Atwood Magazine sat down with Australian artist Mallrat to talk about her musical development, touring with Maggie Rogers and gnash, and what the ideal alien reception on Earth would look like.
Accurately depicting your teenage years in song is a talent that few possess – most teeter between over-dramatisation and pure heartbreak and catchy songs celebrating the days of the week and how tonight is the night. Lorde most notably skyrocketed to fame when, at 16 years old, managed to translate her youth – all the boredom, hopefulness, wasted nights, friendship, and hopeless romance of it – into song. We don’t all live in picture perfect, rose-coloured John Hughes ‘80s movies, and it’s refreshing when people just get it.
Meet Mallrat, the musical alias of Australian artist Grace Shaw, someone else who gets it. If Lorde’s Pure Heroine painted suburban teenage life with muted greens, reds, and blues, Mallrat’s songs soundtrack youth with a more vibrant colour scheme of pink, light blue, yellow, and orange. Her debut EP Uninvited, released when Shaw was 16, was a confident dance-infused pop debut project that touched on insecurity, took down the plastic, popular kids who all wear the same sunglasses, said what we all really feel about parties (“I wish I was uninvited”), and shouted out High School Musical. A total triumph.
A few years later, Shaw returned with EP In the Sky, which revealed a more mature and vulnerable sound. “Groceries” kicks off the EP with an acoustic guitar that could belong on a Sufjan Stevens record and explores the wonders of having a crush, “Texas” addresses the heartbreak of watching a friend destroy themselves and wanting to save them. On “UFO”, which features one of her favourite artists and frequent collaborator Allday, Shaw talks about feeling like an alien and wanting to go home. Mallrat’s newest song, a collaboration with Basenji called “Nobody’s Home”, has the lyric “Nobody’s home so I sing my songs about you”. Listening to her music feels like talking to your best friend.
Watch: “Nobody’s Home” – Mallrat, Basenji
The story gets even better once you find out Shaw’s background story. After seeing Allday, who she really looked up to, in concert, Shaw felt inspired to write her own music, confident that when she did, she was going to get to work with him. Cut to a few years later, and Mallrat’s been featured on Allday’s “Baby Spiders”, Allday’s featured on her “UFO”, and they are best friends. Shaw lived (and lives) the dream, attributing it to “the power of visualisation” – or you can just call her an absolute boss legend. Mallrat’s story is proof that turning your dreams into reality is possible for everyone if you work hard enough and never give up.
Apart from releasing music that gets better every single time and having the world’s best origin story, Mallrat has also been busy supporting Maggie Rogers, Post Malone, and gnash on tour, as well as embarking on her own (and frequently sold out) tours in Australia. Atwood Magazine caught up with Mallrat during her Philadelphia stop on the gnash tour to talk about her musical development, touring with Maggie Rogers and gnash, and what the ideal alien reception on Earth would look like.
A CONVERSATION WITH MALLRAT
Atwood Magazine: Hi Grace! You’re on tour with gnash right now! How has it been?
Mallrat: This is only the fourth show, but it’s been cool! Really cold (laughs). It’s been fun. We had some really beautiful fans at the show in DC last night, they were so sweet, that’s been my favourite thing about the tour so far.
How does this tour compare to the one you went on with Maggie Rogers? I can imagine her venues were much bigger.
Mallrat: That’s the main difference, this is much smaller.
What stage size do you prefer?
Mallrat: Hm.. bigger probably (laughs). Because I can’t really move around on these stages.
It’s insane that you’ve already opened for Maggie Rogers and Post Malone, who’s one of the biggest acts in the world right now. How do you feel being only two EPs into your career and having these amazing opportunities? Did you think it was going to happen this fast?
Mallrat: I don’t even remember what I thought was going to happen (laughs) but I’m happy that it’s happening. It’s pretty cool.
I wanted to ask you about how you started making music. From what I heard, you went to Allday’s show one day and then decided you wanted to give this a shot, and that’s not the typical “I’ve wanted to be a musician since I can remember” story that we hear a lot. Did you think you always had this desire in you but hadn’t given yourself enough courage to try until then, and what steps did you take to then become the musician you are today?
