Q&A: Grace Carter Discusses Her Songwriting Journey, Absent Father, & Friendship with Dua Lipa

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Not many artists can boast an LA debut attended by the likes of Dua Lipa and Lana Del Rey, but then again, 21-year old singer-songwriter Grace Carter isn’t your typical rising artist. It’s difficult to convey in words, but just a moment spent listening to Carter’s striking voice and emotively honest musings will instantly make a believer out of you.

Carter grew up in the small British seaside town of Brighton where she was raised by her single mother. The sounds of her childhood were largely filled with the music of R&B, soul, and jazz in the form of strong female artists such as Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, and Nina Simone. Both the music of her youth and the struggle of coming of age in a broken family influenced Carter’s songwriting immensely. She began writing music as a therapeutic catharsis at 13 years old and quickly fell in love with conveying her thoughts and feelings through music. 

Since the release of her debut single “Silence” in 2017, Carter’s certain special quality quickly became apparent to the masses. As “Silence” racked up the streams, over 8 million to date on Spotify alone, music industry heavy weights began to take note. Dua Lipa reached out to employ Carter as support on her 2017 European tour, and by only her second single (“Ashes”), she was already collaborating with legendary producer Mike Dean, who has worked with the likes of Beyoncé, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Travis Scott, etc.   

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Photo: Martin Lambert 

Poised for musical domination, 2018 not only saw the release of her debut EP, Saving Grace and stunning single “Why Her Not Me,” but the announcement of her first headlining tour. Which brings us to Oct. 8, Grace Carter’s U.S. and Los Angeles debut performance at the notable School Night showcase at the Bardot Hollywood. A momentous debut attended and chronicled on social media by both Dua Lipa and Lana Del Rey, Carter was the image of grace as she let her heart bleed freely, showing everyone the power of musical integrity and vulnerability.  

Only hours before this landmark performance, we were able to catch up with Carter for an in depth and dynamic conversation, ranging from finding out the reason why her father was never in her life, how being challenged to write a song in a week spurred her songwriting career, and her burgeoning friendship with Dua Lipa.

OTW: You started your journey with music in a church choir and began writing by keeping journals. Can you tell us about the moment you realized that songwriting could be your calling?    

Carter: So, I grew up singing all the time and then when I moved to Brighton at nine years old, I joined a choir which is where I kind of found my voice. Then at 13, my mum met my stepdad who was a musician, and he bought me a guitar. I grew up with a single mum, and I had a lot of confusion; I didn’t really understand why I didn’t have a male figure in my life and why my dad wasn’t around. So, my stepdad said, “You have so much you need to say, here’s a tool for you to do that. Sit down, go in your room and write me a song in a week.” And I wrote a song and as soon as I wrote that first song, singing felt right because I was singing things that meant something to me. Then it kind of all gelled together, and there was nothing else I wanted to do because it was a really natural thing. I loved it, and people responded to it, so I was like “Hopefully I can do this as a career,” and here I am now.

OTW: Tell us more about your stepfather’s challenge and that first song you wrote.  

Carter: Well I was a super competitive kid, not with other people but with myself; I am still very hard on myself. He just challenged me to write a song in one week, from Sunday to Sunday. It was really bad – it was called “Blank White Page,” and it was about not being able to write a song. So after about three days I went into his office, and was like “I’ve done it!” Then after that I started writing songs that meant something to me because I realized it was possible, that I could write a song.

OTW: Do you still remember “Blank White Page?”

Carter: Oh yeah, of course! 

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Photo: Jackson Ducasse

OTW: How did being raised by a single mom shape you as a songwriter?    

Carter: That kind of defined my songwriting, especially when I was younger because songwriting was given to me as a tool to talk about things I was feeling. A lot of those things had to do with the fact that I didn’t have a dad around and that I grew up in a white family when I’m mixed race. I didn’t have any of the black part of my family to identify with, so there was a lot of confusion with that. My way of getting that out was to sit in my room for hours and go on Photo Booth and film myself playing guitar and singing these songs that I’d written. Also, I’m an only a child so I had to entertain myself somehow. 

OTW: Tell us a bit about your songwriting process?  

Carter: It really changes, it depends. It’s usually a conversation that I have, even if I’m not writing the song with someone, I say something and I write it on my phone and then I sit down one night and I’m thinking, then I go on my phone and I’m like “Hey, I said that, that could be the title of a song. What was that? What did I mean when I said that?” and then I’ll just sing a melody. It kind of changes; I’ll usually have word, an idea, like a title that will trigger the rest of what I want to say.

OTW: You started writing alone in your bedroom at 13, then by 16 transitioned into writing collaboratively in sessions. Was that transition difficult for you?  

Carter: Yeah, terrifying. I was so scared. Just for that the fact that before that point I was just sitting in my room, no one was judging me or listening to what I was saying. I was just going with whatever I felt at the time, I didn’t have to worry about anyone’s opinion or judgement. And I still don’t, now that I’ve gotten used to working with people. For me, the only things I know how to write about are things I’ve been through and the emotions that I feel – that’s the only songwriting I ever do that’s why everything’s so sad. So that was the scary part, the thought of sitting down with someone and feeling like I had to open up because I was writing a song because that’s what I do, I open up, but as soon as I did my first session it got easier.

