RL Grime is a producer of epic proportions. The way that he weaves soundscapes and layers synths make for some of the biggest sounds in EDM music. Real name Henry Steinway, he rapidly ascended into beat making royalty throughout 2012-2014 with his Grapes EP and High Beams EP. When he released his debut album VOID via WEDIDIT records, the home of other electronic revolutionaries such as Shlohmo, it was looking like RL Grime wasn’t going to slow down for a long time.
However, RL Grime’s new record NOVA marks four years since his debut. Asides from touring and the occasional single, his focus has been more on living his life opposed to forcing a sophomore opus. But as the years passed, Nova slowly started to culminate, evolving alongside Steinway on his journey for growth. As VOID continues to age and WEDIDIT closes out its first decade, it seems like it’s time for a new chapter of RL Grime.
In celebration of NOVA – which drops July 27th, we got RL Grime on the phone to talk about his evolution, his new album and the world in general. With a clear focus on this new body of work and a sense of pride flowing through his voice, it feels like RL Grime is back to stay this time.
It’s been four years since VOID, and a lot of the world has changed since. So to start off, how have you been doing?
Um, I’ve been really good lately (laughs). It’s a weird time to be alive in the world right now, especially over the last two years here in America. You just gotta’ try and look at the bright side of things and stay positive in your life however you can.
Was it a conscious decision to wait this long to release your sophomore album?
No, I don’t think it was the intention. It just sort of happened. I’ve never wanted to rush anything, and I’ve never been that person to put something out for the sake of having things on the internet. I just wasn’t ready to have it out and I didn’t have the songs in a place where I was comfortable with them. It took some time to reflect and really focus on what kind of music I wanted to make. It took a while, but it’s done and I’m super thrilled that it’s out.
You’ve described this album as “The feeling of leaving behind what was, and of welcoming the foreign.” What inspired you to pursue this?
Again, I think it’s just a natural evolution. I’m not the same person I was 4 years ago. Music tastes change and you go through different shit in your life. I just couldn’t imagine making another album exactly like VOID. There’d be no growth there or evolution. My main goal was to take some of those distinct ideas VOID was built on and bring them into a new light.
You’ve talked about an obsession with the idea of growth leading up to this album. Was there a particular song or moment during the creation of NOVA that made you realise how much you’ve evolved?
I don’t think so, because I don’t really think that it just happens in a moment. As things were tying together near the end, it started to feel like this album was what I really wanted it to be. It’s all about following your gut and trusting your taste. By the end, I was really happy about how it all came together. It took some time because I had to just go and live life for a bit to gain some inspiration for it happen.
I saw recently that you played shows in Seoul and Manila. How has travelling the world not only changed the way you approach music but life as well?
Oh, absolutely. I’ll always say travelling is one of the best things someone can do to gain perspective. I travelled a lot in the early stages of my career, and from 2012 to early 2017 I was touring super heavy. I get drained from it, but you see so many different cultures and how people treat you and your music… You just gain so much perspective touring and travelling, and it’s something I’m always grateful to be able to do.
The term ‘Nova’ refers to the huge explosion of light that occurs when a new star is born; a concept that suits your album very well. Was there a moment throughout this project that made you feel as if this was your magnum opus?
Not necessarily, that’s a kind of scary thing to think (laughs). If you’re actually ever thinking that it’s probably not a good sign. You make the music and whatever feels right is what you’re going to follow through with, and all of these songs on the album felt right. I don’t have any expectations of this album being my magnum opus, because I don’t want to go in thinking that. I’m just super proud of what I’ve made, and that’s all I can really feel.
The new album boasts some pretty massive guests from the likes of Ty Dolla $ign, Miguel and more. Do you have a favourite feature on the record?
Man, that’s a tough one. I know it’s a very cliche way to answer this, but I love and appreciate all the features. Anyone that helped tell the story and make the project what I wanted to be I’m incredibly thankful for. It’s a long process getting features as well because things fall through, schedules conflict, and you may have to end up getting someone else. The way that the album came together is something I’m really proud of, and if I had to choose a favourite feature, it would be what Ty Dolla $ign did on our song together. I can’t wait for people to hear that one.
