When I compliment GROZA on the single pearl earring that hangs between her blue turtleneck and striking buzz cut, a startled expression works its way across her face. “Oh my god. That’s not mine,” she exclaims. “I forgot to return it. It’s from the fitting I did before our interview.”
Irina Grosu, known as GROZA (“thunderstorm” in Russian), is the definition of effortless cool. Whether its her colourful fashion style or her infectiously uplifting music which channels 90s Russian pop and UK garage, GROZA is a ray of sunshine to be reckoned with. The Odesa-born, Moscow-based musician came into the spotlight in April of this year with her EP Introvert, on which she sings about identity, daydreaming, and not quite fitting in (nor wanting to). Her solo offerings and guest stints are both recognisable for their soulful melody and 2-step beat.
On a glum rainy day in Moscow, GROZA cast away the clouds by talking to The Calvert Journal about Odesa, knitting, and her dreams for the future.
Before moving to Moscow, you lived in Odesa. How much did Ukraine’s beach city influence your feel-good sound?
I can’t say that Odesa made me cheerful. It’s just the way I am. I would say that my music reflects my personality. I have spent a lot of time in Odesa. I was born near Moldova and moved to Odesa as a teenager.
I’ve been living in Moscow for three years now. It took moving to realise how the lack of sun affects me. It was especially tough in the beginning: the weather plays a big part in my mood. But Moscow is also where I started producing and recording music, professionally speaking. I’ve been singing my whole life, but GROZA was created here. It was in Moscow where I finally found everything I needed to create my sound. I see my life in Odesa as my childhood, and now it feels like I’m entering adulthood.
What does music mean to you?
I consider music to be an illusion, or an escape. I think about that a lot. I even wrote a lengthy Instagram post (in Russian) recently about the relationship between music and fantasies. And if music is another world, unconnected to everyday life, that means I can invent a different way of being. I can imagine myself as somebody else. Imagine situations that may or may not have happened. This is still me, but also a dream version of me.
In past interviews you’ve talked about being criticised for rocking a buzz cut. How did you find your current look?
The question I always come back to is: who gets to decide how we should look? Who sets the standard? I strive towards diversity. I love to experiment. I try to stay open to new things and am interested in learning.
I’m okay with showing some random people on the street that it’s okay to have a buzz cut. It’s the way I choose to look. Look away, people, and welcome to the 21st century! I’m a woman and a woman can look like this. In fact, I feel more feminine since shaving my head.
Do you work with a stylist?
My mother is behind all of my costumes. She is a professional tailor and has always been making clothes. I come up with the designs and she brings them to life. I’m all about reworking and modifying clothes — cutting up sweaters, adding patches, you name it.
You’ve also been collaborating with the fashion world. You’ve teamed up with the brand LECHARLATAN to create your very own socks...
That’s considered fashion?! [laughs] I loved this experience and would want to do more collabs. For me music and clothes are intertwined. When I write a song, I think of colours, images. It’s all part of the creative process.
What’s the most extravagant piece in your wardrobe?
Some of my favourite pieces are from vintage shops in Los Angeles. But the most unique item is one I can’t even find anymore, from my school days. When I was in 10th grade, I knitted myself a scarf. It was colourful and weird. Everybody probably thought it was ugly, but I loved it and rocked it wherever I went. I still miss it a lot.
You also took this DIY approach to the recording studio, right?
Yes. I write, produce, and record myself. I had to, because there wasn’t a big music community in Odesa. In Moscow, I worked with several people but couldn’t get the results I wanted, so my husband encouraged me to have a go myself. I learned how to use recording studio software like Logic by copying other musicians, similar to how artists copy others’ work to learn to draw. Eventually, I started making my own music. I still don’t consider myself a superproducer: I’m a long way off from being the next Pharrell or Gesaffelstein. But it’s important for me that it’s my music and that I want to share it. It’s perfect in its imperfection. I’m not going to beat myself up for making any mistakes.
What kind of music did you grow up with? How did you discover garage?
It’s funny, but I never got into garage or 2-step. I’ve never partied much, never went to clubs. I’ve only started going out now. I used to be a total “house cat”: staying in, listening to music, and writing. So I have no idea where I heard that music first. But I like it a lot.
When I was six years old, I started performing for the first time: at the time I was singing Russian folk songs. Then my father introduced me to old school rock, like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. He would play me recordings of their live gigs and they would give me shivers. Then came Nirvana, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and eventually Russian pop music on MTV. When I was a teenager, I went to a music school to study jazz-style singing, so I listened to a lot of jazz, too.
I used to hate them back in the day, but now I love their romantic songs — especially the production and the electronic elements.
You’ve shot music videos in Thailand and California. Do you have any plans to return to Odesa for any upcoming videos? Where are your favourite spots?
I’d like to. There is a place called Kuyalnik — it’s a Soviet sanatorium with famous salty mineral water and an amazing pool with pink water. It would make a great location for a music video.
I love the city centre. And the sea, of course. I feel like I left the city right when all these new spots for younger people started cropping up. There’s a cool creative hub called Shkaf, and a music venue called True Man Club.
You’re releasing your music on a label (which is, confusingly) also called Label. What’s that been like?
It’s a community of creative people. We all make multi-genre music. So everyone can find something interesting at our showcases. At first I didn’t feel that I would fit in with my mix of hip-hop, RnB and garage, but it’s been great.
You also recorded music for a Russian supermarket brand, Perekrestok — a hilarious ode to old-school pop music and consumerism.
It was an idea that I worked on with a creative agency: a special project for the summer season. The lyrics aren’t mine, but I produced the track, sang, and edited all of those videos with the help of my husband, who is a director.
Any plans you want to share with us?
I don’t have plans, I only have dreams. I am recording new music now and I am ready to go beyond my DIY phase, work with other people, and let them into my creative process. I really want to start touring Europe and the UK, to play some festivals next summer. And I really like the idea of singing in Russian around the world.