With the roll of out of recent singles releases “GAGA”, “Everybody’s Friend” and “Beauty & The Beast”, American singer/songwriter Grace Gaustad proves once again they are an artist with their finger firmly on the pulse of youth culture.
Having cemented their reputation as a daring and fearless pop trailblazer, following the launch of their debut album ‘BLKBX: wht r u hding?’ in the Fall of 2021, the 20-year-old LA based artist looks set to spark further conversation with the upcoming release of their highly anticipated sophomore album‘PILLBX: whts ur fantasy?’ – a 13-track linear continuation of Gaustad’s journey through young adulthood, that encourages listeners to look within themselves and ask the question: “What do you do when you can’t change the unchangeable?”
Grace Gaustad – PILLBX: whts ur fantasy? (Trailer)
Keen to break down social barriers, with the intent to evoke real change, in the hopes of making our world a nicer, fairer place to be, Grace Gaustad is so much more than your average ‘teen pop star’ singing throwaway pop songs about failed high school romances, dancing on tables and having fun at parties, they are an artist who has something to say… as we found out when we caught up with the singer recently to talk new music, social taboos, the importance of having a creative outlet and how a private phone call with Lady Gaga made them feel like they were 10 years old again…
Listening to all of the new material you’ve released so far from ‘PILLBX: whts ur fantasy?’, you appear to have arrived at a place where you’re feeling quite settled and comfortable in your own skin, and you’re now on a mission to share with the world who you are, at this point in your life… would that be a fair observation to make?
For sure!.. though I actually think I’ve been on this mission since I was probably about 3 or 4 years old (laughs). I’ve always been somewhat of a dreamer, and so I’d constantly be bounding up to my Mom and telling her all of the things I wanted to do when I was older, which I’m sure she found hilarious at the time. To be real though, internally it wasn’t always easy in the sense that because I’ve always felt like I was a little bit different from everyone else, I did have moments and periods of thinking that maybe those differences would hold me back in someway, and I wouldn’t be able to live out any of those dreams. But thankfully, I’ve always been a very determined person, so when I set my mind to something and say I’m going to do it, believe me, I’m going to figure out a way to make it happen… even if it takes me a minute, I’ll always get to where I want to be.
Timing is everything right?
Totally! And I think sometimes you have to go through certain things, and have those kinds of internal battles to really learn about yourself, in order to become more confident in who you are as a person and also to figure out what it is you want to do with your life. For me, I’ve always strived to make the most meaningful art as possible, because for the majority of my life, the creative arts have been my safe space – music, television and movies all provided me a place to escape to when I wasn’t feeling so great about myself or the world around me. They gave me hope, they made me feel alive and like I was less alone. And I know a lot of people feel like that, so I want to try and re-create that feeling for people.
The success you’ve had in your career so far has afforded you a massive platform, which you’ve so far used as a way to celebrate and champion the underdog! Do you feel a responsibility to be something of a voice for those who haven’t quite yet found theirs?
I do; I really do. The world is a pretty chaotic place right now, and I feel like it wasn’t like this when I was growing up… or maybe it was and I was just too young to know, or understand everything that was going on. But now I’m older, I worry more about where we’re all headed, and I think about kids in school, and I wonder how they’re managing to navigate their way through all of this chaos; it must be a lot for them to process and get heads around! So yeah, I do feel I have a responsibility as an artist to offer some sort of support or refuge for people – I just want to try to make the world a better place for the next generation.
You were very open and transparent about what inspired your first album, ‘BLKBX: wht r u hding?’ And whilst it’s clear that a lot of thought, and a lot of heart has gone into the creation of the songs set to feature on the new record, we wonder if in the beginning stages of recording, if you have a vision for this project, and did you know right away how you wanted to present your music to the world this time around?
I did, and to be totally honest with you, it’s not too dissimilar to how I’ve worked in the past. I remember 3 or 4 years ago sharing my vision for ‘BLKBX’ and being very clear of the story I wanted to tell, and how I was going to tell it. I knew I wanted it to be a very visual project and that I wanted to make a music video for each of the 12 songs, and… everybody looked at me like I was crazy (laughs). Seriously, my whole team were like ‘are you out of your mind?’ but I knew I could make it happen. And that’s kind of what I did again, I’m just telling a different story this time around.
And what story would that be?
