24 hours before what will forever be known in Grabbitz history as “deadmau5 day”, I join him for a taping of an acoustic performance he’s doing at Icon Collective production school in North Hollywood. Nick ‘Grabbitz’ Chiari, best known for his melodic dubstep releases through Monstercat, enlisted fellow producers Sullivan King and Apek to acoustically perform one of the tracks off his latest Friends EP titled “Way Too Deep”. With Chiari and King both on guitar and Apek on piano, much against everyone’s advice, Grabbitz ‘n friends are doing it live.
Through watching this whole process unfold, it’s apparent to me that Chiari is a man of unwavering vision. There’s only so much time booked in the studio space, rehearsals are still going on as the film crew gets ready, and lots of minor setbacks are adding up to a real crunch to get this shot properly in the time allotted. His management and engineer are biting their tongues because they warned him what a challenge shooting this live was going to be. In a particularly tense moment, Chiari asks everyone, “Have you ever seen that old video where Bill O’Reilly freaks out? Fuck it, we’ll do it live! That’s what we’re doing and it’s going to be awesome.”
He’s right – once they start nailing takes, I realize what he’s working so hard to capture. Hearing a semi-heavy bass track performed acoustically strips the song down to its core: when the instrumentation and Chiari’s vocals are all that’s left of this massive song, an emotionality comes to the surface I’m convinced can only be achieved through live performance.
Recognition for his unique ability to bring live-feels to electronic productions was about to come in a big way. Fast forward 24 hours to “deadmau5 day” – Chiari awoke in his Los Angeles apartment to a text from his mom. She’s been battling cancer the last few years, which pulls him back to his hometown of Buffalo, New York much of the time. Her message contained long-anticipated words of relief that her current round of chemotherapy was beginning to work. “Getting good news about how she’s doing is the only thing that makes us happy. Then as I went to text her back, this message pops up: @deadmau5 is now following you on Twitter!”
He said what followed was a bit of a panic (“in a good way!” he insists) followed by a flurry of tweets where he learned that The mau5 himself wanted to finish a vocal edit Grabbitz did last year of ‘Silent Picture’. “When I made the song I knew he would like it if he ever heard it because I hear the same musical influences in both of our music. He’s very into that Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, glitchy melodic stuff and that’s what I’m into. So I knew he would dig those vocals. I really wanted him to hear it, I knew it was a slim chance, but he heard it! That was the whole goal. One of my dream collaborations is happening.”
The musical evolution bringing Grabbitz to this moment is fascinating. He sang before he could talk (mostly the Buffalo Bills touchdown song), started playing guitar at 7, wrote alt rock songs, and then started making beats on an Xbox game called MTV Music Generator at age 10. He discovered Garage Band at 12 and begged his parents for an iBook and a keyboard, then finally moved to Logic, where he remains to this day. The first incarnation of Grabbitz the artist was as a rapper (he’s very good), then he heard Skrillex and got hooked on bass. Now he’s making beats, just like he was in his hip hop days, while also experimenting with writing songs on guitar or piano, recording vocals, then bringing those files into Logic.
“I went from writing rock songs on guitar to making beats, and then I started rapping. Of course I easily transitioned to dance music, it’s all beats and I’ve been making beats my whole life. And what’s cool about what I’m doing now is I can go back and use beats I made when I first started. I took one of my old, old beats, one of the first 100 beats I ever did, chopped it up and made ‘Here With You Now’.” Further, he contends that he’s confident enough in some of those early works he made at 12-13 years old that he would put them out today.
Nick Grabbitz looks like he’s about to break out smiling the entire time we’re talking. He’s so confident but gracious at the same time, and it’s all coming out with the occasional slip of a Buffalo accent. To me, Grabbitz seems to have the music/brand/presence of a much older and more developed artist. Of course from the outside, it always looks like someone who’s been developing for years is taking off overnight. And he’s writing music all the time, “But no matter how much I try to de-EDM my music, I still love grimey- ass dubstep and that comes out.”
This last comment makes me laugh: de-EDM is totally a thing. I realize maybe that’s what this filming of the acoustic performance is about – he wants to show himself and his songs as Grabbitz de-EDM’ed. Despite efforts to avoid the label, it’s inevitable in the market. He says, “I hope I can just make fans who like me for me so I can do whatever the hell I want musically, cause that’s what I’m going to do.”
He goes on to say, “A lot of producers are realizing you can’t survive just making fad sounds. I love dubstep and I love the idea of it so I made it my own, that’s ‘Turn Around’. Every sound you hear on any of my tracks I created from scratch.” As we said in the beginning, Grabbitz is a man with a vision and it’s only just beginning to take shape. My hope is that his vision is of the future, where the lines between rock and dance music have become so blurred that genres are indistinguishable and the only qualification we give a track is the level of feels it elicits. Here’s to hoping and here’s the Friends EP, out now on Monstercat.