You'd probably recognise Sydney artist GRAACE's voice and songwriting style from the track she sung on and co-wrote with Hayden James titled 'Numb'. She previous to that broke out with a couple of tracks she uploaded to triple J Unearthed last year titled 'Cold Without You' and 'Another Love'.
Her songwriting talents and vocal abilities have caught the eyes of many - after voicing that massive single with Hayden James, she also went on tour with Flight Facilities, joining their touring party as a vocalist. And at only 21 years old, she's just getting started.
Self-Sabotage is the name of her debut EP. The six-track EP is an exploration of personal growth and documents a reflective period for the artist that covers love, toxic relationships, becoming self-aware and all in the process, finding her voice.
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Stylistically, Self-Sabotage combines all of the elements of GRAACE's sound that we've come to love - her classic pairing of her soaring vocals with her expert understanding of the piano - but with a new found sense of confidence. You can really tell with this body of work that she's spent a very long time honing her craft, putting her head down and working hard.
There's so many poignant moments on this EP that shows GRAACE really is not only a songwriter beyond her years, but she's emotionally capable of capturing these imperative moments in her life that so many other people can relate to.
'SOS' was written all within twenty minutes, a track she describes as one that came as a result of 'everything I’d been bottling up just exploding'. 'Last Night', the EP's second single, details an experience of realising that she wasn't able to fully love someone else until she came to love herself. The lead single 'Kissing Boys' details what is potentially the most true to the EP's name.
In amongst the varied instances of personal reflection, the EP really grounds itself within the simplest of foundations - her voice and the way she conveys her words. There's a pain present in her voice, and in recognising that, you empathise and you really feel what she's singing about.
We chatted with her about how she found ways to overcoming the challenges she faced when needing to confront the way she was feeling, the whirlwind that has been the last year for her and how working on this project has been a life-long exploration into music and finding ways to use that as an outlet to not only cope, but to confront her feelings too.
C: This project has been public for the better part of a year now. How long have you been conceptualising and writing or this project?
G: I feel like the oldest song on the EP, gosh, probably about 2 years. About two and a half years ago. My old music and this new project are intertwined. There’s a mix between the electronic vibe and also just me and my piano.
C: You’re so young too! Have you always been creating music?
G: Yeah! I started playing classical piano when I was about 6 and I loved it. I found it so enjoyable to teach myself new songs and be doing all that. I then slowly melded more into the music world when my dad said “Hey, do you want to try guitar?” because I love Joni Mitchell. And then without even realising when I started playing guitar, I started singing along and writing my own silly tunes, but some of them were so bad. I’m honestly so surprised that my parents kept telling me that I could sing cause I have voice memos of me when I was 12 - oh my goodness *laughs*. I started really young, but I’ve definitely always loved to sing. I’ve just improved.
Even my writing from like three years ago, I listen and I’m like “I’m cringing”. It’s crazy, you don’t realise how much you improve. I guess it’s like how you might not see someone for a while and three years later, they’re like “Oh! You look different”.
C: Yeah! And you feel like nothing’s changed.
G: I’m just doing me.
C: You’ve packed so much into this short time - multiple singles, co-writing and featuring on a massive track with Hayden James, touring with Flight Facilities earlier in the year AND somehow found the time to also create your debut EP Self Sabotage too. Can you tell us a bit about how this journey has unfolded for you?
G: It happened so quick, honestly. It was about January or February last year. I was living in Byron Bay for about six months and I was recording and writing, only just for fun with Jo Loewenthal of Tora and we were doing these songs and I thought, you know what? I’ll put this on triple j Unearthed, no one’s going to listen. And within 30 minutes, Bridget Hustwaite had emailed me being like “Can I play your track first on triple j right now?” and I was like “What!” It was ridiculous.
Within two months of that, I had been contacted by so many managements and labels and I ended up finding Leon from Falcona who’s my manager now, and we just clicked straight away. I love his business ethics and just the way we work, he really does believe in me even when I didn’t really have much of a project at all. Then he messaged me and was like “Hey, I showed Hayden James your song, he loves your writing and he wants you to come in and write with him.” I’ve always loved his music. He ended up sending me a track, and in the taxi on the way to his place, I ended up writing the whole top line.
I didn’t expect the reaction to ‘Numb’ going platinum and getting #32 in the triple j Hottest 100 was ridiculous and I think everything’s unfolded so quickly. I’m so happy because I’ve put so many years behind me into developing my songwriting and myself as just an artist in general.
C: It’s such a classic case of you get in what you put out of it sort of thing.
G: Yeah! It’s so funny because everyone’s known about this project for only the last year, but for me this has been since I was six years old.
C: How much work has gone into a project like this so far? Is this something that you do full time?
G: Yeah, totally. Even without realising. I don’t think of this as a job at all. I was telling my friend this last night - when I get home, all I want to do is play the piano. I don’t feel like I have to play music, I genuinely just want to do it all the time so I do. I have a really close knit of friends which is really helpful because I don’t feel like I have to always many a conscious effort to always talk to everyone and I think it’s really cool that I have these people around me that understand that I’m going to be in my room writing a lot. It’s beneficial for me. It makes me happier. It’s been a lot of work though and I haven’t really had a lot of time to spend with other people.
