Just 18 years old, Brisbane neo-soul marvel Grace (nee Grace Sewell) broke out this year with her sultry cover of the Lesley Gore classic “You Don’t Own Me” ft. G-Eazy. Produced by Quincy Jones, it was a top 10 Spotify hit and shot straight to #1 in homeland Australia (it’s currently also featured in the House of Fraser holiday ad campaign.)
Music is in the blood – her singing grandparents worked with the Bee Gees, and her songwriter brother Conrad has collaborated with Norwegian DJ sensation Kygo. As she prepares to take the UK and US by equally fervent storm, we chatted with her about her experience with Jones, and those possibly daunting Amy Winehouse comparisons.
Who were some of the artists that had the greatest effect on you?
My nan was a jazz singer who used to play me Etta James, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, the big soul singers. And that’s who as a little girl I would try to emulate. That led into Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse…
Is it strange for you to now be getting these Amy Winehouse comparisons?
I’ve looked up to her for as long as I can remember. Not just her voice – but the rawness of the way she would write songs was such an inspiration to me.
Real soul music was always about baring it all.
I think it’s always been important to me to write my own songs. It’s great to be able to sit in your room and write, it’s sort of like therapy. When you look at Sam Smith, Adele, Ed Sheeran – they’re all singer-songwriters, they write about what they’re going through. People connect with that.
So what in the song “Dirty Harry” is about you?
‘Dirty Harry’ is about sneaking out of the house, as a teenager, trying to be cool. It’s just sort of about being reckless, stupid teenager shit.
Your success in Australia was significant. Has that been overwhelming for you?
It’s always weird when that many people catch on to what you’re doing. But when I was last in Australia back in June, it wasn’t like I couldn’t walk down the street without being recognized.
You’re not Kylie, right. But how was it working with Quincy Jones?
It was…ridiculous! I mean, he’s Quincy Jones, he’s a legend. I’m like a sponge around him, I just soak up everything. It was unforgettable just being in his presence.
Are there other producers you’d like to work with?
I don’t really look at it like that. There are producers whose work I love, but it might not vibe if we got into the studio together. Writing a song is such a personal thing – and it doesn’t always work with some big producer. It’s almost better if you know the person.
There’s a crass industry habit of putting “hot” artists and producers together.
The music business has had a method to producing a pop star – and that’s great. It’s not so much crass, it is what it is. But it’s just more personal for me, I’d rather work with someone I know.
Are there any other musical avenues you’d like to explore?
I would love to write a song for a movie.
When you write songs, do you see pictures in your head?
I tend to write things that are quite visual, yeah. You paint a picture in your head, even if you haven’t lived it.
Are you prepped for America?
As much as you can be.