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Angus Warrender speaks to Grace Carter about her origins as a songwriter, maintaining creative control and looking to the future
“I’m Grace Carter, by the way, in case you didn’t know.” Grace introduces herself for a second time halfway into her set, before launching into another heavy and heartachingly soulful ballad. If the audience didn’t know her already, they’re unlikely to forget her.
Grace Carter has had to work incredibly hard to build her career as a singer-songwriter. Originally from London but living in Brighton most of her life, she began writing songs at the age of 13 entirely off her own back.
“I started writing songs when I was 13, and then I was so unaware of what songwriting was – it was just me making stuff up in my room, seeing what worked and what didn’t and… not really knowing what didn’t work. A lot of the songs at the beginning were really bad. But my whole process is just… if I’ve felt something or been through something that evokes “an emotion”, I would usually want to write about it.”
It would be easier to write a generic song about “being sad” – slap some piano chords together, write vaguely about a breakup and hey presto: you’ve got a chart-topper. Instead, Grace puts her heart out on display in her songs – writing intimately about her own life. A good example being her absentee father in Why Her Not Me – a slow buildup with intense vocals throughout. But even with such heavy themes, Grace dances about the stage, smiling all the while – she is so genuinely glad to be there, even if it’s through singing what’s behind her. She’s more than aware of this, however:
“Songs for me, once I’ve written them, I can kind of move on. I’ve been releasing music these past couple of years and it’s been this really cathartic process. I’ve been able to go up on stage and sing these songs every night and connect with all these people – my fans, if you wanna call them that – on a really personal, emotional level.”
Is that emotion anger? Not exactly, and Grace has clearly had that question levelled at her before.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say “anger”, more like “strength”. I’m a young woman, and it’s just me trying to stand up for myself and establish the situations I’ve been in. A lot of my music is less about the actual problems I’ve had and more about the emotions I’ve felt during them, and I think that’s why people connect with them, I think. We all feel the same things, no matter what we’ve been through. We all “get sad” or “get happy”, and I focus on that in my music. And of course, I’ve been through some really difficult things, and if anything I want people to listen and realise that there is a bright side. I written these songs, and I’ve grown from them and risen from them – I’m a happier person now.”
And a successful person at that, I note, sitting backstage at the Manchester Academy, where Grace is supporting the Scottish Beyoncé himself, Lewis Capaldi. But fame often comes hand-in-hand with a loss of creative control. I asked Grace if the transition, from her makeshift studio in her bedroom to London recording studios, has meant that she’s had to surrender some of that agency as an artist. She admits to losing some of it, but with clear caveats – she’s not a commodity:
“There’s a lot to do when it’s your job, there’s a lot of things that you never really know about when you start writing songs as a child. I definitely try and be hands-on with everything, I’m a control freak – which is a good thing and an awful thing at the same time. I definitely know what I want, which is cool, but it’s a weird one. I guess my team are great as well, I’ve got a lot of people around me who have the same vision as I do. So even if I’m not making the decision I know that the best decision is being made.”
It can be difficult to measure that success as an artist. What with Spotify metrics and exact figures for ticket sales being available at the click of a button, but using those means of distinguishing success can be a dangerous disservice. Grace seems to agree.
“I think it’s very dangerous [to look at metrics like Spotify listeners] because everything’s so accessible. You can look at the numbers, you can compare your numbers, it can be so dangerous as an artist. It can be really hard, so I guess my success is based on my happiness and my perspective. Last summer, I took some time after touring – I hadn’t been in the studio for a long time – so I just wanted to write some songs. I wanted to just do that for a bit, because I needed to figure out what I wanted to say next. And doing that, stepping back, it really gave me some perspective on everything. I could really appreciate all the things that have happened. I’m always looking ahead, I’m rarely in the moment, so that’s something I’m trying to work on now – because it’s so exciting. I’m 22 years old, and I’m performing all the time for people who want to hear my music, it’s a blessing.”
With a European tour just beginning and the promise of new music in 2020, it’s easy to say that Grace Carter isn’t even close to done yet.