Born in Australia, Grace Mitchell began fostering her talent in Oregon's 9,000-population Cottage Grove, where she'd perform at open mic nights in small coffee shops. Like with most success stories, Mitchell's first opportunity arrived with a mix of talent and luck, having lived next to Richard Swift, the indie underground influencer who's worked with everyone from My Morning Jacket to the Shins and Modest Mouse. After "walking around the corner one day" and recording an acoustic EP with Swift, Mitchell eventually got signed by age 15 and began the development process for her burgeoning music career.
Now 19 years old, the rising singer/songwriter already has two successful EP's in her discography--2014's Designand 2015's Raceday--and is currently finalizing her debut full-length album. Though the artist has admittedly explored a number of different sounds on the tracks leading up to her forthcoming LP, Mitchell's eclectic approach is a natural response to growing up immersed in music--always discovering new interests and gradually fine-tuning her most impactful inspirations.
These diverse references can be heard through her album's first two singles, each offering a very different side of Mitchell. On her Nirvana-leaning track, "Kids (Ain't All Right)," Mitchell scream-sings about political frustrations above grizzly, blaring guitars and unforgiving drums. Mitchell's more recent release, "NOW," lets those sizzling guitar riffs cool, looping in more soaring pop synths, bubbly piano melodies and a powerful chorus that begs the existential question, "Don't you wanna be in the now?"
OUT caught up with Mitchell after her Coachella set last month to discuss completing her breakout album, filming the "NOW" music video and always being yourself.
OUT: You're currently finishing your debut full-length album. How's that going?
Grace Mitchell: It's in the post-production phase, right now, being mixed and mastered. There isn't a primary genre or sound I'm trying to achieve on this album. It's kind of a collection of many different sounds, so there's something for everyone. The album's kind of broad, from hip-hop to electronic to rock, but it's mainly influenced by rock elements.
You led the album with "Kids (Ain't All Right)." Why was that a proper first introduction?
I think that's kind of an outlier on the album, but I wanted to kick it off with an aggressive opening single to show people the direction of where we're taking it in contrast to the last two EP's, which were pretty mellow. This album is really high energy.
Lyrically, what's the story behind "Kids"?
I was writing with my friends one day in the valley and we were not feeling it--it was so hot, we were not really grooving. We had an acoustic guitar and were talking about how frustrating it is that politics are so inaccessible to young people. There's so much unnecessary language to describe politics that make it confusing for young people to get involved. I was infuriated by that because it was right around the primaries and it was the first year I could vote. But I felt like I had to do so much research in order to find out what I even believed in. It felt like being cheated into something I didn't want to do and I felt like a slave. My frustration with that led to "Kids," because I feel like the government wants us to be ignorant.
Why have you settled on a high energy sound for the album?
It's honestly the vibe I've been pursuing the whole time. Because I was signed so young, at age 15, and didn't understand my sound at that point, experimenting with electronic, synth-based music was kind of the beginning and now I'm going back to what my roots are, which is rock and alternative music. I wanted to explore all the options before settling on one.
As a whole, what subjects do you focus on lyrically?
My interactions with people in an observational way--relationships that I would have that were either really symbiotic or really dissonant. I didn't really write about love on this album because I've never fallen in love, so I don't really know what that's like. It's mainly just about my experiences: living with roommates, friends, traveling and going on tour. It's kind of a see-through perspective on a lot of different characters--a lot of it is satirical.
Being so young, do you have creative control over your work?
I creatively dictate everything, between aesthetics and sonics, because I have a team of people who trust my instincts. It was an intense developing process of growth and trying to discover myself, because in the beginning, I didn't really know what I wanted to pursue. From listening to other music and always being influenced by other things, I've taken from what's inspiring and now we have this album I feel really confident about.
You recently released a music video for "NOW." What's the story behind that?
I did it with a director Stephen Penta, who's this psychotic mastermind of art and visuals. He likes really loud, aggressive, colorful, psychedelic, experimental-type films and productions. So working with him, he has a really organic process of going with whatever. We had very specific scenes we wanted to shoot, but then we were filming out in Pennsylvania in the woods in this cabin, it took three days because of the fact that on the second day, there was a power outage, so pretty much all the water scenes you see are with absolutely no power. I'm in a tub of 50-degree water. I love that he's the kind of director where you go with the flow and try a bunch of things--it's a collaborative process.
The video shows you in many different forms. Is this reflective of your personality?
I don't really define my character as one specific thing. I'm working through it right now and trying to figure out what I gravitate to most--trying to piece together all the different parts of me that feel right, but right now, it's been this intense flow of experimenting and trying to understand what feels right and what feels natural. I'm trying to show that in the music video, representing different parts of my personality, which are ultimately all me.
I was listening to a lot of disco and jazz at the time. We started with cool piano sounds and tried to get it funky. There's kind of a Gorillaz influence in the bassline and everything transpired from there. We were really limitless with sound. Now there's seven parts in "NOW" that are contrasting and helping each other, but are so bizarre. The message behind it... I was talking about living in LA and how, if you don't live in the present moment, and try to curate your life and are very contrived, it'll end up hurting you. Be yourself.
Is that a message you focus on often in your work?
I see a lot of people not being themselves. I'm totally guilty of not being myself when I feel like I have to deliver and perform, but the things that really center me is reminding myself that everyone is insecure about one thing or another--it's not worth it trying to be someone else.