THE LONDON BASED MUSIC MAKER ON HER NEW EP, THE WEST COUNTRY BASS SCENE, AND WHY WORKING AS A BEATBOXER IS A BLESSING.
– SALUTE: Hi Grace, I wanted to start by saying congratulations for releasing your Savage Grace EP recently – how’s life been the past few months after the release?
It took a while to get the full EP onto all the streaming platforms but as of last week, it’s officially out in the public so i’m feeling pretty hyped! It’s been a long journey to get to this point; considering I wrote the first song ‘Medusa’ in 2015, this EP has actually been about 2 years in the making, which is incredible really, for just 3 songs. That’s one of the things about being unsigned and self managed, is that things can take so much longer because you are doing stuff on favours and everybody has other jobs to commit to outside of music. You end up spending more of your time chasing people and less of it creating…so yeah I feel that it is quite an achievement.
I did have a previous EP but unfortunately that never came to fruition so I almost feel like this Savage Grace EP is a result of five years of work – scrapping ideas and scrapping projects to arrive at this point. Although it was a tough decision to make at the time, I am so glad that I didn’t release the previous EP in the end because it doesn’t represent who I am now as an artist…it was more like 22 year old-don’t know anything about life and the music industry-Grace! (laughs).
There have been SO many obstacles along the way, at times it felt like it was never gonna happen so it feels great to have something out there finally.
– SALUTE: For sure, well done you. Can you tell me about where you’re from and how you got into music in the first place?
Ok sure, so I grew up in Devon, in the West Country. I don’t come from a musical family….I didn’t come out of the womb singing, like some of these stage school kids (laughs). My main interest in the arts started with theatre and acting when I was a kid. I was always a bit obsessed with imitating people/accents/sounds so that meant that when I got introduced to beatboxing, at around 15, I picked it up quite quickly and I thought “this is f*****g cool, I wanna learn how to do that”….so I did.
My spirt animal would definitely be a be a parrot.
When I went to uni to study theatre the plan was to continue on and go to drama school but I started getting paid work as a beatboxer when I was about 20, so I was like ‘hold on there’s something in this; if I focus and work hard at this, maybe that’s a route I can take’, so I finished uni and focused quite hard on beatboxing. I was unemployed and not working for a few months but as I built up contacts with each job, more and more things started happening. I entered a talent competition and was spotted by a producer who invited me to her studio. That was when I first started writing songs and singing properly, when I was about 22/23 having never sung in public, to anyone, ever!
I never would have called myself a singer, I was terrified of singing actually. I always hid behind the beatboxing… because it was something that always guaranteed to impress people. With singing I always felt way more vulnerable and exposed.
– SALUTE: Did you have much exposure to local music scenes in Devon or did you find stuff through the internet?
Yeah the internet was a big thing for me in terms of beatboxing. There are a lot of creative people down in the West Country and there was a huge Drum and Bass scene for us growing up. Dubstep started in Bristol and we used to go to the Lemon Grove in Exeter and go to DnB nights all the time.
We were really saturated in bass and hip hop culture down there, which you don’t really think of when you think of the West Country but there is a massive scene.
So I was influenced by that type of music early on and there were a lot of beatboxers even in the little town I grew up in…so everything sort of started there. Oh yeah, I’ve just remembered that I was in an all female rock band when I was 14 too… (laughs). I played the guitar (very badly) and we played a couple of gigs in the village hall!
SALUTE: That’s awesome, so how many beatboxers were there in your town?
Hmm, well I was like 14/15 and there were a couple of guys who were like 18/19 at the time. A guy called Audible Porno taught me my first beatboxing pattern on the beach…and then Bellatrix, who encouraged me to keep practising.
Youtube wasn’t really around then, so I learnt through them and HumanBeatbox.com. The legend that is Rahzel came and did a gig in Exeter, which I went to when I was 14 and that was the first time I saw a beatboxer killing it with the mic and it blew my tiny little mind.
– SALUTE: Yeah, I was just about to ask if you remembered the first time you heard someone beatbox?
Yeah he was amazing, doing vocal scratching, singing and doing the beat at the same time – I just remember thinking at the time ‘that’s ridiculous’! Because no one else was doing that back then.
