Rapper and visual artist Grill Billyenz of Normal says the darker industrial sound on his latest album "Metamorph" comes from the ghost-town feeling he gets working the third shift at his "day job."
“At the time when I was writing this, I was watching 'The Mandalorian' Star Wars,” explained Billyenz. “So, (there was) a lot of that feel of being on the outskirts and just being ‘other.’ I was kind of going for that … just existing within those 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. hours when people aren't awake. So, darkness was definitely something I was going for, and usually something I gravitate towards overall."
The album name was inspired by what Billyenz said is his constant evolution as an artist and human, and the importance of recognizing that change is inevitable. More specifically he said he leaned on the memory of a second-grade project assigned by his Metcalf teacher.
“Mrs. Stoyan had a butterfly garden at Metcalf. I just remember her teaching us the idea and the steps in the process of a butterfly's life and going from being on the leaf as an egg to a caterpillar to chrysalis to becoming a butterfly. So, in a sense, that's kind of what I was touching on. It's just this idea that as a person and as an artist, I'm evolving and I'm going through something,” said Billyenz.
He added the album opener “Genesis” and closer “Wow” are examples of his evolution.
Window crack / Widow Black / This!
Mayfield / Pusha Pack / Piff
Melanin / Magic Hands / Lift
Bogard / Knuckle / Tap Dance
Group Home / Screw-Bolt gone / Frank
Icabod / Step / Giannis / Freak
That’s a God / Unicorn /Not
Window Sill / Epilep /Creep!
- “Genesis” by Grill Billyenz
"Usually with each project, you're always kind of reinventing yourself or kind of reintroducing yourself," said Billyenz. "So that was my goal … at least writing with Genesis. It’s like, ‘Oh, I'm kind of like reintroducing who I am right now at this point in time.’
“And then I would say the last song … ‘Wow,' definitely that knowledge of self."
Optical chip / Swan look at wrist / Saucin, he dip it in Indigo! [SAWUCE!]
Kid Super kit / Alkaline drip / Capsule Corp / Midnight in minimal [ouuu]
Quarter percent / Off’a prescript / Boy say he Gwendolyn nephew [WE!]
We’na ship / Leaf wit da gin / Auntie I’m resumé type 2 (too) [COOOOL]
- “Wow” by Grill Billyenz
"Kind of like, OK, you're reaching this point in your life where things aren't what they used to be, you're just different. They're your surroundings, the circles you're associating yourself with are different. So be aware of that and know where that's going to take you and see where that takes you,” said Billyenz.
The metallic industrial sound on "Metamorph" is a stark contrast to his previous EP “Lense,” which musically is much lighter and even seems to convey happiness. It’s an observation Billyenz agreed with.
“Because I think at that point in my life, it was an aha moment of like, ‘OK, I know what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to make music that does this for me,’ or ‘I'm seeing my life this way now. OK, I'm not afraid to peel back a layer of myself.’ I have a song where I'm talking about my dad saying ‘I love you’ for the first time to me, you know what I mean? Or just being more raw with it. And then when you jump to something like 'Metamorph,' I kind of jumped back inward a little bit. So, it's kind of me jumping inward and then kind of coming back out and like inward and like, ‘OK, I discovered something about me,’ come back out, and then it goes back and forth, almost. So, I would say that's kind of the pattern there,’” said Billyenz.
He said there was satisfaction when that specific line impacted a friend and listener.
“He said, ‘Yeah, when you said that line about your dad saying I love you … like I felt that like I've never heard my dad say I love you.’ Me presenting that information affected someone else some other way and now we have a connection as one because of that,” said Billyenz.
As with any rapper, beats are important to the message, but for some including Billyenz, the sonic landscape is just as important, with Billyenz describing it as important to the overall experience of the song.
“And I guess this kind of leaks into the style thing, but in the beginning, it's kind of like you want to say the coolest stuff and you want to make people smile and make them laugh or do the punch lines. And then you're listening to other music … you're listening to Elizabeth Cotten or B.B. King or you just start listening to other music. Like I've always been a big fan of Portishead and trip-hop music. I come from a visual arts background. So sometimes if I can't paint it, I can paint it with words, and I can say it to you. And if you close your eyes, you'll be able to get taken there,” said Billyenz.
Another stylistic evolution on "Metamorph" is how Billyenz lingers on those words, especially at the end of what are often phrases or ideas lumped to create its own image. He says like the sonics on the album, that phrasing was inspired by his love of metal and doom music, which he said can be very slow and very dragged out. But it’s also comes from the drudge of working third-shift five days a week.
“So trying to take that feeling and put it into five songs is literally what I was trying to do,” said Billyenz. “And I've also had this problem saying too much and realizing that as you progress, no matter what type of progression it is, whether it's a job, whether it's your craft, you name it, what I notice about any type of artists or any person is that as you progress, it gets simpler. I noticed that about myself and that I want it to be a little bit more actively assessable, but still you're wanting to linger and be like, ‘well, what is he talking about? Well, what does that mean?’ And then you do some research and come back to it and go back and forth till you're like ‘Aha, that's what that is.’ And that might not happen until a year and a half from now. And that's fine.”
As a counter to the intensity of "Metamorph," Billyenz was asked if he could pare his artistic persona to three words. He paused for a couple seconds, then replied,
“Minimalist … consistent … Grandpa.”
At age 30 Grandpa seems …. are you really a Grandpa?
“Not at all,” he laughed. “People say I'm like an old man.”
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