Hyperpop's prodigal son glaive is staying grounded despite his music reaching for the stars.
Ash Gutierrez is going to LA tomorrow - but first, he needs to finish his homework.
Emerging from the trenches of SoundCloud at the start of the global pandemic as glaive, Gutierrez dared to push pop down a flight of stairs at a breakneck descent until it was bruised with different shades of sound beyond recognition, from punk, Midwestern emo to digicore – and, of course, bleeding just a little from the unbearable weight of growing up.
His sound is an internet’s worth of influences, capturing the zeitgeist with warp-speed collaborations all happening with the desperate, kinetic energy of sugar-rush. No wonder, then, that glaive has become the posterboy for hyperpop: the vortex of experimental genres that tap into the mile-a-minute feeling of being Gen Z.
All this, and Gutierrez has just started eleventh grade. His hair is a shock of unruly curls that flop into his eyes; his smile is a thousand mega-watts; he speaks at the speed of a nitecore remix, tearing through sentences with an infectious enthusiasm and casting them aside before he’s even finished with them – all this, and the back of your mind, you’re thinking: surely, Gutierrez and Finn Wolfhard must be related?
“I guess this is my first time going to a big city tomorrow!” he chirps. “I’ve been so nervous – I’m a nervous person. I’ve been thinking about his trip for a month. But I’m gonna fucking get on that plane!” He has an alarm set for 5am, so he can cram in his schoolwork – “but I’m willing to do it, because I get to go there and make music and meet people, I dunno, I’m excited!”
Gutierrez scours his room to find a colour swatch to describe the exact shade of red he will be painting his nails to match his big red Chevrolet sweater that he plans to wear in the morning. “I’m thinking I’m going to do red, white and black nails. Me and my mom are gonna figure out all the colours for Los Angeles. I love nail polish! It’s one of my favourite things in the world. It’s like another form of art, but you get to do it on your fingers.” As we compare our colours, he says, “Yours is more like maroon, but I want to do like a fire hydrant red, a bright red, like a fire truck or something like that. It stands out, it’s very in your face,” – and that, in itself, is the MO of glaive.
The 16-year-old’s debut mixtape Cypress Grove was named after a street in his hometown in North Carolina, and the visuals were filmed in its lush, natural landscapes - be that in the video for “pissed” where he charges around the woodland dressed in a racoon onesie, or for his infamous single “astrid” where he stands, arms outstretched in bliss, surrounded by farm animals. It’s an almost whiplash-inducing contrast for an artist whose music depends on faster-than-the-internet sonic chaos, fast and sharp like jamming your finger into a plug socket.
His streaming figures clocking well into the millions were all created in a single year, and his countless collaborators, including the hyperpop monoliths from ericdoa to aldn and midwxst, were all met on their home turf: online. This trip to LA will be one of the first times they’re all together – no longer on a Discord server, but IRL. “I know, stranger danger,” he shrugs, unprompted. “I know I don’t really know these people, but if they’re involved in music, they might be crazy but they aren’t gonna kidnap you”, he laughs, which has the reverberations of a conversation he almost definitely had with his parents in an attempt to persuade them to let him go. Bridging the divide between the virtual world and the real one was always on the cards – that, and bungee jumping: “I got a lot better at throwing myself into situations. Even though I think about it for weeks, in the end, I’m gonna do it.”
It feels, in many ways, like glaive appeared out of nowhere: a fully formed artist who, despite his age, had his shit together from the start – which really, wasn’t that long ago. “It feels like it's like a big, practical joke,” Gutierrez laughs, “where, like, one day I wake up and there’s gonna be like a big camera, like, ‘We got his ass!’ I guess it seems like I came out of nowhere, but they’re only seeing what I’m doing now because they follow me, and they know about me – they didn’t see when I only had 100 followers on Soundcloud and was putting out awful music.” He still has the Discord DMs he sent to ericdoa asking him to check out his music from day one, and now they’re not just friends but collaborators, a bond immortalised on their single "cloak n dagger": a coming-together of two of the greatest minds in digicore.
