Grace Carter’s debut single “Silence” is one of those tracks that grabs pop fans by the shoulders, shakes them and yells “YOU’RE GONNA LOVE THIS.” Well, at least it did with me. With the torrent of new music released each week, it can be hard to break through the algorithmic playlist chasing and unearth something that throbs with feeling. “Silence” pulls that off.
Musically, Grace knows that she’s not re-writing pop’s rulebook. For the Brighton-raised singer-songwriter what matters is to convey emotion through her music. “You don’t have to be in tune all the time,” she says to me when we meet late on an autumnal Friday afternoon. “It's the power and the emotion that you're singing something with that people connect with.”
Over the last year, the 20-year-old has pushed this into her music. Her debut EP, Saving Grace, is essentially just four classic songs bunched together. But, like pages of her diary, they reveal a lot about a young woman in touch with who she is. The EP’s title track explores her strong bond with her mother, who raised Grace as a single parent, while “Half of You” is a simple yet raw and arresting piano-lead track directed at her absent father. When the song reaches its middle eighth, Grace’s voice soars an octave, wavering on a precipice between anger and bittersweet admonishment. Her latest single, “Why Her Not Me”, deals with similar themes, barefaced feelings of abandonment clashing with her understanding of her own sense of self-worth, her vocals pushed to the front of the mix so that this internal tussle becomes your own.
It’s all quite heavy stuff, but in-person and sat together in an office surrounded by old hard drives, wires and bits of kit, Grace isn’t all serious-faced. In fact, she laughs a lot. Still, she’s considered with her answers. In partnership with YouTube Music, and alongside NTS Radio, we’ve met to talk about the music that’s shaped her. Every artist and song we discuss holds the same emotional reverence for her that can be found in her music. From chats about Adele to Lauryn Hill, for Grace Carter everything has a story that she can’t wait to tell. Head here to see her picks in a playlist.
Noisey: What was the first musical thing – whether an artist, song, album, live performance video – that you can remember someone recommending to you?
Grace Carter: I think one of the first songs my mum played me like that was Nina Simone's "Feeling Good". She played it to me for the first time when I was eight and it was one of those moments where I was like, "Woah, what is this?" Then I was the person saying to my friends that they had to hear it. It was one of the first songs that resonated with me emotionally. At a young age you don't relate to music in that way, but that song was the first song that stopped me in my tracks.
For you, what is the most iconic live performance you've seen?
One of the live performances that really grabbed my attention was Adele at the Brits [in 2011]. It was the moment the world woke up to her. I was probably about 11 or 12 when that happened. It was just Adele on stage with a piano and you could feel that she was nervous, but you could see into her eyes and see the emotion. It was so powerful.
It’s one of those ones that you go back and watch.
Yeah. And I think it's a moment that has inspired my peers as well. Do you remember that?
I do, yeah.
I think everyone does.
What's the most obscure musical thing that you've discovered on your own?
I listen to a lot of old movie soundtracks, where I might never have heard the songs that are on them. I've just found songs through that. Also, when I'm making my own music now, I look to sample stuff. I look back and back to try and find sounds that I wouldn't normally go to.
Sampling must be a fun thing to do. The weirder stuff you find—
The less likely someone else is going to be using it!
Is that something you're playing with at the moment, then?
I've written a lot of songs and to shake myself out of my usual structure of me sat at a piano I've been trying new things. I want to be inspired and hear beats and sounds that I've never heard before and hopefully make them into a new song. I think, also, in the old samples there's so much character.
My favourite use of a sample in the last few years is the Isaac Carter one on Alessia Cara's "Here".
That song was great and I think it connected with a lot of people because it connected with a lot of people. Your parents had heard the original and the kids thought it was hers. It brought different age groups together.
Is there any music that you're into that might surprise people?
I think a lot of people might be surprised that I'm a massive Kanye fan, musically. My music is all ballads and can be sad and thoughtful. I'm obviously inspired by Alicia Keys, Adele, Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill. But then sonically with my mum I'm very inspired by old Kanye tunes, his beats and his productions. I just think that his music is amazing.
Which old artist have you discovered recently?
There are some that I'm so ashamed with myself about. As a kid, my mum was never a Whitney Houston fan, not for any reason – it just wasn't her thing. But I recently watched the two documentaries about her this year and I find her story and life so fascinating. I've got into a lot of her songs because of that. She's one of those artists: she is such a great and her voice is one of the most powerful voices, but I didn't really get to know her until recently. I'm happy I have finally got there.
What was the first thing, musically, that you discovered by yourself?
There were two people, really. I think the first was Adele. But also Alicia Keys. My mum probably played her music a bit, but I then went and spent my pocket money on her CDs. I think I was obsessed with her honesty and her delivery.
My dad used to play her first album in the car.
I heard most as a kid when I was in the car with my mum. I feel like most kids listen to music when they're in transit. That's just what you do. All of my memories about all the artists that I love are also memories of me being sat in the car with my mum.
Which three albums that you've discovered represent you when you were a kid, a teenager and now as an adult?
For my childhood I'd probably say The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. My mum put me on to that young. And now, as an adult, I understand why. That album has been an impactful album for so many people of different ages. Everyone connects to that. That was my childhood. My teenage years was when I discovered Amy Winehouse and Adele. Those artists gave me the confidence to be honest in my own music. Nowadays, I've kind of gone back to what I was listening to as a kid. But over the last few years what I have been listening to is that Erykah Badu mixtape, But You Caint Use My Phone.
What's the strangest sample or riff that you've ever had stuck in your head?
It's not a sample, but the chorus of "Climax" by Usher is always in my head. That song came out years ago and I'll be doing the most random thing and it'll pop up. Every time.
What's the worst thing that you've been recommended? Or something you've been recommended that you couldn't get into?
I don't think that there is anything that I've listened to and not liked. I'll always try and find something I'll quite like. I mean, I never got into, like, Mika.
You didn't want to be like Grace Kelly?
Final question – you've been handed the aux cord at a party or in the car. What do you play?
"Wish I didn't Miss You" by Angie Stone. I just covered it recently. There's a sample of The O'Jays' "Backstabbers". It's a song that no one knows but that gets everyone moving.
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