Best known for his 2019 debut album Gravity, Gryffin has been evolving his sound for the past three years to create Alive. The DJ/musician/producer fuses his classic dance beats with experimental production to give fans a brand-new experience in this 16-track project! In anticipation of his new club-ready dance-floor anthems, bubbly pop hits, and hints of trance, Gryffin hopped on a video call with BuzzFeed to talk about what it was like behind the scenes creating the album, his dream collaborators, and what he's looking forward to on his Alive tour.
If you weren’t a musician, DJ, songwriter, or record producer, what would you be?
Gryffin: I would probably be an electrical engineer working in the Bay Area! I studied that in college, and that was pretty much going to be my path. When I was an engineer, I didn't really know what to do with my life when I was applying to college, so I decided to follow what my dad was doing.
What made you make the change?
Gryffin: I, admittedly, wasn't a good engineer, and I didn't love it. I've been into music my whole life; I grew up playing the piano and guitar. I started piano when I was 7 years old and picked up the guitar when I was in middle school, and I was always into creating music, even in high school a little bit now that I think about it. But I never really thought it was going to be a career for me. Then, when I got to school, I fell in love with electronic music and dance music. I would sit in my dorm room, and instead of studying, I would watch YouTube tutorials on how to produce electronic music. Kind of as a way to destress, I was making beats and making music out of my dorm room. Once I felt like my music wasn't terrible, I started uploading it online and sent it to music blogs at the time and YouTube channels, and it really started taking off with these remixes I was doing. I got to a point where I was finishing up college, and I was starting to get offers to play at shows and actually make it a career. So, I decided to walk away from engineering life and pursue music, and I never looked back.
Do you remember the first song you ever created or wrote?
Gryffin: The first thing I did for Gryffin was this remix for this artist, John Newman. It was a '90s house kind of vibe, which is ironically really in right now. I think the first one I did that really started getting traction was this remix for Ellie Goulding for her song "Burn" — that was when Hype Machine was really big at the time. It went #1 on there, and a lot of these music blogs started picking it up, and then, Universal actually ended up messaging me, wanting to sign the remix officially. That was the first thing that really started snowballing everything.
What’s the first album you bought?
Gryffin: I remember the first explicit album I bought — it was Dr. Dre's 2001 — because I remember having to beg my parents to let me listen to that one. Maybe it was Nirvana's Nevermind — that one I vividly remember buying early on. I was really into Sublime when I was a kid, and I bought all of their CDs, as well as Daft Punk's Homework.
Who’s an artist you’re loving right now?
Gryffin: I love Fred Again — he's my favorite current dance music producer at the moment, and I always like Jamie xx.
Have you had a moment where you’ve been totally starstruck?
Gryffin: I don't get too starstruck. I'm really into sports, so when I met some of the Warriors players when they were at a party I was DJing at, I met Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, really star NBA players, and I kind of freaked out on that one. The first time I met some of the people I look up to in dance music like Tiësto and David Guetta because I've been looking up to them for so long. Being able to meet them is a cool feeling.
What has your experience been like in the industry, and what do you hope to see in the future?
Gryffin: It's been great! I've been really fortunate to have the career that I've had. It's been a slow and steady growth where every year has been better than the last. I've been really fortunate to be able to work with a lot of talented producers, artists, and singers. It's been a good journey so far; I hope it continues going upward. It's been fun — there's been a lot of career milestones. I get so busy in the thick of it that sometimes I forget to have some perspective on it, like just this weekend at the Red Rocks Amphitheater was a big moment where I can just reflect on the career from where it started and where it is now. It's pretty awesome to see that progression.
BuzzFeed: Like a "Wow, I'm here!" kind of moment.
Gryffin: Yeah, I've had a few of those every once in a while like when Gravity first came out, when I put out my first original record with Interscope, playing Coachella for the first time, playing overseas, first time playing a festival in Tokyo — there are so many things that are milestone moments, and even this weekend with Red Rocks was a milestone moment.
BuzzFeed: That's so cool, I hope you keep having those moments!
Gryffin: Haha, thanks! Me, too!
How does it feel to be able to represent Asians in the creative industry?
Gryffin: I love it! I think it's really important that we have good representation in the music industry, and I'm very proud to be of Japanese descent. I have a lot of fans that identify with that really well and identify with me being Asian American. I really appreciate all the fans that I've gained over the years, and I hope that continues! Even working with Asian American artists has been a really important thing and something that I'd like to continue focusing on moving forward.
BuzzFeed: Can you tell me about the artists you've worked with in the past?
Gryffin: I did a record with Audrey Mika called Safe With Me, who's Asian American and also from the Bay Area, so we got a lot of connection there. I'm working with some future collabs with some people. Working in K-pop is a focus of mine — I think it'd be really cool to do something in that world. The right record hasn't come yet, but it's definitely been hugely on my mind lately.
