On Finding Inspiration and Maintaining Meaningfulness: A Conversation with isaac gracie

Isaac Gracie © 2018
isaac gracie’s music has never really needed all the grandeur; his prowess and culpability easily stands firm on its own regardless.

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There was definitely a kind of massive leap from working in the studio; there’s at least an unconscious one that you take on where you expect a lot more with what you’re coming out with, on account of just the fact that the setting is a lot larger or more presumptuous,” British singer-songwriter isaac gracie notes on the creation of his self-titled debut album (released 4/13/2018 via Virgin EMI Records). “But then at the same time, because of that, the curtains fall down and you see a whole universe of sound that you could potentially make; so it’s really un-inhibiting, but it’s also quite overwhelming in the sense that once you see the plethora of avenues you could take, sonically or whatever, it’s kind of like, you’re spoiled for choice.”

gracie is no stranger to creating music, having first released his debut EP songs from my bedroom in 2016 and racking up millions upon millions of streams on tracks like “reverie” and “terrified,” but there is slight caveat: prior to this full-length record, he had only ever recorded his songs in his own bedroom. With his debut full-length, he had been lushly provided with a grandiose environment with which he could make his music, and thus his self-titled record ultimately came to fruition, incorporating new elements — including recording with a full band — into its conception.

isaac gracie - isaac gracie

isaac gracie – isaac gracie

“I had only really written songs in my bedroom; I had never set foot in a studio. So there was a lot of work to be done in terms of getting that to the place where it now is, I guess, where there’s band elements and more of a kind of broad sonic identity,” gracie explains. “[…] I didn’t want to make any sweeping gestures toward a thing which I’d turn around and then really hate, and wonder why it was that I was stuck to making that sound…”

gracie’s music has never really needed all the grandeur, though; his prowess and culpability easily stands firm on its own regardless. Rather, having a studio setting merely allowed him to explore newer opportunities that are beneficial to making one’s debut record, while still steadfastly maintaining his own ingenuity. His songs are fluid, emotional, and tacitly genuine, eliciting a palpable rawness with each yearning melody.

“[Y]ou know, these songs come from a real place for me, and I wrote all of them, and I really believe in them. So in the performing of them or listening of them, they hopefully have an honest connection that can be made there,” gracie notes. “And I didn’t purely just write them for myself, I kind of wrote them in the vain of some sort of hopefully universally-experienced space.”

Watch: “terrified” – isaac gracie

A CONVERSATION WITH ISAAC GRACIE

Atwood Magazine: Thank you for chatting! You’ve been working on the new record for a little while now, around 2 years – what has that evolution been like, with creating it from where it was to where it is now?

isaac gracie: It was quite a drawn out process, I guess; there was a lot of conceptual work that had to take place, insofar as how the sound was going to be translated, and reborn, in a way, I guess. And I hadn’t done any of that, and I was kind of thrust into a position where people were aware of my music quite early on, with regards to how much I had actually prepared; but, not so much the songs I’d written, but the style in which the songs were being presented. I had only really written songs in my bedroom; I had never set foot in a studio. So there was a lot of work to be done in terms of getting that to the place where it now is, I guess, where there’s band elements and more of a kind of broad sonic identity. And, yeah, I guess just trying to get that right and just trying to learn about it myself, you know, because I didn’t want to make any sweeping gestures toward a thing which I’d turn around and then really hate, and wonder why it was that I was stuck to making that sound. Because, I mean, the type of songs that I write, they don’t necessarily subscribe to an obvious genre, or whatever; it’s just really nailing down what it is that makes them intrinsically my songs, which just is a creative process that took a bit of time.

it was so cool to realize that I’d made, or what had been made, were these songs that were really fun and exciting to play with other people. 