Gutierrez, unlike many artists, hasn’t done the customary Soundcloud purge, scrubbing glaive's earliest efforts from the face of the internet. “They’re definitely out there – if you look for it, you can find it,” he says. “Some people think they’re good, but I think they’re awful. They’re poorly mixed and the lyrics are really bad, but it’s whatever. There are so many re-uploads of them, which sucks for me!” he laughs.
But during the pandemic, confined to four walls, Gutierrez doubled down on music to the extent that he was turning over a song a day. Cypress Grove, in fact, with its seven tracks, was nailed within a single week. “Before the pandemic, I wasn’t doing anything super creative. I had, like, 20 followers on every social media platform. It was nothing. I was just doing what you do if you live in a small town and just fuck around all day. I was in a band – I always loved music – but never made anything of my own until I realised that I actually could. I just enjoy the musicality of music. I could talk about it for thousands of hours,” he says. As glaive, Gutierrez is a graduate of the school of Lil Peep, an artist whose legacy is only just emerging in the digicore generation. They, like Gutierrez, consider emo rap to be as fundamental to their sound as their pop sensibilities. It’s Lil Peep on the one hand, and on the other, Justin Bieber, of course, whose melodies are unbeatable.
“All I think about is music - my mind literally doesn’t think about anything else.”
It’s easy to believe him when Gutierrez says, “This is gonna sound fake, but I promise that it happened: I had an awful nightmare yesterday that I was, like, not doing music, and I was just back in school. All I think about is music - my mind literally doesn’t think about anything else.”
Breaking into the hyperpop scene, when it was still a nebulous, as-of-yet undefined underground community, was possible thanks to slowly spinning a web of Twitter followers through the enshrined online law that mutuals beget mutuals. But Gutierrez is also equally indebted to his close friend, the digicore artist and producer, kurtains, (“aka boss man” according to his Genius bio.) Belonging to the creative collective Slowsilver03, alongside the likes of Osquinn and Wido, he was Gutierrez' spirit guide to the Soundcloud netherworld, and now, he, too, is a member. “He’s truly one of the reasons I am where I am today,” he says. “He got me into, like, talking to all these people.”
Talking to people never came naturally to Gutierrez, which comes as a surprise for someone who can chat to perfect strangers with an almost fluorescent enthusiasm. “I was talking about this with my mom recently,” he says. “We were on a dog walk, and I was like, ‘Do you think I got more confident over the last year?’ I couldn’t even talk to adults – that was my big thing. I’d just look at my shoes. They’re adults, you know,” he shrugs. “They’ve got life experience and shit. But I’ve definitely got better at it because I’ve been forced to get better at it – it’s been a very big jump. I’ve become, like, way better at speaking and saying my thoughts, I’d like to think, but, uh, I have no clue how to end that sentence…” he trails off, “but yeah, that’s basically what I mean.”
In some ways, though he is making seismic moves in the realm of online music scenes, in the real world, little has changed. “Still gotta do the dishes and everything, still gotta go to school,” he shrugs. “One really close IRL friend who I talk to almost every day, he doesn’t care. He’s like, ‘Oh, you’re making music? That’s cool. You wanna play fucking video games?’” Gutierrez has always kept his circle small, choosing to surround himself with one or two close friends rather than droves of grey-area acquaintances. “All the people in my life that I talk to either don’t care that I make music, or they actually make music, too.”
While he balks at the idea of being considered ‘famous’ by any stretch of the imagination – though if his momentum is anything to go by, it’s only a matter of time – life has undeniably shifted, but Gutierrez is more than ready for it. “I have a lot of music friends that have definitely had it very hard,” he acknowledges, “because they were just making music and never expected anything out of it. But when I started, I was like, ‘I really want to do this… if I can’ – like, I never expected it to, obviously. But I was like, ‘If I could, of course I want to be a musician, who doesn’t?’ It’s like, the coolest thing in the world! I have no clue how I got this far, but it’s working.”