Growing up in the West Country I think you have a lot of time to yourself to practice. There was quite a lot of freedom from our parents when we were growing up…no sense of having a strict curfew and being like ‘you have to come home at a certain time’ because it was a small, relatively safe town.
We were quite free to be independent, to do what we wanted, to pursue dreams, to pursue what we wanted to do.
I never said to my parents ‘I want to be a musician or beatboxer’, they just said do what ever you want to do as long as you are happy and I feel like that enabled more of a creative environment.
– SALUTE: That’s such a powerful influence, how did your family react to you focusing on acting and music?
My parents have always just said to me “do what ever you want to do as long as you are happy” and that massively inspired my creative ambitions and confidence. They would be happy if I was road sweeping to be honest. It’s never been about achieving to a really high level for them…I have always put that pressure on myself. I didn’t decide music is what I wanted to pursue until much later in life. Acting was my main focus early on, but I got to uni and realised that I wasn’t the big fish in a small town anymore; there’s hundreds of other people who are really talented and want to do the same thing so I started to think about going into drama therapy or scriptwriting, I just knew that I wanted to do something creative. I had no idea that it was going to end up doing beatboxing.
– SALUTE: When did you write your first song?
I started writing songs when I was in primary school, mainly inspired by 90’s pop bands…and I started a girl band called “flash” in year 5…but it never really took off. I kept my first diary aged 7 and have always written creatively, kind of poems, kind of just getting my thoughts out. I only really started crafting these words into songs a few years ago and ended up recording my first song in a studio when I was 22. I was working with a producer who was helping to develop me as an artist and inspired me with the confidence to sing. I learnt a lot from being in the studio with her and learning the craftsmanship of songwriting. That time in my life was a very important learning curve for me where I really started to grow as an artist. Sadly we went our separate ways but I’ll always be grateful for that time.
– SALUTE: Did you have favourite producers growing up?
When I was younger I didn’t even really understand what a producer was; I wasn’t knowledgeable enough on the creative process behind a song. I just knew about artists and would listen to people like Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, Amy Winehouse – especially her first album Frank, I was obsessed with that. As I have got older I have gotten into more electronic and experimental RnB with people like Banks, Jamie Woon, Jamie XX, Frank Ocean, Solange – her last album was amazingly well produced.
Two tracks off my Savage Grace EP were produced by Chris Bartholomew, who is also my DJ for live shows. I sent him some basic production I had done for a song and he was like ‘let me have a crack at doing something with this’ and came back with the instrumental for “Medusa” and it was amazing. He’s not a big name and he kinda keeps himself to himself but he’s really talented.
The other track was produced by Jason Julian who is a bit more well known, from Odd Child. That was just me emailing a shit tonne of people saying that I am looking for management or producers – 9 out of 10 times people reply saying they are not taking people on or they don’t reply at all but Odd Child replied and were like “yeah great why don’t you come in and have a chat and set up a writing session” and we clicked really well actually…so I’ve got another track coming out in a couple of months with Jason.
– SALUTE: Do you produce your own music as well?
So yeah, I use a Roland loop station to write and compose tracks quite a lot so my mind works like a producer.
I think about different textures and sounds, and how I can create that with my voice.
But when it comes to actually transferring that to skills in Logic I am pretty useless. I can get an idea down but the quality is very very basic. I really want to skill up in production though because it means you have more control and don’t have to rely on other people so much to create a product.
I am quite lucky as a beatboxer because I can be like ‘I want this kinda sound”, I can put it into the loop station, put an effect on it and the producer can go ‘ok I know how to create that’. So yeah, that is on my to do list – to take more ownership over producing and skill myself with that. I just don’t always have that much patience with technology.
The thing I love about beatboxing and performing is that you just make it up as you go along, you do it into a mic, boost the bass, and it sounds phat, you don’t have to programme it with a thing, connect it to a doo-dah and flex time and melodyne it for hours. That doesn’t excite me as much as other musical geeky things. I like performing and singing basically (laughs).
– SALUTE: All good (laughs). Do you want to talk about the context of having a female at the heart of the love story in your video for Just For Tonight?