So what was it like, then, being in a studio for the first time? Making your songs that way versus in your bedroom?

isaac: It was cool! But it was kind of overwhelming, I guess. I really like the intimacy and lack of expectation that comes with working in your own small space, and my space that I work in at home is as small as they come. So, you know, there was definitely a kind of massive leap from working in the studio; there’s at least an unconscious one that you take on where you expect a lot more with what you’re coming out with, on account of just the fact that the setting is a lot larger or more presumptuous. But then at the same time, because of that, the curtains fall down and you see a whole universe of sound that you could potentially make; so it’s really un-inhibiting, but it’s also quite overwhelming in the sense that once you see the plethora of avenues you could take, sonically or whatever, it’s kind of like, you’re spoiled for choice.

How, now, has that kind of translated in the way that you’re performing live? Now that you’ve had the whole grandiose experience – you’ve added a full band to everything now, right?

isaac: Yeah, yeah, I’ve got a band now. I mean, to be honest, it was always in my mind; what I always wanted to do with my music was take it to a place where it could—I always wanted to play with other players. So it’s kind of cool now; one of the awesome things was spending that time in the studio and making songs in that regard, prior to actually ever playing with other players—which isn’t really the way that I’d like to do it again in the future, and does cause a lot of conceptual struggles while you’re doing it, because you’re imagining a world that you’ve never existed in, per se—but one of the cool things, when it was done, and the music was there, and I went about playing it with these players, it was so cool to realize that I’d made, or what had been made, were these songs that were really fun and exciting to play with other people. And that’s been a really cool revelation in, say, the last six months or whatever, playing with other people, and enjoying that in the kind of live sphere as well.

Nowadays, I guess I’m driven or inspired or creatively compelled more by an overwhelming dread of failure than I am of anything else.

Nice! So then, when you’re writing your songs, I assume that you probably tend to start with lyrics first, and then bring in the instrumentation later? Am I right on that, or does it kind of vary?

isaac: It varies, but I mean, I find it harder, often, to actually write like that, because unless—the lyrics can often feel inspired, especially nowadays, you can overwhelm yourself with a sense of deceit before you’ve even given yourself a chance at doing it. So, if the immediate melody or something doesn’t jump out in the same way that the meaning of the lyrics jumped out when you wrote them, and they don’t go together, then it’s very—I’ll can that quite soon after. So, as far as I’m concerned, most of the stuff comes from some general fumbling around with ideas, and hoping that something comes up, and when it comes up trying to chase it, and then leaving it for a bit, and then leaving it for a bit, and then recording it, and then maybe trying to pick up on it maybe when I’m on a train or in a coffee shop or something, listening to it and trying to really extrapolate what I found was worthwhile from it, and building on it. So, it’s more of a kind of prolonged process these days.

How long does it typically take for you to write and finish a song?

isaac: Oh, it’s completely varied. Like, sometimes—“last words” I wrote in literally like, 15 minutes, 15-30 minutes, which sets a horrible precedent, and did set a horrible precedent, because, you know, when you’re equating everything to what was your most popular song or whatever, that came in such a flurry of inspiration and conviction, then as soon as you don’t feel that same inspiration and immediate conviction to something, from then on you kind of say, “Well, is it really worth it? Shall I pursue this?” And so, sometimes a song comes quickly and other times it’s really the product of multiple days, if not weeks, of kind of toiling at it a little bit.

Listen: “last words” – isaac gracie


And your songs are very emotive, and tell a very narrative, whole story. I think that they’re beautiful, and very gorgeously written. Where do you typically draw your inspiration from? What are you sort of trying to emulate with your songs?

isaac: I don’t know—I honestly don’t really know. You know, I used to really feel quite passionately about the kind of personal, emotive feelings that I’ve felt towards maybe certain people or certain experiences, and that would then lead to emotive songwriting with regard to those things. And I’d say that as I’ve gotten older, one of the sad things, one of the struggling things about the writing process or whatever it is—and I guess it was an egotistical thing as well—because I used to romanticize or value my life as having a particular worth and merit and reason for conveying those emotions and things that maybe I kind of lost sight of a little bit. Nowadays, I guess I’m driven or inspired or creatively compelled more by an overwhelming dread of failure than I am of anything else; and a kind of sensitive desire to make and put worthwhile things in the world, you know, and feeling like what I’m doing is worthwhile and has a sense of credibility—not even credibility, just a sense of true merit and place. It’s really difficult, because inspiration comes from different things, and I really wouldn’t say that maintaining inspiration or finding inspiration is—you can definitely go through periods where it kind of dissipates.

