Sunday, December 5, 2010

THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE - An interview with Grace Woodroofe

With a voice that overshadows the remarkable story behind her debut album GRACE WOODROOFE's greatest achievement may be not inspiring jealousy in every singer-songwriter reading this, muses ANDY HAZEL.

Picture it. You’re a teenage girl growing up in Perth with your heart set on being a musician. You make some shyly recorded home demos and pass them to a friend who happens to pass them on to her brother, who happens to be Heath Ledger. Heath emails you from LA and says he loves your songs and asks if you would like to visit and let him introduce you to some industry friends. You get permission from the school principal to take a week off school, go to LA, make a lot of friends, captivate Ben Harper, he asks you to support him on an American tour and books you into a studio to make your first album. Yeah, right.

“I didn’t know she’d send it to him at all,” says Woodroofe of her friend who kick-started this unlikely chain of events. “I gave her two songs, and a few days later she says she’s sent it to Heath, who I’d never met before. I was 17 when I first went. I came back, graduated, and went back for six months by myself, that’s when we recorded the album.”

On the eve of the release of Always Want Woodroofe is back home and remarkably unfazed by what 2011 may hold. “Perth must have something to do with why I’ve not been overwhelmed,” she says matter-of-factly. “Working and meeting people in LA…I’ve never been awestruck by things going on around me. Perth is great place to grow up in terms of the music because it’s so isolated and there is so little to do here. There’s no outside influence so you develop things on your own. I’m staying in Perth at the moment but I’m never here for that long,” she says pondering the future. “I’m expecting to move to Sydney at some point and I felt really at home in LA. I made some incredible friends, and the community feel of the underground music scene is really cool. I felt so embraced there. In Perth growing up and going to school, it was always weird to know that I wasn’t going to go to uni and that I was going to be a musician. Everyone you meet in LA is a musician or an actor; it’s such a creative community, and it was so great to meet people who shared my goals. I definitely want to move there at some point, Ben is there, and Relentless7, we hang out a lot.”

As freakishly lucky as this story is, there is one factor that is perhaps the real reason for all this fortune; her voice. It’s hard not to be captivated by it and harder not to lean on lazy comparisons to describe it, such as ‘a female Tom Waits’. It’s something Woodroofe also struggles to relate, “I just sort of take things other people say about it,” she says laughing. “I love Tom Waits but I don’t know if I would say that I sound like him. Some people say Nick Cave or a cross between him and Karen Dalton. I was listening to a lot of her and Phoebe Snow growing up, Nina Simone and stuff. Singing was instinctive and very natural thing but my voice has developed as years go on, it’s like a boy going through puberty or something,” she says with another laugh. “The more I sing and perform the more I learn to control it and manipulate it.”

Her voice fits perfectly with the dark themes and subjects of Always Want and the album confounds the opinion people might form from simply judging her by her picture. “I had a strong vision before I went into the studio and I recorded the album before I had any proper management or label,” she says lightly, “I imagined the songs would turn out this way, with a heaviness about them.”

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