne. At first I was like, man fuck this guy, this is retarded, are you kidding me? Then after a while it was… You make a joke of it long enough and it ends up becoming a part of you and I think some of that music is doing that… At least for me, you know I could be severely wrong. But that’s my personal opinion.

B: No I can totally get with that, the majority of my life boils down to a joke. But also he’s got such good beats that you just can’t escape.

G: Yeah like Rick Ross, the hit squad he’s got, people like Lex Luger, those symphonies on Maybach Music are just so tight it’s ridiculous.

B: Where do you stand with the new squad of favourites, people like Drake and The Weeknd, because that’s more, sort of expressionist and emotive, closer to your style a little bit.

G: The Weeknd, I really liked that record a lot but erm, Drake. I’m not feeling him really. That’s kinda whiney to me it’s all (lets out a series of nasally noises alarming close to sounding like a Drake record)… In fact it sounds a bit like he’s coming, but in a really pansy way…

B: Yea, no one wants to be the man who cries afterwards

G: Yea, I don’t know it’s not really my cup of tea. I do appreciate that he brings that kind of honesty into that realm of music but sonically it’s just not working for me.

B: Personally I don’t think he’s that honest, I think it’s a well constructed front.

G: Yeah but he brings emotion either way, that’s a scary thing in that young pop world. He brings a lot of emotion to the table and I think that’s good. It’s good for kids to see a grown man not be afraid to say “love” and be expressive. But as far as the music goes, my palette isn’t going to take to that.

B: Does that commerce side of things ever enter into your stuff? I mean like, obviously bottom line is you’ve got to make a living out of it, so do you try and keep an ear in with that stuff?

G: Errrrrm, I want to. But I don’t. I just, I have so much rap in my life it’s just a bit of a rap overload but I’ve been thinking a lot, and I was talking with Budo [Budo is Grieves producer and live instrumentalist onstage] about this earlier, that I want to bring more hip-hop back into my life. Not that I’m losing yet, but I don’t want to lose it. I want to listen to all the stuff that get me so excited about all this in the first place still, and then slip a little of this new stuff in there because I just don’t listen to the new stuff. Some of it I really don’t like, I’ve heard a lot of it, but I haven’t listened to it like album to album, I’ll just hear the odd song and be like “huh”. Hearing Slug talk about it was something that kind of turned me around on a lot of it because I guess I was looking at the behaviour of these artists, you know they’re much younger, and they’re crazy and wild which is cool and shit, but, I don’t know something about it wasn’t working for me, you know like A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar… I still can’t get on Kendrick Lamar, Budo came around and he’s a fan now but that’s just not clicking for me. No matter how many times you turn the key I don’t think that one’s gonna start for me. One thing that Slug said that I’d failed to look at, and I think I should more often before I start judging that music, is its important what some of them are doing because they are bringing weirdness back to art. They’re bringing obscurity back and these kids are still fucking selling out shows and its not just like “my money, my money, my car, my car” I mean that is just some clichéd shit but they are bringing some obscurity back and I like art when it’s weird man, art is self expression, it shouldn’t be about how dope you are all the time. You know if you gotta stroke your dick every once in a while fine, but I think he (Slug) was right about one thing at least it’s a bit different.

B: Yea, I suppose Odd Future are a prime example of that.

G: Totally. I mean I’m not a fan but they are bringing weird shit back, I mean the muthafucka has black contacts in and he’s rapping about fucking devils and stuff. You couldn’t do that two years ago on a main stream level. Those kids got a Puff Daddy co-sign! You just couldn’t do that two years ago and I think that’s cool man.

B: How do you feel towards a lot of the old acts now? I mean I came up listening to Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, and a lot of old gangster rap like Wu-Tang. It’s funny that you were playing ‘Cam’ron’ in soundcheck earlier, I literally haven’t heard that dude since Purple Haze (his 2004 album) and its always a bit sad when you hear them attempt to jump on a bandwagon and fail.

