Shortly into a recent interview with the Santa Barbara Independent, Grant Kwiecinski was asked about his “revolutionary” transformation from deejay to bandleader. “You said the word,” he replied with a modest chuckle. GRiZ, as he is known, used to spend most of his time in basements watching friends deejay. “When I was a kid, I was a really bad collaborator,” he said. “I was pretty introverted.”
Now, onstage he regularly faces thousands of adoring fans.
Introspection lends itself to deejaying, in which GRiZ excelled. In 2011, while in his early twenties, GRiZ released his debut album, End of the World Party. Its success led him to support major electronic artists such as Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, and Gramatik. He came out with four more albums, most recently Good Will Prevail. What he called “future funk” became wildly successful.
But deep down, he wondered, “Who made the GRiZ thing?”
Just before a two-night stand at Red Rocks in Colorado in early September, he decided to do something different. He realized he had amazing people at his disposal and got rid of the computer. “We’re going to have real live human beings playing shit,” he said. “Let’s empower these people for themselves.”
GRiZ, who plays the saxophone, orchestrated the 12-piece band. “It was just like experiencing these musical moments with all of these people,” he said. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had onstage.”
His fans were blown away. He announced that one night of his 12 Days of GRiZmas show would be a live band.
Not all of GRiZ’s transformations are about music. He has recently used his platform to spread socially conscious messages. Earlier this year, he penned an op-ed about his difficult experience of hiding his homosexuality during high school in Detroit, Michigan. “My anxiety was so overpowering that for a year I was taking Prozac trying to convince a shrink, and myself, that I was straight,” he wrote. “At the peak of it, I was wearing a heart monitor strapped to my chest to make sure I wasn’t having heart murmurs. I was slowly turning into a robot on the inside and out.”
He found solace in his college years, and he came to realize “it is totally cool to be gay.” “I have always been very interested in thinking deeply about things,” he told the Independent. “I do this a lot.”
Whether or not it is in fact “revolutionary” to transform from a deejay to a bandleader is in some ways beside the point. GRiZ’s fans show up in droves to see him perform, and they clearly plan to support his music, whatever form it takes. Ever since he was a teenager, music has been his safe haven. That’s the message he wants to share with his fans, whoever they are, wherever they are. “You need to be able to communicate your feelings,” he said. “We need to be able to do that to feel empowered.”
GRiZ plays the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) on Sunday, October 15, at 6 p.m. Call (805) 962-7411 or see sbbowl.com.