Punknews interviewer Faye Turnbull caught up with the breakout duo about their "punk rock' summer," being labeled "emo hipster rap," and their unique crossover appeal - along with a couple of welcomed interruptions from tour mate Evidence - ahead of the first date of the mighty Rhymesayers Tour in London.
You're currently on the Rhymesayers Tour with Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Evidence and Blueprint, which is a pretty insane line-up in the world of underground hip-hop.
Grieves: It's fucking great. Being on the label is amazing and then having the tour where you're taking pretty much all the heavy hitters on the label, and they're letting us going on it is fantastic. Today's the first day, but we've got two buses and a bunch of cool people who we've all worked together before. We just all haven't been in the same place at the same time apart from Soundset in Minneapolis, which is like a big, crazy festival, so I'm excited. I think it'll be great.
How is it being part of the Rhymesayers family because surely you grew up listening to Atmosphere?
Budo: It's really crazy to look around and see the people that are your peers and friends who are the same people you grew up listening to. It's a very special experience and a rare thing, I think. But then they're just like our homies. There's a weird division in seeing them as part of your musical development, but then they're also just like people, so that's a cool thing.
How did the Grieves and Budo relationship form?
Grieves: We sat down and wrote a song, then that song turned into an album, then that turned into a career. We were both doing our separate thing before that and then we sat down and made a song, then everything kind of turned into everything. We met in 2007 then started working together in the summer of 2008.
Is 'Grieves and Budo' now a package thing like Atmosphere? Or are you still separate artists?
Grieves: It's a package thing. I mean, you won't catch me doing a show without him because of all the music we make is together.
Budo: It's just evolved into something that's turned into a career and something we're comfortable with.
Grieves: Instead of changing a brand which both of us have been working on forever, we just kind of combined it. We spent so long on that, so it made sense just to have it all together.
Your new album Together/Apart isn't your standard hip-hop album; you seem to branch heavily into a lot of other genres like soul and jazz just as much.
Grieves: Yeah, it's just music that we listen to. That's music that makes us want to make music and inspires us. I feel like there's a point in every artist's career where they tap into the things that inspire them and kind of regurgitate that, in a sense, and that came out in this new album a lot.
Budo: I think the course in developing any sort of artistic identity is that you spend a lot of the time focusing on the process that got you to show yourself for who you really are. I think with this record, we hit a point where we pushed away some of those layers and unnecessary stuff that we thought we had to make along the way. Not that I regret anything that came before Together/Apart, but I think Together/Apart is the best example of who we are as musicians.
All of the reviews I've read have been amazing, but one criticism - if you even want to call it that - is that the whole record and songs kind of blend into one - was that flow intentional?
Grieves: Yeah, you know how hard that is? [laughs]
Budo: It's cool. I think you can take it whatever way you want to take it. Some people appreciate albums that go all over the place and that's not the sort of thing we're into it. If we were to review an album that had crazy, different undulations then maybe we would review that as a criticism. So, I think identifying that as something Together/Apart does, whether you view it negatively or positively, is something we're proud of and something we intentionally did. I have no problem in people forming their own opinion of that, as it's something we strove to do. It's kind of cool that people see it as a criticism, I'm just glad it's been identified. Grieves: If that's the worst part about the album then fuck yeah.
I've heard people call you 'emo hipster rap' - how do you feel about that?
Grieves: I don't really know where the hipster thing comes from and my whole thing on the emo thing is that if you're comfortable calling people like Al Green, Marvin Gaye, or anything from the whole Motown movement, or anyone making music before 'I'm in the club, I'm rich', it's just people talking about their feelings. That's what it is. Music is an expression; it's a story-telling method. Would you call Al Green emo? Would you call Marvin Gaye emo? Those are grown-ass men that will fuck you up, expressing their feelings in a very honest way. Nowadays, calling people emo, you might as well call yourself a hipster, because that's like a trendy, cool thing to say about people who are afraid of emotion. I think if I'm an 'emo hipster' then I don't fucking get it. I mean, I'm expressing my emotions and I'm being honest with reality and maybe that makes people uncomfortable and makes them want to chastise me for it, but I'm comfortable in my own skin and life. That's the way I make music, it's not going to change. You don't have to listen to it, that's how I do it.
I've noticed you've released a lot of music videos in support of Together/Apart - it must be nice that Rhymesayers is putting so much into you.
Grieves: When we signed with them, they were like, "Are you guys ready to work?" and we were like, "Yeah, we're ready to work!" and they just put it to the grindstone - we didn't stop, they didn't stop. That's why we've got a lot of music videos and product because we're not stopping and that's why we're always on the road. We always have tours, announcements, update videos, it's constant.
Most of the interviews I've watched with you online are from Warped Tour - do you find that, that definitely helped you out in creating a buzz?
Grieves: Yeah, it did help us out. It got a bunch of kids that never would have listened to us to see us. If you walked up to them and were like, "Hey, here's a rap CD!" They'd be like, "Fuck you!" But being in front of them and being able to capture them with our live performance and then have them come out for us now. You'll see a lot of younger kids at our shows now and saying, "I don't even listen to rap but I listen to Grieves." At least we got to be their introduction to this world. It's kind of cool being the gateway for those people.
Were you at all familiar with that scene or was it completely new to you?
