BACKSTORY: Ascendant singer and songwriter who just opened for The Weeknd at London’s Apple Music Festival
FROM: Eugene, Oregon, but currently lives in Los Angeles
YOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: Covering Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” on the soundtrack to 2013’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
NOW: Released her new Raceday EP for Casablanca/Republic in August, with co-production courtesy of Foster the People’s Mark Foster
Normally there’s nothing more grating than a precocious youth, a gifted child whose clever confidence overshadows their unique talent. But in the case of the young, soulful Grace Mitchell—an industry vet at age eighteen who started making music a decade ago and hit with her cover of “Maneater” at age sixteen—she is quietly and coolly pragmatic about how she ended up here. Far be it from her to be stuck in some hammy Instagram-y state of braggadocio.
“Growing up musical meant taking up the guitar at an early age and being able to play all my nursery rhymes before I started writing my own songs,” Mitchell says. “Next thing you know, I really began to enjoy songwriting. Luckily for me, my parents were really supportive and truly nurtured that part of me.”
“Listening to that music growing up gave me a feel for empowerment, for what feminism meant, for the values of being a strong woman in the face of weakness.”
Her folks weren’t stage parents—“they were always pretty cool,” she says—and Mitchell didn’t stick to childlike lullabies. Nor did she ride the talent show circuit. Instead, her early loves of smartly emotional lyricists like Tori Amos, Paula Cole, Alanis Morissette, and Kate Bush seeped into her head, and out came a twinkling brand of twittering ambient soul, with Mitchell’s brooding baritone voice and mightily emancipated lyrics floating atop her cloudy sound. By the time she hit middle school, writing abstractly and organically became her goal. That work was made easier when a neighbor, Richard Swift of The Shins, brought some early demos of Mitchell’s to Republic Records.
“Listening to that music growing up gave me a feel for empowerment, for what feminism meant, for the values of being a strong woman in the face of weakness,” she says. “That’s what I wanted to write about going forward.” The first proof of her emotional maturity came with “Broken Over You,” from her 2014 debut EP Design. The track demonstrates a wise sophistication that would go on to inform observational songs like “Raceday” and “Jitter,” both from this year’s Raceday EP. Mitchell sees those sullen songs as more “character-based” and says she’s not at all like the “woman” at the center of those tracks. “I mean, I could become the person of ‘Jitter,’” she says of the song’s unfocused protagonist, who is caught off-guard by love. “Maybe,” she adds. “NoLo,” however, is a little more personal; it’s about a recently ended relationship. “Unfortunately, that didn’t wind up being reciprocal and it was pretty much a bummer,” she says with resignation. “But that’s okay.”
And it should be okay. With two strong EPs behind her, Grace Mitchell has enough to do. FL
Grace Mitchell plays FLOODFest Brooklyn with The Joy Formidable and Oscar tonight at the Brooklyn Bowl. Entry is free with a CMJ badge. For all others, tickets are available here.