Grant Gronewold has a way with words: he's a poet, a writer, and an MC. He has a way with images, a talented composer of detailed comics and vivid zines. And he has a way with beats. Writing and recording as HTMLflowers he shifts effortlessly between introspective hip hop and club destroying bass beats. Following from a recent solo residency, we checked in with Grant for a reflective conversation on life, health, and creativity.
What's up Grant? How have you been?
: Hi, I've been pretty fucked lately.
Sorry to hear. What's been happening?
Friends dying young, I'm back in hospital trying to deal the accelerating degradation of my health and also my dependency issues for about the 7th or 8th time. This time I have helpful questionnaires and lists of local NA groups I can attend from the drug and alcohol counsellor in my hospital though.
Is that a path you've chosen now, or is it more a necessity, in terms of the dependency issues I mean?
Both. My last friend that died passed away of an overdose and with my body as weak as it is I really needed to take a look at my own lifestyle after that. My doctors stressed the urgency of the situation to me basically saying that if I can't get my shit together they could see a drop in my baseline health so severe that I might not be able to come back from it. Namely my breathing which was at 39 percent of the average lung capacity. Once people with my illness, cystic fibrosis, get older than 25 or so they start to really degrade so it's fairly important that I make a pretty much immediate turn around. Been sober for 21 days. But I'm here in hospital for now and that makes sobriety easy, I'm far from my contacts, I'm having meals brought to me, I have counsellors visiting me every two or three days and I have a team of physiotherapists helping me with the more painful and difficult aspects of my daily treatments.The meals are awful and often very meagre of late. Funding issues I think.
Is it a public hospital?
Yeah in Clayton.
Sounds really isolating. Do you still work while this is happening?
Yeah I almost work more. I record in here, send demos to collaborators, sometimes the take I make in here has the right vibe so i keep it in the recording, I write compulsively and I often tie up all of my loose ends, it gets exhausting though. I did a show with Collarbones during this latest admission and I had to rush my medication times, transit for four hours and once I had finished my set I had to walk right off the stage and go straight to the train station. But it was a great show and i felt so good for those few moments on stage. I think sleeping isn't really sleeping unless you have exhausted yourself.
So your illness informs your work in many more ways than one, without defining it?
Well there is no one aspect of my life or who I am that informs all of my work, there are just many different interlocking factors that compose who I am. But illness is very important to understanding me and to how I understand the world. I guess making things is a type of self-inflicted dismemberment that helps us separate experiences and examine them.
How does that translate to how you approach your music?
Well I'm not very professional and I work very much for my own understanding of things. I'm also very sporadic and find it incredibly difficult to focus on one project at time. I need to work on urge apparently. I've always done terribly at promoting my work or working with people to promote it because I'm never sure if I even want it to be more regular and lucrative or i guess demanded of me you could say. Often I think I'd like to just live on Centrelink for the rest of my life and continue making things in relative obscurity, but I also worry about looking after my Mum and having no money in case social welfare ever becomes truly defunct.
It sounds like you're stuck in the middle of those two thought patterns a bit
Yesterday my doctor was explaining to me the process of funding and licensing for research on a miracle drug that exists but hasn't been made available on the PBS (public benefit scheme) yet. This isn't news to me but I hadn't thought of it for a while. I mean the entire reason I live in Australia is because of the lack of Medicare in America. We were destitute. My mother sleeping in a bunk bed with me and my brother in the spare room of my grandmother's tiny house after working at one of her three jobs. Just no subsidised treatment or medication. She realised I would die if she didn't find a way to get me to a country with universal health care, so she did what she had to do and we moved here in 1998.
Very brave of her.
Yeah she's enduringly strong with humour and vulnerability. Which is something I guess I obsess over in my work. Having the quality of strength, the ability to show weakness and also making crude jokes and shit. I guess those are the people i come from. Low class American work horses.
She sounds like an incredible woman
Her style of survival is inexplicably vital to the skill set of hum*nity at large.
Amazing. You reference her a lot in your music
Yes often I am singing to her, to right some terrible wrong or some shit. Like as a kid watching your family struggle and lose the house, the car, dreams, food etc. you get this feeling like a mark in your skin that you better give something back, so I think I reference her a lot cause to me I am singing to her and through her the entire world for the wrongness of being so weak.
What have your learnt from her?
What have I learnt from her? How to be gracious under pain. How to stand up for yourself and to do so even when you've got no chance just so you can respect yourself when the boot comes down on you. How to do every possible thing you can to make it, whatever it is, no food, no job work for you and how to give more of your energy and strength that you thought you ever had. She does all of these things without any sign that she's aware of her incredible skill. She's very funny and humble and genuinely cares only for the happiness of others. I think making others happy is what makes her the most content in this life. I want to replicate that. I want to be that.
Well we all know what it feels like when you're just leaving home for the first time and you feel so upset that you have to find a way to make money and be a part of the whole huge piece of shit system right? But most of us rise to the challenge and begin to make a life we can love within that. For some sick people they literally can't rise to that challenge and what's more is the challenge is founded on principles that deny their value as individuals. The idea that to produce product or create revenue is the signifier of value in this lifetime. That is an affront to everyone who contributes outside of monetary stimulation.
That must ring true daily?
Yeah it does often times through some interaction I have with someone or an article I read in the media or just as a stepfather figure reminding me that I'm not allowed to be happy as long as I require government benefits to live.
So what needs to change? Is it even possible? On a political/social level?
I don't know what need to change. I'm a high school dropout. I understand the social courtesies I require to feel valued but i don't how to translate that to a social scale. I would imagine a shift in taxation would be a start. A populace that was more dominant of its government and shit. You know. Putting a collar on the rich. A choke chain. But this is why I make art, I just want to make people feel what I feel and ask the questions I ask so we don't feel alone in this shit and also more distantly and more impossibly so that someone might change the way they think based on my work. How they think about illness or love or pain or people or having crushes or being honest. You Feel me?
Yeah. So what's the rest of this year got for you then?
I've been doing comics about illness, semi-autobiographical, I've made an EP about illness written and recorded largely in hospital and I have been writing a lot, songs and poems. Me and Oscar Key Sung have been sneakily making some new bass heavy tracks. I want to drop one very soon. I moved house to change my situation with drug use and I want to be more attentive and loving to my close friends. Those are my plans.
Is that all you need or do you wanna know something more?
Who or what do you love?
That's a heaps broad question. I love quiet, I love Oscar key sung, I love tattooing myself, I love a clear mind, and i love dirty ass club music.