Grace Barker, the Sussex-born singing songwriter who claims to be called Gracey for pop purposes, released one of last year’s best songs (ie Different Things) then only went and followed it up with a slew (A SLEW) of above-average songs called things like If You Loved Me and Fingers Crossed and, most recently, Gone. All of which have pushed her above 700,000 monthly Spotify listeners, which is very much not to be sniffed at.
As well as all that she keeps popping up as a songwriter on massive tunes like Ritual by Rita Ora and Not Ready For Love by TCTS — so what we’re looking at here, ladies and gentlemen, is a total pop legend unfolding before our very eyes. It’s happening! It’s happening now, in our lifetimes! Which is all very well, but what would happen if you met Gracey for a coffee and asked her various questions about what exactly it is she thinks she’s playing at?
What’s the secret of a good lyric?
It being honest, definitely — coming from a place where people can connect with it. A lot of my favourite lyricists are quite poetic but I’m not: I like lyrics that feel like you could hear them in a conversation.
“I only wanted to love you, but you made it fucking hard to” is one of my favourite lines of recent times.
Thank you. It’s so mad. I wish I could bottle the moment when I came up with that. I remember exactly where I was: I was in Action…
This is ruining it a bit.
…and I was in my friend Alan’s studio. It was our first session, and I didn’t really know him, but I just got the right vibe. The room was lit in red, and I was sitting in the corner on a little leather sofa in really tight jeans a big jumper. I was on my laptop being a bit of an introvert and Alan was just chilling, coming up with these beautiful chords. As soon as he played the chords to Different Things it felt like a moment. Everything just clicked. Originally the song was a lot faster: in the back of my head I was thinking of writing a pitch song for someone like Little Mix, but I’d been listening to Francis and the Lights the night before so I had the weird vocal in my head too, and we slowed it down and as soon as we did that the lyric hit so much harder.
At this point Gracey started talking about how much she liked Callum Scott’s version of Robyn’s Dancing On My Own. Her comments have been redacted in the interests of public safety.
What’s going on in the “I hate pity” line in Gone?
I hate when people give me pity. Gone, on the whole, is super-reflective. I went through a period last year where I couldn’t use my voice in the way I usually would and it made me just sit and think for ages. DANGEROUS. It was a weird time. I had vocal surgery and lost my voice and I couldn’t speak for the first two weeks. My manager and my label were like: “Post about it! Say you’ve had this surgery!” And I was so against doing it until I knew my voice would come back. It makes me really emotional thinking about it. I don’t compute emotions properly and I know it sounds wanky and stupid but I do use music as a tool… If I’m feeling shit about something I’ll pretend to be fine then I’ll go home and cry in my room because I don’t want anyone to know I’m feeling really shit. And so the reason I wanted to wait until I was okay to talk about my voice until it was better is that I didn’t want people to be like: “Oh, don’t worry babe, it’ll all be fine.” When they didn’t know any better than me whether it actually would be fine.
But other people were keen for you to post about it?
I mean I could see it from their point of view: I was a new artist who’d just released two songs and then I was going to, what, go on a five month break? So I understood that. Trying to identify as a ‘brand’ is super weird, especially going from being a songwriter where you’re behind the scenes. You have to think of your mental health above everything though, and it was a mad strain last year. But it was the first time in my life when I’d been able to say: “I need, for myself, not to do that. I need to chill. After I’m out of it I’ll be in the position to talk about it.” Same with Different Things, really: that was written about something that happened ages before, which I was eventually in a position to be able to write about. If I’d written about it while my heart was broken, I don’t think I would have been able to get out of it. That’s just how I compartmentalise things.
Onto more important matters: which bits of Ritual did you write?
Well I did it with Wayne Hector, and Jonas [Blue], and Fraser T Smith…
THIS IS THE THING. These are some great writers. So I’m wondering who did what?
Well, Wayne has this little app where you’ll be singing and if he likes a melody he’ll tap the screen. It’s like a voice recorder, and you can use it to go back to moments in the recording that he liked. It’s Wayne’s classic app, everyone knows about it. 1I need to download it. Jonas is really good at directing what vibe he wants — rather than saying “I want this, I want that” he tells you what he loves. I’m very melodic in writing sessions, like in this song’s pre-chorus, but I’m not someone who’d ever say, “I wrote this song, it was completely me”, because without every single person in that room it wouldn’t have come about.
That said: what did Tiesto do? Just chuck some different drums on it afterwards?
It’s very very different. In terms of topline, not much, but in terms of production, and the chords — which changed from the original demo — the finished version was very different. It was genuinely super-collaborative.
Please explain Haywards Heath to anyone who’s never been there.
