From singing her heart out as a child in her Brisbane home to collaborating with Quincy Jones in her number one hit, ‘You Don’t Own Me’, Grace has become the voice of a generation for young women everywhere.
Grace has the kind of voice you wouldn’t expect from an 18-year-old. Her vocals are powerful, soulful, and dripping with honey, and she sings like a woman who’s fallen in and out of love, been wronged, broken down, and finally picked herself back up again.
While Grace doesn’t refer to any relationship woes in her life, it’s clear she knows how to sing about them.
She released ‘You Don’t Own Me’ in March, and it topped the Australian charts. Not bad for her first single.
If you’re a ’90s kid, you’ll definitely recall the song from the 1996 film, The First Wives Club. That scene where Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn are wearing those fabulous cream-coloured outfits and take their anthem from the party to the street? Amazing.
That’s where Grace first heard the song but the original is from 1963 and was sung by Lesley Gore when she was 17 years old.
Fast-forward to 2014 and a 17-year-old Grace is recording it with American rapper, G-Eazy (who she believes is one song away from being the next big thing), in an Atlanta studio with the producer who recorded the original song, Quincy Jones.
“It was insane,” Grace says. “It was just crazy to be able to talk to him and share stories.”
The single was a bit of scramble to get out. When Lesley passed away in February, Quincy called everyone to get the ball rolling.
“We wanted to pay homage to Lesley and when Quincy makes a phone call, everyone kind of moves,” Grace laughs.
‘You Don’t Own Me’ was a symbol of feminism in its time. So how does it resonate with young people today?
“Well I think it’s a timeless message, right? I mean there’s still sadly not equal rights among women and men so it’s something that we still have to fight for and be conscious of. It’s amazing to be the voice of that message for a new generation,” Grace says.
Along with the release of her single comes the release of her EP, Memo, named in reference to “Voice Memos”—the recording app on Apple iPhones and iPads.
The last track, ‘Memo (Boyfriend Jeans)’, is a raw demo with vocals and a piano. Grace recorded it in her bedroom using GarageBand on her laptop before she sent it off to her manager. She met with Sony and they ended up signing her.
“It’s the scratchiest demo you could possibly get and it should never have really seen the light of day but people heard it and fell in love with it.”
Grace comes from a musical family. Her grandparents toured with the Bee Gees and the Gibb brothers, and her brother Conrad Sewell is best known for featuring in Kygo’s ‘Firestone’ as well as his own single, ‘Start Again’. She cites Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Janis Joplin, Shirley Bassey, Lauryn Hill, Minnie Riperton, Gladys Knight and Amy Winehouse all as influences.
“My mum just loved music so she used to play a lot of old soul singers and Motown so that’s what I just grew up on.”
“I started writing at a really young age. About 11 or 12.”
She signed her first deal at 14 but Grace wrote Memo when she was 16.
“It focuses on being young and dumb and messing up and having a crush on someone and not listening to your parents and sometimes just doing stupid things,” she says.
So what’s next? What happens after you collaborate with one of the biggest names in music?
An album, of course. She’s hoping to release it at the end of the year and it will be a little heavier than Memo. Expect a classical element too.
“Being a young woman in the industry, there’s a lot of pressure to succumb to look a certain way, speak a certain way, sing certain types of songs, and dress a certain way. I guess I just try to channel that.”
Grace’s debut EP, Memo, is out now.