Dissecting her past to envision her future, GRAE is making new-wave pop music that’s both nostalgic and boundary-breaking. She crafts a hazy pop world filled with spacious vocals, buoyant production, and deeply personal lyrics. It’s both starkly intimate and boldly ambitious – the sort of music that can soundtrack a bedroom hangout just as easily as it can a venue of thousands.
The Toronto-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares her new single “Forget You,” which is lifted off her debut LP Whiplash out April 15. The sentimental new effort was produced by her long-time collaborator Connor Seidel and co-written with Willa Milner.
In less than three minutes, GRAE tells a tale of a romantic relationship that no longer serves her best interest. “Forget You” is hoisted by her mesmeric vocals, breezy alt-pop melodies, gentle drum beats, and sophisticated lyricism. GRAE’s vocal delivery is reposeful, as it gently weaves between the track’s lulling arrangements and overall melancholic atmosphere. With lyrics, “Damn I wish I had amnesia, I’d heal real quick / Damn I wish I didn’t need ya, you make me sick,” GRAE hopes to move past a fractured relationship that has proven to do more harm than good despite any fleeting moments of satisfaction.
Following the passing of your mother, you began writing music at the age of 10. How have you found turning to music, in many aspects, (songwriting, melodies, etc.), has helped you cope with, and continue to weather any storm that has come your way?
GRAE: “Whenever I go through any emotional experience, I write as a release. It’s second nature to me. When I allow myself the freedom to write on a piece of paper all that’s bothering me, it’s a form of self-therapy. It doesn’t always turn into a song right away; sometimes I sit with the thoughts I’ve written, and then from there, I structure it – it’s just another way of releasing energy within me that needs to be. Other people may clear their heads by going to the gym, or by painting, cooking, dancing, whatever it may be. The first thing I always do is write. Since I was a kid, I’ve been like that. I guess some things never change.”
Breaking into the industry at such a young age as a female artist, what has the journey been like thus far? Do you have any advice for those that might not know where to begin, or may be too afraid to share their talent with the world?
GRAE: “So far, things have been good. I’m grateful. Although I haven’t got to experience as much as I hoped I would’ve, I released ‘New Girl’ in 2019, and then COVID hit in 2020. It’s been a strange time to start as an artist, but I don’t have anything to complain about; the journey has still been incredible; I’ve learned a lot and have grown so much since I first started.”
“My advice to those who may not know where to start; when you don’t know where to start, that’s when you need to start. Don’t procrastinate. I’ve come across artists who don’t want to record unless they have all the fancy gear and ‘proper’ things, and they set themselves back because they wait for ‘perfection.’ I used to post covers and originals on my Instagram, and when you do that, you have to let the fear go. What other people say/comment doesn’t matter—the good, bad, and ugly. You have to start doing the things you feel are calling you and ignore what anyone else says about it. I got told I couldn’t do this. I failed math twice in high school and was always in the guidance office saying how much I disliked school; I got pushed and pushed to go to college or university by my teachers even though I would repeatedly tell them I was going to make music and didn’t need that for myself. If I had listened to them, I wouldn’t be here right now. You have to put your head down and stay in your lane; that’s the essential part. Find what makes you, you. Stick with it. Post your content and connect with other musicians online that are also starting, just like you.“
“Reach out to some producers to create and collaborate on your material. Never stop networking; it’s so important. My manager found me because I sent my EP ‘New Girl’ to somebody. I spent all day sending emails; that’s all I did. I sent my music out to every person I could think of, and that person I sent it to, sent it to someone, who sent it to someone, who sent it to my now manager, and I signed with her a few months later. It changed my career trajectory so quickly, all because I sent a few emails. Demos are important, and they don’t have to be perfect. Anyone in the industry listening to them knows how to hear past imperfect production and get to what matters, which is your voice/writing. I recorded my EP ‘New Girl’ with a blanket over my head in an apartment with rented gear. It worked, though, and I don’t know where I’d be now if I never recorded it. Just start somewhere!”
Social media presence has become increasingly important when trying to get one’s music to reach as many ears as possible. Having now amassed a TikTok audience of over 130,000, tell us your own personal experience with using the platform to aid in growing as an up-and-coming artist.
GRAE: “Social media is very significant when you’re an artist nowadays. It can be hard not to get caught up in it all. I don’t love it. I struggle to post Tik-Toks and create like that, as I think my strong suits are writing and performing, not being a content creator online. It’s changed the game for artists, though, and myself. I’ve posted a few Tik-Toks that have gained traction, hence the follower count, but sometimes that number doesn’t matter if your videos aren’t getting on the ‘For You Page’ and it’s a whole algorithm game, to be fair. With that being said, I’m grateful for social media because as an artist who was starting out and then COVID hit, this was the only way to get myself out there, literally. It means a lot when people come across my content and then check out my music. It’s a super cool feeling to know I can connect with anyone in the world that easily and get my music out there like that.”
Initially wanting to make folk music, your sonic world opened up as you began to collaborate with producers. Tell us the inspiration behind wanting to explore the folk realm, before gravitating toward the indie, alt-pop, sound we hear today. How do you feel this musical direction compliments you as an artist/individual? In what way has it allowed you to reveal parts of yourself you may not have had the opportunity to otherwise?