It’s the town I grew up in and it’s about twenty minutes away from Brighton: a quiet little town in West Sussex. I left to go to the Brit school in Croydon when I was fourteen so my teen years were spent in either Brighton or Croydon. Going to Brit pivoted me into the person I grew to be: being in an environment that was super-open. I was in at Xenomania when I was sixteen — 2015 sort of time — and it was 10/10. What better job you can get when you’re sixteen and you want to be a songwriter? The way they write songs is very different to how I write songs now but melodically I’m a lot quicker and a lot stronger than I would have been without Xenomania.
Lyrically what’s the best type of middle eight — the type that moves the story on or the type that turns the story on its head?
A great question. I appreciate both. In my last single I did one that comes back as the post-chorus so I like a little twist. I think it depends on the song really. If it’s a country song it has to spin it on its head, I think.
Before the interview you said you’re just working on your new single at the moment — what’s that one all about?
I deffo know it’s my next single but I’ve had five versions and I’m not happy with it yet, so…
I just want it to be perfect. It’s a song that means quite a lot to me so I want it to be fabulous.
Why does it mean so much to you?
It’s less about love. I like writing songs about love because people can connect quicker, but this one’s a song that’s based around social media and how everyone has to be in society today. I don’t want it to be preachy and annoying: hopefully it’s something you can listen to and think: “Oh, shit, that’s the perfect social commentary.”
It does sound like it could be a bit preachy and annoying.
It’s a fine line, right? That’s what I’m struggling with. I think it’s an important message but it needs to be delivered in the right way. The song’s called Empty Love and I don’t think it’s preachy because it’s me being honest about my own relationship with social media and the way we all act. I played it to my manager and she didn’t realise it was about social media until I told her.
A song about something that sounds like it’s about love? IDEAL.
EXACTLY. One of those. It’s asking someone — or society — for something. Asking them for love. Give me love! Give me empty love! Make me want what I already have! It’s a weird pop song but I’m excited about it.
It sounds like it could also be about life as a musical artist, and the relationship with fans.
Is it though?
I guess in terms of wanting approval from fans. I don’t have much experience of that yet, obviously. But it’s like, any of my mates could put up a picture and if it got two likes it would feel less for them, and I find that interesting, in the sense that people’s opinions can affect your own opinion of something.
Which for an artist is similar to putting out two songs: one that took five minutes and you hate, which gets 5m streams, then one that took weeks and you love it and gets five streams. But equally: maybe the ‘crap’ one is actually the better song?
That is true. That’s a hard truth to think about. Whether it touches hundreds of people or 50,000 people, well, as long as those 50,000 people are passionate about it, that’s alright. With the release of my first single I knew that I was ready to be an artist because I knew I’d reached a point where if people weren’t into it I’d just go: “That’s a shame.” Rather than: “I’m fucking shit.” I’ve come to a point where I can accept different opinions.
What’s your ten-year plan?
I have no idea what’s going to happen in two months, let alone ten years, but I’d love to do a big headline tour. That’s my aim. I did a tiny little gig in January and it was the first time I’ve heard people sing back my music. I was shaking at the start but as soon as people sang the chorus back to me I was like: “I get it. I want to be an artist. This is it.”
When did you first want to be an artist?
When I was younger I came across Now 45 and I’d play it and listen to those songs and be like: THEY GET IT. Don’t Call Me Baby by Madison Avenue — that was the big one for me. Anything that made me feel like I was a strong little girl.
So it’s interesting that the music you make now is often about being honest about feeling weak.
It is. There was a period last year when I was calling myself a ‘sad girl’ but actually I’m not sad, I’m just honest. And the reason I haven’t released as many happy songs is that that I don’t feel the need to rinse happiness out of my system as much as I do with sadness. The more I develop my artistry, the more I’ll be able to find my voice in different styles. I think naturally as you get older your relationships deepen with people, you understand yourself a lot more… Over the last two years I’ve really started to understand more about why I do certain things. When I was younger I was a lot more vulnerable: at that age when someone told me they loved me, I gave them everything, and I didn’t question how their actions didn’t mirror their words. But you grow…
What is a popstar?
It’s being certain of who you are. That’s what a popstar is.
Who are you?
I’m a little Pisces girl who wants to make people on the internet connect more and be real. We’re not robots. We’re honest, we’re weird; I want to make pop music that’s about being weird and being yourself and knowing that if people don’t like it that doesn’t matter. And I’m having a good old time, you know. I can’t lie — I’m enjoying it.
Gracey’s going on tour in May! London, Leeds, Paris, that sort of thing. Why not pop along and see what she’s up to?
WHAT IS THIS APP??? It sounds amazing.↩