Grieves is the moniker of Seattle-based rapper Benjamin Laub, signed to iconic hip hop label Rhymesayers. Grieves grew up in Chicago and Fort Collins, CO, eventually deciding to relocate to Seattle at 19 where he became immersed in the local hip hop community. After releasing his debut album Irreversible in 2007, Grieves began working with Budo, a talented fixture of the Seattle hip hop scene known for his instrumental and beat-making skills. 88 Keys & Counting, released in 2010, was the first result of Budo and Grieves collaboration. After intense touring, the duo released Together/Apart in 2011, another album of sample-free production and affecting narratives. Grieves and Budo continued to tour relentlessly following their second effort together, including stops all over Europe with Atmosphere and other highly respected rappers.
Signed to iconic underground hip hop label Rhymesayers, Seattle-based rapper Grieves writes highly evocative personal narratives. With the help of partner in crime Budo, a talented multi-instrumentalist and producer, the duo have released two organic and arresting full-lengths. Just days after returning from a European tour with label mates Atmosphere, we chatted with Grieves and Budo about Europe, life on the road, and why they don’t use any samples.
Band of the Day: Question: You guys have been on tour in Europe for a while, how'd that go?
Budo: It was wonderful, a pretty different experience from touring the states for sure.
Grieves: For us, we've done so much touring in the states, that taking it there feels like we're doing it for the first time again. We went from our headlining tour playing an hour and a half pretty much, to playing 30 minutes at doors and people couldn't even understand what the f*ck we were saying half the time. But it was all based off the energy, it was a really good experience, I loved it.
Band of the Day: Any highlights of the experience?
Grieves: For me London, it being our first show overseas. We had done a short run with Brother Ali, but it being the first time on this tour and the first one in London and it was packed out the doors, people were excited and the energy was in the room. As the first show was, so was the last one in Copenhagen. So those two shows really stand out as a really solid beginning and end to the tour.
Budo: Yeah London and Copenhagen were special. For some reason Berlin was a really special experience. I remember poking out my head out into the crowd and seeing about 10 people in the audience in a 1200 capacity room.
Grieves: Was that the one that we thought was going to suck and we were getting ready for nobody and …
Budo: Yeah, and we walked out and there were 1200 German people standing there. It was pretty cool. But each show, because we were in such different contexts each day, was like flipping through this really cool picture book and having a different chapter everyday. All the shows were sold out it was a pretty incredible experience. Like Grieves was saying, it was our first experience there on a large scale to be introduced in those markets. I think we're both so grateful for that, to be able to walk onto a stage in Zurich, Switzerland in front of 1,000 people having never been to Switzerland your whole life is a pretty lucky experience.
Band of the Day: Did you get the sense that language was much of a barrier and that people were reacting more to the music and less to the lyrics than in the States?
Grieves: In some places, definitely Germany was a place where it was an energy thing. I realized this because I talk a lot, I do a lot of bullsh*t banter, and I tell jokes that out here in the States that people get, but there it was just like, “hahaha I know that that was a joke but I don't really know that you're saying!”
Budo: Yeah, there was definitely a cognitive dissonance, but it's cool, it's not like they don't want to enjoy themselves, some of those cues like when to laugh, when to raise your hands in the air, when to do all those crowd participation things that happen by default in the States because people understand what you're saying. It's kind of funny standing on stage and hearing Grieves tell a joke and you know it's a good joke that should make a lot of people react or whatever, and a lot people will stop talking and stare and not know what to do!
Grieves: It was cool, I think being able to go over there and rock a crowd legitimately that's never heard your music before, doesn't really speak your language, doesn't know your jokes or your humor, anything about you, and be able to captivate those people like we were doing, that sh*t is beautiful. That felt good. That felt really really good.
Band of the Day: What keeps bringing you back to Seattle?
