Share this event:
Proudly partnered with:
There would be a way to introduce Isaac Gracie that could make these early days of his music career sound golden: the 23 year old London-raised singer-songwriter who sent the music industry into a fever with his debut Last Words — a song so finely-wrought, so tenderly poetic, as to mark him out as Britain’s brightest young thing. But that would be disingenuous. Because while Gracie is of course all of those things, he is also a young man in flux, a new artist in the midst of working out just who he is, what he wants, and what he’s doing. Bewildered, and at times frustrated — but sowing those frustrations into his music.
Gracie always sang (a one-time member of the Ealing Abbey Choir), always loved music, but in his late teens writing songs became his form of emotional expression. “I think it was the notion of falling in love,” he says. “And I had quite a tumultuous home life for a while.” Gracie’s adolescence was marked by an often fraught relationship with his mother. “I was always a bit of a trouble,” he says. “And when I started writing songs a lot of it was to rectify the way that I’d been and the way that I was and try to put words to that situation. It was just so emotionally wealthy, there was so much there. And it was a way to work through those feelings.”
Troubled teenage years are not unusual of course, but for Gracie there was an extra pressure: “My family is very intellectual, and very academically successful, and I was always difficult in that regard,” he says. Even the success of his music career does not sit easily. “It has been a redeeming factor obviously,” he concedes, drawing his blonde locks from his eyes. “But it’s a cop-out I feel; having this outlet become a vocation enough to warrant the fact that I didn’t go down an academic route, or prove myself intellectually on a par with everyone in our family.”
“Words,” he says, “are my family’s shtick.” But while his mother and both his siblings read English at Oxford, Gracie chose English and Creative Writing at UEA. “My relation to words was never to be studied, because while I see the worth in that, for me it was to apply it in a creative sense. I find reading books difficult; because I read two paragraphs and I start imagining what book I’d want to write.”
If words are his family’s ‘shtick’, he carries the torch on nobly. The reference material might be familiar; love, loss, and loneliness, but it’s portrayed quite beautifully, innocently, and without compromise. At a time when Isaac be cries the influence of compromise forced upon his work, he’s not letting anyone mess with his words. Those are his.
But even University seemed a struggle for him. “I went there with massive visions of doing creative stuff, but the first year was like a doss and I sucked hard at everything,” he says. “I think it’s good to suck hard creatively speaking because I think it does put you in your place. And I really enjoyed it, but on the assignment side of things, the uni grading, we didn’t gel together too merrily.” Gracie duly dropped out.
That his music career should so suddenly take off was startling. One day he was playing sparsely-attended shows around London, rattling out new songs to play the next night, recording things quickly, posting them online, not really thinking beyond the next show, the next song. “I had no idea about the music industry and I had no desire to be part of it,” is how Gracie puts it.
The frenzy that followed Last Words - the hundreds of approaches by record labels, the sudden throngs at his shows, the need for management, press, photoshoots, and the need to overwhelmed Gracie. “It was diluting my relationship with something that was so pure,” he explains.
He thinks a lot about the time before all this, when “there was no stigma about the perfection of a song — the mere fact I was playing a gig was cool. It didn’t have to be anything other than that. Whereas now everything is overwhelming consciousness of the situation.”
What he likes about the early songs he wrote was the fact that “They were so lousy-goosy and in love with themselves. They were so not aware of what writing a song was about.”
He is trying to find some equilibrium now, recognising that writing songs is his job, that he has an audience, that sometimes he has to find the function of a song as well as its emotional core. “And I feel that the real emotion and the functionality marry at some point, and it becomes a process that knows itself. But as soon as the functionality rears its head it’s like ah, shit man…”
But Gracie has made his own stamp worthwhile; worthwhile, distinctive and quite stunningly beautiful. From those self-produced demos that formed his early EPs, all fragile and fuzzy, through to the recent huge statement of intent, The Death Of You & I EP, you can perhaps hear all that inner turmoil but it’s a moreish, evocative listen. It lingers. The Death of You & I is a rambunctious, willful, witty creation, quite unlike anything dreamed up by his contemporaries. “I liked the Death of You & I, because it was able to point to the fact that I’m not just writing really miserable songs,” is how he puts it. “The Death of You & I was the kind of song I would like to be able to write.”
Part of this song’s joy lies in its structure, and in particular its unexpected moment of fury. In its writing Gracie was struck by the revelation that it could be written however he wanted to write it. “Every aspect of that song was liberating,” he says. “When I thought that my music was going to be limited by the prospect of just being Last Words, I thought when will I get to make some noise or unfurl myself as who I am or can be?” he says. This song is his unfurling.
It’s an EP that has galvanised him, perhaps — reminded him of where his heart lies. “Music to me wasn’t about selling things it was about feeling things, so it’s trying to find that line between selling things and feeling things,” he explains, wryly.
Up next will be a new single, Terrified. You’ll hear it in demo form on one of those early EPs, but following a stint in the studio with Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Coldplay) it’s found wings without losing its sentiment. It’s a big song, delivered by a big voice. It means business.
For the first time in a long time perhaps, Isaac Gracie can focus on his future with a certain sense of confidence now. Confidence and trepidation, but confidence none the less. There’s already an album in the bag and receiving its final flourishes. It’s a grandiose sounding record, big and dripping in sentiment. It could do great things, and deserves to. Its creator wrote it heavy of heart and under the heaviness of expectation, but there’s a weightlessness to its flow.
So, back to that introduction then… Let’s forget all that inner conflict that peppers his story so far, you’ll hear it. Put some headphones on instead, and soak it up. Lose yourself in the music and words of one of our finest young songwriters, Isaac Gracie. He’d love that. Lost no more.