Grace Carter: "There’s no set reason I write songs. It’s my time to just process and take myself into my feelings and do what I need to do to move on."
Tonya Antoniou | 16/011/2021
Grace released her debut EP ‘Why Her Not Me’ in 2018, hugely influenced by her father’s absence from her life and its insightful reflection on relationships; it resonated with audiences and critics alike. She achieved third place on the BBC Sound Poll 2019 along with huge playlisting support across BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2. Now over three years on, she’s accumulated millions of plays on her catalogue, played shows across the US, Asia and Europe as well as festival appearances at Glastonbury, Made In America, SxSW and Latitude and touring with the likes of HAIM, Dua Lipa, Lewis Capaldi and Jorja Smith. Grace has also worked with brands Cartier and JW Anderson and has graced the covers of magazines across the globe. Her unquestionable authenticity, powerful vocals and vulnerability have gained her global recognition. Her new single “Dark Matter” is the first in a string of new music which is even more introspective and dives deeper into aspects of her personal life, dealing with topics surrounding identity, race and learning to embrace her dual racial identity.
Through her music and social media she is quite candid about her personal experiences with mental health and trauma. I asked how she presently manages her wellbeing, especially when things are picking up in her career.
“Therapy has worked for me, but it’s about persevering and finding the right therapist and giving yourself space to do so. It didn’t happen straight away for me but I stuck with it until I found someone I could work well with and have chosen to continue with it.”
With the excitement around the release of “Dark Matter” I was eager to find out what direction her music would take.
““Dark Matter” is the first piece of a bigger project. As a kid I always kept a lot of anger pent up and bottled inside. Sometimes I like to write a letter about it. You don’t need to send it, sometimes it’s good to get it out and then let it go. That song, for me, is definitely a stream of conscious nerves. It’s just me and a piano, just flowing out. Personally, songwriting started from a place of growing up in a tricky situation, and having quite a bit of trauma happen. When I started music at 18/19 years old, I thought I was really mature but I wasn’t at all, I had a lot to learn. So my music going forward is reflective of that. It’s all about self-reflection, and losing myself to find myself and the whole journey. I think the first moment of the song is just me letting go of this letter that I wrote in 2016, or 2017, that has just sat on my hard-drive for years. It’s just been here and it’s nice to finally put it out. It’s definitely different from the stuff I’ve done before and it’s not the same as everything going forward either. I wanted to just start fresh and to feel something authentic. It comes totally from my heart. There’s no gimmicks, no distractions, it’s just what I feel. That’s something that I can advocate for and I hope it allows people to feel comfortable doing the same thing.”
Grace was encouraged by her stepfather to use songwriting as an outlet to connect with her feelings, “how does the process of writing make you feel?”
“There’s no set reason I write songs. It’s my time to just process and take myself into my feelings and do what I need to do to move on. It’s a day in my life and letting go of that, releasing myself from the higher power. It’s all cathartic. That’s kind of the point of music for me and that’s all the music I listen to.”
Having supported various artists and performed at some of the most famous festivals in the world I was intrigued to learn her career highlights.
“There’s been so many. The pandemic has been mental. I’ve had so much time to reflect because at the time when you’re touring, and travelling constantly, you have very little time to actually sit back and be like, “Oh, sh*t, I did that or that was cool”. You don’t have that time, you’re constantly on to the next thing, so the pandemic allowed all this stuff to come home for me to reflect and be grateful. I love to work with other people, but I think my own tours are my favorite thing where everyone’s there to see me, it gives me that minute to be my muse. I have felt insecure and emotional before, like no one gives a shit and I remember going out on the first show and thinking no one was gonna be there. I don’t know why but I guess I can be a bit of a glass half empty kind of girl. I remember I walked out and it was completely sold-out. It was like that for the rest of the tour before we had to stop it, which was heartbreaking; because I’m sure it was going to be sick. Something that will always be close to my heart was doing the Radio 1 Stay at Home Live Lounge charity single, which was amazing. We recorded at home and it just felt like a special thing, especially as it went to number one. It’s my only number one to date. It was cool.”
I wanted to hear how she has navigated herself and her expressions of creativity as a woman of mixed heritage within the music industry, considering gender and racial inequality.