Grieves: On tour when people are like, I have to figure out where to go, I'm feeling sick I have to go to the doctor, I have to buy this certain item, I need to know where to go, you're always asking questions. You can't just be like, oh I'll go to this place around the corner from my house. Oh, my friend's got one of these. I miss that a lot and that's what I have in Seattle. My friends are here, my roots are here. My house is here, my stuff is here. The stuff that I make my albums on is here. That's where I want to be. And I miss that from touring as much as we do it actually becomes a very tangible thing, I miss that sh*t. A lot of people don't think about that stuff because they have it everyday, so they think about what I'm doing. “Oh well, I'd kill to have your life,” Yeah, well I'd kill to sit on my ass and play video games for four hours.
Budo: It's funny the things that...we're living in this parallel universe where things that people lust after and want, like a nice meal at a restaurant, going to hotel somewhere or traveling around, or you know, hanging out at a party every night, all those things that are a permanent fixture of our day to day existence are things that a lot of people want and it's not that we don't want them, but that's our norm. For us, for me what I want is a home cooked meal, a bed in a house, and a shower. To not go out. The things that you want as a kid, and we're doing that in so many ways. We have in front of us what we've always wanted. A career in music which is amazing, fans which are amazing, and music that we like, and the ability to travel and all these great, great things that we're so lucky to have and I think that we're both very appreciative of, but the more you have those things the more it turns your...your perspective changes.
Band of the Day: Being on the road so much do you feel connected to the Seattle hip hop scene?
Grieves: Yeah, I totally do. I cut my teeth here, I learned my work ethic here. I learned stage presence here, I learned politics here. I learned how to settle a show here, I learned about money here. I definitely feel connected with the hip hop scene here, it taught me what I know, it taught me so well that I was able to take it out of here and share that with the world.
Band of the Day: A lot of your lyrics are pretty personal, how do you navigate the line between writing strictly autobiographic lyrics and incorporating elements of fiction? Do they cross over?
Grieves: I just paint a picture of how I'm feeling in my head and I talk about that picture. It's not like I have to be like “I took a left on 83rd/and I drove up four blocks,/and I took a right on Greenwood.” It's more like, I took some lefts and I took some rights and I end up where I didn't need to go. But it's truth with kind of leaving it up for interpretation for other people. I don't want it to all be about me. That's not how it should be, if other people are buying these records and gathering things from these songs I think it's important that they’re able to assess that and can contribute it to their own life and their own experiences. You don't need to take a left on 83rd and go up four blocks and take a right on Greenwood. You can take your lefts and take your rights and end up where you need to be.
Band of the Day: The production on your records sounds very fluid and organic, and I think a lot of that comes from the fact that you don't use samples. Can you talk a little bit about your decision to not use samples?
Grieves: I think it was just a progression. It was hard for us to get what we wanted out of samples as far as Budo and I's idea of melody and harmony. And, when we're not using samples we get exactly what we want. We create that space that we want instead of being victims to them. Samples are awesome too, we grab a lot of inspiration from that, we used samples as inspiration on Together/Apart, we just didn't use the actual sample. We just kind of redid it our way. Which is cool and really fun, to have someone as talented as Budo who can pretty much recreate that, and if he can't he knows somebody who can, and I think that's sweet. It makes it more fun, it makes the studio so much more fun.
Band of the Day: Any parting words? Was it pretty exciting when you realized you could be a full time musician?
Grieves: Well yeah, I fcking love my job, it's the sht, it's not something that I ever thought I'd get to do and now that I am, I'm like, this is dope. As far as parting words go, thank you to everyone and anyone that took time out of their day to listen to our records, that took $10 out of their wallets to purchase one of our records. That allows us to continue to keep making music. A lot of people think, ah I'm helping you pay for this crazy-ass lifestyle, but man, my life style is, I live in a van pretty much while I'm traveling around the country. I'm not ballin'. I don't have cars. I don't have money. But by buying our records, you allow us to continue making records. And I mean sh*t that makes me happy. If you enjoy the music then I enjoy making it for you, so thank you.