Mallrat: It’s kind of funny because up until I was 13, or maybe 12, I wanted to be a singer. And then that teenage doubt kicked in and I was like “Nah, I can’t do it, I don’t know anyone who’s a musician and whatever” so I was trying to find something else that I might possibly like. And then [Allday’s show] happened and it gave me the confidence again. It’s interesting how sometimes they say that whatever you wanted to do as a kid is what you should do, because that’s all I wanted when I was little. That or something with horses because I was a horse girl (laughs).
Did you get to write any songs when you were young?
Mallrat: A couple, but it was more singing than writing. I liked words and reading, and I was good at English and stuff, and I wrote a couple of random songs but it wasn’t something that I was always doing. But I was always trying to teach myself piano, we had a really old piano that was super out of tune and I would spend all the school holidays trying to figure it out.
And did that skill help you when you came hope and decided to give music a shot?
Mallrat: It did. I only realised a month ago that I can play piano, in my head it was always like “Oh we had a piano” but I never thought of myself as someone who can play the piano. But then I was in the studio with my friend and they were like “I didn’t know you played the piano” and I was like “Neither did I!” (laughs). I guess all those years of teaching myself meant that I can play piano.
So you write on the piano and the guitar?
Mallrat: I’m not very good at the guitar. I wish I was, I can play a tiny bit, but I usually write either on the piano or someone else is playing an instrument and I’m riffing over it.
You’ve called yourself “Hannah Montana of the rap game” and that’s the best title I’ve ever heard. How did you come up with this title?
Mallrat: First of all, I don’t think it applies anymore (laughs). My first song was kind of a bit rappy so it was true at the time for that, but it was more the double life thing that I really related to: going to school and not talking about music and being really shy about it and not telling anyone, then after school going to the studio and trying to make stuff. That’s what I felt like.
Why did you not tell your friends about your music?
Mallrat: I was really embarrassed. I didn’t want them to listen to it because I was still growing into my voice a lot, and I hate when you have to show people that you know music, like family, and them being like “Oh it’s that about blah blah blah” and I’m like “I don’t know, don’t ask me!” (laughs).
Your first EP, Uninvited, is a collection of the first songs you ever wrote. Were you ever apprehensive to release it since those were your first ever songs and you were going with them or was it like “Now that I’m going to do it I’ll just do it”?
Mallrat: I was definitely apprehensive with lots of little points because I had no compass of whether they were horrible or amazing because I didn’t have the confidence that I was a songwriter yet, I didn’t know if this was really bad or really good. In the process of the first song I found a couple of people who believed in me, which made a world of difference at the time. That kind of just kept happening for that first EP, and by the end of that I’d figured out what I liked and didn’t like, and in the process of making the second one I really grew confident in myself. Back then when I made something I’d send it to people and be like “Is this good?” because I honestly had no idea, and then if they didn’t reply or didn’t open it I’d be like “Oh, it’s horrible” (laughs) or I’d make stuff that I didn’t really like but I thought sounded kind of okay and would be like “Is this cool?” and they’d say “Yeah”. But now I really know what I expect of myself.
We can definitely hear this growth, not only with songwriting and production, but also with how vulnerable you are on the second EP, In the Sky. I’ve read that you once said that what you care about the most when making songs is conveying emotions, they are your primary focus rather than lyrics or anything else. You also became more involved with production the second time around, so when crafting the EP what were the decisions you made to make sure the project would have the emotional impact you wanted it to?
Mallrat: It’s kind of intuitive, you kind of just feel it and know. It’s not always logical, even though there are logical aspects to it. You don’t talk about the feelings, you make the feelings, you talk about little details and physical memories and specific descriptions, that’s one technique I’ve found that sets the scene.
But it’s like what Lorde did with “Green Light”, where it’s this banger of a song that you want to dance to but at the same time it’s so heartbreaking and awful as well. I feel like with In the Sky, as much as we want to dance and we do dance to the songs, we feel like at any moment we might just crack.
Mallrat: I try to make them a bit confusing (laughs) it’s almost because I don’t want people to worry about me and be like “Oh my god Grace, are you okay, what’s going on at home?” so I try and hide it in happy production. It just makes it easier to be vulnerable if you can add some light to it as well.
Was it a conscious decision of yours to make the second EP way more vulnerable than the first?
Mallrat: I think it was more like, in the first EP I was still figuring out how to write songs the way that I liked, so it was like “I’m going to write about this situation and this situation” and with the second EP it was more like “I’m going to write about every situation in one song and just make it feel cool”.
