Grae got her start as pop's heartbreak kid. Now she's taking her biggest risk yet
'I swear I said in an interview once, 'You'll never hear a love song from me.''
Hit play on our brand new The Intro stream, filled with songs from artists featured on CBC Music's emerging artist series.
Emerging pop singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Grae is just 23 years old, but she already has two EPs to her credit — 2019's New Girl and 2020's Permanent Maniac — and more music coming in 2021. But original, longtime fans of her songs are bound to notice a dramatically different vibe: Grae is IN LOVE, and it has led to an ALL CAPS kind of joy that she's still not quite sure how to navigate, both as a songwriter and a person.
"I had this thing where I would write about relationships that went really wrong, and, like, men all the time, and I've actually finally found myself in a good relationship!" Grae told CBC Music via Zoom. "So for the first time in my life, I was happy, like, wow, I'm not heartbroken right now."
Records as time capsules
Grae knows heartbreak. When she was in her last year of high school, her boyfriend of three years broke up with her. She was devastated and refused to go back to school. Her father suggested she travel to Australia to stay with her sister and figure out what she wanted to do with her life. She ended up finishing school overseas and recalls how she'd just sit in her room, alone, watching from afar as her friends' lives began to take shape.
"I was like, what is going on? Everyone's moving on to other things and, like, finished school and I'm still stuck behind," Grae said. "It was just a moment in a period of my life where I was just very confused, but also determined to do music. I was like, 'Okay, I'm 18. I gotta get going, my music career, let's just do it.' And then I started doing gigs and ended up finding my first producer on the New Girl EP, and the stars just started aligning. It was really weird."
If New Girl was a time capsule of Grae's heartbreak, her second EP, Permanent Maniac, is the artist finding her way back to herself, even overtly paying tribute to her biggest musical influence — Robert Smith and the Cure.
Now, Grae's newest singles continue to mark her evolution into a songwriter who can make happiness and joy as relatable as heartbreak.
"When I was writing ['Soft'], I'm like, no one cares about love right now," Grae said."Everyone's writing songs about how miserable the world is and how they're sick of being stuck inside and I come out with the song, like, 'I'm in love!'"
Grae said she "battled" with herself about it, but ultimately decided to go for it because it reflects where she's at right now.
"I swear I said in an interview once, 'You'll never hear a love song from me,'" Grae laughed. "But it is a really good feeling and I have finally found a person that is so beautiful to me. It's just been the healthiest thing I've ever been in and I adore them with all my heart!"
Another new Grae single, "Spinning," finds the artist singing a different kind of love song: an ode to her dad.
She recalled arriving at a songwriting session with her co-writers, Connor Seidel and Ai Milner, with the rare feeling of not knowing what she wanted to write about. Finally, she decided on a song for her dad.
"My dad's my best friend, and I love him so much," Grae said. Seidel and Milner were game and began asking questions about their relationship. "It was actually one of the longer sessions that I've been in, because we put a lot of thought into the lyrics."
Maybe you and me should go get that tattoo
The one you never knew you wanted
Maybe it'll hurt, but here's the honest truth
I'd rather hurt with you
You make me better.
The songwriter's conundrum: how personal is too personal?
Grae has mined her own life for most of her lyrics. It's not that she has regrets, per se, about sharing so much of herself, but she said she has a better understanding now that she can't get it back once she puts it out into the world.
"What I've written to this day has all just been personal experiences," Grae said. "My first EP was a lot more personal. I was a raging teenager that was like, 'f--k everybody, I'm just gonna release what I want.' I've kind of learned from those mistakes, but everything is very personal."
Grae struggles with her own conflict about the responsibility she feels as an artist, but she's working through it.
"My job is to be vulnerable, and be open and share my experiences," Grae said. "There are probably people that can relate [to those experiences] and that, to me, is important because I know that music has helped me feel so much less alone throughout my entire life. And that's thanks to the people that have put themselves out there and just been true and authentic to their stories and their life. And that's how I've always wanted to be perceived as an artist. So it's a double-edged sword. It's like, well, that could haunt me, but it's also my life. And I write about my life. So what am I supposed to do?"