Coming Undone: Gracie Abrams Interviewed

Posted by

Gracie Abrams is a master of confession. Now, on her debut album, ‘Good Riddance’, she’s ready to let go.

This cover interview appears in Clash 124 – order your copy now.

[embedded content]

It’s late afternoon and Gracie Abrams is working on her setlist. We’re backstage, in Nottingham’s The Level, and Abrams is prepping for her second show of the day. An acoustic guitar sits askew by her feet, while a small dark-coloured leather diary is flopped open in front of her. The 23-year-old, a serial journaler, is accustomed to distilling her thoughts onto the page. In fact, in third grade, she wrote her very first song; a reactionary release to losing her beloved journal. “I wrote a song about feeling so disappointed in myself. I can’t sing it to you because it would be painful for everyone,” she laughs. “But, I definitely remember feeling better after writing it — I think that’s what prompted the rest.” 

The latter, which Abrams nonchalantly refers to, is her fast-rising career. Growing up, in Los Angeles, Abrams found herself caught in the bookends of Hollywood. Raised by Katie McGrath, a co-founder of the non-profit initiative Time’s Up, and Star Wars filmmaker J.J Abrams, the young artist was no stranger to the celebrity spotlight. Still, undeterred, she briefly studied at Barnard College, before pursuing a full-time career as a musician. Shortly after, Abrams shared her first single, ‘Mean It’, in 2019. A year later, the musician released her diaristic debut EP, ‘Minor’, establishing a die-hard following across social media. Unofficially, though, Abrams’ musical imprint has lingered on the internet for much longer. From unreleased SoundCloud demos to demure husky Phoebe Bridgers covers, the artist has long been drip feeding her music. It’s here, in her solitary soundscape, Abrams languishes in everyday coming-of-age moments – the fallouts and freefalling feelings – giving an intimate window into her personal life. Her full-length album, ‘Good Riddance’, is a synthesis of her greatest strengths and certainties (though it gives way to the singer’s shortcomings, too — “It’s kind of an apology more than anything else. I was trying to be accountable for the baggage.”) 

Categorised as a bedroom pop phenomenon, a descriptor shared with alt-pop contemporaries girl in red, Soccer Mommy, and Clairo, Abrams has chipped away at her premature genre labelling, emerging as a notable melancholic writer. The artist’s understanding of the eternal singer-songwriter spirit is part of what made her ascension inevitable. Nudging just outside of the indie pop label, Abrams has cultivated her own slow-paced, singular sound. “I was nervous to make music that naturally came through instead of forcing certain things because of what I thought maybe somebody expected,” she tells CLASH. The arrival of Abrams’ hard feelings subgenre became a sign of a younger generation eagerly seeking out a newer type of artist — permanently, it seemed. 

Listening to ‘Good Riddance’ often feels like intruding on a voice note to a friend. On album-opener ‘Best’, Abrams is weathering an emotional disaster, mulling over the mistreatment of a romantic connection where she, later, retreats into personal salvation by staying “hidden”. The record, she says, dwells on becoming “less tied to others” as she seeks to find newer versions of herself. The way she explains it, newly self-assured, you can almost feel her growing ease and acceptance. As a project, ‘Good Riddance’ came alive in The National’s Aaron Dessner’s infamous Hudson Valley Long Pond studio in what the singer labels a “formative life experience”. Abrams, earnestly, credits Dessner -whose recent accolades include a Grammy for Taylor Swift’s ‘folklore’ – as the conduit to her inner breakthroughs. “Both of us lead with our hearts,” she explains. “It’s so much fun to now go back to everything and peel the layers away.” The construction of ‘Good Riddance’, however, was joyously haphazard, spurred on looped guitars, free-flowing lyrics sessions, and a knack for hitting the mark almost first time: “It was so lovely to make this record the way that we did; I think it ended up being cohesive due to the speed at which we work together.”

A monochrome lens marks Abrams’ new era — album art, videos, and promo images are seemingly captured in a standstill bokeh-style black and white haze. The newly adopted style mirrors Abrams’ own emotional odyssey, as she splits herself in two, analysing both halves of herself. “As a young person, we change constantly and I wanted to get a footing on the kind of artist that I wanted to present as,” she says nervously tugging at her fingers. Pausing, she carefully considers her next words, throwing a glance around her dressing room. “Often, in years before this, I would have this voice in the back of my head saying… ‘but you should be doing pop music’, whatever that means. There was so much change that I wanted for a really long time, but I didn’t feel remotely brave enough to step into it.” 

And so, change for Abrams came gradually. Under the guidance of producer and co-songwriter Dessner, the musician cautiously extended her repertoire as a new-wave indie-folk artist. “Aaron has been like a mentor to me with music but also in general life where I feel supported to try new things,” she says. Across her album’s tracklist, Abrams laments the loss of family and familiarity as heads to go on another tour. “What if my little brother thinks my leaving was wrong?,” she questions in ‘Right Now’. Her voice is maudlin, yet accepting — much like a person squaring up to unescapable heartache. “Our relationship got to a place where there was absolutely no filter between us. I was telling [Aaron] every single thought that entered my head,” she laughs, jokingly pitying her co-collaborator. As the two nurtured their creative bond, Abrams found herself turning a corner in more than just music: “I learned that it’s really okay to honour yourself even if it means sometimes disappointing others. It’s important to follow your gut and be honest with yourself and the people in your life. It’s ultimately the most respectful thing that you can do, even if it is painful sometimes.” 