What excites you about the future of Asian people in the music industry?
Gryffin: I think it's really exciting! I think there are more and more artists that are coming to the forefront, and they're making waves, not only in Asian countries and cultures but globally, which is a really exciting thing. I hope it continues — the more presence we have, the more cultural influence we can have, which I think is a great thing. Hopefully, I can help it out a little bit under the dance music umbrella for sure.
What advice would you give to young Asian creatives now?
Gryffin: I would say to stick to your true self. Don't try to feel like you need to change who you are, what your interests are, or what you're into, just to appease people. Stay genuine and true to who you are, and that's going to be the best way to cut through all the noise. Find your strengths in what you want to say. As an artist, I always have a mission statement for my music when I was starting. I always wanted to make uplifting but emotional dance music that had a lot of electronic sounds in it while also being organic. I always wanted piano and guitar to be the focus of the music. Having a really strong identity of what I wanted the Gryffin music to be about, what I wanted it to say, is really big early on. I encourage a lot of artists to have an identity or a mission statement for what kind of art they want to put out and what they want to say.
Which artist was your favorite to collaborate with?
Gryffin: Producer collaboration-wise, doing a song with Illenium was really great because it was a big moment for both of us in our careers where we were stepping into our own. Being able to collaborate with him and see the success of that was amazing. We're also really good friends now; we have a lot of commonalities — we're both from the Bay Area and similarly aged, and it was a really great moment in time for us. Working on the new collab with Kygo — we've been friends for a really long time, like, online friends. We're putting out remixes together on the same time period in that whole era of SoundCloud to now to finally do a song with him, and he's, like, one of my best friends in the industry, so that was a really cool moment. In terms of artists/singer-songwriters, Bipolar Sunshine was one of my favorites. He's one of my favorite human beings, and I have a strong attachment to him and the song "Whole Heart." Lately, getting to work with Ryan Tedder earlier this year was crazy because I've looked up to him my whole life, so that was a really cool experience, too. I can name a bunch honestly, but I'll probably stop there.
Is there an artist you hope to collaborate with in the future?
Gryffin: I'd love to collaborate with, we'll call them the "Godfathers" or the greatest of dance music. I would love to do something with Calvin Harris — that would be a dream for me — and the guys from Disclosure. In terms of artists, Lorde would be super cool! I can name a lot there, too, but I'll stop there.
If you could describe your new album in 3 emojis, what emojis would it be?
Gryffin: The disco guy 🕺, the hands up emoji 🙌, and the explosion emoji 💥.
Why did you name the album Alive?
Gryffin: Gravity was more environmentally themed and spacey. I wanted it to be about taking you to these worlds and places, this elevated gravity-type world. For Alive, I wanted it to be a little more human-focused — focused on the emotions that we go through as human beings whether it's joy, happiness, sadness, or dealing with loss, the gamut of emotions that humans go through and makes us feel alive. I wanted to give more of an organic, human-type feel to this album rather than the space vibes of Gravity.
What was the process of creating the album like?
Gryffin: It was good and strange because so much of it was made during COVID. I was still touring on Gravity and going to do a bunch of stuff in 2020 to put an end to the Gravity era, and then COVID happened, and all of the sudden, I wasn't doing shows or anything for over a year. I started making music, but it was weird because I couldn't test music out or show anybody because no one was really hanging out with each other, and I wasn't able to test it on the road. It was two to three years in the making, but it wasn't until the last maybe six months that I really felt like some of the work I made during COVID plus all the newer stuff was starting to get a cohesive feel to it. It had its challenges, but it was also exciting because I got to try and experiment with my sound and not do the same thing as Gravity. I think it definitely has some similarities to it emotionally, but some of the production styles I've done this time are a bit different. One thing that's cool is that I've been able to work a lot with some artists that I've been following for a really long time and admire. I got to work with them on this album, so I'm pretty excited about it in general.
BuzzFeed: Can you tell me about some of the artists you worked with for this album?
Gryffin: Getting to work with Elley Duhé again was a really cool thing because we did "Tie Me Down" together several years ago, and it's been really cool to see that progression of her developing into a star now, and us doing another song together is exciting. The Ryan Tedder and Tinashe ones were such cool experiences. Matt Maeson is someone whose music I've been into for a really long time, so being able to work with him was cool. Au/Ra, who did some really cool records with CamelPhat a few years back, getting to write with her in LA was really cool. Salem Ilese, another Bay Area girl, we got to work together on a song that was super fun. It's been cool. It's been kind of like a grind to put this together, but I'm finally at peace with it and excited about it, and ready to put it out in the world.
Favorite memory of creating or recording the album?
