Grieves: The RAPstation Interview

Grieves - The RAPstation Interview By Kyle Eustice The Seattle-based emcee, Grieves (real name Benjamin Laub), made his Rhymesayers Entertainment debut in 2010 with 88 Keys and Counting. Since then, he's been touring the world and writing lyrics as a way to deal with the every day stresses that life throws at him. His most recent album, 2014's Winter & the Wolves finds Grieves on a different path, one full of neo-soul influences and soulful singing—lots of singing. It's a bit of a departure from previous efforts, but nonetheless it works and seemingly showcases his growth as an artist. As he gears up for the Winter & the Wolves tour part deux, or as he calls it, the "Different Kind of Wild" tour, Grieves took some time to talk to RAPstation about his newfound passion for singing, his creative process and Rhymesayers. RAPstation (Kyle Eustice): On this new album, I've noticed you're singing more. You have a great voice and I had no idea. Grieves: Thank you. Was that a conscious choice or did it just seem to fit? It's just where I am. Musically, it's something I'm more interested in and caters more to the music I like to listen to. It's a lot more involved than just rapping. I'm not really feeling it anymore. I don't know. It's just way things are going creatively. I've noticed that you like to write more of a concept record where you sit down with a producer and actually hatch out the idea. What goes into your songwriting process like? B. Lewis was the main producer on the record. He did a lot of work with the Bad Rabbits out of Boston. He's kind of a jack-of-all-trades and can do anything. I was interested in working with him because of all the singing stuff and my interest in the neo-soul stuff. I wanted to take a step in that direction. He also makes a lot of hip-hop and EDM stuff. I wanted to kind of incorporate all that. He was a good mix for me. It was a new decision or step for me, but it didn't feel out of place or like I was stepping out of bounds. How did you guys meet? We met through the Bad Rabbits. I was on Warped Tour with them. B. Lewis is from the West Coast, too. In our last interview, we were talking about your undeniable sense of humor in person despite the fact that you make such serious music. You said, "I think it blows people's minds. I don't think they expect such light-heartedness from such heavy-hearted songs. That's the only time that I'm like that - when I'm writing. That's what music is for me. Everything else is a fu*king joke!" I love that quote. Is music your catharsis? [Laughs]. That's my time to be serious and to confront things to understand myself and other things around me. Of course, there are personal times when it's not a fucking joke. But I see artists act so seriously and it's so stupid. They're putting on this mask like, 'I'm this deep complicated person and my music is just a way to explain it to you in layman's terms.' Fuck all that. Dude, you're traveling around, getting drunk and playing music in front of people, feeding your ego, and you're having a fun time. Just relax. Be happy you don't have to work a shitty, dead-end job. Even though sometimes music is a shitty, dead end job, it's still the one that you want to be doing. I just feel like people that try to put on this serious artist face, it's so stupid and then they wonder why people don't give a shit. 
 Well, exactly, because you're being phony. People like to relate to more than just one thing. People like to listen to my serious songs and relate to it, but if they met me in person and I'm like, 'You can't grasp me right now,' they're not going to feel that. They aren't super complicated people either. We all have our issues and we all need to address things. We all need to be comfortable doing it. If they meet somebody that's super fucking serious, that's not a comfortable experience for anybody. It would be nice to know that a person who has inspired you to feel a certain way is also someone you could relate to in a normal situation. I couldn't agree more. I really like the song, "Recluse." The song is about you, right? Have you gone through this lately? Not wanting to do interviews or hang out with people? Yeah, I mean there have definitely been those times after two years of touring a record where I just needed to be alone. It was kind of a humorous approach to it. It's not like everything in that song is dead-on and I'm locked in a room ignoring everybody and drinking beer. It's harnessing that emotion and playing off it. I needed some "me" time. It's also clear to me that you’ve gone through a break up of some sort. Is that right? Yeah, it just kind of happened. When? That's too personal. Well, I'm just trying to decipher your mindset when you were writing this record. I was dealing with some relevant issues at the time, as I tend to do from time to time [laughs]. You did a song with Slug and this is obviously a Rhymesayers record. How's the relationship with the label going? You've said they are like family to you so is it still going as well as it was a couple of years ago? I think it's a really good place for me musically. It's part of the reason I am where I am musically, just in general. It's because of them. Being able to contribute to that is something that I thrive on and appreciate. I need that in my life. It's nice to be a part of something that you respect so much. It's still an independent thing. If I was doing this on my own, it would feel more like a struggle than a contribution. I know Brother Ali is one of your favorite emcees and he contributed to Together/Apart. Have you collaborated recently? It's been awhile since we talked. He's been on his own grind. I think over the summer he went and learned Arabic. Yes, he was in the Bay. He's been doing that and I've been trying to get everything together. We had a big fire last year at our studio in Seattle. Wow what? A fire? How far did that set you back? 
A lot. It was pretty bad. I'm sorry to hear that. It's ok. Tell me about the "Different Kind of Wild" Tour. What's that about? We're still trying to play off the Winter & the Wolves because you know we haven't hit these cities on the initial tour. I thought it was a cool play on words. Kind of like Part 2? Yeah, it's a different kind of Winter & the Wolves tour [laughs]. I like the cover and the feel of the record. Are you happy with the kind of feedback you've received? It's nice that people are still with me after such a long hiatus. It's hard to call it a hiatus even though that's probably what you'd call it on paper, but Together/Apart just kept reinventing itself so many times that I was working that record this whole entire time. It's been almost three years, but Together/Apart was becoming a new record for people monthly and at such an accelerated rate that I had to keep touring on it. I really liked the song "Like Child" and it shows you're a really good writer. I think that's what's missing in hip-hop these days; the ability to tell a good story. Have you always been interested in writing? 
When it hit me, I knew it was something. I'm not into literature and I'm not a big reader, I don't know, I don't write in any other format, but when the music is on and everything, that's when it happens for me. I think I used to try more when I was younger. I'd be like, 'oh I'm just crushing note pads.' For me, I know that's where it comes out for me. I don't want to exasperate it. Well, the writing is solid. What does it mean to be able to put these words on paper and be able to share it with so many people? It's a blessing. To me, this is just how I express myself. It's not necessarily something that needs to be shared with the world, but it's something that is a positive thing. I'm not going to fight that. As long as it's beneficial for both parties, I'd love to continue to do it. It's a good release for me and I've noticed through my travels, it's an amazing thing to connect with somebody over that. The idea being when I say something I'm not saying it directly. I'm not like, "I have a problem with alcohol" because then you're singling people or certain things out. When you're able to talk about things in a more poetic or open way, people are willing to find their own meaning and own solutions. It may not be what you're currently combating, but "Like Child" doesn't need to mean the same thing to everyone. Then you don't have a whole crowd thinking the same thing. Maybe it reinvents itself over time. I'm huge on that.