Now, emerging out from the other side, Abrams is ready to shed the weight of her past, even if it means indulging in the pain. Take the single ‘Amelie’, a finger-plucked ode for a girl relegated to memory. As if bystanders to a pleading moment, Abrams’ hauntingly recounts the emptiness Amelie left behind, singing: “I met a girl once / She sort of ripped me open / She doesn’t even know it / She doesn’t know my name”. While she’s reluctant to “put the puzzle together”, Abrams explains the intention behind the song. “It’s a very beautiful, delicate, fragile feeling that stuck with me for a really long time. I knew with the production and it’s minimal feel, it would make me feel the same way that I felt when I was writing it.” As a result, Abrams’ emotive “lingering dissociative state”, fuelled by heartbreak and human hardships, came to the forefront of ‘Good Riddance’, even if the people involved don’t know about it yet. “I say a lot in the songs that I sometimes didn’t even say to the people that they’re about which is nerve-wracking on a different level,” she admits. “I didn’t share it with anyone including the larger team until very recently.”

Today, however, Abrams’ fans are getting an early listen to new music from the album as part of the singer’s one-off small shows -made up of singings and impromptu matinee performances- providing a trial run before she joins Taylor Swift on her sold-out US Eras stadium tour. “If there’s even one person who connects with it, then I am lucky,” she says, slightly nervous for tonight’s event. But as Taylor Swift comes to mind, the singer grins burying her face in her hands. Although the artist had no idea she had been picked for the rockstar lineup (“I had zero inkling, literally! I could not have had less of an idea ever. I just had the constant dream of that forever but, yeah, of course, I lost my shit. I totally lost it,” she says) – Abrams’ addition to the tour roster comes as no surprise. Joining the likes of Paramore, Phoebe Bridgers and MUNA, the 23-year-old falls into the ranks of musicians that have spotlighted the value of emotional literacy in art through painstakingly raw lyricism. “It’s gonna be the fucking best. I didn’t know until everyone knew the full scale of it and everything. MUNA, too,” she smiles. “It’s gonna be insane. I’ve got some crossover with them I believe so it’d be fun.” 

Suddenly, a deafening cheer bleeds through the wall as a sold-out hall awaits the singer’s presence, and Abrams stifles a laugh. “We have pre-show playlists so sometimes we hear fans screaming and I’m like ‘yeah, a Taylor song must’ve come on’,” she smiles. The camaraderie of her fandom never fails to amaze her. “My fans have changed my life in every regard. They’ve brought so much light and there’s no real way to repay that. It’s a two-way street. It’s very much like a huge friend group at this point.” Abrams has found sanctity in her fandom. Just next door, a couch is overflowing with gifts, including handwritten letters, photo books, and a heavily annotated copy of Daisy Jones & The Six. While her audience has grown, Abrams continues to see her listeners as long-distance friends; a trusted, loving community to fall back on. “We are all very much growing up together in real-time and, through these shows, I’ve been made aware of how similar all of our experiences are,” she says. From pyjama-themed gigs to secret album listening parties with fans, the 23-year-old puts her fans first: “I can’t imagine not having as many interactions as we have for every show,” she admits. “We have created such an open environment for people to be as expressive as they want to be, and it’s my favourite thing in the world.” 

Abrams glances over to her almost finalised setlist; the page scrawled with track titles, including favourites from her previous EPs and two new songs. ‘Abby’ – an unreleased track – and new single ‘Amelie’ make the cut. She sits, musing, deciding how much of herself (and her debut) she’s willing to give away. The shows, for Abrams, are her chance to give back. “It’s important to me that anybody who buys a ticket has an experience there that they can’t get from the record,” she says. Her performances have infamously become a place of catharsis and a space to “move on from [your] own shit”. In essence, Abrams writes candidly about the close-call emotional pressures that leave us feeling so vulnerable. On ‘Good Riddance’, her relationships are fraught, from foretelling a doomed break-up to analogising an unsteady as a literal geographical fault line. And with her platform — Abrams admits she wouldn’t do anything any different. “You want to see people being real human beings and having empathy — it feels like it should be so obvious,” she says. “I think it’s wild when you think about the number of people that you are able to reach and not doing that is a shame.” 

Even at her most personal, Abrams considers herself “lucky enough” to speak out and to “grow in any capacity”. And so, the self-labelled introvert has leveraged her platform to call out political inequalities, which include calling out the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V. Wade mid-last year to regularly standing on stage draped in Pride flag. “It’s the awareness that you’re reaching more people. So constantly using my platform in any way that I can to lift the voices,” she exhales. Even when her advocacy leads to online backlash, the singer, surprisingly, finds a way to shrug it off. “There is such a fear to say anything, whether or not you have a platform on the internet. People are afraid to make mistakes, which I completely understand,” she says. “There’s so much internet rage, and everybody is able to express it and if it’s targeted, then that’s terrifying but I think it’s so much more terrifying to not. Use what you’ve got.” 

Abrams picks up her diary and gives the small list a final lingering look, her bottom lip anxiously caught between her teeth. Even now, she’s ready to shed a version of herself and start anew. She rises from her seat and steps over her discarded guitar, deciding to slip out of her oversized olive green hoodie and emerging in a bright red tank top before getting on stage. The singer’s last few years have all worked towards these small intimate shows; a place where her music can be something bigger than herself. “I feel like I can finally freefall and not necessarily have the same security net that I’ve forever had,” she says. “I’m changing in radical ways that allow me to have this different type of freedom with the music and myself.” It’s here, moments before facing the audience of her sold-out show, Abrams finds the searching sense of self she’s been aching for — and this is what it feels like. 

[embedded content]

This cover interview appears in Clash 124 – order your copy now.

Words: Zoya Raza-Sheikh
Photography: Lindsay Ellary
Fashion: Kat Typaldos
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers
Hair: Bobby Eliot
Make-Up: Loftjet