BLUE ROOM + INTERVIEW: Gracie and Rachel - Upside Down

Phillipe Roberts

Swimming around each other in a symbiotic waltz, Gracie and Rachel create songs that balance cosmic, explosive emotionality and close-knit intimacy. Their compositions, recently collected on their self-titled album, are a blend of Gracie’s pop instincts and Rachel’s classical training, but what’s most surprising is how the two elements become nearly indistinguishable in combination. The blend is seamless alchemy, in lush, virtuosic string arrangements that feel inseparable from the anthemic pop vocals, driven by introspective yet massive drum grooves.

The two recently visited the Blue Room for an impressive performance of their dynamic, theatrical album cut “Upside Down.” Rachel lays down thick slabs of looped violin, playing counterpoint to Gracie’s explosive presence on the keys and vocals, capturing the dark drama at the heart of their record with haunting elegance. Check it out above, and an interview with Gracie and Rachel below!

ThrdCoast: Why no band name?

Gracie: We entertained some, of course. It is definitely a dance with duality that we’re looking to share with our music: Rachel’s classical background in violin, and my more contemporary background in songwriting and piano. We try to convey that visually as well—myself in all white, Rachel in all black. It was just really important to have our different personas both included, and dropping our last names just felt like the most honest way to do that.

But we thought about Grachel, or Racie. We just couldn’t think of anything that was meaningful or innovative to us. We thought about stupid things like Bangs because we both have bangs [laughs], but we’re glad we ended up with something more identity focused.

TC: Where does your creative process begin for the songs? On piano or violin? Is it one of you accompanying the other?

Gracie: All of the above. Sometimes one of us brings in little germs of songs, voice memos or snippets of melody, and the other really reacts to that. I play the piano live, but Rachel will often go to the piano and say “teach yourself these chords” and we’ll build ideas off of it. So it’s usually one or the other of us that sparks it off.

But we’re getting a little more collaborative as we try to innovate, starting with beats or drum grooves to start off the music. With the new record, we have a lot more electronic toys so that’s become part of the process for us.

TC: What’s your favorite song to play live from the new record?

Rachel: My favorite song to play live is “Go.” It’s kind of a meditation and has this groove that perpetuates and builds. I also don’t have to use that many pedals for it, so I can really get active. If I do have to do more footwork, I’m pretty strapped into my station, whereas with that song I have a little bit more freedom to move around.

Lyrically, it’s a piece about celebrating your heart racing and the anxiety that comes with our daily lives, and for me especially there’s something really meditative that comes with playing it live, as opposed to our others.

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TC: Tell me about playing SXSW!

Gracie: It was our first time and it was so much fun! We were expecting it to be a shit-show, so I think we were just really happy that it was not [laughs]. We were really easy candidates for it, very grateful. We had a lot of great showcases.

Rachel: We played the NPR showcase, which was awesome, and a few backyard shows. By the end we were ready to sleep for about a week, but it was fun!

TC: Do you get much of a chance to hang out?

Gracie: Well, the first day was really dedicated to marketing and interviews, so that was nice to walk around without worrying about our van or our gear.

Rachel: But you have to schedule your social time.

Gracie: Totally. Because after that, we were playing two shows a day, and there’s no wiggle room to make time for friends. But we had some good hangs, seeing some Brooklyn friends out there.

TC: How was the first leg of the Ani DiFranco tour?

Gracie: Horrible.

TC: Oh? Do tell.

Gracie: [Laughs] No, no. Maybe sarcasm doesn’t read in these interviews, so maybe you don’t have to include that.

TC: Potentially not.

Gracie: Potentially not. But no! It was a really fun, whirlwind time to be performing with Ani in these theaters and sharing those stages. We get to play in her band but also get to open the show, so it’s just a good mix of…

Rachel: Learning different halves.

Gracie: Yeah. And her fans are so respectful and just general music appreciators. It’s great playing to people that care and really want to discover new music. They aren’t expecting us to “just get on with it.”

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TC: Any cities you’re particularly excited to be playing this time around?

Gracie: New York City! We’re playing Music Hall of Williamsburg, which we’ve never played before.

Rachel: 9:30 Club in DC!

Gracie: I think it’s more the venues. We’ve played a lot of the cities on this run, but a lot of the venues are new to us. We get to go back to Durham, Asheville…a lot of great people down there that we can’t wait to see.

TC: What’s some touring know-how you’ve picked up that you wish you’d had in the beginning?

Rachel: Hmm. The meditation of being in a car and the routine of it. We’ve gotten a better tolerance for how to manage our time in the car. Now, we don’t want to listen to a whole record at once; we break it up or throw a podcast in there or even some straightforward silence.

Figuring out how to eat on the road is definitely a learned skill. It can be so easy to not eat because you’re sitting in the car, not burning anything, and all of a sudden you have to play a show and you need a meal. Delegating roles helps. Gracie does the merch and I want to set up the gear, so having a runner around helps.

Gracie: We’re spoiled with Ani because she has a whole crew.

Rachel: We’ll see what it’s like after the Ani tour when we’re back on our own [laughs].

Gracie: I also think we’ve learned how to be part of the cities we’re in on our off days. Going to a museum or just taking advantage of these cities instead of just crashing after a long drive.

TC: What were some things that you were listening to on the road? What’s the soundtrack to the tour?

Rachel: We do a lot of different things, and we’re playing night after night. So we actually like to have a lot of silence on the road. We listen to podcasts, or NPR interviews. A lot of NPR interviews. Song Exploder is something we’ve really been hitting up, which is a form of listening to music.

Gracie: Agnes Obel is an artist we’ve been listening to a lot. A sort of all-encompassing, strings-and-piano lady that’s really cinematic and interesting to listen to while you’re passing these beautiful landscapes.

Rachel: And sometimes just listening to the radio. Hearing the pop hits!

Gracie: It’s interesting going through different cities and hearing what their local radio sounds like. Even if the music is something that you hate, it feels like you’re participating in the city in a way.

TC: One last question: any book you’ve read recently that you’d recommend?

Gracie: We all read the Laura Jane Grace book, called Tranny. It’s basically her tour diary on the road from being in that band.

Rachel: The other people in the car also read it; we basically passed it around.

Gracie: We definitely recommend it for all of our music friends and touring friends. It’s a crazy diary and it’s great to recognize that you exist in this little universe on the road where everything is an inside joke.

 

Click here to check out more Blue Room sessions on YouTube!