OTW: Speaking of, you’ve been doing some awesome collaborative sessions lately. What was it like working with Mike Dean?

Carter: He’s great! I’ve grown up listening to 808s & Heartbreaks; it’s one of my favorite records. When my manager called me and said “So you’re going to LA to work with Mike Dean” I was like “Mm tell another joke. No, I’m not.” He’s just so chilled out, so kind, such a nice person. I was super nervous because I’ve only worked with British producers before, and it’s a completely different thing, it’s a different world. I got here and went straight to his house from the airport, he was so welcoming and so lovely, I’m so happy with the songs we did together. 

OTW: Can you tell us the story behind your most recent single, “Why Her Not Me?”  

Carter: I wrote that song three years ago in a session with Mike Kintish who’s a British producer and songwriter. At the time I was still living at home with my mum, but I was traveling back and forth to London with a suitcase like every day. My dad was never in my life, but one day I found out that the reason he wasn’t in my life was because he had another family. I was on my own in London – I had no one and Mike was one of the people I had known for years. We sat down, and I just kept on saying “Why her not me? Why did he pick them over me?” Then Mike was like “That’s the song, we need to write that.” We wrote it in an hour and half, and what you hear now is lyrically, melody wise, and piano is all exactly the same; we just added a bit of production. As soon as we wrote it, it just felt so right and every time I listen to it, I cry.

OTW: The music video for the single is truly stunning. Can you tell us more about making the video?

Carter: I’m very heavily involved in all of my videos; usually they come from my idea. I was sent a few treatments, and I was like “This doesn’t show what I’m trying to say in the song.” So, I thought about it, and I was like “Okay, I haven’t ever spoken about what I write before” and I want people to get my interpretation of the song, what the song means to me – that was my perfect opportunity to do that. So, I thought about the younger versions of me representing a long period of time of me searching for the same thing my whole life and not finding it until now. Having the two girls, they were so cute and absolutely smashed it, so adorable. I just think having them in it helped people understand the time that I was trying to explain, I’ve been on the same path trying to find the same person my whole life, and when I did it wasn’t something I thought it was going to be. I’m very happy with the video, I’m very proud of it.

OTW: I must say, your style is on point. Have you always rocked those hooped earrings that I feel are becoming your staple?  

Carter: Yeah! Since I was at school like every day, and my mum was like “Darling, you can’t wear them anymore” (laugh). I used to wear massive ones because I always have my hair slicked off my face, having a bit of jewelry makes me feel a bit more feminine (laugh). I always wear hoops, I always have my hair slicked back, and I always wear like double denim or a suit jacket.  

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OTW: You’ve had a crazy 2018 thus far, but you mentioned that performing at The Sunny Hill Festival in Kosovo was a highlight for you. Can you tell us more about that experience and your friendship with Dua Lipa?  

Carter: I toured with Dua Lipa last year around Europe and the UK, and we became really close. Her dad and her decided to put on a festival in their hometown of Presêvo in Kosovo and they asked me to perform at it. I didn’t know what to expect; we didn’t really have much information beforehand, but I got there, and it was like 12,000 people that had never experienced a festival before, that never had an event like that. It just felt so special to be part of something so big and especially meaningful, like the fact that they had Martin Garrix, Action Bronson, Col3trane from the UK, it just felt like a big moment for her and her dad. All of us were so happy to be a part of it. Even when I walked out on stage, everyone was screaming – I was like “I’ve never had this reaction before.” I will never forget it, it was absolutely amazing.

OTW: Any chance of a future collaboration with Dua?

Carter: I would love to work with Dua; I think she’s amazing. Who knows? I don’t know at this point, but I think she’s great. I love all of her music, I know all of every song by heart from touring with her (laugh). 

OTW: You have a monumental past few months, with the release of your debut EP, Saving Grace, followed by the success of “Why Her Not Me” and embarking on your first headlining tour! Can we expect a full-length album any time soon?  

Carter: Oh yeah, of course. I’ve grown up listening to full length albums my whole life. The artists that I love have told their story from track one to track 10; that’s the format I’ve grown up listening to. I want to continue that and do my own version of an album. I’ve been writing toward it since I was 17, so hopefully next year. I don’t know at this point, but definitely have been writing, definitely have been recording in between touring and doing everything else (laugh). There will be one at some point. 

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OTW: Is it hard for you to revisit the difficult experiences and emotions your songs were inspired by when performing live?  Any pre-show rituals you partake in to keep the nerves at bay?  

Carter: I kind of just take a minute on my own. I do get emotional on stage – it has happened quite a few times where I’ll be singing, and I see someone cry and it takes me back to when I wrote the song. When I come off stage at the end of the show, I’m ready to go to sleep because I’ve given so much of myself emotionally and physically. It’s hard, but it’s really empowering seeing people connect with my music in front of me; it’s the most special thing to me. You can see streams online and view it on YouTube, but when you’re in a room with people, and you’re seeing their facial expressions and them reacting to you right in front of your face, there’s nothing like that.

OTW: Who are some of your Ones to Watch?  

Carter: There’s an artist in the UK called Col3trane who I think is doing amazing right now, he’s a good friend of mine. I think people should definitely look out for him, he’s making music that means so much to him and means a lot to other people. He’s just smashing it.   

Experience the magic for yourself and catch Grace Carter on the next leg of her headlining European tour!

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