Mallrat is growing up – and becoming a pop star of the future
On her third EP Driving Music, Mallrat looks within and opens up about who she – Grace Shaw – really is.
Header image by Tash Bredhauer.
Since her debut EP, 2016’s Uninvited, Mallrat has grown up. Released when she was a 17-year-old prodigy tipped as the next big thing in Australian indie-pop, Uninvited sees her sing about Hungry Jacks restaurants and Westfield shopping centres (“I fucking hate Westfield” she infamously sings on Inside Voices); her saccharine sweet vocal – often thick with snarky lyricism and quick humour – meeting productions that intertwine stabbing synth with hip-hop beats in the same three-minutes.
Now, however, she’s a cross-continental drawcard capable of packing out New York venues and Splendour In The Grass stages alike; personally selected by King Princess and Maggie Rogers for international support positions while Mark Ronson – one of pop music’s most influential names both behind-the-scenes and in the spotlight, who also mentors King Princess as somewhat of a protégé signed to his Zelig Records imprint – is counted amongst her biggest fans, even expressing interest in a future collaboration (“I’d definitely be down,” he says).
In saying that, Mallrat’s growth is the most evident when breaking down her songwriting. While her debut EP paired witty hooks with genre-bending indie/pop/hip-hop production hybrids, her sophomore EP – last year’s In The Sky – was intimate and comparatively subtle; her productions stripped back to gentle guitars strums and pace-keeping percussion while lyrics on the complexities of crushes (Groceries) and growing up (“Everyone’s alive, so everything’s alright / But maybe when the summer ends, I’ll drift away from all my friends” she sings on Better). It was a sign of commercial success (Groceries capped the year within triple j’s Hottest 100 top ten – something only a handful of solo female musicians have achieved in its history), but also a sign of self-evolution and empowerment, signalling – and proving evidence – of a superstar finally finding her own lane.
For Mallrat (known to friends as the Brisbane-raised Grace Shaw), this growth is most evident in two parts: her blossoming musicianship and increasing assertiveness; both the result of growing confidence. “I’m becoming more comfortable in a songwriting position,” she affirms over the phone, her voice still angelic and light despite talking as a part of an intensive press cycle in the midst of a national tour with good friend and close collaborator Allday. “I can hear so much beauty and growth in [my music], especially when you compare it to my past work.”
On her third EP, September’s Driving Music, Mallrat’s growth both as a person and as a musician becomes its most realised to date. Across six tracks – tracks she is “so proud of,” she says – Mallrat offers a glimpse of herself; her witty lyricism and blink-and-you-miss-it songwriting humour subdued – but only slightly – as she opens up and introduces her life beyond Mallrat. Within, there’s empowering moments of determination and self-acceptance (the striking When I Get My Braces Off seemingly a stand-out moment of the latter) mixed within anecdotes on her childhood and close-knit circle growing up, while on Charlie – the EP’s tender and intimate leading single – she sings about her family; a moment of opening up that comes with vulnerability unexplored on her prior releases.
Charlie is a big step forward for Mallrat. With its glistening guitar melodies and intricate beats, Charlie is characteristic of any Mallrat single on the surface, but dive in, and you’ll find an emotional visit home for an artist whose constant touring – “[touring] isn’t natural for me,” she later adds – means that she has no fixed address, with much of her sleep spent in hotel rooms, planes and tour buses on the road. For an artist whose personal anecdotes and emotional stories are often charaded underneath happy-go-lucky melodies and slight romanticism, Charlie is a song whose meaning isn’t hinted at or even hidden completely. “Daddy worked out west and he worked so hard, my mum she smells like cigarettes and they broke each other’s heart,” she sings in the EP’s most obvious example of vulnerability. “She says that love is like a chess game and boys gotta do the chasing / When did I start taking her advice? I raised myself and that’s alright.”
Photo by Tashi Hall from our Falls Festival 2018/2019 Gallery.
For an artist whose personal life is something she’d like to keep exactly that, highlighting her strained maternal relationship and opening up about a somewhat turbulent childhood opens a new frontier for Mallrat, one which comes with many reservations and unexplored feelings. “I’ve [been this open and upfront] in my music before, but it’s often more subtle and unobvious – disguised through lyrics that some might think are romantic or even a bit funny,” she says. “I've never really explicitly said that a song has talked about my family before though, until now.”
Vulnerability is something that sells. Many artists tap into personal anecdotes as a mean of relatability, while others – those often more-so in the public eye internationally – may see vulnerability as a potential mass draw-card, a marketing tool almost; just think of how often you’d hear about a popstar ‘opening up’ on new albums or tabloid covers. For Mallrat, however, this open vulnerability is something unexplored in her work and comes with hesitancy. “I found it a struggle to talk about what songs are actually about because it's scary enough just to write them, and it's something I don't really like doing,” she explains, her answers often coming after long pauses to think presumably about careful wording. “I feel like I have so much to give people, but I'm a pretty private person in a lot of ways. It's just really scary.”
Driving Music is a rare example of Mallrat’s personal self – who Grace Shaw is as a person, and the stories she has to tell – opening up. As the aforementioned Charlie tackles her complicated relationship with her family (“It was the hardest song to share [from the EP],” she says), When I Get My Braces Off captures a portrait of an anxious past, while Circles feels like Mallrat longing for something more (“Keep me safe, guide my faith / Dress in white, stay up late / I’m not tired, it’s just dark / I can’t find where you are,” she sings).
Asked how it feels to share such a vulnerable release and having to dissect it even more-so in press surrounding it, Mallrat says it’s something she’s still learning to navigate. “I think my music is more about how I interact with the world, including the people that I care about,” she explains. “It’s hard [having to talk about the EP]. I don't really want to put out my meanings on my work because it can hinder other people's interpretations. Often, I might know what a song is explicitly about, but I don't want to say - I'd rather others find their own meanings. Maybe I'm a bit of a push-over in that sense."
With Driving Music now behind her, Mallrat is looking forward – and keeping her spirits high. She laughs about diva-ism and doing press as if she was Mariah Carey (“I got these glasses that look like a butterfly with golden stars on them. They remind me of Mariah a lot,” she says, before offering to show me a photo of them), and it’ll be a disservice not to mention that even within Driving Music – a release quickly becoming known for its vulnerability – Mallrat still sounds chirpy and bright; her vocal glittering above productions just as hopeful and excitable.
Then, there’s her debut album, and a remarkably bright future ahead. “I'm actually thinking of doing an album now,” she answers, asked what she’s manifesting for the years ahead. “Oh, and I’ve always been manifesting a Kanye West collaboration. A GRAMMY Award for Charlie would be great too – maybe I can wear those Mariah glasses on the red carpet.”
Mallrat’s third EP, Driving Music, is out now via Dew Process / Universal Music Australia. Catch her at selected Australian festivals later this year.
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