With Internet-born fame comes love and hate in the dual realms of online and offline: there’s twice the load to contend with. “I’ve never really responded badly to negative stuff – even in real life,” Gutierrez says. “People in North Carolina aren’t huge fans of you painting your nails, but I was like, ‘Who cares, dude? I’m gonna paint my nails whether you like it or not.’ Like, if you care about it, you care about it – but me? I don’t care. So when people online were starting to be like, ‘Oh, I don’t like this lanky kid’, I still don’t care. It’s just like, whatever. But then when people are being nice, of course, it’s like somebody is giving you a compliment in real life, but it’s, like, way more people.”
Starting at ground zero and now having millions of streams to your name in the space of a single year invites scrutiny. Gutierrez' lyrics read like the ripped out pages of your diary that you screw up and throw at a wall, white-hot frustration pouring out onto the page, all fury and a fuck-you, as he writes for his song “touché”: ‘My head is filled with dark thoughts, hooks and profanities / I been losing myself in my brand new reality.’
“Astrid”, glaive’s defining single, with its pummelling, tumble-down bass drops chewed and spat out in less a little over 100 seconds, has been picked apart more than others. “So many people are really upset with the lyrics for ‘Astrid’”, Gutierrez says, “and have asked, ‘What do you mean here?’ I listened to it, and I’m like, ‘Yep, that’s a nice song.’ I don’t listen to the lyrics. I’m not even thinking about the situation – I’m just remembering the vibe I was feeling at the time: I was super happy; I was having fun. But the old songs… oh my god…” he cringes. “Well, “Astrid” is an exception, because that song has aged pretty good. It was mixed very well, actually, which surprises me because I have no idea how to mix them. But listening back to my old stuff on SoundCloud, I realise it sucks – the lyrics don’t even matter if the sound isn’t good.”
Gutierrez' lyricism relies on the skeleton key of imagination as equally as it relies on lived experience. “‘Astrid’ was definitely about a person,” he admits, “but a lot of my songs are more about an idea, or multiple people pushed into one thing – or even sometimes, I’m just making shit up. I just do whatever sounds good. The girl’s name wasn’t Astrid, actually – but it’s similar. I just didn’t wanna name drop her, in case she’d get mad at me and sue me, or something, so I changed it.” While he no longer talks to the muse behind the track, he has her blessing, even if the lyrics “kinda suck” from her perspective. “I definitely take some of these stories that happened in my life and maybe embellish them a tiny bit. Lots of things, true and made-up, make a song for me.”
"If I had a million dollars, I would give it all back just so people could resonate with my music and be able to hear it."
Gutierrez is already working on the next chapter in the glaive story. “I’m working on another EP, and this next EP… oh my god,” he grins, “it’s, like, so much better than the other one. I love Cypress Grove, it’s good, I enjoyed it, and that’s all that really matters, but this next one – I like this a lot better. I’ve grown up. I went from being 15 to being 16,” he says proudly. “I’ve aged, even if it’s just numbers.”
“Hold on, let me take off this necklace, and I’ll tell a story. So this necklace, right?” he says, holding up a USB stick hanging on a chain to the camera. “It has all the songs that I think are good enough to go on the EP already. I think it has five on it right now that are good enough to go on the project… Oh my god, I just dropped it!” He tells me about the relief he felt when he discovered it was waterproof after he showered wearing it accidentally – it seems like for every ounce of glaive’s hard work, there is a helping of luck on his side.
“I feel like I’m better at singing on these tracks, too,” he continues. “I mean, the Cypress Grove songs were pretty well-sung, but there’s a lot of autotune, and it could be better. I’ve just been having fun, way more fun, and I think that will come through, fingers crossed. I feel like the more fun I have making the song, the better it does, basically. If it were me, I’d put a song out whenever I made it, but then I suppose it’s a good thing that it doesn’t work that way, because I look back a day later and I’m like, ‘Oh… that’s actually, like… awful’”, he laughs.
The only thing more important to Gutierrez than his music is his parents, and true success would be when they no longer have to work. “That’d be, like, my highest priority ever, but that obviously won’t happen anytime soon. But goal number two,” he explains, is already within his grasp – in fact, you might say he’s already attained it, “is that I want my music to reach as many people as possible. If I had a million dollars, I would give it all back just so people could resonate with my music and be able to hear it. But until then,” Gutierrez says defiantly, “I’m gonna work my ass off, for sure.”