“I grew up with the white side of my family only, so people always ask how you feel with your identity. I think a lot of people assume I’ll say white. But no, if anything growing up in a white family reminded me that I was different from everyone else and I had to figure it out for myself. I was on a trajectory into my own journey. Coming into the music industry, where a lot of people make assumptions around who you are and the music you make based on your parents, has been testing. I’m a young girl who writes songs with a piano about heartbreak and unrequited love. I wouldn’t say that they’re specific to a genre but often when I read articles they refer to an R&B singer and I don’t see myself in those terms. There are incredible R&B artists out there that don’t get credit at all. And then there’s people like me that make pop music/soulful pop music, whatever you want to call it, who then get put in those brackets, leaving no space for those authentic R&B artists. But also as a mixed race artist, I also have a privilege and what frustrates me is that we’re often seen as black artists in the industry and the face of black music. Although I would say that we can be a part of that conversation, there’s not much space made for dark skinned black women in the music industry. That frustrates me because I think there’s so many incredible artists who aren’t from a black origin and sing with these tones and make this type of music who get given the space straightaway. But then when it comes to the authentic person who is actually from that place and part of that culture they don’t get the opportunity. What’s important is that artists in the music industry see those things and notice that privilege, and use their voice to promote change. I very rarely walk into a room where I’m surrounded by people that understand where I’m from, or my point of view. I think when there’s a lack of representation at the top, it bleeds down below. Sometimes there’s a lack of communication or understanding. For example, on a shoot, if I need to get my hair done and they only give me 20 minutes I’m not a white girl with pin straight hair, I have an afro; it takes me two and a half hours. Then I’m made to feel like I’m causing a problem. That’s the kind of situation that needs to change because it’s not fair. We need to realise that the industry is full of lots of diverse people from lots of different places and that it needs to be represented from the top down.”
I wondered how surreal it feels for Grace to see herself on magazine covers and being recognised by global brands such as Cartier and JW Anderson - does she ever pinch herself?
“It’s so cool. I just went a few weeks ago to Berlin with Cartier which is always fun. It’s funny because at school Gucci Cartier was my nickname. So the fact that I now work with Cartier really closely is just super cool. All my mates say isn’t it ironic. I love shoots, taking photos, fashion, playing around and being experimental. It’s a fun part of what I do and it’s the side of it that’s not music related, but I can express myself through.”
Having collaborated with Jacob Banks on her single “Blame”, I ask if could we expect any other collaborations and wondered who her dream musician would be to work with.
“I’d like to say at some point, there’ll be more collaborations. I’d never really collaborated with another artist and working with Jacob was amazing. It was a song I had written and sent to him recorded over zoom and it was something very different but I loved it and him massively. I’d definitely like to collaborate with other artists at some point. In terms of my dream collaboration I’ve got quite a few. I think one of them for my childhood self would be Alicia Keys. A duet with her would be incredible, little me would die.”
We also spoke about her other musical muses.
“Little Sim’s album was a game changer. It was the first show I ever went to on my own when I came to London. I came down with my friend and I went to see her at the Hospital Club. I’ve always been a massive fan of hers and the album. It’s proper music which isn’t trying to chase anything. It’s not trying to be anything, it’s just authentic to who she is right now and I really appreciate that. There are loads of other people I love; generally I like anything that’s got any sort of emotional feeling.”
Being asked to feature in Virgins first ever TV ad is pretty epic, I asked what it was like working with an orchestra and her experience of that process?
“Again, it was a pandemic situation, but it was really cool, almost my dream career. My biggest dream is to make songs fit with visuals. The sort of music I make and the emotion that I bring to things is very suited to moments like that. Being asked to do an advert was pretty cool. I didn’t get to be in the room which is heartbreaking because that is literally another dream as I love strings so much. It’s really random when I’m watching TV and it comes on. It was an honor to be asked to be involved and I really enjoyed recording it. I loved taking the song and doing my thing with it and making it feel more contemporary.”
As we come towards the end of our interview we end up discussing the best advice she would give to up and coming artists.
“I would probably say stay true to yourself. You’re going to go through a lot of moments of people trying to bend and mold you to be different things as well as telling you what’s best. I think just always trust your gut and make sure you have a moment to take yourself to one side and ask deep within whether it’s what you want. I think it should be fun but be aware that sometimes it can be really hard. I’m not gonna lie, it can be really tough, but it’s also so rewarding and amazing to be able to do what you love every single day. To wake up and do something different every single day and write songs is my biggest thing. You have so much power and it’s no one’s to take away from you. That’s your expression.”
Grace brings a real uniqueness to her songwriting, her records are emotive and unfiltered, and she brought this reality to the interview. It’s no wonder that brands want to work with her and that audiences want to connect with her. She doesn’t shy away from heavy topics so it will not come as a surprise that Grace’s new single “Riot” which will be released in January, will deal with issues surrounding race and police brutality, and this like a lot of her music will undoubtedly strike a chord with audiences worldwide.
Words: Tonya Antoniou
Photography: Maria Lane