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Gettin’ Schooled by Gracie and Rachel

Sep 17, 2020

By Mossy Ross

Photo Credit: Tonje Thilesen

Gracie and Rachel are a finish-each-other’s-sentences, knows-what-the-other-is-thinking, musical soulmate, power duo. They are wise beyond their years, which is reflected in their music and in their conversation. They build each other up and seem to constantly strive to understand each other, so they can better understand themselves. Throughout our interview, they offered tidbits of honesty and advice and honestly, I could have talked to them for hours. And not just because it would have been cheaper than seeing a therapist (and probably with better results). They’re a team of soul-searching, wisdom-spewers who have a lot to say, and they’re saying it on their second album, “Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong.”  

Their new album out this Friday, reflects how life imitates art. And in their case, art imitates life. Their personal growth parallels their development as musicians. They show that beauty can be made, if we can come to terms with our own weaknesses. The two speak freely about addressing their shortcomings fearlessly and head on, and the result is an empowering and ageless album. Their recent video for “Underneath” shows how determined Gracie and Rachel are to be honest with themselves, even if it means making themselves vulnerable.

Mossy: Have you known each other a long time?

Gracie: We met in high school (in Berkeley, California). We were in a dance class together and were assigned to play music for the class. It was kind of an arranged marriage in that way. And then we went off to separate music schools for university, and then came back together to New York City and moved to Bushwick.

Mossy: So what were you like when you were younger, before you knew each other? What was your path like?

Rachel: My path was very serious, and exclusively tied to me, myself, and the violin. I hopped around between public schools, and then I went to a boarding school for two years before meeting Gracie. So I would say, for me, it was just being in this machine of classical music breeding. (Laughs)

Mossy: Was that something that you wanted to do, or you got pushed into doing, or both?

Rachel: I think it was a little bit of both. I feel like there were a lot of blinders up, because there wasn’t a lot of encouragement to explore other genres of music, or how you can use your skills as a classical violinist in alternative ways. I knew that I loved music, and I loved playing the violin and it was working for me, and I liked all that. But I wouldn’t say I always felt socially that comfortable, or like I integrated well or that we had similar interests. I had a lot of different interests in music, like contemporary classical music, and avant pop music. So meeting Gracie gave me this opportunity to explore those interests in a nonjudgmental environment.

Mossy: Yeah, sometimes you need that one musical soulmate for your whole world to change. What did you listen to growing up?

Rachel: Around the house I would listen to a lot of Cyndi Lauper, Elton John, Selena. I would do a dance hour with boom boxes and stuff. But in high school, I got into Regina Spektor, Emily Wells going into college. Artists that had a classical approach, but were flipping it and doing something a little different with it.

Gracie: I didn’t come from as strict of training as Rachel did, so I was really grateful to meet somebody who had that theoretical knowledge, and was just going to ground me a little bit. I was just sort of free form writing songs, and it was just really such a good challenge to meet somebody who needed to know what we’re gonna play and how. And it made me have to be a little bit more regimented and focused in that way. My father was a theater director, and he did avant garde opera music and New Age music. So I was around a lot of composers and people doing some experimental stuff that I think really excited me at a very young age. My dad got me into Erik Satie as a pianist when I was younger. And then I got into my own little singer songwriter world and found people like Fiona Apple that I really loved. And then thought, “Maybe I could do that, too.”

Mossy: I think your music is a really good amalgamation of all those influences. It’s really unique. I love the new album. It sounds to me like a coming of age sort of album. And I don’t mean that it sounds young. I mean, I’m forty and I think I just finished my coming of age album! But just in that it feels like there’s been a development in your lives. Is that true?

Gracie: Yeah. I think that the first record was really just us as a piano and violin duo. And we only integrated drums because the producer we were working with had a drum kit in his car that he needed to bring into our loft.

Rachel: Not even a kit, just one drum! (Laughs)

Gracie: Yeah! Just one drum. Which was a happy accident because it got us to play with the kick drum. Like it became an intentional thing, where it was a kick drum on it’s side, so it was like a timpani, like a classical drum. But they’d rock out on it, and we’d have our drummer there to complete the three piece. But the bones were just piano, violin, and drum. And there wasn’t a lot of other experimentations and using synthesizers and our vocals in different ways. Rachel has experimented so much more as a producer on this record. And I think a lot of it has been about our process of living together and working together, and how we communicate very differently personally and musically. We’re really quite opposite in a lot of ways, and I think that’s where this album started to make a lot of sense to us. In finding strength in those oppositions. Finding strength in our weaknesses, and in what the other person has that we don’t individually possess. So it feels coming of age in that regard.

Mossy: Can you think of a specific example when you realized your weakness makes you stronger?

Gracie: I think in a really basic way, maybe Rachel will find something more interesting to talk about (laughs), but I’m a lot chattier and confronting. And transparency is my favorite thing to, you know, flush out a problem when it happens. And Rachel is a little more guarded and patient and more like, “Let’s work through it maybe in this way first, or work through it on your own first.” And I need that immediate action. So I think really me learning that about her, and where that was useful, and vice versa.

Rachel: Yeah, I was gonna say it’s seeing that other person’s perceived weakness, and how it makes you stronger.

Gracie: Right. Like for Rachel it can be hard not to confront certain things, and for me it can be hard when I confront them too often. I can create problems in my mind by confronting issues that aren’t maybe there. So taking maybe what is Rachel’s weakness and using it as my strength, and my weakness as her strength.

Rachel: Like a reflection.