Gryffin: Writing "Evergreen" with Au/Ra was a really fun experience because a lot of the album was written remotely. I would make beats and people would write to them, or they would give me an idea, like a vocal idea, and I would start producing it on my own. "Evergreen" was written pen to paper, from start to finish that day, and we were all writing it together. To see that one come all the way through to the end was a really exciting, rewarding experience. Working with Calle Lehmann on "Alive" and "After You" was a really cool experience because we did "All You Need To Know" together, and we never really met or hung out the entire time it happened — it was just all remote. We didn't write those together necessarily, we wrote it, and then I produced the record after the fact. "After You" and "Alive" we wrote together. These are some of the highlights for sure.
BuzzFeed: Aw, it feels like you're a family after all that, after all the hardship, and you finally get to that one sparkling point.
Gryffin: Yeah, exactly, family vibes are a good way to describe it. I feel like that's the way with the artists that I collaborate with because I would actually work with a lot of them again. Maia Wright, who I did "Body Back" with, we have a new song on the album coming out together because we became really close after that experience, as well as Elley and Calle. I feel like all the records I do are my children, and the people who I've worked with on the record are a part of my extended family, so it's always nice to work with people again and have this growing community that we have tied together with all the music.
BuzzFeed: Haha, they're like your babies.
Gryffin: Yeah, they really are. That's why when people ask me, "What are your favorite records?" I'm like, "I mean I could tell you some of the most popular ones," which would be the obvious thing, but they're all different, and I love all the songs in a different way, which is why I call them "little children."
What are you most excited about this album?
Gryffin: I'm excited to put it out! It is my most diverse body of work, I would say. It does have cohesion and a through-line to it, but there are a lot of different styles and sub-genres of dance music that I'm exploring with it. I'm really proud of it as an artist that I pushed myself and pushed the envelope 'cause I didn't want to make the same album again, as much as I do love Gravity. I feel like it's a good next step for me as an artist to have album #2. I feel like I'm more of a seasoned veteran now, but I'm really proud of it. I think there are a lot of pretty cool and strong records on there, and deeper cuts that might not be singles but just, like, really cool records and things I'm really proud of. I'm excited to put it out there and see what people think.
What’s your favorite lyric on the album?
Gryffin: The Alive tag, "I'm nothing without our love alive." It's a really Gryffin-type lyric. Relationship-based lyrics or lyrics about connections with people, familial relationships, love relationships, and friend relationships. Having love in those relationships is what can empower us and make us feel alive, so I feel like that's one of the stronger through-lines of the album that resonates with what my music is about.
What’s the best song of yours to cry to?
Gryffin: Maybe the song called "Cry." It's an empowering way of saying, "You can cry." It's saying, you can let it out. Let your emotions out. It's okay to cry, it's okay to be sad or frustrated in the moment, but there's always a light at the end of the tunnel that things will get better. The line is, "You can cry, 'cause your tears are gonna dry." There is a light at the end of the tunnel; you will get through it. I feel like that's a pretty emotional, impactful lyric that also induces crying.
What song of yours would you recommend people burn their ex’s photo to?
Gryffin: Maybe "Baggage." That one is a deeper cut, but it's a little more angsty and moody. "Nobody Compares to You" kind of makes sense, but I feel that's not quite the vibe.
BuzzFeed: Yeah, I feel like "Nobody Compares to You" is a very, "you're still in love with them" type of vibe.
Gryffin: Yeah, you don't want to burn their photos yet.
What is your favorite memory from a performance?
Gryffin: One of the cool ones was on a Gravity tour in 2019; we did a proposal on stage. I invited them up on stage; it was a surprise proposal, and I invited them up in the middle of the set, and he said a little speech to her, and she said yes, and we played "Tie Me Down." It was a cool moment to experience that with the couple and have that moment with the fans, too. Ever since I did that, I get a lot of people asking if I could do the same thing for them at a future show.
What are you looking forward to for your Alive tour?
Gryffin: I'm looking forward to connecting with the fans. I feel like it's been a really long time since I've done headline shows or live shows, and I really miss that. We've slowly been doing it with Red Rocks this weekend and Brooklyn Mirage last month, but before that, we hadn't really done it since 2019, and I've just been doing more DJ sets. I do enjoy those for sure, they're fun, but they're not quite the same as a Gryffin headline show. I just think the vibe at those shows is just so different, and I really feel like I've been creating this community and fandom that when you go to the shows, there's a special feeling in the air. There's just something magical about that feeling with the fans who are singing the lyrics back, me singing it with them, and having that emotional connection that I've really missed. I've been getting that feeling now, with this Alive tour, and I'm really happy that we're all able to get back together again.
Gryffin's newest album, Alive, comes out on November 4.
Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.