GRAE: “I love Rodriguez. He’s a singer-songwriter from Detroit, Michigan that has inspired me so much that I wanted to be a female version of him. His songwriting skills are incredible and literal poetry. I’ve seen him a few times in concert, and he’s a massive reason for me wanting to go the folk route. Corrine Bailey Rae and Norah Jones are also on the list of artists who have inspired me to that extent as well. I used to mimic Norah Jones a lot when I sang; my voice suits that kind of music, and I loved Corrine’s music production. So I thought I’d be a fusion of all these artists put together, with my own twist. My name is ‘Emily,’ and my middle name is ‘Grace.’ so I used that as my stage name. Emily Grace just sounds like someone who would sing folk music, haha. I wrote a lot with my guitar and only ever envisioned myself creating folk-type music because nothing else was available to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to produce myself, so I resorted to my guitar, and everything automatically sounded singer/songwriter. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t until I met the producer from my first EP, ‘New Girl,’ that I had options to take my music in a different direction. He brought forward many of his own influences that weren’t necessarily my vibe, but I was 19 and still figuring a lot out, so I was down to experiment. That sound isn’t what future me would’ve gone for; now looking back, but that’s the point. I’ve grown. When I finished that EP, I had an identity crisis—one of many to come.”
“I changed my name to GRAE because ‘Emily Grace’ didn’t suit the project’s vibe to me. That’s when I started to separate myself and my artist self. Almost like an alter ego. GRAE gave me this opportunity to step outside of Emily, the girl with her hat and guitar that wrote folk songs on beaches. I was able to dive into different influences, the 80s, for example. I’m a massive fan of that time in music. I connected with Derek Hoffman and Connor Seidel, who helped create the sound I have now, and it was an organic process, very hard, don’t get me wrong, but it naturally progressed. GRAE is who I’m meant to be, but I learned a lot from the ‘Emily Grace’ folk phase in my life. That’s how I fell in love with writing and how I got my start. I played gigs with just my guitar and taught myself how to be a musician. Every phase in my life is one I’ve been grateful for, and it’s how I’ve gotten where I am now.”
Oftentimes we may find ourselves holding on to relationships by thinking about all the things we once loved about someone, all the while forgetting about the reasons the relationship didn’t work out. Your latest single, “Forget You,” speaks of this romanticism. Explain the feelings you felt when piecing this song together. How has it helped you take control of situations such as these, as well as perhaps give you a greater sense of self-worth?
GRAE: “‘Forget You’ was my way of saying goodbye to someone I thought I’d be stuck on forever. I most definitely romanticized the dynamic, and looking back; they gave me the absolute bare minimum anyone could’ve ever given me. I don’t know what I was thinking. I just didn’t love myself enough. Writing it was a massive emotional release. It helped me move on from that person, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve grown to love myself enough to surround myself with people who have good intentions and want the best for me. That song is the last song I’ll likely ever write that relates to staying in a toxic relationship. I don’t do that anymore. Not consciously anyway. Back then, I knew what they were about; I understood the dynamic I was in and what I was doing. I didn’t leave because the chase excited me, so did the emotional ups and downs, as messed up as that may seem. Self-love and growth are processes that come with learning and experience. You have to understand what you don’t want, to know, and do. I’ll never gravitate toward anything that low-vibrational again because I’ve grown, and I know better. It took a while, though, to get in a mindset like this. I chased that person for years, and ‘Forget You’ was written right when I decided I was done. I have a lot of growing left to do. Sometimes it takes our whole lives to grasp what’s going on entirely, but I’m happy with where I am now.”
Produced by long-time collaborator Connor Seidel, and co-written alongside Willa Milner, explain the creative process between the three of you that brought the song to life.
GRAE: “Connor and Willa are a dream team. I love the creative process between the three of us. I’ve tried working with other people, and not everything works, but the first day Connor, Willa, and I were in a session, we wrote my song ‘Bang Bang.’ That was a crazy day. Something about us has always clicked, and I’m grateful for that. They allow me to be entirely myself; no idea is a ‘dumb’ or ‘bad’ idea. The process for ‘Forget You’ was a simpler one. I had the concept down already, the chorus and a verse melody. I brought it into the session, and Connor dug the hook I had, the one that’s on the record. He started creating the production, and Willa helped refine the lyrics and verse melodies. It’s always a very collaborative effort, and we all contribute and bring unique things to the table. I owe a lot to them! They’ve helped shape me as an artist and find my musical identity.”
What is the main message you wish to convey to fans across the globe that listen to your music?
GRAE: “Music has always been there for me like a friend. I always say I hope those who listen to mine feel it’s there for them too in that way. I appreciate those who listen to me immensely, and I never take them for granted. It’s sometimes crazy that people even listen to my music at all! Music has the power to help heal, and even if I helped just one person, I’d feel accomplished.”
Your debut album Whiplash is set to release this coming April. What can you tell us about this collection of songs?
GRAE: “‘Whiplash’ is an album filled with ups and downs. An emotional rollercoaster. That’s how it got its title. One song is like ‘I love you,’ the next is ‘I want to forget you,’ and then it’s back to ‘I love you’ again. I was dealing with many different feelings in the relationships I was experiencing back then, and I was really confused. This album has been in the making for a while; the process helped me find my musical identity, and I incorporated my 80s influences into it, which is exciting. It’s kind of surreal that it’s finally going to see the light of day, but I can’t wait!”
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