Grace Carter – Interview

You hear of a lot of Brighton bands making good, but there is an even stronger strand of performers, who loosely cover the soul and urban genres, and are making huge strides. Most famously there is Rag’n’Bone Man, but Grace Carter is quickly making her mark, too.

Fresh off the back of supporting the likes of Haim, Dua Lipa, Jorja Smith and Rag’n’Bone Man himself, Grace Carter’s emotionally-charged music strikes listeners deep down, her personal stories tackling jealousy, family, love and loss, including recent single ‘Heal Me’.

Brought up in Brighton where she developed her songwriting skills, Carter is on a big roll at the moment, and she’ll be back in Brighton at the end of March for a headline date at Concorde 2. She talks to Jeff Hemmings about her music, family life and trying to take it all one day at a time.

Hi! Where are you now?
I’m in London. I’m in my flat right now. I’m off to the BAFTAS tonight, for the pre-dinner party for all the actors and the industry, where I’ll be performing.

You’re based in London now?
I moved here about two years ago, from Hove.

I lived in London ‘til I was nine, then moved to Brighton. I always come back to London. It always felt like home to me. I would always come back to see family, and to see friends. And then when I started to work with other producers and songwriters, when I was 16, I would come and do sessions five days of the week, and go home for the weekend. So, a couple of years ago it just made sense to move back to London. And not to have to do that train thing when Southern Rail is absolutely awful!

What did you make of Brighton?
It was very different from what I was used to, living in London. It was a lot slower, a lot more chilled and relaxed. It was a good change for me, personally. It was a place where I was introduced to songwriting. I really struggled as a child, but as soon as I started writing songs and got into my groove a bit, I completely transformed into a very happy child. So, yeah, I have a lot of very fond memories. It’s been a huge part of my career.

Still come here?
My mum and a lot of my friends are still based in Brighton. We do a thing where they come and stay with me once a month, which is lovely! It feels like a piece of home at my house here. I still go back when I can, but with all the touring, travelling, and working, it’s difficult.

Was your first ever show here?
I did a thing called Jam Brighton.

With Gordon (who runs Jam Brighton, a music organisation that gets young kids up on the stage)?
Yes, with Gordon! Me and my best friend, Lily Moore (an up and coming star in her own right), who also moved to Brighton, we both did Jam Brighton. It was amazing. I had already started writing songs before I did Jam Brighton, but Jam gave me the opportunity to perform. They were my first shows, which was kind of cool. And from then I met people, did more gigs. It was hard, though. I’m only 21 now, and when I was younger, a lot of the places you perform at are bars and clubs. It’s difficult when you’re young. All my first shows were in Brighton.

You headlined The Haunt in Brighton, at the end of last year…
It was my first show as a grown up, being 21! I call myself that but I’m not really grown up. It was really surreal, really cool. Just a few days before Christmas and so I was burnt out. I had done Wembley the night before and I was gaga from that. That was also surreal, I had a lot of adrenaline. I saw so many familiar faces at The Haunt, people I went to school with, including some teachers who didn’t like me when I was there!

Heal Me’ is your new single new single. It is a very personal song, like a lot of your music
Very personal music. It’s about spending a long time chasing someone I thought I needed for all the answers.

Do you find writing songs is a cathartic process?
I say it and it sounds quite dramatic, but it is correct. It saves me in a lot of ways, I could have gone down a completely different path because of the situation and experiences I had when I was young. Moving to Brighton was a big part of that. In London I was growing up way too quickly. I needed to slow it down and be a child, and live like a child. Songwriting was the thing that saved my childhood.

I read that your stepdad gave you a guitar, and told you to write a song…
I wanted to prove to him. He and my mum got together when I was 12, and soon after he bought me a guitar for my birthday. He wrote songs as an outlet for his emotions, and he encouraged me to do the same. I didn’t like him, but after he gave me the guitar, and encouraged me to do it, our relationship… I see him as my dad now. He’s incredible. I owe a lot to him. A lot of what has happened is down to his belief in me.

