mallrat's new ep is the perfect 'driving music'
The Australian artist tells i-D about the importance of trusting your gut and her obsession with the 90s.
Photo by Tash Bredhauer.
"Trust your gut," said Grace Shaw, the Australian artist better known as Mallrat from a bench in Madison Square Park in Manhattan, where she’d stopped on her months-long headlining tour around the US.
While it might seem strange for a 20-year-old to be so unquestioning of her intuition, it was a gut feeling that got Shaw where she is today. The breakout pop star has opened for Post Malone, toured with Maggie Rogers, performed at festivals like South by Southwest and today, she keeps the momentum going with the release of her anticipated EP, Driving Music.
But, before all that, Shaw was just a 15-year-old, who had a premonition, while in the crowd at a concert by Allday, an Australian rapper with a cult following.
“I had this crazy feeling that we would be at airports together. I had never thought of myself as a musician until then, but I was like, why would I be at airports with him? Maybe I will tour with him?” explained Shaw, who is currently on tour with Allday. “I left with this crazy feeling of excitement and restlessness."
As a kid, Shaw had dreams of becoming a pop star. She sang in talent contests and school choirs, but by middle school she had mostly abandoned her musical aspirations. It wasn’t until that fateful summer night that she began to see her childhood fantasy as a reality.
“When I was a teenager I was very self-conscious,” said Shaw. “I was like, I don't know any musicians, that's not a real job. When I saw Allday I was like, Oh, that is somebody who I can actually relate to. Then I realized it was actually a job.”
Over the years, Shaw has turned her music into much more than a job. In 2018, her acoustic-driven track “Groceries” went platinum in Australia and outlets like Billboard and The New York Times have named her as an artist to watch.
Shaw's success is especially impressive considering she is mostly self-taught. She learned everything about making music from the internet. She watched interviews with artists on YouTube. Then started making beats on GarageBand and recording her vocals over them. Eventually, she uploaded those tracks to Soundcloud and began to generate a buzz.
“In the beginning I had a very hip-hop attitude to making music, just was very D.I.Y. because that is all I knew,” explained Shaw. "I sent [my song] to Allday’s producer, and then it all happened from there. The first song I wrote, is the first song I put out.”
She debuted her first single titled “Suicide Blonde” in 2015 before she even graduated high school. The track, which is about addiction and depression, brings together pop, hip-hop, and electronica, with her sing-songy raps and catchy beats.
Shaw chose the moniker Mallrat, as a nod to her life in the suburbs and her obsession with the 90s. Her love for the era can been seen in her creative aesthetic and personal style. When we met at the park, she was dressed in a tie-dye top and baggy jeans that looked like an outfit straight out of a Nirvana video. And the visuals she has made for her early tracks like "Suicide Blonde" and "Tokyo Drift" have included everything from clips of SpongeBob SquarePants to a young Angelina Jolie.
From the beginning, Shaw's raw unapologetic songwriting about growing up in the sleepy suburbs of Brisbane and the complex realities of being a young person has helped her standout from other pop artists. It’s a vulnerability she said she learned from artists like Allday and Drake.
“Being vulnerable and talking about details in relationships or just in life, are so important and they help people connect,” Shaw said of her songwriting. “I feel like you might think that the less specific something is the more people can connect, but that is not true at all in my experience.”
Her openness can be heard on tracks like "When I Get My Braces Off" and “Charlie” where she sings about her relationship with her mom. “She says that love is like a chess game/ And boys gotta do the chasing /But when did I start taking her advice I raised myself/ And that's alright,” she sings on the single, named after her family’s dog, a yellow lab with “a heart of gold.”
While her songs are mostly catchy and upbeat, there is a certain nostalgia in her songwriting that only exists when you are young and carefree.
"I feel like so many of life's most special moments happen in the car. Not the whole EP but, a lot of it is like a journal of the most special times," said Shaw. "I'm just really excited to share it with everyone, cause I've been hoarding it on my laptop for so long, listening to the songs everyday. I think they're really amazing songs."