On ‘Rockland’, Gracie Abrams’ latest single, the LA singer-songwriter is struggling to move on from an old relationship, parking outside her ex’s house and calling them before hurriedly hanging up. Although the song deals with Abrams’ life in the context of another person, there’s a key line that shows her shift into focusing more on herself on her new project ‘This Is What It Feels Like’. “Who took my place in bed when I left? / Who laughs at everything that you’ve said?” she asks. “I’m sure that I would like her / If I were slightly nicer.”
It’s an admission of fallibleness that cracks open the door to Abrams’ inner world – a portal that gets wider on the rest of the project, which arrived last week (November 12), as its creator explores her own way of being. While Abrams was in London to play her debut UK shows, NME caught up with her for the latest in the In Conversation series and found out more about that process, working with The National’s Aaron Dessner and how her generation pushes her to do better. Here’s what we learned.
Making the transition from virtual to IRL gigs has been a formative experience
Like many young artists, Abrams has had to experience her breakthrough moment online over the last 19 months. During that time, she held a bedroom “tour”, playing virtually for fans, and has only recently been able to step on stage in front of her growing legions of listeners for the first time. Before she came over to the UK, the musician performed at a handful of US festivals and headline shows and says the experience has been a formative one for her.
“It’s gotten me so outside of my comfort zone,” she explains. “I’m someone that has chosen to be alone a lot when I didn’t need to be and so to have been pushed outside my own bubble is healthy. I have very few friends because I’m not the most social person ever and this has given me more friends than I think anyone has ever had – in every city, I feel like I have a family of people.”
Her first steps into touring have also been beneficial for her mental health, with Abrams noting that her anxiety “has changed a lot” through playing these shows. “They’ve been a very soft landing pad for someone who is an introverted person,” she says. “But I think the fact that I miss doing it every time it’s over speaks to some kind of growth.”
Recording at Long Pond with Aaron Dessner was a magical experience
Abrams’ latest single ‘Rockland’ was written and recorded with The National’s Aaron Dessner at his Maine studio, Long Pond. Working with him on the song – and tracks across the rest of the project – were ‘pinch me’ moments for the young musician for two reasons. “He’s a really important person in my life now, which is so nuts because when I was 13 I used to listen to The National in art class on my headphones, or hide on the bus listening to the music he would make,” she explains excitedly. “It’s still crazy to think about. He’s so wise and so patient and thoughtful and good at what he does that I can’t imagine anyone who’s in the same room as him not making something that they feel connected to.”
One of Dessner’s recent high-profile collaborators also has a special place in Abrams’ heart and being in the same studio where he and Taylor Swift worked on ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’ was “so nuts, so crazy”. “To have physical space with someone like Aaron, but in such a beautiful, serene place where there are literal bunnies and beavers that will run past the studio is so wild – it feels like some kind of Snow White situation,” Abrams says. “And obviously after Taylor was there, you just want to tiptoe around everything and be careful.”
Her new project ‘This Is What It Feels Like’ is a “more personal introduction” than her previous EP ‘Minor’
Abrams’ 2020 EP ‘Minor’ might have taken us into her very personal stories of heartache and break-ups, but she sees her more multi-faceted new project ‘This Is What It Feels Like’ as being a better introduction to who she is. “I took lots of months of failing, being unable to write and then just got very honest with myself,” she says. “When I wrote ‘Minor’ it was definitely in the middle of a break-up and feeling like it was what I needed to write about. I felt a weight was lifted when I put it out, but I feel like I had more patience with myself making this project and got a lot more honest with myself about my relationship with me versus my relationship with others.”
Writing and recording at Long Pond also gave her the space to dig deeper in her subject matter and tackle things she’s “never really addressed in songs” before. “It felt super necessary and I will carry it with me forever,” she explains.
Gracie’s generation pushes her to do her best work, in music and beyond
Gen Z are often spoken about as the generation that will save us all and for Abrams her peers are a constant source of inspiration to do better – whether that’s in music or other parts of her life. During the 2020 US election, the singer-songwriter worked as a poll worker in her area – something she says she was “inspired by friends to get involved with”.
“Unfortunately, for a really long time younger people had assumed we would be OK in the hand of the older generation, but clearly we can’t rely on them to shape the future that we want to see,” she notes.
“Being involved really mattered to me, but also when I think about songwriting, for example, and where I pull inspiration from, it’s not just other music or relationships in my life. It’s seeing people that are passionate about whatever it is they’re passionate about. I feel so compelled to do my best work when I see young people absolutely kicking ass – whether it’s political or from a writing standpoint, or at school or working in their local communities.”
We might see a collab between Gracie and Olivia Rodrigo in the future
Over the last year, Abrams has become good friends with the breakthrough star of the year, Olivia Rodrigo. But their connection dates back further than their friendship, with Rodrigo citing Abrams’ ‘Minor’ EP as a big inspiration on the biggest song of 2021, ‘drivers license’.
“She did not need me,” Abrams insists with a laugh. “She’s as good of a person as she is an artist. It’s so cool to watch peers just killing it. It really makes me so happy. She deserves it more than anyone and I listen to her music all the time, so the feeling is very mutual there. I think she’s just the sweetest legend ever.”
Could that mutual appreciation spill over into an actual collaboration between the pair? Abrams thinks it could be possible one day. “We definitely hang out all [the time] – we were carving pumpkins [the other day] so maybe if we carve pumpkins, we can find time to write,” she says.