Grieves: Kind of, not necessarily with the Warped Tour scene, because I'm not really familiar with a lot of the modern metal stuff going on. All of the kids and band shirts were speaking Greek to me, I didn't know what the hell was going on, it was really confusing for us. There were all these bands famous as fuck and there I was just eating BBQ and talking about my ass to them. It was all over my head, I just didn't get it. I think that was kind of to our favor, we weren't intimidated and it allowed us to become friends with everyone on that tour and get in front of their fans. Vincent from The Acacia Strain would be like, "I know two real-ass motherfuckers on this tour, Grieves and Budo and the Bad Rabbits!" And we were like, "Dude, that guy just said our name and he's crazy! Hell yeah!" I met the guys from Pepper and ended up rapping during their set and the same with Big Chocolate. We were hanging out with the drummer from The Devil Wears Prada a lot and it's cool. As far as meeting new connections in the business, we met so many new people and outlets; there were a lot of cool things going on. It was sweet.
Did you feel like a novelty act?
Grieves: Every once in a while, not like a cheap thing, but they're trying to mix it up. Kevin Lyman likes other music, it's not just punk rock stuff, and it's definitely bringing a lot of kids in, but then he strategically selects acts that people can slide into them and make kids like those things. He's a smart dude. Even though we were about one of three hip-hop acts on the tour, it's not like a random thing, it's thought out. Kevin saw our stage show and listened to our music, thought exactly where he could put us and what stage. It's been good. He even made us connections with other people and press on tour, so it was cool.
Budo: It also made it very easy for us to standout, so we were like, "Hey, we're the hip-hop guys!" Kids would walk past and hear something different than what they would hear on any other stage. You could see them walk by and turn their head, some of them would walk off and some of them would stop, but it definitely made it a lot easier for us to make an impression, because they could immediately tell it was something different.
Why do you feel you have this crossover appeal with the alternative/rock/punk scene?
Grieves: I don't know, maybe because of all the different influences we bring into our music and the fact that we don't fit into a standard formula that would maybe define rap music to someone that's not really informed. If we're someone's first rap song they've heard then they hear M.O.P., it's a night and day kind of thing, and I think people are more comfortable with something that's halfway to what they're already listening to and I think that's why we blend so well.
Budo: It's an easier transition and if you see our live show, it might remind you of something you see at a rock or punk show, you see singing and instruments and all that kind of stuff - it definitely serves more of a center point of familiarity.
Evidence: Can I answer? I think Grieves is a real spitter, I think he has a real watery flow and I think the beat you put under him might dictate how you hear him, so he could do the same rhyme over a Budo beat and it might sound like this to you, then put it under a different beat and it'll sound like that to you. I think he has the ability to do both, which makes him dynamic and not limited.
I get that, I'm generally not a hip-hop person, but Together/Apart really introduced me to a new world.
Grieves: And thank you for appreciating other music because a lot of people fall into a box and they let their music define their whole social scene and the way that they act and dress. But when people branch out a listen to everything, that's kind of hard to find, especially with younger kids, which is why I feel really blessed to have that younger market it and younger kids at Warped who accepted us at that age.
Budo: It's cool to see too, because I think we are conditioned to think that kids aren't open-minded and like one thing and hate everything else, and I think kids think that too, but that's because they're being fed one thing. Having kids come up to you saying, "I woke up this morning and I hated hip-hop…" but then seeing those kids being more open than what they thought they were was actually really cool to see.
Evidence: Can I also answer this? It's an interesting point that you make, but I think any 'hardcore' energy can transcend, whether you're doing hip-hop or heavy metal, if the passion is there and they can see it, then that transcends genres.
What I appreciate about this underground hip-hop scene is that you still maintain a punk rock ethic; you tour solidly, you've released your own records, booked your own shows, etc. Something that a lot of people don't really associate with hip-hop.
Budo: Yeah, that's very much a Rhymesayers thing, which is why we were on Warped Tour in the first place - Atmosphere has a history of doing it, P.O.S. has a history of doing it. From us to Evidence to Blueprint to Brother Ali to Atmosphere and everybody else on the label, there's a work ethic there and dedication to being on tour. It's about getting in front of as many people and meeting them and developing that kind of hand-to-hand, face-to-face contact.
I saw in another interview that you're a big fan of NOFX, does that influence your music in any way?
Grieves: It does when it comes to melody and harmony, because when I was a kid and all of my punk rock friends like, "Oh, those guys are lame." because of their harmonies and melodies even though it's still kind of rugged, that's like a perfect combination of music to me. It's well developed but still punk rock. I love that so much, but a lot of my harder punk friends listened to Doom and all of that shit, they didn't like that. That was me though and I feel that influenced me to want to have that in my music as well, because we bring that stuff into our hip-hop music a lot, so I feel like that has influenced me and the fact that I stuck true to it as well, and not let those kids influence me. I don't really listen to that music as much as I used to, I'm not up-to-date with it, but Punk In Drublic is an album I'll have for the rest of my life. I listen to what I listen then; I'm not really up-to-date with a lot of the current punk stuff. A lot of the newer NOFX stuff I haven't listened to and some of it I didn't really like, but I absolutely loved the older stuff from S&M airlines to Heavy Petting Zoo, I'm all about it.
So, what's next after this tour?
Budo: We fly back to New York and have about four days off then we're touring the east coast, with a friend of ours called K.Flay, so it's kind of the second half of the headlining tour we started on the west coast before coming over here - any chance to hit those markets we didn't get a chance to hit. Then it's Christmas, so we'll take a little break, get ourselves grounded a bit and I think we might head back into the studio, but we'll be back on the road in the spring, I think.
Do you have any final words?
Grieves: Thanks for listening and for those of you who haven't, maybe check us out. You don't have to like it, but check out the rest of Rhymesayers too. I feel like that label has a lot to offer.