Monday, October 3, 2011

Grieves on Motown, his new album, Together/Apart, and the 'emo' label; show with Budo tonight at Jackpot

The rapper lays down new tracks.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 8:15 AM

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Rapper Grieves (real name Benjamin Laub), has been reporting live from the grind for the past several years as an opening act for fellow Rhymesayers notables such as Atmosphere and P.O.S. The Seattle native released 2007’s Irreversible on his own, then teamed up with producer, friend and multi-instrumentalist, Budo, for 2008’s 88 Keys and Counting. They have rarely been apart since. The duo’s latest effort, Together/Apart, is a well-written narrative set to Budo’s signature, multifaceted beats. Grieves recently took a break from his first headlining national tour to talk with The Pitch.

The Pitch: The last time I saw you, you were opening for P.O.S. in Albuquerque. What is it like headlining your own tour this time around?

Grieves: It’s cool. For us, it’s been a test to see what we’ve been building up over the years by opening up for Atmosphere, P.O.S. and all that stuff. It’s been a way for us to see firsthand the work we’ve done, so it’s cool and very flattering. We’ve spent several, several years putting in a shitload of work, some it counterproductive, some of it really good. The past two years have been really good work. So, uh, it’s really gratifying to get out here and see these crowds we’ve really been working for.

Is there any new pressure now that you’re the headliner?

Yeah, it’s different. You want to do good because with the responsibility of the headliner comes stuff like paying a sound guy, a manager, a merch guy, and I want to be able to pay everybody so they can afford to do this as a living as much as I can.

How did signing with Rhymesayers come about?

When I decided to move on from what I was doing, I ended up on the phone with Siddiq [Rhymesayers’ CEO] and talking about what my options were as an independent artist and the time that I had wasted, the time I wanted to make up for and what I could do. One thing led to another, and we started talking about what it would be like for me over at Rhymesayers, and in came the negotiations.

What do you mean when you say you “wasted time”?

I spent a year or two of my life doing some counterproductive stuff. It wasn’t a happy time for me. At the time when I went over to Rhymesayers, that was the turnaround. It was where I started to do things for me, stuff that made me a lot happier. And I love this experience.

So you turned a new leaf with the signing?

Definitely.

How do you feel about being compared to Atmosphere?

I don’t really get it, to be honest. I think the closest thing we have in common is I’m on his label, but I think we make much different music. We both make honest music, but I don’t think my records sound anything like Atmosphere records. That’s also from the perspective of I’ve been listening to Slug’s records for years, and I really don’t see the comparison, but there are worse things to be compared to. He’s an amazing artist, so I’ll take it! Thank you.

How tired are you of hearing the word “emo” attached to your music or other artists on Rhymesayers?

I think it’s stupid. I think that word comes from people that are fu*king idiots. Like, are you going to call Al Green ‘emo?’ Is a grown man being honest about his situations and his feelings ‘emo'? No. If you think it is, you’re an idiot.

[Laughs.] I’d have to agree with you there. In the sea of rappers today, how are you unique?

There are a shitload of rappers out there, but I don’t concern myself with the things that rappers do or that whole lifestyle. I don’t even listen to that much hip-hop. I just think if an individual makes good music, they stand behind what they do and believe in what they do, I think that will stand out to people. Especially for the people that purely enjoy listening to music. That’s what both Budo and I do. When we sit down to make a record, we craft these songs and put everything into it. For me, it’s not like, ‘yo, I’m gonna kick some raps, sling some beats and write some raps over this shit.’ We talk about song structure and building these things into the masterpieces we want them to be. It goes so much more than kicking a couple of phat flows. [Laughs.]

That’s true with performing live as well. How do you and Budo make sure there is energy in your sets?

That’s easy. Gasoline and a lighter. [Laughs.]

How do you and Budo play off each other onstage?

Budo plays a lot of instruments during the set just like he does on the record. What we do is almost re-create the songs onstage. Rather than rehearsing or reciting the songs onstage, it’s more like we’re re-creating them onstage. So the energy is there just for that moment.

How were you feeling the day Together/Apart dropped? Were you nervous?

Oh, yeah, we were both nervous as shit. We were overworked and tired as hell. We had been awake for three days. They put us on this crazy press junket where we put the record out in Seattle, played a release show the night before, hopped on a plane at 5 a.m. the next morning, flew out to Minneapolis, did a release show there, then hopped on a plane at 6 a.m. and flew out to New York, did some press, then did another release show in Union Square, then hopped on a plane at 6 a.m. the morning after that and went to Dallas to start the Warped Tour. So by the time we got to Texas, I think we forgot what our own names were. We just put out the greatest achievement of our lives. Then we went on the Warped Tour, which was amazing, but it was a grind and it was a hustle. It was very far removed from our core fanbase. We had people buying the album and kind of building that momentum, but we were a little removed from it. The reality is right now with this headlining tour is really the first time we are really getting in touch with our core fanbase and the folks that went out the day it came out. Some of that delayed gratification is hitting us right now. It didn’t diminish over the past few months. It kind of grew in force, so I’ve been forced into being patient to get our dessert.

It’s got to be a pretty surreal experience. It must be pretty crazy to have all of these fans screaming for you.

It is crazy, but it’s good. It makes them happy and it makes us happy. It’s a symbiotic circle of smiles.

You mentioned you don’t listen to much hip-hop, so what do you listen to these days?

I’m a Motown and neo-soul kind of guy lately. I’m getting in touch with my sexy, girl!

You’re predicted to be a breakout star this year. Is there any pressure there?

Nah, nah. I don’t say that with a sense of ego, I don’t really care whatever label gets attached to us. We’re out here making music and connecting with fans. There’s an organic community of people that’s growing bit by bit, and that’s what we’re dedicated to doing. We’re not really interested in being break-out artists and some level of mediocre rise to fame. We’re interested in engaging in what we've been engaging in for the past few years, which is a slow steady build based on building a community of people that will go to a show, buy a T-shirt or get a record.

So you’re more concerned with longevity?

100 percent. Yo, yo, yo, yo!! Sorry, we just hit a tree with the van. [Laughs.]

Occupational hazard?

[Laughs.] Yes. But, hey, we really do appreciate what we’re able to do.

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