First Look Friday: Introducing The Passionate, Authentically Cool Grace Weber [Interview]
Photo Credit: Lissy Elle Laricchia
Allow us to put you on to singer-songwriter, Grace Weber, a talented artist who knows how to move you and your body with soulful grooves and real AF lyrics.
I stumbled across Grace Weber on Soundcloud back in November when a friend told me to listen to “More Than Friends”. And while I thought it was promising, it wasn’t until a trusted source of mine put me on that she was not only the future, but she had a pretty solid road to becoming a gift to audiophiles everywhere. I dove into her page, playing tracks multiple times, and when I heard that she was hitting the road with Lil’ Chano from 79th—better known as Chance the Rapper—for his Lollapalooza South America appearance, I wanted to make sure that Okayplayer audiophiles knew about this wonderful singer-songwriter before it was too late.
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As an artist able to relate and work with other creatives, Grace Weber presents herself as a real one whose authenticity has opened doors to greater successes. A Grammy Award-winning recording artist, this Milwaukee original has had her fair share of OMG moments, but none could possibly compare to when she decided to give back to the youth in her native city with The Music Lab, Inc. non-profit organization. Determined to build a community through music, Grace’s program offers a free music education, career prep, and an open mic performance program to high school-aged youth of all backgrounds.
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It just goes to show that music is truly one of the greatest things in existence on God’s green earth.
With a new project in the works, Grace has brought in her friends from The Social Experiment to help craft and get her ideas out. Produced by Nate Fox, Nico Segal, and Peter Cottontale — Grace’s upcoming effort is one to keep ears and eyes on. And to help, we’ve been blessed to share with you all not one, but two exclusive tracks — “space jam” and “so solitary” — which you can play below. So, without any further ado, Okayplayer allow us to introduce you to Grace Weber, an honest voice with a heartfelt message of truth, love and real AF lyrics. We talk with her about the obstacles she overcame to get to this point, how she prepares to engage with her first love—live performing, and who she would want to collaborate with in the future. Enjoy!
Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact. What is it that those in music game are seeing and hearing that the rest of the world has yet to discover?
Grace Weber: I hope people are seeing authenticity and hearing a real and honest love of music. I want to connect with people, person-to-person, and I think the only way to do really that is to be as real as possible with my music. I also think people might be hearing how much love, energy, and care we put into the music. Nate Fox, Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale, Binta, and I really poured our heart and soul into these songs and really took the time and space to find the album’s—and ultimately my—sound. I spent a year writing and recording the album and really taking care at every step to make sure I was honestly and effectively communicating these stories and emotions and moods throughout each song and within the way the whole album weaves together. I think people can hear when you put love into a project and I think that love is what ultimately resonates with the listener… and when it’s authentic it becomes a ripple effect.
OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they honed their skills and practiced their craft. Who are your most cherished influences in music and why?
GW: Gospel music is my most cherished influence. I grew up singing in a gospel choir and the way I learned to use my voice and connect with people in the church through music helped me lay the foundation for who I am as a singer, performer, and an artist. There’s an incredible freedom, and at the same time, a crazy technical aspect to gospel music and singing. It’s an incredible music education in skill, emotion and heart. Beyond gospel, I am also a big fan of R&B, soul, jazz, and folk music. Boyz II Men was my first concert when I was seven. I used to listen to Mariah Carey’s runs, slow them down on my discman (shoutout CDs) over and over again until I could nail them. Whitney Houston, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Eva Cassidy and Celine Dion were also some of my vocal idols growing up. As a songwriter and lyricist, Joni Mitchell and Frank Ocean are huge influences on me, and I spend a lot of time studying how they craft songs and learning from the places they go outside the box and change the rules. I love studying artists who push music forward, who aren’t afraid to be different, and I use the inspiration provided by these musical groundbreakers to push myself to go outside my own comfort zones and keep crafting and honing on the uniqueness of who I am. My musical influences have helped me find the courage to find and be my truest self.
OKP: Can you talk about how your life was while developing as an artist? How did you react to your first bits of press?