There’s this thing right where I used to think that if you talk about these things you become a spokesperson for gay rights and everyone wants your opinion on it…and I used to avoid talking about it for that reason. I didn’t wanna have any sort of responsibility to represent the LGBT community because I don’t see myself as part of the LGBT community, I see myself as human… but actually I have come to learn that my experience is unique and individual and I don’t have to represent everyone in that sense and it’s fine to just tell my story… if I want to… and in this video… I wanted to.
– SALUTE: More power to you.
Thinking about the music industry, it’s progressing but it is sort of ten years behind, it’s a very white male heterosexual environment and when I was first writing songs, people in the industry were like ‘say you’re bi-sexual’ because honestly, I wasn’t sure who or what I was and I still sort of don’t, but back then they were like ‘say you’re bi-sexual’ ‘say you’re bi-sexual’ because you ‘don’t want to be a gay artist!’ because then you’ll become a niche and you’ll just be a gay artist, playing at gay events, only doing gay interviews. And me as a naive 22 year old was like ‘oh ok yeah I won’t mention that’, I’ll make it a mystery. But yeah, now I feel like attitudes towards queerness have progressed quite a lot, even in the last 4 or 5 years.
The one thing I don’t want is for people to think that I have put this in there to be on trend. I put it in because it’s a song I wrote about a girl and it would feel untrue for me to put myself and act in the video to be playing opposite a man, so it was just about being authentic to myself. It’s not a massive statement or me championing a message. it’s just that this song was written about a girl so I’m going to put a girl in the video.
– SALUTE: How is it for you being an independent musician and balancing working on your music with making working to make money?
I’ve been really lucky with the beatboxing thing. Don’t get me wrong I’ve worked my ass off but I also recognise that being one of only a handful of professional female beatboxers in the world, gives me a USP. I get to work on loads of really exciting and diverse projects and somehow I’ve managed to make it pay my rent for the past 7 years. A lot of my income is through teaching beatboxing workshops but I also gig quite regularly and have just finished my first project as a Musical Director on a drama school theatre show. My beatboxing has taken me all over the world collaborating as a performer on other peoples projects. I like that my job means that I can work on so many different projects and collaborate with so many people all the time but the next stage for me would be touring and making money from my own music. I am forever grateful though and make sure to constantly remind myself that I am a full time artist.
There are periods of no work sometimes, so I will panic knowing that I can’t pay my rent and thinking like ok maybe it’s time that I got a ‘normal job’ but I’ve been lucky because something always comes around and then you just learn to make the money last until the next one – you live within your means basically.
I would much rather have a free schedule and be struggling for money sometimes whilst doing what I love than working in an office 9-5 knowing that you’ve got a pay check at the end of the month.
The precariousness does take a toll on your mental health sometimes. Which luckily now people are starting to talk about more. Being an independent musician is really a difficult lifestyle to maintain. You’ve got to give yourself deadlines and targets because if you don’t, no one else will. And you know, you don’t just come home from your day job and clock off. I’m up till midnight sometimes writing emails when I really don’t need to be. There is a little voice in your head that tells you to keep working that never never goes away.
– SALUTE: What do you think about the SALUTE initiative?
It looks to me like a unique and the biggest scale competition for unsigned artists that I’ve ever seen online. It looks like you have thought about every aspect and really had the artist at the centre of it. Your ethos seems to be about honesty and trying to help out the artist rather than just trying to make a profit and make a name for yourselves which is why I got on board initially.
I’ve paid to enter my music video into competitions and entered songwriting competitions – it can be anything from £25 to £75 sometimes. And when you’re an independent musician that is a lot of bloody money. You are aware that you need to invest in yourself, but when you are going up against hundreds of other people you sort of go, well is this going to be worth it?
But the fact that it’s free and you offer promo and marketing and every artist a revenue share. There’s a lot of incentives for me to get involved because it felt like I would be really supported. It’s not just about winning, it’s also about being involved in the project as a whole because it sounds like a really exciting thing to be involved in. As soon as I saw it I was like ‘yes, this is what I’ve been looking for’.
– SALUTE: Yesss! That’s really great to hear Grace, thank you.
FOLLOW GRACE SAVAGE @ GRACESAVAGEOFFICAL.COM