My personal favourite on the album is ‘Undo’ with Jeremih and Tory Lanez, mainly because they were a part of some of the biggest moments in WEDIDIT history. How did that song come about?
Yeah, that’s a really cool way of thinking about it, and that was sort of what my thoughts were like going into it. I wanted to make a song that had elements of my older production but still remained hard-rap record. I also wanted to do it with people myself or others in WEDIDIT had worked with. Jeremih is always ready to work and had already worked with Shlohmo in the past, and WEDIDIT made an EP with Tory a few years back. The way it came together was super organic and I’m really stoked on how it came out.
You alongside the rest of the crew recently celebrated 10 years of WEDIDIT. What’s it been like working with the likes of Shlohmo and D33J, as well as being at the forefront of such an important collective?
It’s hard to put into words what it’s like working with your best friends and just making stuff together. The sense of community that we’ve always had I think has helped really pushed our music forward. I still talk to those guys every day, and everyone still shares music with each other. It’s such a cool way to keep everybody grounded and level-headed – I hope we do another 10 years.
WEDIDIT to me has always represented creative freedom and independence. How do you think the trajectory of your career would have changed if you chose to work with a major label instead?
Man, I think about that a lot (laughs). I’ve had opportunities to go that route, and I think as soon as I lost any sort of creative freedom I would be like “Oh, fuck.” I’ve seen glimpses of what it’s like in the big major pop world – where there are a million songwriters and no ones actually in the room together. It’s like this soulless machine, and that’s something I would never be able to do as a person. I love doing whatever I want, and I think that’s such a major weapon to have in your career. I have people that I trust and get feedback from, but no one that ever tells me what to do.
WEDIDIT have been branching out of their comfort zone lately with artists like Juice Jackal, and I think that’s something you do yourself on this new album. Have you ever felt that the concept of genre has held you back?
I think there was always a possibility of putting a barrier around my style, but mentally I’ve never done that. I’ve never in my career labelled my music as one thing. As long as I know in my head that I’m making what I want, it’ll all fall into the package that is RL Grime right now. Genre is something really easy to slip into and is something I experienced when I made music as Clockwork. I kind of just kept making big house songs at 128 BPM and never really strayed from that. The change came when I decided I didn’t want to do the same thing any more, and I haven’t looked back since.
You also work with Chief Keef on this record, who is someone who I think is incredibly influential in this generation of rap music. Is there anyone you particularly like or who you’d want to work with out of this new wave?
I totally agree. I think Chief Keef is the godfather of what rap has become today. I don’t really have a dream a collab list, there are just artists that I like. If we collaborate, cool. If we don’t, also cool. Out of this new wave I like Juice Wrld a lot, and I loved Lil Peep. I think that whole wave of emo-rock rap is very forward-thinking, but also very nostalgic for me as well, as I grew up in the emo/punk era.
As someone who has travelled all around the world and been in the music industry for a long time, how would you like to see the nova that is the reality we live in shine brighter?
Man, that’s a big question (laughs). I don’t know. I think the world needs more compassion right now, and we need to find more ways to relate instead of just hating one another. The negativity can be a lot, and sometimes it’s good to just step away and spend time with the people you love, doing the things you love to do. We just have to be kind to each other, it’s all we got going for us right now.
RL Grime’s sophomore album NOVA is out now. Stream it here. He’s also announced a tour down under with Goldlink on support. See dates below. More info here.
Fri 2 Nov – Red Hill Auditorium, PERTH
Sat 3 Nov – This That Festival, NEWCASTLE
Mon 5 Nov – Festival Hall, MELBOURNE
Weds 7 Nov – Logan Campbell Centre, AUCKLAND
Fri 9 Nov – Hordern Pavilion, SYDNEY
Sat 10 Nov – Brisbane Showgrounds, BRISBANE
Sat 17 Nov – Spilt Milk Festival, CANBERRA