A list of things that Mallrat – aka Aussie singer and producer Grace Shaw – has done in 2019: in February, she did swapped Australia for another sunny base, Los Angeles, California. She then spent much of the early part of 2019 on the road with Maggie Rogers, hit up festivals around the world performances, turned 21, been nominated for an MTV EMA, and released her best EP so far in ‘Driving Music’. Oh, and she made her first appearance on a major US TV show and looked completely at home while doing so.
The night before Shaw answers her phone from a buzzing LA coffee shop, she was the musical guest on The Late Late Show with James Corden, for a gorgeous performance of ‘Charlie’ – one of ‘Driving Music’’s highlights. It was simple but effective, its slow build delivering big returns on emotion and gently giddy atmospherics, all while the musician had the confidence to keep her movements small and steady and not over-perform. “It was kind of crazy,” she laughs down the line nearly 24 hours later. “It was such a cool experience. It was really nice that was my first [big TV experience] cos everyone was so lovely there.”
Confidence is something Shaw always seems to have had. 2016’s ‘Uninvited’ might have been a fairly lo-fi beginning for her but, within its unpolished songs, you could hear defiance, strength, and a divine knack for writing brilliant pop. Since then, she’s grown more and more into herself, and ‘Driving Music’s sublime collection of songs mark her latest peak on her climb to her final form. Shaw says that self-assurance in her music and in the way she now speaks wasn’t always a given though.
“When I made that first EP I lost my confidence as a producer and I just saw myself as a singer,” she reflects. “I think now my perception of myself has changed because I call myself a producer even though I haven’t produced that much. I think I just realised that nobody gives you a qualification to make a song – you can just decide you’re qualified and that’s all you need to do. There’s not a certain level that you reach and then you’re able to make a good song.”
On ‘Driving Music’, Shaw produced one track in ‘Drive Me Round’, which blooms from sleepy-eyed and sparse to stuttering garage beauty. “It’s not so much that I know a lot about garage or that I listen to a lot of it,” she says of that song’s influence. “There’s maybe two garage songs that I always listen to – my number one is ‘Archangel’ by Burial – so I think that’s wiggled its way into my music.”
Lately, the 21-year-old has actually been binging on country music, soundtracking her time spent reading Johnny Cash’s autobiography with Dolly Parton and ‘Angels’ by Big Thief’s Adrienne Lenker and Buck Meek. While Shaw might not actually be a country singer, she says she says she feels like one. “Yesterday, after I performed ‘Charlie’, somebody from the James Corden house band told me it reminded him of a country song,” she says. “It made me so, so happy and I realised when he said that that, in my heart, I’m a country singer. Physically I’m not, but in my heart I am and the lyrics to ‘Charlie’ really do sound like a country song.”
Aside from being full of great songs, country-reminiscent or not, one of ‘Driving Music’s strengths is its ability to make you feel like you’re having an out-of-body experience, viewing the world from up above as Shaw puts her relationships and experiences under a microscope. The EP has subtle themes of family and home – the aforementioned ‘Charlie’ takes its title from her dog’s name, while ‘When I Get My Braces Off’ is written from the perspective of her sister.
It’s unsurprising these motifs are cropping up in her music now given she’s no longer surrounded by the people or things she grew up with 24/7 and she says moving away has changed her perspective on where she’s from. “I miss it more, I guess, and it’s always a treat going back now,” she explains. “I feel like the more you’re away from home, the more you love it.”
You can feel that love across the EP, particularly in the attitude-filled ‘When I Get My Braces Off’, which wryly dips into the day-to-day life of Shaw’s sister, “skipping school like jump rope” and whirling through the rebellious urges of teenhood. That song began life as “a fun exercise” when Shaw had run out of things to write about, but quickly became one of the best things she’s released so far. “I didn’t really know if I liked it at first cos it was so quick to write and it didn’t take any effort,” its creator laughs. “I also thought my sister would hate it cos we were fighting a lot around that time, but I sent it to her a few months later and she cried and said it was her favourite song.”
For Shaw, the myth that a musician needs to go through torture in the creative process to make anything decent is just that – a myth. She prefers to work quickly and not put herself through any pain with her songwriting. “I get bored so quickly that if a song isn’t finished quickly I’ll hate it,” she says. “Even if it’s a good song, I’ll just get so frustrated. If it takes too long, I just scrap it.”
Next on the Mallrat agenda following three EPs is her long-awaited debut album, although she doesn’t seem that fussed about it. “I’m not even really an album person but I signed up to make one so it’s time for that now,” she explains, refreshingly unfazed by something people usually place so much importance on. “It’ll probably be a short album – 10 songs or something.” She lets out a laugh when she’s reminded of Kanye West’s ‘Wyoming’ albums series last year, all of which clocked in at seven tracks long. “Well, I wish I could! I didn’t think about that when I signed my contract so I have to do 10 or 11 songs. But I really like the idea of a seven-song album – I wish I had that foresight!”
Don’t take Shaw’s comments as a lack of motivation or care for her music. She’s just not keeping herself beholden to the idea of the album as the holy grail of musicianship, especially not when she doesn’t consume music in that format anyway. “I just listen to one song at a time,” she reasons. “It’s hard for me to take in a whole album. I think I have a short attention span so that’s probably why I’m not an album person.”
Before we get ‘Mallrat 1’, though, Shaw has plenty of other engagements to keep her busy. This week, she’ll kick off her latest European tour, with dates in Dublin and London. “Dublin is my favourite place to play a show ever ,” she gushes. “We played a festival there called Longitude in July – it’s a hip-hop leaning festival and it was so much fun.” Booked to play early on in a small tent, Shaw’s expectations for the set were low but it ended up being far madder than she anticipated. “The crowd was moshing to every song including the really chilled ones. I couldn’t stop laughing cos they reminded me of exactly what my friends and I would do if we liked the person singing, so it made me really happy.”
After tour is over, she’ll head home to Australia to play festivals as summer arrives in the southern hemisphere. Between performances, her plans are simple – “go to the beach and work on music”. Her laidback approach has worked for her so far, so why not dip into that famous chilled out Aussie attitude and come up with the next great addition to the Mallrat catalogue? If 2019 was a big year for Shaw, expect that list of accomplishments to be even bigger next year