Grace Sanders Gets Impersonal
Boorloo-based alt-pop artist gives us the lowdown on the musical direction of her new EP, getting deep and personal with lyrics, tying visual art to music, creative process, live shows and more
Grace Sanders has been floating around the W.A. scene for a number of years now, breaking through with her 2021 debut EP GUMS - a collection of seven tracks that combines bedroom indie pop and alternative r&b to great effect, created in collaboration with production partner Ezekial Padmanabham (formerly of Gazey).
Now, nearly two years later, the pair have teamed up once again for Sander’s more experimental follow-up, her new EP Nothing Is Personal. Pushing boundaries of the broader “art-pop” sound, Nothing Is Personal sees the pair not only experimenting with different genres but also utiliising a number of production and composition techniques to help push the narrative contained within.
A concept EP of sorts, Nothing Is Personal was created after the end of a long-term relationship for Sanders as she explains “I wanted to give a voice to this person to demonstrate how, while I may have this interpretation, nothing that happens to you is ever really about you - and so to give voice to that other party I thought provided interesting contrast and solidified my point in the title… we are all ultimately a tapestry of our experiences and the people we love, and the pain and connection we share together.”
To find out all about Nothing Is Personal, we jumped on the line with Grace!
Let’s talk about your new EP which is fucking awesome. You’ve gone in a bit of a weirder, darker direction than GUMS, but before we dive into the sound I’ve got to ask about the title - Nothing Is Personal - which like most art can have a few interpretations, like a “don’t take things personally” vibe, but also considering the themes of the EP you open up on some pretty personal stuff so yeah, what’s going on with the title?
I guess I’m attracted to contrast, and I like irony and things like challenging statements, so I suppose I went with Nothing Is Personal because when I was thinking about the content, I was basically in a relationship for like five years with someone who, I think in hindsight, didn't really want to be in the relationship, but wouldn't give me a straight sort of answer. So there was a lot of like, weird sabotaging and just shit that went on, you know what relationships are like, and when I looked back on it, for the longest time I left that relationship thinking that there was something inherently wrong with me or that I was not lovable.
A lot of the, I guess peace of mind that I came too was just the realizations that the way that both of us were acting was just informed by childhood trauma, and like not really knowing how to handle that level of intimacy and commitment, and that nothing that he had done to me that really hurt me and, made me question my sexuality, if I was attractive, made me question who I was, if I was someone who could even be in a relationship, like so much of it, I just was, like, “am I lovable?”. And then I came to peace with just realizing like he's not a bad guy, it was just he didn't know how to handle his life experiences, and not none of that shit that happened between us was about either of us, if that makes sense.
Yeppp, makes a lot of sense to me and I think anyone who’s been in a serious relationship, particularly in their 20s I’d say… So how did you come to stop viewing it from the perspective of their being something wrong with you? It’s a pretty healthy perspective to have so I’m curious how you ended up there?
Actually, to be honest with you Will, I was really quite angry after that relationship ended, and some of the tracks, I was quite angry about it, because I really did feel like I’d wasted five years of my life. You know, like, we didn't need to live together, we didn't need to buy a whole house worth of furniture, we didn't need to play mom and dad like that, you know. I felt like to him, there was a lot of resentment at different times. But I think I came to that, because I realized that even though I could sit there and point the finger at him and direct things that had happened there, the more that I wrote about it, the more I sort of realized that there was a lot of different elements I was bringing into the relationship like, with my own sort of like anxious attachment, my own family trauma and sort of insecurities and bad boundaries and sort of accepting treatment in certain ways.
I realized that I had manifested my own destiny in a lot of senses, so I couldn't really just look at it and be like, “it's your fault”. It's not, it wasn't either of our faults. Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t think that I would grow, I wouldn’t be happy now if I just looked at a shitty situation and went “oh, that’s it, they just fucked me over”. There’s nothing to learn from that. I don’t think I answered the question very directly, there wasn’t really a moment, I try to take that attitude with everything.
For sure, I mean, it’s a process, right? You’ve mentioned insecurities, and something that I’d find personally pretty hard is being so open and honest in your lyrics and music… is that hard, something you’ve learnt to do, like could you have been so open and personal say five years ago?
