Brae Gromek is an up-and-coming New York hip hop artist. Born in Guatemala and raised in New York City, Gromek writes and performs under the name Gromo, sporting an eclectic style that embraces nuances of EDM, rock, R&B, and metal. He initially came to prominence in the mid-2010s while taken under the wing of mentor JP Solis, and quickly became familiar with the essence of sound design and developing his own musical identity. Now 22, Gromo has accumulated a consistently popular output of singles within a four-year span and continues to redefine his craft.
Gromo’s latest single is “The Weekend,” done in collaboration with breakout singer Rhea Raj, which marked his final release for 2020. I caught up with him to discuss the new single, how his formative success allowed him to appreciate his journey so far, as well as his outlook for 2021.
As far as your musical influences, I understand that you’re into a lot of hip hop of the 90s. Being that hip hop’s prominent base is New York City, what were the first albums you really connected with?
I think my first exposure to hip hop was through Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and Nas’s Illmatic. Being from New York, I was just interested in what came out of here, since it’s hip hop’s birthplace. When I think of New York hip hop, I think of those artists who were prominent in the 90s, but at the same time that I was discovering those artists, ASAP Rocky was also getting popular around 2011 or 2012. It was an interesting time, when those artists who are now super big were just coming up. I was just diving into what ever I could, from the 90s to the current era.
Were you always interested in hip hop, or did you gravitate toward it over time?
I grew up listening to all kinds of rock, metal, and death metal, and when I was younger, that was my thing for quite a while. I really liked AC/DC, Metallica, Guns N Roses, and later on, Slipknot, Cannibal Corpse, Pantera, and Sepultura. As I got a little older, I was exposed to dance music, and once I heard “Bangarang” by Skrillex, that led me into the world of EDM and dubstep. By bouncing in between these different genres, I was able to create the sound that I have now.
In March of last year, Covid-19 hit the United States, and you decided to temporarily relocate to where you family was, in Long Island. What was going through your mind as you were making that transition?
At that moment, I was thinking about so much. I didn’t really know what was happening, but I knew that life was going to be different. It was such a crazy time as Covid started happening around the world. It’s weird because even now, when I wake up, I’m still trying to adjust to that reality (laughs). I think everyone’s still trying to figure out what’s going on. Everyone’s impacted in the same way, whether it’s through Covid, social injustice, or anything else going on. Life was moving so fast, and from the time I got to Long Island to the time I came back to New York City, a lot has changed.
For a lot of artists, it seems like their scope of creativity has expanded as a result of these circumstances. Do you feel the same way about your abilities?
Well, for me, I’ve always worked alone, so all of this has played to my sweet spot. I’ve always enjoyed working in isolation since the time I started when I was 13. In the beginning, I would just be in my basement working on music for nine or ten hours every day. Some people have had a really hard time adjusting to Covid, but I’ve been working with a bunch of artists on different projects anyway, so this time has definitely allowed me to expand and take bigger leaps in my sound.
Upon returning to New York City in June, and noticing what has gone on as a result of these circumstances, did you also have a newfound appreciation for the city, to a degree?
When I got back to where I live, which is the lower east side, it was like a ghost town, but these days, there’s still a lot of creativity in the city, whether it’s protest art, or art that expresses how people are feeling. I feel like the people here just continue with our culture, and seeing that was super inspiring for me. Yeah, it really did make me re-love the city, in a way. Before Covid, I think I was actually getting tired of the city since there are certain elements about it that wear me down, but coming back has made me realize that the authenticity of New York has always been here.
Not to say that Covid was a ‘good’ thing by any means, but in any case, you’d need a noticeable change of pace in your life in order to recognize that kind of appreciation for what you already have.
Exactly. I totally agree! Yeah, I feel like there will always be something happening that will allow you gain new perspective on what’s happening around you, and simply look at something in a different way.
Recently, you released the single “The Weekend” featuring Rhea Raj. How did that song come about, and what do you enjoy about working with her?
So, I’ve been working with Rhea for a year now, and this collaboration was one of the first ones we did where we were actually in the same room, using my gear and developing ideas, which was really fun. We wrapped that song up in a night, and spent the next few months just on editing, but it was a very smooth process. She’s very hands-on, and really knows what she’s looking for.
Given that you’ve also collaborated with Rhea on other singles, what can you say about how you’ve grown as a collaborator?