GW: I went through some hard times in college with my first toe-dip into the music industry and it broke my spirit for a little bit. I had to learn to find self-confidence again and really go through a journey to find what self-love really means. I used to be really, really sensitive to what people thought of me and I always wanted to please everyone, I would be so scared to let anyone down. But when I met my manager, Binta, in 2015, it was the first time I met someone in the industry who could really see me for who I was, who saw that little light still burning inside of a really scared girl, and went through the process of helping me uncover myself again so I could find that self-confidence to be the artist I’d always wanted to be. It was a really important process of “artist development,” in that Binta took the time and gave me the space to find myself and really fall in love with music and singing again without any pressure or expectation. It allowed me to let down some walls I had built up because I finally felt like I had a teammate who I could depend on and who actually knew and understood me for who I am, and am capable of becoming. I felt like I didn’t have to protect myself anymore because I knew she had my back. I’m so grateful to her for that, and I now feel this newfound freedom of self-acceptance and love and I feel ready and excited to share that with people through music and interviews and shows, all of it. I’m not scared to let anyone down anymore I’m just excited to be there for and with others.
OKP: With incidents involving people of color, police and racist occurring almost on a daily basis around the globe — how can your music help to relieve the trauma that is being experienced by the masses?
GW: Music is the most powerful form of communication; it can be used for the greatest good. It is a catalyst, that in its purest state, when shared, loved and appreciated, serves to bring people of so many different backgrounds together, if we let it. I am a white woman who grew up in Wisconsin—because of music, a shared love of music, and our common humanity—some of the people closest to me in the world come from a different background, other artists with whom I work, members of my band, producers, and my manager, with whom I also work creatively. Binta, my manager, is a black woman raised on the east coast and from the south; our shared love and understanding of music as a means of expression, our mutual goals have made her more than a manager or creative collaborator. Music has helped me not only deal with the pain of my own existence, it has opened my heart, mind and soul to the very real pain and suffering of people in my life, some of whom have been directly targeted by racism, some of whom I see experience the burden of it, carrying it with them daily in their lives—there is a reason why soul music, which came from black people before it came from anyone else is so evocative of the human spirit, it comes from the very deep hurts, pains and tragedies of being a black person in a racist society—it also tho, is an expression of the great joy in overcoming that pain, of resilience, and heart and endurance and love… these are my sisters, my brothers, and I carry and experience that pain with them, which motivates me to use music not only as a source of healing in a general way, but to call attention to issues affecting black and brown people, those who are most likely to be discriminated against.
Music as a healer is so powerful because it can help us process emotions and trauma that sometimes words alone can’t reach. Binta and I talk a lot about the role of the artist as a healer, and an as advocate, and honestly the responsibility of just being human to stand beside your fellow person and just be there for them. I wrote a song called “Just Love” after the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile shootings, the song fell out of me as reaction to how horrible the state of our country is in as relates to race, police brutality, and gun violence. I recorded “Just Love” the night of the immigration ban in January 2017 because I couldn’t stand seeing people try to explain away blatantly racist reasons for the ban, or politicians talking about how we would fix all these issues someday. I've seen how the freedom songs of the sixties and seventies, how the power of Motown and now hip-hop have helped people to come together, to bring us back to one another. My hope is that more of us—through music—can learn to walk together, side-by-side, sisters and brothers, united. I hope music continues to play a role in opening people’s hearts and minds, towards a mentality of love and justice for all people.
OKP: What have been the most definitive obstacles that you’ve overcome in your career thus far?
Photo Credit: Lloyd Pursall
GW: As I mentioned above, I went through a little bit of loss of self in college after experiencing some deep hurts with music, mainly someone telling me I couldn’t be who I was, couldn’t do music, at a time when I was really vulnerable. The art of being an artist is sometimes learning how to be as vulnerable and open and raw as possible, while also learning how to protect yourself and dodge the jabs or criticism from people who don’t have your best interest at heart. I had to overcome a feeling of being lost, and work to crawl myself out of a hole of a deep depression, back to myself, and back to the simple love of music. I remember saying to myself when I hit rock bottom, ‘ok you can either stop doing music, or you can do the work to find yourself again,’ and the prospect of stopping music was 100% not possible, the choice of stopping music basically felt like choosing to die, so I chose to live and I found a deeper connection with myself and music because of it.
