Grace Gaustad JBL Emerging interview: On 'Nothing To Me'

Non-binary singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Grace Gaustad visits the JBL L.A Experience Center to talk about the meaning behind their brand new single Nothing To Me, taken from the PILLBX: whts ur fantasy? album, viral internet stardom, bringing the BLKBX concept to life and being a voice for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Gaustad has been steadily building a loyal fanbase since 2017 with numerous spellbinding covers. Fast forward to 2023 and the rising star is making worldwide headlines for their monumental Gen Z audience and music that explores mental health, gender, sexual identity and self-esteem.

Gaustad’s discography thus far has captivated fans worldwide thanks to an undeniable penchant for unflinching lyrics and a raw ability to convey the joy and pain of the human experience, with songs focussing on topics ranging from anxiety to trauma, sexuality and depression.

The breakout artist and mental health advocate had their big breakout moment aged just 16 when they uploaded a heartfelt rendition of Hozier’s Take Me to Church – which so far has garnered over 27 million views.

In this Emerging Headliner interview powered by JBL, Gaustad visited Harman’s L.A. experience centre for an interview and a special stripped back performance of their brand new single, Nothing To Me….

What can you tell us about your new single, Nothing To Me?

Nothing To Me is the eighth single off of my album PILLBX: whts ur fantasy? Nothing To Me is a song about when someone's done something a little wrong to you, and you’ve got to reclaim your power and get rid of that person in your life – get rid of that negative energy and come back to yourself. 

So you’ve got to own that you mean nothing to me – you’ve got to let them go. The song is about regaining your power as an individual.

Where were you able to get the insight to be so clear about your intentions so early in your life?

I'm an only child, so I grew up with a lot of adults. I spent a lot of time with my mum and watching her work and interacting with people all the time. I think that I learned some skillsets much earlier than a lot of people just because I really did spend a lot of time with mostly adults! 

And also, I've been working on music since I was in my first studio when I was probably eight or nine years old. I was writing my own music by age five or six. I didn't have a very big vocabulary to write music, but I did my best. So I've been around a little longer than people would think!

I was writing my own music by age five or six.

What music were you influenced by when you were growing up?

Gosh, I had a really large variety of music because I had my parents’ catalogue, so that was The Beatles, The Stones, Michael Jackson and Madonna. I had all this great older music, and then I also was listening to Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry – all these huge pop names that were coming up. 

I had a very unique combination of two completely different catalogues that came together to form what I would consider my own taste.

How old were you when your Take Me to Church cover video went viral?

I was 16 when that happened. It's an amazing song. I think it's absolutely beautiful. I knew from the moment I heard it that I wanted to cover it and I wanted to sing it. I put it up online and it ended up getting on a viral Spotify playlist, and that's where all the traction came from.

I think that most artists tend to start out with singing covers, and that's a wonderful idea. There's no better way to learn music and learn how to write music and sing it than studying other musicians. 

Once I saw the success with the Take Me To Church video, I was like, ‘Okay, I really want to work on my own craft and release my own songs and continue to build off of this momentum.’”

I do a lot of thinking in my bedroom in the middle of the night.

Your music videos are incredibly cinematic; are you behind the entire concept for each one?

I do a lot of thinking in my bedroom in the middle of the night. My first album, BLKBX was conceptualised at two or three in the morning. It was three days before Christmas and I didn't have a present for my mum. I was like, ‘What am I going to do?’ I put together this whole album and book and I spent three days painting all these pictures. I handed her a stack of work and I was like, ‘Merry Christmas! This is your Christmas gift.’

Then I'm like, ‘I need you to help me turn this into something real.’ We put our heads together and brought in some wonderful creative people like Van Alpert, my director – who is incredible. And Jo Baker, my makeup artist who helped design all the crazy looks from the videos. We also have a makeup line coming out called Bakeup, which is super exciting.

Then again, in the middle of the night I was thinking to myself about PILLBX and I started sharing with everyone the vision for that. We all put our heads together and made something super magical.

It's time to lose the labels, drop all the chaos.

What does your songwriting process look like?

It's very chaotic. I'm one of those musicians where I don't necessarily have a pattern or a process. I'll write stuff down all day long or I’ll pick up my phone and hum five seconds of something into it. And all of a sudden, you have this well of information and ideas, so then when I do go to write or produce a song, I've already got all these teeny starting points. 

I'll go back and I'll say, ‘What was that that I sang in the car earlier? Let me grab it and then turn it into a full song.’ So it's all very, very chaotic! I try to keep it fun. I don't believe in rules when it comes to songwriting.

What was your experience like as a musician in New York City?

I went to high school there. I built my chops in New York. I started working religiously after school – I would go downtown and record for four or five hours. I met my vocal coach, Don Lawrence, who's trained some of the best singers ever like Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera, and I’d audition for Don.

I'm 13 years old – and I'm shaking, and I'll never forget: He's like, ‘You're not great. But you're good.’ Eight years later, Don and I are super close. He's like a second dad to me. My time in New York with Don…he really made me great. He forced me to be great. He made me work really hard and I will forever be grateful for those years because it made me a much better artist.

Times are changing; a lot of young people are not conforming to the things that society has known for so long.

Your gender identity is a big part of your music and who you are. Were you always as comfortable with embracing that?

I was very lucky in that I had a mum who was very supportive of me when I was very young – she wanted me to be educated about anything and everything. She never really kept anything off limits, she just wanted to tell me the truth and tell it like it is. 

She did such a good job raising me; I never felt like it was unsafe to be myself. I never felt like I couldn't share with her things that I was feeling or dealing with.

I was able to find myself through music and find myself through art; it was always a huge place of expression for me. It all stems from there. 

Now, as times are changing, I certainly see a lot of young people who are not necessarily conforming to the things that society has known for so long. It's really important to be a representation for the next generation of kids that are going to come up.

You’ve got to be who you are, and that shouldn't bother anybody else. As long as everyone can love and respect each other for whatever those choices may be…I think that's very important. 

I hope that we as a society, in the next however many years, can get there where we just love people for who they are and how they want to present themselves.

Your work with trans activist and influencer Dylan Mulvaney is very important to you. Why do you complement each other so well?

Dylan is a great friend. She is absolutely wonderful. She's had a major success story on TikTok and she was in my video for Like A Person, which is a song that is for the LGBTQ+ community. It's a song to say, ‘We welcome you here, you're safe here. We want you to feel like you have a place to belong.’ 

Dylan and I are very similar in our messaging, and we really believe it's time to lose the labels, drop all the chaos. She's Dylan. I'm Grace. That should be it. It should be enough that we're just two creators, two people. We might not look exactly like everybody else, and that's totally okay. 

I'm really happy that someone like Dylan has grown quite a large platform, because it's really important for young kids to have all sorts of role models from all walks of life. I love to see representation for everybody in the media.

I don't believe in rules when it comes to songwriting.

What can we hope to see from you in 2023?

PILLBX, my album, will continue rolling out in 2023. We've got a tonne of songs left still, and a tonne of videos – a lot of storyline and plot still to uncover. I'm one of those people that keeps releasing things, so I'll never stop. Into 2023 we'll go and we'll go into 2024 and more songs will come – I can't stop creating!

Interview at the Harman L.A. experience centre conducted by Will Hawkins / Photography by Michelle Shiers.