Honestly, I’m really open with the way that I write because I think that lyrics and things that you tackle sort of have to make you a little bit uncomfortable, because I think that lyrics and things that you tackle sort of have to make you a little bit uncomfortable. Or you're probably not telling the truth if it's not something that you're maybe slightly ashamed to admit. But I really believe in the human experience as like, all of us have this shit under our beds. And if we shine a light on it, these big mountains that are so intimidating to us can become, you know - it's just a rolled up sock. And I feel like really examining those things that I'm like, deeply ashamed of in such a public and open way, I think it’s a really nice way to initiate conversations with people that listen to the music as well. Like exactly like this.
But yeah, honestly, at different points, especially because over the course of making this record, I've sort of transitioned into new relationships, so it was really odd to look back and be like “I'm making a record about a breakup” while sort of fostering a new relationship, and having that weird level of openness where I look back on it, and there are certain things where you're like, “I can't believe I ever even said I love you” because you know, it doesn't really compare to what I feel now and I'm looking back and feeling kind of embarrassed, but I think I just have to own it because it was true at the time, and be like, “that's what I wanted to do then” and honestly, I think moving forward, I'm interested in creating more surreal music and going into more surrealist lyrics and not necessarily writing only from experience. but at least for this, it felt like I had to, I don't know, rip the bandaid off.
And all I’m thinking about is you saying you love contrast and irony and it’s like, you know, in your literal life, too. So you mentioned wanting to get into more surreal lyrics in future, I’m curious about the current EP in terms of the music and composition also getting a bit more surreal or weird than your previous output. You worked with Ezekial Padmanabham once again, I’m guessing you guys have a pretty good chemistry in the studio?
Yeah, definitely, definitely. The songs we’re most proud of are the ones that are edging more into that space, like A Year And One Day. There's definitely elements in general that are a little bit more, maybe challenging to listen to, but my favorite track is A Year And One Day, which is the opening. And I also really wanted to do like a Plantasia reference for the opening tracks. So little things like that. Now, I think we feel more and more free to explore and sort of, I feel like we're setting a little space for what we want to do, which is nice. Yeah,
Yeah dope, love that, and I love that you mention Plantasia and I can see a beautiful big plant behind you! So what about when it comes to the creative process and the changing sound, have you also switched up how you guys make music?
Yeah, in certain ways. For GUMS I had written all of the songs and recorded stems for most of them before working with Zeke, so I kind of went in with a slightly more finished product. And then we sort of went back over it and he reproduced a lot of things. For this one, because for the first time in my life, I've had access to a studio the whole time, I felt like the songwriting process could be a little bit more experimental. And I could go to him sooner with an earlier version of an idea and be like, “I sort of want it to be like this, but I'm not sure how to get there, so let's just make a scratch vocal and build around the vocal”. Rather than like - I'm not a good guitarist, I don't actually really enjoy playing instruments. I like writing songs. I like the process of production, but the actual writing chords and stuff is not my forte, I'm more conceptual and then Zeke is so fantastic at taking that concept, and then making the musicality actually match and lift to that.
So yeah, for this one, we were able to take way more time with the songs and just let them start from a different spot. And then what we're working on now, I think it's really interesting, has gone in much more of an acoustic kind of, like acoustic folky, like punky direction, so I'd be really curious what happens with the electronic influence moving more into punk kind of music that we're both really inspired by.
I’m so excited to hear that! I’m not sure if you’d call Nothing Is Personal a concept EP, but it’s got, you know, that cinematic opening intro, it’s got a few interlude tracks to break up the songs - how did you guys come up with that concept as opposed to just, like, straight tracks?
I love concept records. I think it's being marketed a little bit as a concept record. But if I'm like, being a full music nerd about it, I don't think I technically can call it that. But I do like records as I like telling stories, so I like using an album as a body of work to tell a particular story about a particular point of life, so I think all of those elements like the interludes, and that kind of stuff, for me falls into place because it just intuitively feels like the right way to tell that story. And I think that probably my favorite element of the record that edges into the concept part is that I wanted everything visually, and sonically as well. There were two main themes sonically, we wanted it to start off extremely electronic, to have no elements of acoustic production really for the first couple of tracks and for it to be really cold and sparse and for my vocals to be edited in a particular way to feel a little bit more robotic.