OKP: Can you also talk about the importance of the music industry scene as how you’ve experienced it? How do you see it evolving in the next five years?
GW: I think there have been amazing strides in making the music industry more fair for artists, people like Chance [The Rapper] are advocating for independence on a scale that’s never been seen before, and there are so many new opportunities for artists to relate and market their music independently. It’s a really exciting time for art. I think no matter if you’re independent or partnering with a label or other entity, the most essential element of it all is your team, and the trust and respect you have with and for the other members of your team. When a team is working together towards a common goal, when there’s a sense of family and connection, and when the music comes first, I think the most incredible things can happen. There’s also never been a more exciting time to connect directly with your fans and an easier opportunity to create an incredible network and community around music than now. I think over the next five years we’ll see more artists staying independent, better record deals for artists, and more unique and ranging music coming back into the mainstream.
OKP: What are some things that you’ve learned about yourself that comes out in your music?
GW: I’ve actually learned to like myself. The process of making the album was really a journey of self love, of learning to be vulnerable, and being ok with my scars and quirks and realizing that sometimes what you used to think was the weirdest part about you might actually be the most interesting. I learned that from the hurts and struggles we all go through, to the wild joy and love we feel, that those experiences and feelings are what makes us human, and we connect with each other through that rawness. That being bold is beautiful. Meeting Binta, Nate, Nico, and Peter in 2015 was like meeting my long lost family, and creating with them was the ultimate feeling of letting go and being in the moment. It was like going to summer camp and meeting a group of friends who finally let you be yourself. I learned to take things a little less seriously, but also to commit to the process of making art in a deeper and more connected way than ever before. I learned and accepted that I’m a really sensitive person, but that I use that sensitivity to connect with others, and we really honestly are all in this together.
OKP: What were some moments from your recent travels that will forever stick with you? Why?
GW: I just got off the road with Chance, touring with him and the SoxBoys in South America, and it was such an incredible experience. I remember singing on the last Lollapalooza show in Sao Paulo, and looking out at the huge crowd all throwing their hands in the air, and just feeling this deep gratitude for music and for the journey, for being able to be in this moment on a stage in a city I’d never been to before, for getting to sing with my new family, music that I love, and for just being alive. When ‘All We Got’ played that night and I saw these masses of people singing along, it was a crazy experience, soaking in that I helped create a song that now was affecting so many people. And it really hit me that night especially, that music is all we got, so we might as well give it all we got. So I did give it all I had that night, and it’s a show I’ll never forget.
OKP: What was the first song that you ever wrote entitled? Can you talk about what it has come to symbolize since you’ve entered into the professional life?
GW: [Laughs] Man, I’m trying to remember the songs from way way back. I heard from my parents that I used to sing songs about getting dressed in the morning all by myself, so I think that must symbolize self determination [laughs]! But, the first two songs I ever wrote and recorded were called “For Emily” and “A Letter” in high school. The first one, as the title suggests, was a song I wrote for my friend, Emily, after her dad died in an accident. The second one, “A Letter,” was sort of a teen confessional song about breaking up with a boy. I think both sort of directly represent the place where my music lives, I’ve always connected with music as a healer and I always felt like it was important to me to write songs for other people and to use my voice to maybe help people through something. I also write a lot of music about my life and the struggles I’m going through and the love and loss I’ve experienced. My themes of my music definitely live between the essence and intention of both of these early songs, so it’s cool for me to realize the through line that’s maintained since I was a teen… I don’t know what it symbolizes for me, but it is cool to think about.
OKP: How can your music speak truth to power in an age where people are so quickly digesting sounds and disposing of artists in a nanosecond?
