Chatting to Grace Mitchell, My Music Crush of the Month (Fine, Year)

It’s hard to believe that singer Grace Mitchell is only 18 years old. Everything about her—from her distinct, deep voice, to her unconventional songwriting, to her already impressive credentials—are characteristic of a much older and wiser woman. This is something that’s frequently said about young millennials who mean business these days, but it goes deeper with Grace—she’s truly an old soul.

The Oregon native first came into prominence with her restrained, nuanced cover of the Hall & Oates classic “Maneater” (one of my faves), which appeared on the soundtrack to one of Ben Stiller’s better films, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I urge you to listen to it and keep in mind that Grace was barely 16 when she recorded it. In 2014, her debut EP, Design, got the critics buzzing with tracks like “Broken Over You.”

Last year was big one for Grace—she released her second EP, Raceday, which got critics even more excited and one of the tracks, “Jitter,”— a kinetic affair which “shifts from a skittering vocal sample into an eerily catchy harmony and funked-up break”—earned itself the label of “one of 2015’s best pop singles.” Grace describes it as “high energy, reckless, promiscuous, and provocative,” and that to an extent is indicative of her sound as a whole. Also on the EP are tracks such as “Breaking Hearts” (“a classic party song, but more empowering and thought-provoking”) and the title track “Raceday,” which is a nod to her hometown, Eugene that has the nickname of ‘TrackTown USA.’

These days, Grace calls Los Angeles home, but she still has her own recording studio in Oregon. She plays the keyboard, drum pads, and guitar, and she writes all her lyrics. A few years ago she was signed to Republic Records (who obviously know a good thing when they see it), home to the likes of Lorde and Taylor Swift. And although their music is very different, comparisons can be made between Grace and pop music’s royalty, Taylor. Both are mature beyond their years but can still let loose and let out the kid within (check out the video for “NoLo” to see what I mean), both have captured something unique in their respective genres, and both have strong personas and a no-nonsense approach to business.

Grace’s bio describes her as a “post-Yeezus, highly-aware pop disruptor with a lifelong reverence for Tori Amos and a frenetic, fiery sound that raises a middle finger to the zeitgeist while possessing the power to reshape it—but that’s just the beginning.” When you read the below interview and listen to her music, this description will make a lot of sense.

When did you first know you wanted to be a musician?

When I first started performing onstage and recognized that I really enjoyed it.

You’re only 18, but have already released two EPs and a track (“Jitter”) that was described as “one of 2015’s best pop singles.” How do you find navigating the industry at this young age? 

I’m navigating it the same way as anybody with any other age would—blindly.

How do you feel on stage? What can audiences expect from a live show?

I feel empowered on stage. Audience members can expect for it to feel tastefully nasty in a vibey way.

Do you have an opinion on the way female bodies are presented in pop music videos (Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” is an obvious example)?

Anyone should always do whatever the fuck they want for art always, no exceptions. Fuck children. Fuck parents. This wouldn’t be the same question if she were a man.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Touring.

Who are some of your favorite musicians?

Anyone who is authentically doing their own thing, making their own sound, and manhandling their career like a boss.

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What does making music mean to you?

Self-expression.

What advice would you give to other young musicians starting out?

Don’t try and overcomplicate things, unless the thing you’re going for is intentionally overcomplicated. Also there isn’t anyone like you so don’t try to be “different.”

Out of all your tracks, do you have a favorite? 

Yeah.

Who would you love to collaborate with?

My ego.

What album is the soundtrack to your life?

I haven’t heard it yet.

Who are some of the women who inspire you?

Juliette Lewis, Jennifer Knoepfle, Amber Rose.

Which five tracks would be on your mixtape?

  1. “Don’t You Know” by Jan Hammer Group
  2. “Gold Lion” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  3. “You Get What You Give” by New Radicals
  4. “Sail Away” by Enya
  5. Peanuts theme song

Grace is opening for St. Lucia in a series of gigs on the West Coast, from 25 February to 11 March 2016. Get your tix here.

All images courtesy of Republic Records.

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