all isaac gracie needs is love
We meet the 21-year-old singer-songwriter to talk about the fraught relationship between depression and creativity.
Aspiring to be better a person, to progress the mind, body, and soul takes brave insight, honesty and emotional strength. 21-year-old singer/song writer Isaac Gracie watched his father leave and then the stepfather that followed fail at remaining good and true to his mother, his brother, and his sister. As a boy, Isaac's need to fall hopelessly in love became all-consuming and he believed that the answer to his melancholic longing and loneliness would be found in the eyes of his lover. "[There's a] desire in me to be a better man than my father figures had been, to see myself in that position and not fail like they had. I wanted to love someone and treat them right. That made me believe in love," he explains with understated profoundness. Falling fast and hard for a girl provided no answers to Isaac's hurt, only more strife; so he picked up a guitar and began to sing.
Opening his heart to the idea of internal struggles never ending and writing songs about what lies truly in his soul, the BBC Introducing artist has amassed huge affirmation and support through the expression of his melodic vulnerabilities. The depth of emotional intelligence Isaac kindles ignites fragile atmospheres conjured by he and his guitar alone, on a big empty stage. Stopping time dead its tracks, his long hair covers his pretty porcelain skin, as, furrow-browed, he wistfully retells the truths his young years have imparted. In a society where lad culture stifles the most unusual and incidental kinds of beauty, Isaac's kind fragility could be easily crushed by a lesser man. However, his ability to thrive and demonstrate strength is about so much more than muscles. Reminiscent of many bygone musical icons of generations past and present -- Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley, Dylan, Thom Yorke, and Damien Rice -- Isaac possesses a poignant, raw kind of magic. Turning his struggles into an art, speaking about the demons we all deny, the young artist takes ownership of his fear and insecurities with an empowered brilliance.
Championed by Annie Mac, his sensational "Last Words" premiered via her Track of the Week as the Ealing-raised, ex-UEA creative writing undergrad returned from SXSW last week, where he had played to international audiences for the first time. Having recorded his first ever songs in his bedroom and then signing to Virgin, Isaac also released his debut EP Songs From My Bedroom last week. Playing support tours alongside The Japanese House and Blaenavon, this unique Abby Choir boy is a wise and poetic creature who channels a mysticism, haloing his sounds with a timeless quality, one that only improves upon each listen. You'll be using the repeat button on Isaac's music, no doubt.
Does the process of writing such beautifully sad songs stimulate an indulgent sense of melancholy in you, or is that sadness inside something you feel compelled to express regardless of pleasure or pain?
It used to, definitely. l miss that feeling of reveling in my own depression. There was a long period of my life where, and l hope it comes back, any depression l was experiencing was romantic and still beautiful in some way and the loneliness was worthwhile. It does engender more creativity because you're fighting against something and there's a purpose, whereas in the last few months l would say my connection to that place is a lot more disenfranchised. l don't see it as reveling, l just see it as an unfortunate situation to be in.
If you had to pinpoint a single event, specific moment, or a person that inspired the intensity of emotion which led to forming your first song what would that be?
Falling deeply in love for the first time was a huge thing that drove quite a lot of the songs that l wrote when was younger. l remember really feeling that was a driving factor behind lots of the songs that l wrote. The love aspect being a negotiation of blame, fault, and not just the joy of love, but the realization that in life before you fall in love -- in my experience -- there really was no way to be at fault, you are just a person living, doing your bit, and it's all casual. Then, when you are a person in love, you are confronted with only yourself. You worry that you are fucking another person over. At times love can make you a horrible person. That extended in relation to my mom too and any pain that we had at home when l was school; there was a large part of me that wanted to negotiate that place of debt and gratitude and disappointment in myself that l had failed in certain ways. That feeling is where most of the songs come from.
Where did the desire to fall in love and the belief that love would heal your deeper emotional pain stem from?
We're quite a close family. Growing up, l never had a good father figure in my life so l was always aware of the sacrifices my mom had made for the unadulterated pure love of her children and that was important to me -- the desire to be a better man than my fathers had been, to see myself in that position and not fail like they had. I wanted to love someone and treat them right.
My boyfriend introduced me to your track "Terrified" because he identified with the words strongly. l found it really reassuring that one man's emotions were able to connect so powerfully to another. Do you hope to encourage better emotional clarity between men with the music?
I would love, outside of the music or through the music, to connect with others. I think emotional clarity and being open with your feelings is so important. I worry that with the confines of being a singer-songwriter or public figure of any kind these days, that there is a dangerous line to tread. l don't want to tell people how to think or what to do. l don't want to be misconstrued as evangelical in any sense, so if the music in itself can reach people then that is amazing. The song "Terrified" is an ownership of fear, sadness and anxiety. Every time l sing the line "l wasn't cut out for this" live, l feel like a connection with someone in the audience. So if l could pursue the feeling that happens in that moment, it would make me very happy.
What's the story behind that track?
I just had my second meeting with my management. The music had just blown up off the back off "Last Words" because people had decided they were into it. One of the managers was promising all of these amazing things which at the time seemed mad, but they have all happened now! Record deal, publishing, and tour dates. At the time l was in awe and just couldn't believe anything like that could happen to me, it made no sense. There was an element to which people were projecting a person onto me, a power or a potential that l had never invested into myself or thought that l possessed. That's massive when you go home and then sit alone in your bedroom and have your glass of wine. I would just sit and feel this massive dichotomy in my head, two contrasting lines are going on. At that moment l was falling out of place with myself and l was afraid. I felt those two split places of fear and potential were just going to be the ruining of me. It felt good when l wrote it because it so summed up the place l was in, in my head, at that time.
How does it feel to express your vulnerabilities through your art and then receive affirmation from people you don't know?
It's a strange thing. l never wrote any of these songs that are now being released with the intention of anyone really listening to them to the extent that they have, so it takes some getting used to. People building an image of who you are and what this music stands for, and coming around to the idea that people will interpret the songs is a really strange experience. It's worthwhile though, and there's an extent to which l have given up on being connected to the music. When l have finished a song l think 'it's done', like "Last Words." When it's released, the place that l wrote that song in and the reason l wrote it for, is such a strange jump. It was written for just me, there was no audience for it, so it's a vast change and my relationship to that song is very disconnected.
How do you connect back with the song when you need to step on to the stage and conjure that level of emotion to perform?
To me it comes from signing it a bit differently or giving it a bit of a kick when l am playing live, hitting the guitar a bit harder or whatever it is that spurs me on. The lyrics to the chorus will always mean something to me in a way. l have talked to my mom on numerous occasions about the separation of from myself and that song and what that might be for so many artists, and l still haven't really figured out exactly what it is. When l play it live it's more fun because l know that people might have heard it before and that's a revelation in itself which is quite special to me right now, because most people haven't heard my other songs yet.
Have a lot of the conversations that you have had with your mother helped shape the person you have become emotionally?
100%. It's strange because in growing up and evolving, you mature from a place of viewing your mom as someone who is holding the reigns. She becomes a normal person, a brilliant person who has all this stuff to give you to help you and sacrifice for you. I take anything that l am at the moment from her.
Does her poetry inform how your write lyrics?
Only the craft of it and her general respect for words and English, which l was studying at uni before. Her reaction to writing and poetry has engendered my relation to writing songs, not specifically her poems which are beautiful and that l love, but her attitude and character.
Isaac Gracie's Songs From My Bedroom EP is out now.
Text Milly McMahon