18-year-old Australian songstress, Grace, played her first show when she was just 12, and by 14 had secured her first publishing deal. Not a bad start! Three years later, her manager sent out a demo she'd written and put together on Garageband, which caught the attention of a number of record executives, and ultimately resulted in Grace signing with RCA. What followed was pretty sensational: in 2015, her unique cover of Lesley Gore's 1963 hit, You Don't Own Me, featuring rapper, G-Eazy, reached the number one spot in Australia, and also in the UK on the official airplay chart. The track was co-produced by Parker Ighile and legendary producer, Quincy Jones, the latter of whom also produced the original. At the time of writing, that track has had over 20 million plays on YouTube.
We sat down with Grace in London over a Soya latte or two to find out more about the girl behind the music, and the direction of her debut album, due for release this year.
“I've been singing for as long as I can remember,” Grace admits, adding that her family were always 'super musical'. Her grandparents toured with the Gibb brothers, after all, so she has a point. “I learned a lot from them, for sure. Also, my brother, who is 10 years older than me, was already doing recording sessions and gigs as I was growing up, so I watched him in the studio, learned from him, figured out I could sing, and thought, 'that's what I want to do', basically.”
There are no airs or graces (forgive the pun) about this young lady. She's bubbly, humble, and easy to talk to. Her mum, she tells me, was into all the greats: Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Smokey Robinson, so Grace grew up listening to all of them, which has had a positive effect on her own approach to singing.
“I guess I tried to emulate those singers to some extent,” Grace reflects. “I was already writing when I was nine or 10 years old - just because I felt I needed to express myself - and then I signed to my publisher when I was 14, and soon found myself doing co-writes in Stockholm, and collaborating with other musicians. It all got a bit more serious, but I was still really young, so I couldn't focus, full time.”
But that wouldn't last long. Grace left school at 17, and remembers how she was still 'figuring it all out' in terms of artist development. She was ready to take the next step, as there was no backup plan... Literally.
“There was just nothing else I was passionate about, and that's still the same today,” she says, with a smile. “I had this two-month waiting period when I was in Australia, and had nothing to do, really, so I wrote this song called Boyfriend Jeans, and recorded a shitty demo on Garageband and sent it to my manager. He said he loved it, so sent it to five different US labels, and within a week, I was out there showcasing for them!”
It's easy, this game, isn't it?
“[laughs] It was pretty mad! Coming from shit-all, going on to being in Sony and Republic, and showcasing for Chairmen of these massive companies,” Grace admits. “I ended up signing with RCA, who are amazing; I couldn't have asked for a better home. They're just music people, through and through, which is what I felt was the most important thing for me. This was October 2014, then we put out the EP, Memo, which I did with British producer, Parker Ighile, who I've been doing sessions with here in UK since I was 14, and am now working on the album with. He is an incredibly talented guy.”
Conversation turns to musical collaboration and songwriting – something Grace has done a lot of in the past few years.
“I had to learn, as I was so inexperienced, and I was just a sponge, really,” she smiles. “And that helped me a lot figuring out the basic structure of how to write a song, and to be inspired. But I think it really depends on how you're feeling; if you want to speak your mind, it's sometimes better to just go in the studio and be with you and a track, or someone that can play an instrument, and just write. But collaboration is also a great way to create: there are no rules to it, it's whatever works for you, which is the beauty in it, I think.”
When you listen to Memo, you can hear a number of influences, and a lot of soul. There's more than a bit of Amy Winehouse in there – her musical hero - and even a touch of Christina Aguilera when she lets rip. In summary, this girl can really sing. Check the single out below:
Grace's real love, she says, is being on stage; and her affiliation with the UK suggests we might get to see her perform sooner rather than later.
“Some of my favourite artists – like Amy – come from here, and the UK has never seemed that far away, as my dad is British, and all his family are here, so I have always wanted a presence here,” Grace explains. “I have been coming here since I was little, too; and I think musically, London has always been ahead of the curve in terms of the creative. [pauses] I just think dope shit happens here!”
As well as being compared to Amy Winehouse, Grace has been tagged as Australia's answer to Adele – does she take that as a big compliment, or does it just bring more pressure?
“[smiles] I think as humans we like to compare, as it's natural for us to put people in a box; I tend not to pay attention to it, really; it's obviously a massive compliment to be compared to names such as that, they're people I've loved,” Grace says, very matter of fact. “Amy has been my inspiration since I was a little kid. I adore her. So you can't help but be humbled and excited by the compliment, but you can't get caught in the hype - you have to pave your own way. Nobody ever got great by copying what someone else did; all the legendary iconic artists that we look at today are completely unique and authentic, so that's what I have always strived for.”
We chat a little about Social Media, and how it helps Grace connect directly with her fanbase, though she admits she is not quite as natural with technology as she is at the mic..!
“I think having multiple platforms to connect these days is a great thing, and it's definitely a positive, but I do need to get better at it! We are still in that grind stage, carving out a fanbase and a following at the moment, but it's definitely moving in the right direction,” Grace explains. “I won't be headlining tours anytime soon, but I have toured with Leon Bridges throughout Europe, which was an amazing experience. Performing live is something the Australians and Brits have in common; it's ingrained into us as artists. I was playing in bars and pubs from a young age; it was just what you did. As an artist, you have to be able to sing live, and put on a show. That's always been very important to me, and the stage is where I feel the most comfortable.”
Since recording her EP, Grace says she has evolved as a songwriter, and that her album will be a little more mature as a result. And despite being soul through and through, she also has a little bit of hip hop up her sleeve:
“My voice has always tried to emulate that soulfulness that I grew up listening to, but you can't emulate soul, you have to have it a little bit as well [smiles]. But hip hop is everywhere in culture today, and you can't escape it: I listen to like Nas, Kanye, Jay Z; they all grew up listening to soul and motown music, too, and it's sampled into their music, so it's very easy for me to relate to that, and be inspired by that sonically.
“If you mix that all together, and tell it from an 18-year-old girl's perspective, there is always an authenticity, because it's coming from your brain, you know what I mean? [smiles] I couldn't say exactly what it is, and I don't think I ever will truly be able to pin point it to one genre.”
Which is a good thing, right?
“A good and a bad thing,” Grace laughs. “Some people get confused by it. My album that I am working on right now is very different to the EP; it's more stripped back in terms of production, and more about the songs and being a singer. On my EP, I'm talking about going to parties and getting in trouble with your parents, whereas now it's about taking things more seriously and growing up. I've experienced a year of new things, and that's transpired in the album, so it's a little bit more mature. I was always going to go in that direction because of the artists that I have looked up to.”