Isaac Gracie on his soaring debut album and early industry hype: “I felt like such a fraud, the biggest phoney in town”

Isaac Gracie’s beginnings were wild. As we reported in March 2016, the industry was fawning over a set of a lo-fi demoes recorded in the Ealing musician’s bedroom and scrambling to get into his tiny London shows. A whopping record deal followed and then Gracie was left with a daunting task: to make his debut album.

Now, it’s finally out and Gracie exceeds the hype. We met up to chat about those times, feeling like a “fraud”, ghosts and Shakespeare.

Your introduction to the music industry was crazy – do you regret how it went down?

It was crazy. Part of me, not regrets it, but there’s no way that I could have done or experienced that stuff in the way that I did if I wanted to land in the situation that I am now. I had never really intended the music to be received in the way that it was, at least not then. When you get into it, the way that I did, everything is thrown at you and you don’t feel like you deserve it. I was only making songs in my bedroom for my family and my loved ones so I was completely riddled with insecurity and all of those things.

It’s funny how those things work. You feel a little bit guilty when those sorts of things happen…

…More than a little bit guilty. I felt like such a fraud, the biggest phoney in town. You only really think about yourself and you imagine everybody else is thinking about you as well, so I just thought that everyone was staring at me, and either had a way too jumped-up expectation of what I was going to achieve in my life, or already knew that I wasn’t the thing I was being made out to be. Therefore, you’re surrounded by a sense of dread, and the sense of regret I feel now comes from the fact that I realise it wasn’t like that.

When you’ve got signed, was it a burden off your back?

No, because then the pressure of having to actually deliver music comes, and that was the main thing for me. When I actually did sign and that process was over it was like: ‘Oh crap, I don’t have any recorded music and I’ve never been in the studio my life. I’ve never co-written music or made the music that I feel sells in the way that the major label needs to sell records’. All of a sudden I took on all of that baggage and was like, what the hell do I do?

Did it ever feel like your sound was defined by your limits at the time?

Exactly. I still feel like that so far as people relating to the new sound or the sound of the record, and in some respects that’s a really cool thing. I never really planned on being received as that sound of music, those were just the demos that I made in my bedroom.

So you’re already thinking about what’s next? 

Oh yeah, it’s pretty much all I spend my time thinking about. One of the things about finishing this is that this really strange relief came over me when it was done, and now we’re releasing it. Not only do we now have the liberty to know that that is over, but in all creative platforms like songwriting, or I’m trying to write a script at the moment, I’m thinking about different avenues. When I was doing this record I was looking at different things like Donald Glover and was like: ‘How the hell do you spread yourself so wide and so well?’

In your live shows that you’ve covered an Arctic Monkeys song. Are you a big fan?

Yeah! I grew up on that. It’s strange to think that when I was growing up we were playing Arctic Monkeys at gatherings and stuff and going ape-shit. Singing all the lines to ‘Mardy Bum’ or ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ or even the ‘AM’ album.

It’s also hard to cover shit when you’re a three-piece, that’s my main struggle. I love Kanye West and would love to cover a Kanye song, my label was like ‘Why don’t you do a Kanye?’ It’s like, ‘Well fuck it, I’d love it if I had a 10-piece band.’ How do we replicate the genius and breadth that is a Kanye track with bass drums and my shoddy guitar playing? It’s not going to happen.

Do you believe in ghosts, Isaac Gracie?

I’m not sure. Sometimes I think yes and sometimes I think no. Probably yes is the answer. But not so much that I ever think about it. I’m agnostic towards ghosts and most things.

What’s your favourite Shakespeare play? 

Twelfth Night probably, for the music. But, is it Richard III or Julius Caeser, the quote is on the tip of my tongue… one of those three.

I saw the Telegraph once called you a Macauley Culkin look-a-like. What do you make of that?

That pissed me off so much. I didn’t get it, because it was a fairly nice review and I wouldn’t have minded if it had been in the blurb. The thing of it doesn’t annoy me. I haven’t got that one before which is why it pissed me off because they put it in the title of the article. If that was something everyone was saying, I’d be kind of OK with it but I’d never head anyone call me it. When it was the big London shows being reviewed at four stars, and then all of a sudden it’s ‘Macaulay Culkin’ it’s like: ‘What?’

Isaac Gracie’s debut album, ‘Isaac Gracie’ is out now