Because I think that initial stage of heartbreak, you kind of enter into this like, I don't know, dead zone, this zombie-like state where you're a little bit numb, so I wanted the first half to feel really cold, and then for the healing to happen as the acoustic instrumentation comes through, like in Attachment Theory, and then the bonus track 210 Days, and just like allowing other people to come and sing on it, and for it to be imperfect. That's probably one of the most deliberate parts of the concepts that we were trying to bring out. And then the other one that I'm proud of is the visual elements. Everything I've done with the covers for this one has been around time, and wanting people to look at a cover and not initially know what it is and have to spend time looking at it before they can understand what it says. Because I think, as you asked me, like, when did you come to that realization that you know what happened wasn't really personal, and when did you get to that healing place?
I think everything that happens to us, there's like your initial rupture, the initial event, and then there's three months later, you interpret it in a certain way. And then six months later, you interpret it a certain way, a year later, you feel a certain way. And however you feel about the thing that you're observing in your life, it’s constantly shifting and changing and it just changes not because this thing changed, but because your perception of it has shifted. So it looks different. So I wanted to have that with all of the covers and the artwork to really force the viewer to spend that time to look and observe and have the gap between observation and interpretation.
It’s so funny you bring that up because literally my next question was going to be about the EP artwork! I’ve got it up in front of my right now, and I come a little bit from the graffiti world which is where my mind went first, but then there’s also like a psychedelic element to it, so yeah, tell us more about that.
Yeah, I just wanted it to look like a maze. I had a really strong visual inspiration for this record, like all of the songs were written on night walks that I would take alone after the initial breakup happened. I was just like, shell shocked. And I would walk for hours every night, I just couldn't be in the house because all of our stuff was in the house, so I just was walking obsessively, and listening to records and just the way that I write is just by writing a poem, and then just kind of like singing along to that and just recording those melody ideas, figuring out what the words are.
And then I'll usually backtrack, make some chords, record that demo, and then take it to Zeke. So all of the songs were written at that point of the year from where the leaves fall off the trees, and you get a lot of shadows weaving into shapes, and a lot of looking at something at that time of day when you see it. And then you're like, “Oh, what was that? Was that a cat? Was that a person? What was that?” So for the cover, I just had a really distinct vision in my head that I wanted it to kind of emulate the shadows of branches on the ground sort of like entwined, but then also to have like an R.L. Stine, Goosebumps kind of influence because I wanted it to feel a little bit creepy, which is also that opening song. I wanted it to be like the start of a sort of kid’s sci-fi film from the 80s or 90s, like “oh, we’re about to hear a story, and it’s kind of sad, and a little bit creepy, and a bit spooky”. And I guess that’s just what came out of that.
Ahhhhh, R.L. Stine, of course - I couldn’t put my finger on the other thing it reminded me of! So good. So finally, how’s the Grace Sanders live show in 2022, how’s the new EP working live?
It’s really good! Like, I don’t want to boast, I’m not boasting, we’ve put a lot of work into it, especially with the band and it’s become very theatrical. I feel like I've realized more and more this year what kind of artist I want to be, and I've realized my strength is definitely the performance element, the dance element. And just like bringing that artistic vision to life, which is also why it's been so rewarding to work with someone like Zeke who has this incredible vision and understanding of the live music world. So, honestly, no credit to me for the live show, musically. I do what Zeke tells me to do. But the set design and then the way that we organize the show, it's been really fun for me to be able to go “cool, the musical element, the interludes and stuff, that's sorted”, and then now I get to build a set and I get to take people into an experience, because that's what I love.
Bjork is coming to Perth and I'm genuinely thinking about buying the $450 tickets to sit in the cornucopia. I will fucking do that. Because it's an experience. And that's what it should be. So yeah, what does the live show look like? It's a performance piece more so than a gig. There’s elements of a story, there’s a lot more movement, and then we’ve also really gotten more involved with different sectors of the performance community, so inviting more drag queens and more dancers and more theater nto the music space so that when you come to one of our shows, you're not just gonna see some bands playing, which is cool. That's a different format. Just when people come to one of my shows, I want them to know it’s going to be a performance experience and I'm going to take them into a little world for the night which I’d just love to see more of in Perth. I think there's a lot of talented performers around here who don't just do music, we should combine those worlds.
That all sounds so cool! Grace, big ups again on your new EP and thanks so much for chatting!
Yeah, cool, thank you!