You write your own music all the time, with help from others?
I have a little studio in my flat. I mostly work now with my two bestest friends, called the 23rd. They are producers and songwriters, and identical twin brothers. I write a lot with them. It’s great when you can talk with your friends about things you are going through. It usually starts with one of them on the piano or me with some chords, and then I sing a melody down my phone. It kind of falls into place. I always feel that if it’s not coming quickly, then it’s not right. ‘Why Her, Not Me’ for example, that song was written in about two hours. That was because I was having a conversation with the guy I wrote the song with, we were talking about how my dad hadn’t been in my life, because he had another family – ‘why did he pick them, and not me’. That was the conversation, and I wrote a whole load of stuff down and it was written in two hours. That’s how I write my songs, taking an experience, having a conversation, and letting it fall into place.

I find some of the best songs are written quickly, in the moment.
I think you can hear it when people have thought too much about a song. A big part of music is the feeling in it, it has to strike a chord with someone. For me, music is a feeling.

Which artists were you growing up with?
My mum has really odd tastes. When we were in the car we would listen to music a lot. At a super young age I fell in love with Nina Simone. I was fascinated by her voice. I thought she was a man when I first heard her voice, and I couldn’t get my head around the fact that she was a woman. Her voice is so interesting and unique. I had never heard anything like it. And I had never felt anything like it as well. I heard her in the car for the first time, and I burst into tears, and I had no idea why. I had only cried before at being upset, like not getting sweets after school, do you know what I mean? With this music I felt something that I hadn’t recognised before. And I loved, and still love, Alicia Keys. I think a lot of female artists have been the ones that have had a massive effect on me, in the music I make, and the way I think about things. Those female artists that were being open and being honest, encouraged me to do the same, and just be vulnerable. There’s a lot of strength in that.

Where did you go to school in Brighton?
Blatchington Mill. I didn’t love it. I can’t lie! I didn’t ever sing at school. I was too nervous. I didn’t feel encouraged to. Music and songwriting was something I did a lot at my mum’s house. Always out the way. No one could hear me. And now I’m doing this. I don’t think anyone expected it! Although I was in a choir at primary school, for the St Andrew’s Community Choir. I had never really sung before. I realised then I could hold a note! Everyone is singing together, in a good mode. It’s a release.

It must be a whirlwind now?
I’m literally taking it day-by-day. It’s very different from how I thought it would be, in the best way. Doing something new every day is so exciting. I’ve just learnt to take it one day at a time. If I look at the rest of the week I’m going to get stressed out. I have a good team around me. They look after me, they travel with me. They are like my family. They all have such an amazing relationship with my mum, which is the most important thing. We are all in it together, trying to do the best we can.

You’ve got to know Rag’n’Bone Man quite well, it seems!
I did his tour, and a couple of shows in Ireland and Scotland last year. I did a show at Patterns, when I was 16 or 17, and I remember my mum came up to me at the end of the show and said there’s a guy at the back who’s really tall, with tattoos all over him. And I got introduced to him, and it was Rory, Rag’n’Bone Man. And then a couple of years later I was on the road with him, touring around Europe. It’s really cool. We played at Alexandra Palace, which was very surreal! For someone who hadn’t toured that much, there was like 10,000 people there. It was really scary, but he just made me feel so welcome. He’s such a lovely guy.

He seems to be really good with mentoring, and helping young artists.
He’s a gentle giant. I’ve seen people talk to him, and they think he’s going to be really scary, but then he just opens his arms and talks to you. He’s the sweetest guy ever.

Any other highlights for you last year?
I guess the Village Underground show was a highlight. It was my biggest headline show to date. I had toured with a lot of people, but I had only done my first headline tour last year. And just seeing everyone sing back every lyric was surreal! ‘How does everyone know this song, it’s not even out yet?!’ I say this a lot, but seeing streams online, and views on YouTube, seeing all of that is amazing, but performing at a show, being on stage, and seeing all these young girls and boys, and even older people, in front of me, reacting to my music in an emotional way, or in any type of way, is so rewarding and really overwhelming, but in the best way.

Jeff Hemmings