Gracie: And us just finding and really capitalizing on those oppositional forces between us, and finding gratitude for them. We can’t all be like one complete perfect person, and I think when we accept that and we dance with our weaknesses as a strength, it’s a really beautiful thing.

Photo Credit: Aysia Marotta

Mossy: Where do you think all of your wisdom and self-awareness comes from?

Gracie and Rachel: (Laughs)

Gracie: Socrates. I don’t know. I’m a really anxious person and sometimes a lot of these songs are written to myself, to just get out of my head and get into the big picture of calming down. I really can’t apply that wisdom very well a lot of the time. (Laughs) So writing these songs to my subconscious is kind of like a way of processing and helping me not judge myself. “When you don’t know, you know” is really powerful Socratic thinking. That we can’t have it all figured out and when we think that we do, that’s when we’re really not learning anything at all.

Rachel: Also, I would say sometimes I feel my weakness has been not being able to find my language tools effectively, articulate something, and translate myself in a productive way. So really where I find the way to translate myself the best is sonically. So this record was a great opportunity that I kind of lifted that up. And it’s okay that I don’t always have all the words. It’s okay that I still have a feeling, and I can put it down, and hopefully communicate through sound rather than through lyrics.

Gracie: I think just finding a perceived weakness of yours and not judging it, but exploring it and opening yourself to it can be just such a revolutionary act. When we have all of this self judgment, we are gonna have that out in the world, too. So I think owning some deficits that we each individually have, has been really helpful to our growth.

Mossy: What are some of the things that trigger anxiety for you?

Gracie: Pfffhhh…what doesn’t trigger anxiety? (Laughs) I think I’m an over-thinker, so I can create fear and worry around a scenario that I might have actually perpetuated just by thinking about it so much.

Rachel: I think we’re both people pleasers. We really like to make everybody feel really heard, and like we’re being respectful. And sometimes we forget to check in with how we’re feeling, and what we’re thinking.

Mossy: It seems like some of your songs touch on mental health. Is that something that’s big for you?

Rachel: We’re both in therapy. (Laughs)

Gracie: Yeah, I think we’re curious about talking about how to be gentle with ourselves. And hopefully that’s something that speaks to a broader issue around mental health. And just that when we aren’t gentle with ourselves, we can really create some huge roadblocks and pain for ourselves. So I think and hope the songs are speaking to a sort of forgiveness of the self.

Mossy: I read somewhere that you said the album made you have to ask each other some difficult questions when you were creating it. Can you talk about any of those?

Gracie: I think it comes back to communication in a lot of ways. Asking Rachel to call me out and come to me with stuff that was maybe not something she wanted to do. And her asking me to have patience with that.

Rachel: Yeah, not scrutinizing every little thing and seeing where it leads us, because maybe it doesn’t lead anywhere.

Gracie: Yeah, letting things roll of the shoulders. Something we were realizing is Rachel tends to judge her emotions and put them into boxes. And therefore if she can’t judge them…

Rachel: I’m just not gonna acknowledge them at all.

Gracie: And I judge my emotions with too much weight, I give them too much weight, where I need to actually compartmentalize them and put them in a box, and put them away. So I think it was asking each other how the other does that, because we do things so differently, and it gets us both into trouble.

Photo Credit: Tonje Thilesen

Mossy: Were there any specific defining experiences that inspired this album?

Rachel: Trusting ourselves, trusting each other.

Gracie: Yeah, trust. We had just come off a big, long tour. And our management told us, “Okay, when you get off this tour, you’re gonna go and you’re gonna write a record.” And I remember just feeling like it’s so bizarre to create art on demand, or on command. And there was a really big fear around that, because we’d been touring for the past couple of years and we were like, “Do we know how to write still?” Do we know how to do that when it’s not coming from an emotional reaction, or a response to a real life event? Like when we’re told to do something, are we gonna be able to do that? And there was a big concept of trust with each other and with ourselves, and we just had to lean into that and say, “Okay, ultimately we have to trust ourselves, and no one else.” And we just went for it. And we had to build that muscle, and it definitely took some time of just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what landed. But we hadn’t really pushed ourselves to trust ourselves, and I think a lot of the songs are speaking to that and to process, and showing up to process, and not being afraid of it. We used to write so individually and then we would bring it to each other. And now it’s like we’re so much more comfortable, just from pushing ourselves to create on the spot. “Write ugly, edit pretty” has become a saying in our household. Just don’t worry about obsessing on it, and I think we apply that to a lot of things in our lives now. We need to just write ugly and edit pretty. Figure it out later, but trust your instincts.

Rachel: Like Patti Smith said, “Freedom is the right to say it wrong.”

Gracie: And then the Kavanaugh hearings. Christine Blasey Ford was giving her testimony when we were in the middle of writing this record. And we saw a lot of really empowering women and people coming forward with their stories, and so there was a big feeling of empowerment. We were finishing the song “Trust” during that time. And we were like, this isn’t just about trusting our narcissistic fears about writing, it was about trusting ourselves to do something when it’s not always comfortable or easy. So we wrote a number of songs during that time. And we put one of them out that was about the hearings, just because it felt like we couldn’t wait another six months to make the record. We just wanted to have a conversation with people about it then. It’s really cool when you can talk about what’s happening right now, because so much of music culture is, you know, people were working on something for a year, and now the album’s coming out and they’re in a different place.  Like, Rachel had more hair when we were making the first record. (Laughs)

Rachel: And also to use our art in that way is a great privilege.

Follow Gracie and Rachel on IG @gracieandrachel

New album out Friday, September 18!

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