G: Hip-hop changed man, it just changed. I mean, Del can still be Del, Del can still be the weird muthafucker because that’s always been his shit and he’ll always be able to make a living off that, and the residuals he’s making off that Gorillaz album can probably feed his family forever and that’s cool. You know he created a really good name with the Hiero crew and, that kind of hip-hop? We’re the ones buying all those records. Trying to get that to other people is hard you know, like we were saying. All the A$AP Rocky, Odd Future, Rick Ross stuff, that’s now hip-hop to them you know. Hip-hop just changed. My opinion on it changing isn’t like “I’m the most hip-hop head” I mean, I’m really into bands and that, I’m always hearing a little bit of everything and I never really came up religiously on hip-hop, but what I see from when I was in high school to now? Look at Dilated Peoples, they were fucking huge, they were on what? Capitol? They were on a major label, huge, worldwide and with that kind of hip-hop, you can’t do that today.

B: It’s the same with a lot of the old gangster stuff too, I remember when people like DMX were clocking places in the UK charts.

G: It’s funny we were talking about DMX just yesterday too. He couldn’t do that stuff now,

B: Yeah, from what I’ve seen he’s gone completely off the rails mentally of late as well.

G: He’s been on reality TV shows now.

B: Really?!! I did not know that.

G: Oh yea, couples therapy. Celebrity Couples Therapy.

B: (After giggling hysterically like a toddler who just wet himself) That is amazing… It always pains me a bit, when I see my old heroes like Reverend Run, doing that sort of thing.

G: Yeah but think about those guys when they all started. You know they were the entrepreneurs, who did it all themselves. They’re just finding a new way. A new hustle, and I give them a lot of credit for that.

B: Yea, I suppose so actually. Is that something you’d go in for? The whole reality thing?

G: There is no way they would want me on those shows. They would never get me to take it seriously… But I’m there, like.. Fuck it. I feel like I’d be fun, but I don’t know if they’d want it to be fun. They want it to be serious.

B: I just love the application of the word reality, legally I’m not sure they can even use that word to sell them anymore can they?

G: Dude it’s all produced, they do takes, like, seven takes of “I can’t believe you fucked my sister…” and then be like, nah that wasn’t believable enough. Do it again.

B: I think it’s the way all TV should go. Ridiculously scripted reality. So no one has any concept of what’s actually going on anymore.

G: That’s the way it should go, because then it’ll all crash, and there won’t be any TV anymore. Which will be great for me because I can’t afford it anyway so bam. Fixed.

B: What direction are you going in next to make some TV money? Have you got a new album in the pipe?

G: Yea I like that, new album in the pipe… Nah we don’t really have a direction, we just make a shit load of songs and keep going back through them and usually end up like ‘Oh, we made a lot of songs in that vein’ so we then listen to those songs and try to keep working in that vein and that’s how Budo and I seem to be our most cohesive.

At this point a case of beer is brought in by a considerate member of Xoyo staff, followed by a quick discussion about how much is enough (apparently Grieves initial request of 400 can’t quite be met)

B: Do the label as a whole interfere much in the way you work when making an album and that?

G: Not so much, not really. I mean, you can’t force art. Well you can, but it tends to not come out so well. They try to work with you, it’s like; “realistically when do you think you can get a record done?” And I’ll be like “I don’t know” and they’ll be like “okay well how long will it take you to get, say, thirty songs?” and if I do a couple songs a week that’s however many weeks and then we can cut it down from thirty or forty songs and we’ll have a bit more of a direction, and however long it might have taken to make those thirty songs we’ll do that time again, by that point you’re probably sitting with most of a record so then they’ll get it in the big studio and chisel it down and then you can really start talking about release dates and art. Art is always a big hangup, for us at least. It’s a pain in the ass to find good designers. We found one on the last record, and I think I’m gonna stick with them because what they did with that record was amazing, the way the pack all folded out and stuff.

B: I’ve noticed Rhymesayers also take a lot of time and care with music videos too, I noticed off your last album there was maybe five or six tracks with videos?

G: Five.. Maybe. Dude they had my ass on planes coast to coast to go and do all that stuff. Then I was almost sexually harassed on Twitter by this girl, saying all this strange shit to me, I thought it was awesome, I thought it was really funny then she was like, “for real though, when can we shoot a video for you?” And I was like “you do videos? Send me a reel.” Then they came out to meet us and did this little piece called ‘In The Shadow Of A Giant’ I think, and it was just little piece where we were sat backstage like this and they were just casually asking me questions and it was just really like, super casual, but the way that he cut that thing together made it like super emotional and really powerful so I just said “lets do videos” and they ended up doing ‘Lightspeed’ and ‘Against The Bottom’ for us, and they did the DVD on the deluxe package of Together / Apa