GW: I make music, and am amongst a community of musicians and collaborators who make music that we hope is not transactional, not temporal, that is forward and yet embodies the past. My goal is to connect with souls, and I think when you connect with souls, you overcome the temperate throwaway nature that can exists in digesting sounds quickly today. I don't think being an artist is a function of being an entertainist, the quick fame, I think it’s about connecting with others deeply, and in so doing, translating the human experience in a way that creates a lasting relationship between fans and your music. We can all speak truth to power with authenticity and an honest voice. Look at how incredible it's been seeing these high school and even elementary school students standing up to gun lobbyists and giving these iconic, honest and heartfelt speeches that will stand the test of time. It’s a testament to the power of the authentic voice and the shared raw human experience, unfiltered, unpolished. My music exists below the surface and I want people to dive down with me to experience something lasting and real, and I think we all crave that to some extent too.
OKP: Collaboration is uniquely a key to the success of certain creative individuals who wish to change the game. Who would you want to work with this year going into the next and why?
GW: Oh man, I’d love to collaborate with SZA, Kehlani, Yebba, Kendrick Lamar, and my dude Cory Henry. SZA, Kehlani, and Yebba are women I really look up to right now and I’d love to do an all-female super group song with them and more women like Eryn Allen Kane, Jamila Woods, Ravyn Lanae, and Monica Martin. It would just be so fun and empowering and sexy. Kendrick Lamar is someone I’ve had deep respect for as an artist for a long time, I’d love to just be in the studio with him and ask him questions, see how he works and writes. Cory is a genius. The way he plays organ and keys and this new guitar instrument thing that I actually don't know the name of, is so moving and makes me feel all the things. He’s my friend, but I’m also a major fan, and I’m just waiting for the day we can make a song together. [Laughs] Cory hit me up though if you read this.
OKP: What is the overall message that Grace Weber is trying to present in her music?
GW: Love yourself, be yourself, embrace the ups and downs and waves of being human, and be there for one another. We’re all here to lift each other up.
OKP: Can you break down the inspiration behind a song that you created but never put out?
GW: I wrote a song called “Light on the Wire” where I didn’t actually know what the inspiration was or why it was coming to me until after I wrote it all down. It was one of those songs where all the words came to me, I think while I was in the shower, all at once and I really felt like a song was channeling through me and I just needed to get it down on paper before it was lost. The first line was, ‘Oh take me in / tongue tied and broken / ancient. Light on the wire / tip toe to safety, baby / Hold me close and breathe me in, there’ll be time now I know.’ And then the rest fell out from there and I realized as I was singing it and writing it down that it was about the fragility of life, about the way we sometimes go through life as if we’re balancing on a high wire, and every move and every step we take is so important and measured, and how ultimately to take that next step, we depend so much on faith. Once I got to the end of the song I realized I had written a prayer.
OKP: How do you get over any anxiety before hitting the stage to perform live? What are some lessons or tips that you’ve learned from others about doing a stage show?
GW: Show days usually start for me with a note from my manager, either a text or an email, or on really big show days I might even get a little handwritten note, that preps me for the day and gets me in this really amazing headspace. It’s always really inspiring and grounding. It’s like having a really good coach on a game day and it just starts the day off in this really focused way. When I’m getting ready, putting my make-up on and stuff, I go into a little bit of a quiet introverted space and I imagine myself being friends with the audience. I feel like I’m just about to walk into a big family reunion or something, and then I kinda work myself into owning a more intense level of confidence and fun so that I can be a host for the room, helping everyone have a good time through being relaxed and connected. Once I get to the venue, I usually have a couple beers to kick the little nerves I feel backstage. That honestly helps a lot [laughs], and I start just chilling out and having fun, getting excited. Then right before we go on stage, the band and I do a little prayer circle, and get in the moment together, get excited to make music together, to share an experience with the audience and make the show about them, and then we go for it! I love performing live! It’s definitely my first love as it relates to all the different realms of music, so it really feels like home.
OKP: If the reader’s learned one thing from this First Look Friday chat with Grace Weber — what would it be?
GW: Love yo’self! All of yourself. And love others.