Some musicians are in the game for the fame and glory of it all. Not Grace Carter, who wholeheartedly claims: “If there is no music, there is no purpose”. Deep in the post-tour blues after a very successful series of shows across Europe, Grace’s excitement and love for her latest EP A Little Lost, A Little Found sparks our conversation about authenticity and the importance of having a sense of purpose.
After being washed over by skyrocketed fame following a publishing contract at age seventeen, Grace Carter experienced the draining demands of the music industry. Constantly seeking momentums of popularity, indeed, the business pressured her to jump from one single release to the other, touring non-stop across Europe and the UK for three years. Despite the release of her powerful debut EP Why Her Not Me in 2018, Grace was pressured to do things that were not right for her and her music and slowly ended up losing herself. In the chaos of everyone’s opinions and requests, she could not hear her own voice anymore.
“Suddenly having all these cooks in the kitchen telling me what I needed to do, meant that I didn’t know how to work. That’s not how I operate. And I had an awful writer’s block for two years. I didn’t know what to talk about. I was overthinking everything. And that definitely wasn’t because I was overthinking things randomly. It was because of the pressures”.
Looking in the mirror, she could not see her artistic soul anymore: honest, heartfelt lyrics were the way Grace Carter would process her own experiences and directly connect to people’s souls. What to do now that such a crucial artistic tool was not at her disposal anymore? That was the moment Grace understood it was time to take a step back. Refusing to create music that was not 100% authentic, she decided she would not release anything until she’d be able to do it from a genuine place. She says: “I was in a weird limbo, I did not know who I was anymore. I kept asking myself, ‘How do I connect with people when the way I connect to people is music?’”
Now, after two years of silence, Grace Carter finally found the balance between the motives that drive her songwriting and the things she has to do to advance her career. Pointing at the picture of Nina Simone hanging on the wall behind her, she stresses the importance of authenticity: “Authenticity is key. I’m the biggest fan of Nina Simone, and she did not get to where she was by not being authentic”.
Who Am I?
Finding ourselves and our sense of identity while growing up is not easy. For Grace Carter, the secret was music. First introduced to songwriting by her stepdad at a very young age, Grace soon discovered that the key to understanding things and feelings was to write them down and turn them into songs. Even after the sense of disorientation that followed her sudden fame a few years ago, songwriting was the light shining on the pathway back to her musical origins. “Music helped me find myself. This project is called A Little Lost, A Little Found. I was really lost and I lost music for a while. And then writing these songs helped me understand myself a lot more”
Exploring growing up with a white single mother in Mother and her relationship with her absent father in Bloodwar, Grace Carter used songwriting as a tool also to share her experience of moving from diverse London to smaller Brighton when she was nine years old. “I moved to Brighton at nine years old, and then started writing songs at 13. That was when I started to figure out who I was, acknowledging these things around me. Growing up in London and living in a melting pot of different cultures was so amazing. But I was spoiled by it. When I moved to Brighton and it wasn’t diverse, and it was just me and my mom, and people would walk down the street and throw slurs at us or tell her to give me a bath”
Suddenly, a voice in Grace’s head suggested that she and her mum were not the same. From a genuine place of unconditional love between the two of them, she started to feel confused by the unsolicited opinions and racist comments that people would throw at them on the street, questioning her own identity as a young woman of Colour.
“When I got to 13 years old, the reason I’d lock myself in my room for hours every single day was because I was just so confused. Writing songs allowed me to process and go through the emotions I was feeling and free myself of them. I’d write a song and then I’d be like, ‘Okay, cool, I understand that now, I can move on’. Brighton as a place made me question everything, but through questioning everything, it made me land in a place where I understood things a lot more”
A Record That Needs To Be Heard
Unpacking the battles that Grace Carter had to face, A Little Lost, A Little Found is a manifesto against social injustice. Deliberately choosing to make it a pop record in order to access as many gatekeepers as possible, Grace and her team maximised the chances of appealing to the commercial side of the industry. With the aim to reach the widest audience possible, Grace highlights important topics that still rarely draw mainstream attention. “There was something about the fact that people would hear it without knowing what it was about. And they would either like it or not like it, but they would hear it”
“To think I put my trust in you / You tied our hands, let the people cry / You started a riot tonight / I will never be silent” are the words to Riot written by Grace Carter’s close friend Fabienne Holloway after Eric Garner was murdered by an NYPD officer in 2014. When in 2020 George Floyd was killed by a police officer in the streets of Minneapolis, the protests in reaction took a global scale fueling the Movement for Black Lives like Black Lives Matter. Still, little has changed and the song remains of painful urgency. The racist and violent structures of the police and systems of the state continue to kill Black, Indigenous and People of Colour without consequence. Exhausted by the constant discrimination, violence and denied requests for basic human rights the Black community is faced with every day, Grace felt the gut-wrenching urge to turn Holloway’s words into something that could reach as many people as possible. A song that can turn into a wildfire, an unstoppable changemaker, a riot.
“The message is to stand up against injustice and inequality. I think there are a lot of people who close their eyes and ears to it. Riot allows us to get them in there first and then be like, ‘Well, this is what it’s about: listen, stand up, support, do what you need to do’”
You Are Not Alone
The anthem that encapsulates the whole EP is Pick Your Tears Up. It follows Grace Carter’s process of figuring herself out, but it also reflects the universal experience of growing up: in those moments when we find ourselves crying on the bathroom floor, we have to learn to pick up ourselves and our own tears and to look after ourselves: “[Overall, it is about] being patient with yourself and accepting the fact that things are going to get hard. At the end of the day, no one else will protect you from that. You have to learn to pick yourself back up again. And everything will be okay. These feelings are temporary.”
Always very open about the stories her songwriting aims at telling, Grace confesses that she constantly tries to give room for people to overlap their own experiences with her songs: the purpose of music is to connect with other people, and Grace Carter’s sense of purpose is entirely based on that call.
“As human beings, we all experience every emotion. We’ve all felt the same things. The scenario is different, but we’ve all felt the same thing. These songs have helped me, but I also think people might hear them and be able to put their own lives onto them. That is the power of music”
The Sound Of Authenticity
The exploration of Grace’s feelings is mirrored in the eclectic sound of A Little Lost, A Little Found. From using her voice to entirely build Pick Your Tears Up to creating the uplifting Hope around hands clapping, Grace Carter exclusively focused on having fun and translating her feelings into a sonic experience. “Sonically it is a little bit all over the place, but I think that’s been the process of figuring out who the hell I am now. It’s trying new things, and that is reflected in the sound of the project as well”.
Listening on loop to Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak (2009), Grace drew inspiration from the use of drums and vocals on the record, as well as Labrinth’s instrumental and vocal moments on HBO show Euphoria’s soundtrack. Despite the sonic elements to those two albums, however, what struck Grace Carter was the raw honesty one could perceive in both.
“They felt very human and raw. I think for me, in a world where so much of what we hear on the radio is so polished and auto-tuned and perfect, it was nice to feel the things that I was hearing. It wasn’t even the words that I was listening to, it was just the fact that what was being made felt really authentic to them.”
A Little Lost, A Little Found does not have an ounce of second-hand material running through its veins. Entirely crafted following impulses and gut feelings, the EP encapsulates the truest essence of Grace Carter, and it is fully, purely her. What better way to get to connect with someone?
A Little Lost, A Little Found is out now. Listen on Spotify.