Do you feel like you tend to struggle with the concept of ‘success,’ in terms of your music?

isaac: Well, it’s a hard question, because the notion of ‘success’ is broad and takes on different faces, so you know, I’m really compelled by the idea of, again leading back to that notion of failure, I would really love my music to be heard by as many people as possible, and I really love playing shows where it’s a full crowd and the vibe is really strong. And I love hearing people relate to my music in a positive and meaningful and heartfelt way; but then again I’m also completely aware of the fact that broad—I don’t want to say commercial—but some elements and notions and caveats of success lead to kind of facets of living that I really have no engagement with, and also a massive fear of. So, you know, I think it’s just a challenge, and, I don’t know, I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m afraid of any of those things, but more so just tentatively aware of them.

So, what—talking about playing shows and everything—what have been some unique and memorable experiences with fans, or in different places that you’ve played, what are some things that stand out for you?

isaac: Well, you know, every gig, there’s a meaningful moment with fans and stuff, when you see them afterwards, there’s usually kind of like, an exchange of personal experience or whatever that’s really moving or really lovely to be a part of. It’s always—in terms of the question of, any standout moments from gigs, it’s difficult because they all stand out kind of in their own special way. There’s never been necessarily—there isn’t an idea in my head of something that holds precedence over any others, and I think that’s what kind of makes it so special, because they all have their unique moments. It’s just the nature of playing music in that setting, kind of defines it that there, at least for me, isn’t some greater moment than any others, because they’re all pretty special.

That’s great! What, then, is your favorite part about making music, and playing music? Or, why does music matter to you?

isaac: I don’t know. I think it changes; as I’m putting out this record, the excitement for me, playing the music now, and going places and experiencing people, and playing shows every night, that’s what really excites me. And, you know, I also feel like a real drive to create more music now, on account of this record being signed, sealed, and delivered, I feel a really overwhelming urge to record the music that I’ve written over the last two years and stuff. So I think part of the excitement, or the enjoyment of this profession, or whatever it is, is how the three facets of it—whether it be recording or writing or performing—all kind of marry; none of them really jump too far ahead of the other at any point in time, because you’re always in a state of one or the other.

Sure! Great. So what is something that you would like people to know about you, and your music, especially now that you’re going to have the full-length album out?

isaac: Well, I don’t know. I guess just that, you know, these songs come from a real place for me, and I wrote all of them, and I really believe in them. So in the performing of them or listening of them, they hopefully have an honest connection that can be made there. And I didn’t purely just write them for myself, I kind of wrote them in the vain of some sort of hopefully universally-experienced space. So, you know, hopefully people enjoy it, and I’m going to carry on writing songs, so hopefully they enjoy this record, and they’ll enjoy the next ones too.

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isaac gracie - isaac gracie

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Maggie McHale

Maggie is the Chief Music Director for Atwood Magazine, currently living in Philadelphia. She also works as a Digital Marketer for Fame House, a Philly-based Universal Music Group subsidiary. She is heavily involved in the arts and music scene in the City of Brotherly Love, often enjoying (and even preferring) going to concerts and museums alone; just generally loving and exploring the city that she calls home. A self-proclaimed “hug enthusiast” and dog lover, Maggie also enjoys fashion, travel, the paranormal, and drinking way too much coffee. In addition to writing for Atwood, she freelances and contributes to JUMP Magazine. (Fun fact-She also once slow-danced with Boyz II Men in Las Vegas.)