Interview with Grieves | By Tim Anderl
Seattle rapper and producer Benjamin Laub – better known by his stage name, Grieves – reemerged with his fifth studio album, Running Wild, out via Rhymesayers Entertainment, following a brief respite after the tour cycle for Winter and the Wolves.
“The older I get, the more I learn from music,” he observes. “Taking the time off that I did helped me find the things that I wanted sonically for Running Wild. I feel like blending classic vibes with some of the new sounds I hear coming out today helped me really dial myself in. I’ve always been a sucker for a smooth melody and a strong message.”
“I feel like I’m actually taking it back to the basics,” he adds. “Back when we were all younger and hungry, I used to be in the studio every moment I wasn’t at work or chasing some girl. There was always, like, five or six local cats around the studio at any given time, and everybody was just creating. I miss that; I miss that energy and that music. This time around, I turned to the creative and beautiful community around me once again to achieve some of that magic.”
To help him forge ahead in this new direction, Grieves enlisted Swedish producer Chords – born Jens Eric Resch Thomason – who dialed in classic soul sounds and mixed them with more modern, experimental components.
“I’ve wanted to work with Chords from the first time I sat down in his studio he used to have in Brooklyn,” Grieves recalls. “I remember listening to all the tracks he was playing and just being in awe. At that time, Budo, [a.k.a. Josh Karp], and I were steady in the studio creating [2011’s] Together/Apart, so I never had the chance to sit down and work with Chords. Fast forward a couple years, and you find Chords and I working on the bonus track for Winter and the Wolves, ‘Death of Me.’ He was in town, and we decided to hit the studio and whip something up. After that experience, I knew I wanted to pen a full-length with this dude. His ability to translate my thoughts and ideas is unlike anyone I’ve ever worked with.”
“I love the diversity of this record,” Grieves continues proudly. “We got jazz tracks, we got love songs, we got hip hop songs, and we got very modern-sounding tracks. With all those separate sounds, it’s sometimes hard to make them sit pretty next to each other. Not with Running Wild, though – everything fits perfectly and organically.”
In typical Grieves fashion, the MC’s music walks a tightrope between making keen and poignant observations about the world and recognizing the benefits of having a good time. One of his more serious cuts, “RX,” debuted in July.
“I’m no stranger to wearing my heart on my sleeve with my music,” he admits. “I’d say the difference with ‘RX’ is I talk about my panic and anxiety issues over a background that made me very uncomfortable at first. When Chords and I finally got this beat done, I turned to him and said, ‘This is tight, but I don’t think I can get away with a track like this.’ He told me to do me and fuck what other people expect me to do. That’s why I chose this subject for this song. No better way to confront your insecurities than by diving head first into ‘em. I know it will challenge the listeners as well; it’s only natural to push someone’s boundaries while crossing your own.”
Despite tackling some serious subject matter, he also manages to spit a few bars about his favorite beverage, Templeton Rye whiskey, although he’s unsure if there’s a sponsorship from the company in his future.
“I love that shit,” he exclaims. “A dear friend of mine ran into the owner at some bar. He sent me a care package that had, like, an XXL t-shirt, a dad hat, and a sticker or some shit. Definitely not a bottle of that good good, though. Have to say, I was kinda bummed,” he laughs.