Lime interview - Music
For the past two years, us music journos have known Grace as a hidden treasure, a unique and genuine talent and one of the loveliest people on the London music circuit.
Her soul-funk James-Brown-Meets-No-Doubt style was competent and earned her a loyal niche following, but in an era where synth-pop, techo beats and identikit sugary female vocals reign the charts, record labels seemed to see her as too much of a gamble.
In the tradition of many great musicians before her (Bowie, Jackson, Prince) after a brief sabbatical Grace has returned, embracing a new genre and boldly stepping out into new territory. Her trademark vocal -fiesty and unmistakeable - is still present, but the tone is now one of high-quality pop.
I interviewed Grace on a blustery February morning. Her feisty stage persona – all foot stamping, hip wiggling and bizarrely seductive snarling – is entirely absent. Instead, her high waisted jeans, cropped top exposing the tiniest waist I have ever seen (it’s approximately the size of my thigh) and retro ‘peace sign’ oversized chain are accessorized with the broadest of smiles. Her trademark afro is scraped into a darling little high pony. I’m struck by how tiny Grace is, sans gigantic hair. This is a woman who can successfully command thousands of spectators to dance their proverbial socks off and yet she cannot be more than 5 ft 3”. Even so, she exudes that elusive ‘presence’ so many artists seek but never obtain.
Grace’s warm persona never falters and she giggles her way through our interview. It quickly becomes apparent that, despite being a bone fide soul sister, Grace aint no diva.
Hi, Grace! We missed you. Where did you go?
Hey! I’ve been supporting other acts on tour and then working on some new and very different material.
What inspired your change in musical direction?
It was a couple of things. I went on tour with a band called Brother and I got into guitar again. I started listening to a lot of Hendrix and Janice Joplin and thinking differently in terms of my own music. The second reason is that, even though I really enjoyed my old soul-funk style, I just didn’t feel that the appeal was broad enough. I’ve always wanted to make music that a lot of people wanted to listen to and to perform to big audiences and I felt that wasn’t going to happen with the old material.
Describe your new sound in three words?
Soul-vocal…..oh wait. Is that one word? I can’t just say ‘soul’ because it’s only the vocal that’s soul, really.
I’ll put a ‘hyphen’ in it…
Great! Thank you. So soul-vocal, guitars, woodblocks.
Is ‘woodblocks’ one word or are you cheating again?
No! It’s one word! I promise!
Okay, I shall let you off. Who would you say were your influences?
Vocally, it has always been people like Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. Musically, over the past few months I’ve been listening to a lot of Ellie Goulding, Annie Lennox and Kate Bush. That’s how I’ve ended up producing a mixture between a heavy soul vocal and something a lot softer and more feminine. When I perform I think I probably channel someone like Prince – even though I sound nothing like him, he inspires me in terms of mood and performance.
Do you have a favourite track?
My favourite finished track is ‘Like I’m Gonna Lose’ – When I heard it back I thought ‘this feels like the right direction’. It’s the track that sparked the new Grace sound.
How important is your afro?
It’s something that I’ve grown to love. I had a love/hate relationship with it growing up, especially since it seemed like I was the only mixed race girl in the whole of the Midlands and I just couldn’t find the right products! But it has come to define me and it feels good to be able to use something that I once wanted to hide as my persona.
Do you think you might influence other black and dual-heritage women to go au natural?
I haven’t thought that consciously that I might influence other women to be natural but there is a lot to be said for it. It isn’t necessarily easier than a weave or relaxing, though. It takes a lot of upkeep. But I do believing in being as close to ‘you’ as possible.
You have phenomenal curves. What do you do to stay in shape?
Aw, thanks! I have an obsession with berries, which really helps. I eat them constantly. I used to hate walking but recently I’ve really got into it. My boyfriend has a dog so we walk him together. I go to the gym occasionally. I don’t watch the scales religiously but if I feel I’m getting a little jiggly then I’ll pop down.
I also make the best of what I have. My body type is such that I’m never going to have long, slender limbs but I do have a little waist so I try to wear things which enhance that.
Speaking of your bottom (I know we weren’t but it was implied), I understand it was recently featured on several BBC news broadcasts?
Haha! Well, sort of. I recently worked with some teenagers in Cambridge to compose and perform a song for Will and Kate….
...As in Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge?
Yeah…It was an amazing project. The students worked with me and a charity called Body Gossip to put together a performance which they felt expressed what their life was like. It included music, dance and spoken sections. I helped them compose a song called ‘The Best Kind of You’.
And where does your booty feature in the equation?
Well, I had to conduct so that the drummers, who were really young, kept in time. But they didn’t drum in the chorus so I took the opportunity to have a little dance and …well…somehow I ended up on television, filmed from behind.
Hilarious. What sets you apart from the competition?
I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of stand-and-sing melancholy female vocals at the moment, especially in the UK charts. That’s great for what it is but I have more to offer in terms of what I can give on stage. I want people to have a good time and dance rather than stand in awe of me. I promise that if you come to see me live you will have a great time.
What makes you feel like a Goddess?
I surround myself with people who make me laugh and are fundamentally good. Once you’re around positive people and doing the things that make you happy, it’s easy to feel like a goddess. We all have to do mundane things to pay the rent but as long as you sprinkle it with stuff that makes you happy then that’s the key.
Where can people learn more?
Everything is ‘my kinky afro’!
Soul Singer SEL and Fugi Rock