Creating music that is as fiercely beautiful as it is delicately haunting, meet orchestral pop piano-violin duo, Gracie and Rachel. Their song “Only A Child” was chosen as one of NPR‘s Top 100 Songs Of 2017, while Bob Boilen himself praised their debut album as one of the Top Albums of 2017.
While on the road supporting righteous babe Ani DiFranco on the East Coast, we had the opportunity to talk with this poetic pair before the opening night of the Rise Up show at The Carolina Theatre, in Durham NC.
Tell us what you were like when you met and how your aesthetic has changed?
Gracie: We were twins; not a lot of individual style. We hadn’t really branched out and figured out how we wanted to express ourselves. Now Rachel is in all black and I wear all white so we’re total polar opposites. Sonically, we’ve evolved our sound in ways that is hopefully exciting as we fuse genres with bringing classical to contemporary sound. That was something that, when we met in high school, we were just beginning to figure out but have now been exploring more fully.
Gracie: Patience is a really big one.
Rachel: Yeah, that was going to be mine, too.
Gracie: And trust. It’s a really big thing where Rachel brings a lot of interesting classical sounds to the table and has a different counterpoint than I would institutionally have. Compromise is everything. As cheesy as that sounds, that is the reason you’re collaborating with someone. That really goes for any kind of working relationship, at that. Just to realize that you don’t have all the answers so it’s a really great give and take when you can accept that.
Rachel: Our relationship goes beyond just music making. We’re running a business so we’ve figured out our roles, how to delegate and our strengths. Plus we can trust that the other person has their part down. We’re still learning but we’re getting better at it!
What is the Gracie and Rachel mission?
Gracie: We’re trying to show how symbiotic contrast, conflict and duality can be. And how we can make peace with opposites. We do that with our lyrics plus we use our bodies in all of our visuals. We’re showing contrast and people that come from two different places but are making something together, despite their differences.
Rachel: Also, with our different backgrounds and me having a more classical foundation, I’m hoping to have the violin’s voice be really upfront in more of a pop format. I’d like to encourage other classical musicians to integrate themselves into more contemporary-pop situations. To alter the sound of their instruments and not just be an ‘accompaniment’ but be the forefront.
You say that you try to ‘hone in on the body experience as well as the mind experience’. How does this transcend from your album to the live show?
Gracie: There is a lot of mystery that we hope to convey on stage. We’re using our instruments in ways that do get really physical, where we dance with our instruments. But we also stay solemn in places so it’s kind of a roller-coaster of tension and release.
Rachel: Our drums are a little non-traditional in the way that they’re played. We play on top of timpani’s, like classical drums. It’s of course a very physical activity but nobody is behind anyone else. We’re all there together as one germ!
Your music has been described as beautiful yet unsettling. Talk about your creation process and where your stories come from.
Gracie: We’ve lived together and we’ve worked together so we breathe the music every day. The music isn’t going to be this perfect, happy —
Gracie: — sonic, harmonious listening experience. There’s going to be tension and dissonance. But with conflict there is resolution and I think that just speaks true to how we’re making the music. The process of living in your music is a really interesting process because you can be in one kind one mood and say let’s go make that mood come to life on the violin or piano: meet you in the living room in 5. That is a really helpful way of creating.
Rachel: It’s not always easy listening or even easy language that we’re expressing. And we do just really love the rain!
Gracie: Yeah, the sunshine is a little hard for us.
Tell us more about the song “Don’t Know” and how it came to be.
Gracie: That’s the song we close every show with. That was a song where we were feeling a little angry. So the first song on the record is about tiptoeing into the world: of music, of Brooklyn, moving from our native-Bay area and being two women who are working to say something. And then with “Don’t Know” closing the record, it sort of a “come to” song where we’ve found our voices.
Rachel: And it feels like we re not going to let other people dictate our story or how the narrative is going to go. We’re going to say “You don’t know us” and we’re going to stand up to a culture that is telling us how to be, how to live and how to express ourselves. We’re going to try and make our own stamp.
The video for “Don’t Know” is just as haunting and powerful as the song. It really feels like the spirit of the song shines through the images. Where did the idea for this video come from?
Gracie: We based it off of the lyricism which is about this culture where our cell phones are tapping us and we’re being manipulated to choose one option or the other. You know, we’re not always creating our own data and we’re being dealt certain outcomes. That was something we wanted to show through being sucked into phone culture and this modern world that doesn’t allow us to express ourselves freely and independently. We used the city vs. nature to tell that story.
Rachel: And it is a bit of a teaser as it goes into color for a moment. You know, it’s that duality between the light and the dark and it just may be a teaser of what’s to come: a glimpse into our future!
What does it mean to be creative?
Gracie: To ask questions about whats going on around you. It goes back to being dealt certain answers and figuring out what you want and how to make what you want come to life.
Rachel: And with that, I think there is a level of confidence and being able to hear or see something through your own perspective and acknowledging that it’s yours. And that you don’t have to compare to others.
Gracie: Keep making and don’t compromise. But do compromise when you’re collaborating!
Gracie: Use the darkness. Like Rachel said, the rain is very empowering to us. Use the things that don’t always make you happy at first. Simply look and listen to use those things to funnel your creativity. Find the light in the darkness.