C: I know exactly that feeling. It is difficult because you don’t want to not prioritise your friends, but at the same time you’ve got something really good going and you want to ride that and see where that takes you.
G: Yeah totally!
C: I think that’s the best way to approach making something that’s your passion into something that’s also your career.
G: I think you can tell with people’s music as well when someone is really passionate and genuine about what they’re writing. It translates really well because people will listen and go “Oh shit, it sounds like she’s really going through something” and you can really tell through their emotion.
C: Definitely, and I think with music like yours, it is very emotive and the writing is very personal. Have people reached out to you that have connected with your music?
G: So many more than I thought, it’s ridiculous. Because I’m always writing in my room, I’ll always post little snippets of what I’m writing to my story or something. It’s crazy to see the response to something when I’m feeling crap and writing about something sad, and I’ll post it being like “Whatever, I just want to get this out, I don’t even want to write anymore”. A lot of girls - which is amazing, because that’s who I want to surround myself with: like-minded girls who feel like they can connect with something - they’ll ask me for advice. It’s crazy because I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. I’ve always had an older sister, and she’s taken such good care of me. It’s awesome because I feel like I always listen to a lot of these girls and what they have to say. We talk all the time, it’s crazy. A lot of people reach out to me all the time saying stuff like “Hey, I just wanted to say this song really helped me through this. Can I get your advice on how you got out of it?” It’s really fucking cool, I feel like I have heaps of friends.
C: It would definitely make you feel on the flip side that what you’re creating has such good value. That’s what an artist wants right? People to find meaning through what they create.
G: Even just being able to change like one person’s life with a song that you’ve written is the craziest thing ever. I’ve had so many people message me about ‘Numb’. I had the most crazy experience - I was at the Enmore Theatre and I was singing ‘Numb’ in the encore. I don’t know why, there was so many people, but I got down towards the end and saw this girl who was crying. I jumped down straight away and grabbed her and was like “Do not cry”. Everyone was trying to grab me and I was like, no, I need to talk to this chick. I reckon we hugged for like 20 minutes straight and she told me the most beautiful story about how this is her and her brother’s song and he passed away. We talk all the time now. It’s crazy to think how one song can bring you together with someone. I was so happy to have met her.
C: Can you tell us a little bit about what the EP means to you as a whole project?
G: It’s a pretty daunting one. It says it all, it’s called Self-Sabotage. It was a pretty confronting experience to see that group of songs that I’d written and really just knowing that I’d been self-sabotaging myself. There was no other way that I could explain it or put a label on it. It was such a therapeutic journey writing these songs. Sitting down and not planning what I was going to write each time I was writing and just having these words spill out of me without even realising what I was thinking subconsciously or what I was doing. It’s crazy how it all came together.
When you sing these songs, I guess it’s a bit like seeing a therapist. You’re just by yourself, there’s no one there to judge. It’s pretty crazy to think what I was thinking and what I was going through. I was going through so many toxic relationships constantly and on repeat just because that’s the way that my brain was working and it just always came to bite me on the ass.
I think in anything, if you don’t fully love yourself and you’re not committing fully to someone that you love, you end up trying to fill these voids and it never works. I’ve taken so much time while writing this EP to work on my mental health and make sure that I’m in a really healthy state because you want to surround yourself with people that you’re going to be able to fully love and show love to and they can give it back as well. I think a lot of people don’t even realise that they’re in these toxic relationships.
Would you find that through this experience, you’ve learnt a lot more about yourself and how to confront these feelings?
Totally. I’m notorious for being someone that keeps my emotions inside and never talking about how I feel. I avoid situations where I have to talk about how I feel. There’s a song on my EP called ‘SOS’ that I wrote within twenty minutes because everything I’d been bottling up had just exploded. The whole song came together so easy and effortlessly. Some of the lyrics are ‘I’m calling SOS but the only problem is I’m good at hiding all of my issues’ and it’s about those situations where you kind of hope someone will notice that you’re not okay, but you’re smiling and acting normal so obviously no one’s going to know. I think it’s a really normal thing in society nowadays.
Off topic - but I was in the shop the other day, buying a coffee and I didn’t realise that the table was broken. I asked him how he was and he was referring to the table being broken, and he was like “seen better days you know”. And I was like OMG same, thank you for being so honest about that. And he was like “…I was talking about the table” *laughs*.
He was sweet, but I really wasn’t having a great day and I didn’t want to say that I’m good. I’m sick of saying “I’m okay” all the time and I think this EP is me talking to all of my friends and family and saying “Yo, I wasn’t fine” and a lot of people around probably aren’t fine and they’re not going to talk or reach out.
I’m so glad that you’ve had this cathartic outlet to not only explore that, but to just get it all out too. I think that’s why people really struggle with their mental health, finding a way to let it all out. It just sounds like through this process you’ve really - I don’t want to say found yourself, but you’ve really come to terms with your feelings.
Yeah, the biggest thing I think I’ve definitely found is my voice. Which I think a lot of people aren’t lucky enough to have that outlet for. I really want to try to be there for the people that need it and to tell them that it’s okay to speak up. It’s really not an easy thing to, especially with people around you, you feel embarrassed and all of that stuff. At the end of the day it’s worth it because nothing’s better than feeling happy or loved.
Image via Facebook
Words by CAITLIN MEDCALF