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Grace

Nov 29/2016
WORDS by Jeffery Powell PHOTOGRAPHY by Alex Evans

 

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To say that Australian-born artist Grace Sewell – known simply as ‘Grace’ – has had a busy year would only be telling part of her story. Widely known for her smash remake of Leslie Gore’s feminist classic, “You Don’t Own Me”, she’s been active in writing and performing music since the age of 14.

Raised in a family of performers, the 19-year-old descends from grandparents who once served as openers for the Bee Gees, and grew up with an older brother – Conrad Sewell – who’s had his own massive success in music with a number one hit in 2015. Speaking to Grace over the phone, she also fondly describes her mother’s role in her creative upbringing. “My mom was always very artsy – always painting, or writing books – and that rubbed off on me. I’ve always loved music and she had really great taste in music. So, I was always around soul music growing up, listening to artists like Etta James, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin.”

Just five years after beginning her own artistic endeavors, Grace landed in a studio recording with legendary producer, Quincy Jones. Jones, who first heard her music through a management connection, signed on and suggested that they work together on the very song he produced with Gore in 1963. So, what was it like to work with him?

“Quincy is a perfectionist. There was that fine line of keeping it classic and keeping all those iconic moments from the original, but also being able to let another producer come in – Parker [Ighile] – to help create a fresh sound and take on it. Quincy was the key element in making sure it was still done in a tasteful way.”

Ighile, with whom she’d recorded her 2015 EP, Memo, furthered the fresh take on the song by connecting her with G-Eazy. A fan of his work, Grace describes clicking with G immediately following a joint listen of the track. He was into it and asked to write a verse. “It was kind of a cool juxtaposition to have a male rapper on what essentially is a female empowerment record. And, I knew he’d bring in a different audience, because he’d add a hip hop element.”

Following Gore’s passing in February 2015, Jones encouraged Grace to release the by-then minted track as a tribute to the late performer. When asked if she felt any pressure or responsibility to carry the song’s message to a new generation of young women, Grace replies, “Not pressure, really. For me, the biggest thing when talking to young women and youth in general is: don’t set limitations to your goals and what you want out of life.”

The discussion takes us back to her family, and the impact her brother’s success has had on her own endeavors. “He was already playing shows, and in the studio, and writing his own stuff. And, I was like, ‘This isn’t that far away. I can get there. My brother – somebody I’m so close to – is already living it and doing it.’ It was a massive encouragement to have him around and guide me in the right direction. I was never scared because it never seemed that far away.”

“You Don’t Own Me” continues to carry momentum following a key placement in one of the summer’s most-discussed blockbusters, Suicide Squad. With the acclaimed release of her debut album, FMA, in July, the rest of 2016 will see the performer out promoting it. “The music is out now, so I just want people to hear it! We’re gonna get out and play as many shows as we can.”

For full feature and additional photos visit our digital issue (issue 7) here.

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