I feel like no matter who I work with, I grow. Every experience I have working with an artist is one where I learn something new. The best part about collaborating is that you will learn so many new things about what you’re not good at and what to improve on, and also be reassured of what you are good at. I know that when I’m working by myself, I’m not really learning as much, whereas when I’m with another person, I can do so much more. That’s why, during this time, I’m trying to work with as many different artists as I can, so I can learn something that I don’t know, and probably teach someone something they don’t know. It’s a mutual thing where you’re growing together, and that’s what’s important.
As diverse as New York City is, it’s not always easy to find people that you really gel with, so when you do, it’s something really special.
Yeah, exactly. it’s good when you really lock in with someone and you both have a seamless workflow. It’s just an amazing feeling.
In a similar way, do you find that your abilities as a producer have generally improved?
Yeah – miles and miles from where I was before (laughs). It’s funny. When I was younger, I assumed that because of the connections I made, success was going to happen immediately, but as I had gotten older, I realize that real success takes longer to achieve and is part of a larger journey. Even after doing this for almost 10 years, I’m still in the beginning phases as a producer. When I was 13, I was like, “Okay, I wanna sound like Skrillex,” but then over time, I’ve learned to develop a sound all my own. I was with my mentor recently, and we were talking about just how much my sound has grown through the years. It made me think about all the people I’d met during that development stage, who told me to try this, this, and that. Even when I came back a year later, everyone was blown away at how much I’d improved. I’ve definitely learned so much, and I’m really excited to see where my sound goes in the next 10 years. All my favorite producers are in their 40s, so I’m not rushing; I’m here for the journey and getting better all the time.
You mention having the opportunity to work with tons of people, as well as having a mentor. When you were around 13, was there still a large collaborative space within your area that you had made yourself a part of?
Well, when I was 13, there weren’t that many creative people in the school that I went to. Everyone was into sports, varsity, and thinking about what to do for college. I was always immersed in everything music, and that will always be my obsession. I didn’t have that many people around that
I can talk about artists with, or what new songs came out, or what plugins were popular. Eventually, I was with the people who understood me. Most of them were 10 to 15 years older, but I didn’t care. I met my mentor, JP Solis, who is a legendary club DJ. He took me under his wing and gave me an extremely special experience that I appreciate to this day. Through him, I learned how to promote and host my own parties, perform at clubs, and do a lot of different stuff. When most people were going to parties, I’d be at his school, TPA, learning so much at a younger age that normally people in their 20s were starting to figure out. I had an interesting come up as an artist, producer and DJ, and I don’t think you’d have an experience like that in any other city.
Speaking of those experiences, were you taken aback at the pace everything was moving at, and the connections you’d managed to make, especially being so young?
Yeah! When I was younger, I definitely felt like it was a lot to process, and it was interesting just how these friendships developed, how they’ve encouraged me to get better, and how my sound developed as a result of these friendships. That was always good motivation. I can remember being 16 years old, and playing my first sold-out show in Pacha, learning to control a crowd, and hearing fans go crazy over music I wrote myself. It’s an insane feeling, and I’ve used so many of those experiences to inform what I’m doing right now. Some of the people in my network, who are now big artists, are all part of that same community. It’s super dope to see how everyone has grown and is doing their thing right now.
With the progress we’ve seen on Covid, in terms of it continually being treated by vaccines, what are your hopes about living life to a fuller extent in 2021?
I try to live a little bit each day. The only other thing I’d want to be done with is wearing a mask. It’s super uncomfortable, and I wear glasses, so they always fog up. But other than that, I’m getting pretty much everything I want out of life right now. I’m doing what I’ve always been doing, and I feel like the picture that the media has painted about the city, it being a ghost town, is far from the truth. It’s still full of life, and we’re all together, trying to stay safe. Once we get enough vaccines, we’ll be able to do a little bit more than we are currently. In the meantime, New York has done a really good job as far as handling it, so I’m feeling optimistic about the future.
Putting your career into perspective, what have you learned about yourself, both as an artist, and as a person?
When I think about it, a lot of the lessons I learn are over each year – what things I should avoid doing, and what things I should be doing more of. It can be something like learning a new skill. Even recently, I was listening to a song, and thought, “Maybe I should put this drum up louder in my mix.” Or, maybe I can do better with networking and reach out to more people. There’s just so many things I learn every day, and I feel like I have grown as not only an artist and producer, but as a person, too. All those things kind of work together as I navigate through this industry. You take it one day at a time.
Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?
I just want to say thank you to everyone checking out my music, and I look forward to what they think about the new stuff I have coming out.