“Texas” is so heartbreaking. It’s a delicate, special, and very difficult thing to talk about caring for someone who’s in a tough situation, I think it’s somehow more vulnerable than talking about yourself because you’re out there wanting to save someone and care for them, which is a terrible position to be in, especially when the person can’t be helped, which is what I think the song talks about. Did it take a lot for you to decide to be this open and honest in song and then release it to the world?
Mallrat: Yes because you don’t want the people who you write the songs about to be upset by it, even though you’re coming from not an unkind place at all. You want everyone to hear it but you’re scared for two or three people to hear it. That’s the scariest thing but writing it isn’t really that scary.
Do the people who you write the songs about know that you write songs about them?
Mallrat: I think some of them do, but they’ve all been like “This is beautiful” so no need to worry. But I never tell them, I don’t even show them, but they’ll obviously come across it.
You said you were a horse girl, is that where the horses in the “Better” music video come from?
Mallrat: Yes! I just really missed horses so I just wanted to incorporate them into a video as an excuse to do some horse riding or something.
Watch: “Better” – Mallrat
Have you always ridden horses?
Mallrat: When I was little I did a little bit. We never had any because my parents were not rich at all but they worked really hard and I begged, and begged, and begged them for a horse so they were like “How about a few riding lessons?”. There was a period where I was doing riding lessons and that was the best, every second weekend we’d drive out to the country, that was the coolest. In high school I had a friend who had horses so I’d ride her horses. So it’s only ever been little periods in my life where I’ve been riding horses but they’re my favourite bits. And I have always loved horses. Do you know the show The Saddle Club?
I think I know the books.
Mallrat: Yes, they’re books as well. So popular in Australia and I was obsessed with them, any book that had anything to do with horses I’d be like “I’m getting it from the library”.
You’ve said “UFO” is about feeling like an alien. If you were an alien, what planet do you think you’d be from?
Mallrat: One where it’s all butterflies (laughs). All butterflies and flowers, I’d be from that planet.
You also tweeted the CIA saying that you had a very good idea about what the alien welcoming reception should be like if they ever came to Earth. What would it be like?
Mallrat: SOPHIE is going to DJ. I feel like aliens would eat a plant-based diet but I don’t know if they’d have teeth, so I’d want soft foods like chia pudding. They definitely wouldn’t eat meat, they seem too nice. So vegan baby food and SOPHIE playing “MSMSMSM”. My friends Cub Sport, I feel like they should host the function (laughs).
Watch: “UFO” – Mallrat ft. Allday
Your story with Allday is insane, you got to live everybody’s dream where your favourite artist suddenly becomes your friend and your work collaborator. What was it like for you when this happened?
Mallrat: Yeah! It was just so crazy. I really attribute it to trusting your instinct and the power of visualisation and seeing what you want, believing in it, putting that picture in your mind. It’s so crazy how it happened though, whenever I’m annoyed or something I’ll be like “Oh but that happened” so everything is meant to be, it’ll all be fine.
You were included on so many best songs of 2018 lists, as well as in Billboard’s top 10 artists under 21 to watch for, how does this feel to be getting this level of recognition?
Mallrat: It’s really cool. I wouldn’t say it makes me feel something, I’d say it’s a nice, like “you’re going in the right direction, this is going to be great, your music will be well-received” good sign. The stuff that makes me feel stuff is finishing a song, that’s what makes me the happiest. But I think it’s really cool, and it’s really cool that it’s happening outside of Australia, there weren’t that many Australians on that lists so I felt pretty special (laughs).
What are your plans for 2019?
Mallrat: We’re announcing a tour in Australia, which is our biggest ever tour. Putting out another EP, and I really want to write and produce for other artists so I’m working on making that happen. And what else? (pulls out phone) Let me find a list on my phone: Memorise the first 100 numbers of Pi.
Oh my God.
Mallrat: I haven’t practiced for a few weeks but I was up to 45. Last tour my DJ and I were practicing heaps so I think I can do it. And also just always think kind thoughts about people, read more, go to the beach whenever I can, go back to Japan, and use less plastic (laughs at plastic water bottle in front of her) Might have to refresh.
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📸 © Michelle Pitris