Interview: GRAACE releases debut EP 'Self-Sabotage'
No more sabotage
GRAACE releases her debut EP Self-Sabotage today, and she’s emerged from the process stronger, more confident, and determined not to sabotage herself again.
When twenty-one-year-old Sydney local Grace Pitts, aka GRAACE, considers the moments in her life that were pivotal in shaping her career in music, she cites one event as probably the most significant – being lied to by her parents. “When I was like maybe thirteen years old I sucked so bad at singing! Damn I was bad,” she laughs. “But my parents told me I was good and it literally fooled me that I was good and I practised all the time and actually improved a lot. It was a serious ‘fake it till you make it’.” And with the release of Pitts’ debut EP Self-Sabotage today, an assured collection of personal and at times heartbreaking pop, it is clear she is one singer who has most definitely made it.
Pitts grew up a long way from pop music, studying classical piano from a young age. Despite a natural talent for music – “I knew that music was the one thing that made me really happy and it was the one thing I wanted to do without having to change or be someone else,” she says – she grew frustrated with an inability to express her own emotions through the piano and moved into playing guitar. It quickly paid off and Grace Pitts the artist began to emerge.
“Straight after that it came pretty naturally for me to start writing and singing,” she says. She started gigging in cafés and at weddings around the age of fourteen to earn pocket money after being fired from a job at a pizza shop (“I used to eat all the food and they said, ‘Hey, you need to go,’” she laughs) but quickly came to a fairly demoralising realisation. “I kind of realised that no one was listening,” she says.
Rather than being defeated by such an unpleasant reality, Pitts used it to fire herself up. “I’m someone who gets so motivated when someone doesn’t fully appreciate something that I do,” she says. “I’m just like, ‘Alright, I’m going to make you listen to me.’”
After deciding “I want to do this as my thing and I want to perform and I want to release my own stuff as my own artist”, Pitts initially began writing folk music, inspired by her idol Joni Mitchell. “Everything about her is incredible,” she says. “She really made me believe in myself and that folk music is stunning.” Pitts also credits Mitchell for paving the way for female artists, giving her the belief that as a young woman she could perform folk and be accepted by the public.
So it wasn’t until relatively recently that Pitts turned to her pop sound. “I really don’t think folk music and pop music are that different,” she shrugs. “They’re both so melody-heavy. The writing and the way you put out the melodies is such a big part of both pop and folk – it’s just a different instrument.” It’s a genre change that Pitts says she is “really enjoying”. “It was kind of like a little science experiment [to begin with], thinking about the structures. It was fun to play around with.”
And whereas Joni Mitchell inspired the folk incarnation of GRAACE, it was Julia Michaels that has been her role model when it comes to pop. “I’ve taken a lot of my songwriting quirks from her – I’ve looked up to her for so long,” she says. “She’s been writing for other people for so long and when she released ‘Issues’, it just made me so happy for women in the industry that she’s been recognised for how amazing she is [as a songwriter].”
Pitts’ first pop-flavoured appearance was as featured vocalist on Hayden James’ 2017 single ‘Numb’, which was certified platinum in Australia and has racked up over 35 million streams on Spotify to date. She followed this up in May 2018 with her outstanding debut single ‘Kissing Boys’, a dreamy, shimmering synth-pop song with devastating lyrics: “Didn’t know that I would go from love to hating you / …Didn’t know that we would end up with our hearts in two”.
In September she released follow-up single ‘Last Night’, another emotionally charged track, this time addressing the guilt that comes with dishonesty: “Remember that time / That I told you I was all alone, I lied / I never do what’s right”. Both feature on her debut EP Self-Sabotage, and Pitts says that melancholy and her struggle with self-acceptance form the heart of the songs.
“I realised that I’ve been completely self-sabotaging myself and my life—with my friendships, my relationships and everything I was doing on a day-to-day basis,” she says candidly. “I didn’t really love myself, I guess. I thought I didn’t deserve what was given to me, so I would [think], ‘I don’t need that. I don’t deserve that.’ So many people go through this but no one talks about it. My sister is going through the same thing … I’d show her the songs and she’d be like, ‘How do you know my mind?’”
Releasing the EP has, Pitts said, helped her come to terms with her self-doubt and focus on putting her mental health first, and she wants to use her platform to help others suffering from the same feelings, regularly helping female fans who contact her on Instagram to discuss their problems “I’m excited for them to listen to these songs and hopefully realise that we’re all worth so much more.”
Pitts admits that releasing such personal songs for the world to pore over hasn’t been easy. “The last song on the EP (‘Spoken Word’) – I struggled so long to say yes to including it on the EP,” she reveals. “It was recorded in one take and I cry in the song and everything. I’ve had so many nights where I’ve cried at home and thought, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready for people to listen to this. I don’t want to be judged.’”
Thanks to her manager urging her on and her own wish to embrace vulnerability, Pitts is now confident to share her darker moments with her fans. “People shouldn’t be scared to show emotion and to show vulnerability. It’s such a beautiful part of being a human,” she says. “When people are vulnerable, you feel so much more connected to them.”
Thankfully the recording process, Pitt says, wasn’t anywhere near as fraught. She teamed up with producer/singer-songwriter Xavier Dunn (Jack River, CXLOE) for her debut single last year, and says they were the perfect creative fit from day one. “I really couldn’t have done it with anyone else but Xavier, and his production and his vision,” she enthuses. “For that whole production side, I didn’t even have to tell him. He knew exactly what I was doing – I just didn’t know how to verbalise it.”
Although she is only on her first EP, Pitts has already shown remarkable growth for such a young artist and there is plenty more to come – and soon. “I pretty much have my second EP done,” she laughs. “We’re just trying to figure out which of the many songs are going to make it on – I’ve probably got twenty-five finished songs. I’ve just been writing non-stop.”
She’s hoping to release EP number 2 early in 2019, promising it will be upbeat and fun. “I think I’m moving on to a different time in my life. I’m excited to get Self-Sabotage out [but] I’m also excited to release my more poppy stuff that I’ve been writing and am so happy with. A lot of releasing music next year is on the cards.”