Australian singer-songwriter Jack Grace is no fool, and he doesn't mess around. His debut EP River is a stylistically varied and ambitious project, curating sonic shockwaves as monumental and driving as a Kendrick Lamar, Arctic Monkeys and James Black mixed drink but filtered through the dirt of the earth. There is a sticky grit which hangs on his teeth with songs like "Stop Your Asking" and "At the River," which, as it turns out, is his proudest moment on the record. "I enjoy 'At The River.' I wrote it for my pop," he says exclusively with Popdust, via email. "The lyrics are lifted from a conversation my mum had with him before he passed away. It wasn't easy to write but when i hear it now I'm proud I did it."
There could potentially be a waterfall of pressure drowning him out, but on River, he escapes into the dark recesses of his troubled mind to conjure up unbelievably important recordings. "Hills" leaves visible scares, while the syrupy gallop of "All Lost" lingers for days afterward. "I was working on other releases for artists at the same time, and so, the process for my own EP was more of an insular, cathartic one. Once i finished it and started showing a few people, that's when I felt the pressure. But during the process, I was just trying to make something I enjoyed."
"I've tried to paint things as I see and hear them, without too much embellishment," he says.
The EP clocks in at roughly 23 minutes, but the music, the lyrics, the vocal is appropriately immersive, transporting the listener along a muddy and dank trail in the forest. Reading as a collective body of work, he says, "It initially felt strange to separate off tracks like 'Hills' and 'All Lost' and release them as singles. They [are] part of a bigger picture, and i wasn't convinced they could stand by themselves and make sense. As I was working on it, I had the track order in my head. There were a couple of other tracks that I cut off cause they messed with the balance of it--often 'cause they just repeated a sentiment I'd already talked about."
The stories he tells were inspired by his "early 20s," he explains. "[They] were fairly awkward. It took a while to digest it, and this EP goes some way to documenting parts of it."
The songwriter digs into the tone of the record, the storytelling, production choices and other things in our exclusive Q&A session below. Take a look:
What is the significance of the musical intro, and how does it set the tone for the entire record?
The intro was originally attached to "Nice to Meet You." When I decided to make "Nice to Meet You" as the first track, it made more sense to separate it off and make it the intro for the EP. My friend who mixed the EP hit record while I was playing around on a Rhodes [piano] in the studio. I bounced off the take and kept it cause I thought I'd chop it up one day and use it somewhere. I ended up just leaving it as is.
Were there moments from your personal life (pain, heartache, love, happiness) which directly influenced specific moments/lyrics/arrangements?
I try and get across to NYC every winter and see my uncle and aunty. I spend most of my time between the city and Vermont. I catch the train up to Albany and get a Greyhound [bus] up to their cabin further upstate. I love writing lyrics while I do that. Sometimes, I'm there 'cause I'm running away, but whatever the reason, every time, I get perspective. I wrote 'Hills' when I was there 2 winters ago. It was really the start of the EP, as it began the process of me unpacking all the things i'd been through over the last few years.
From where do you draw your music/arrangements/scores?
Its a mixture of the hymns i was bought up on--the Bach I learned as a child and the stuff I learned studying jazz as a teen and then all the rabbit holes of electronic music genres I've been down since.
"Nice to Meet You" has a cool, almost rain-stick-like backing to it. Can you talk about the choices you made with the song's production?
I recorded the demo for the track just playing Wurlitzer and singing. When i listened back, I heard there were these breaths I was taking that were in time, so I looped them and created a bed for the rhythm section around it. I knew the sound of someone taking a breath has this quality of "anticipation" and I wanted that feeling.
Overall, there is a ton of play with tempo, rhythms, percussion on the EP. What lead you down that path?
I just wanted every lyric and melody to feel like right. So, I made sure tempos suited the songs. There was no intention other than that. It made for a lot of different tempos sitting next to each other. I guess the approach of putting the song first is rooted in singer-songwriting tradition more then in electronic music.
"Hills" is a definite standout. How did that one come about? And why incorporate a stunning piano breakdown?
I was working on the first EP for BUOY at the time and had this idea kicking around that I'd tried to sing but couldn't find a way to sit it in my range. It was a bit of a fiddly process with this track. It went through a bunch of different arrangements until one day i listened to a few that I liked and just picked sections from each and cut them together. I love re-harmonizing stuff. So, I took the opportunity with the last chorus; in hindsight, it was a little self indulgent.
As Grace basks in the River, he eyes a full-length project for release in 2017. "I'm hoping the new stuff will have a new emotional dimension. I try to keep people around me whose opinions I trust," he teases. In support of the new music, he plans to mount a U.S. and European tour in the first half of next year. Stay tuned.
River is out now on iTunes.
Take a listen to River below, via Spotify:
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