Wow… where do I begin, and how do I explain it to you without giving too much away? (Laughs). Ok, so if ‘BLXBX’ was a story about coming of age, then I would say that ‘PILLBX’ is a continuation of that, but this time I’m venturing into a very different place… a place of fantasy, and a daring new world where seemingly anything is possible. I don’t want to be too specific at this point, or like I said give everything away, so I’ll just say that the songs on this record deal with a lot of the same issues that people all around the world are currently facing everyday, yet they are delivered in a way that feels a little left field…
Interesting… so it’s something of a concept album?
I would say so yeah… it’s a fantasy created by my desire to escape reality. The inspiration for the majority of these songs was born out of me asking the question: “what do you do when you can’t change the unchangeable?” And my answer to that is that I’m going to jump into a make believe world, where anything and everything is possible; and I can do and be whoever I want! It’s a very personal album, and I find more than ever that I’m unapologetically speaking from my perspective and sharing my truth. It’s a little heavy at times, but it’s real and it’s authentic… and it’s also a lot of fun too (laughs).
What are you hoping fans will take away from the record upon hearing it for the first time?
That’s a good question… to maybe feel like they’re not as alone as they think they are, or that somebody understands them… I hope these songs will be of comfort to people, and that they are able to relate to them in a way that makes sense in their own lives.
This record is built on a fantasy created by my desire to escape reality.Grace on the inspiration behind her album ‘PILLBX: whts ur fantasy?’
The lyrics to your songs read like conversations, and so much of what you’re singing about is reflective of times in which we’re living – it’s almost like you’re holding up a mirror to the world and speaking aloud a lot of the same thoughts many of us are feeling…
Thank you so much! That really means a lot to me, and I appreciate you saying that. Look, there’s so much noise going on right now, and there feels to be something of a dis-connect that seems to grow with each passing day, which I kind of find quite ironic, because to me in many ways we’ve never been more connected than we are right now because of social media and all of the other online spaces available to us that provide us with a platform to air our grievances and share our opinions, yet… something’s still not quite adding up.
Why do you think that is?
I think a lot of people are afraid! I think people are angry, and I think people want to see an end to all of the suffering that seems to have encroached upon all of our lives over the past few years. We have access to the news pretty much 24/7 now don’t we? So we’re able to see exactly what’s going on in the world at any given time, and I think that constant rolling cycle of news is starting to take its toll, because despite what the mainstream media would maybe have us believe, we as human beings are all compassionate, empathic creatures… well, the majority of us are (laughs). So with the music I’ve written on this album I’m trying to say the things people wish they could, but for whatever reason can’t – whether that be because they’re not quite feeling brave enough, they’re not old enough or they just don’t know how to verbalise their thoughts yet. Like we were discussing before, I’m trying to be a voice for the marginalised person, or the people who don’t feel like they fit in because that’s how I’ve felt for the majority of my life. And on a person level, I’m now saying all of the things I wish I’d said when I was younger.
That must feel incredibly cathartic?
It does! Writing lyrics, and putting my thoughts out into the world feels incredibly liberating! I’ve always felt like the best way to get over any kind of painful or traumatic experience, is to try to turn it into something beautiful. That ‘something’ is different for everybody, for me, it’s songwriting. Putting pen to paper and writing lyrics, brings me peace and helps me to let go of a lot of things – it’s tricky sometimes to go there, and be so brutally honest with how I’m feeling, but I think there’s a real power in owning your vulnerability and embracing all sides of your character. It was hard for me to be so open when I was younger, but with each passing year it feels to get a little bit easier.
As Oscar Wilde once famously said: “with age comes wisdom…”
Yeah, I believe that to be true, and in my opinion, there’s a lot to be said for getting older. People tend to fear it, but I think we should embrace it. Like I said, I’ve found the older I get the less I worry and hold onto things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still the same over-thinker that I used to be, but I have more tools to pull on now, and that comes from having more experience. Again I go back to the younger generation who are struggling in school, they feel trapped and they feel like the daily battle to survive is never ending, because when you’re in high school I think it’s very hard to see a future outside of that environment because it’s all you’ve ever known – it feels like a vortex! For some people they thrive in school, but for others it’s a really, really hard time. You’re growing up in a confined space, that at times can be quite intimidating and confusing, it’s an space that’s not always positive for everyone, and a large percentage of people don’t thrive, in fact it takes all they have to just about survive. To this day I still have bad social anxiety from what I went through during my school days, but I made it out the other side, and it’s important for me to let young people know that! The second you leave that school building on your last day, you’re walking out into a brand new world where you’ll find that there are millions of people out there just waiting to love on you! It’s scary, but it’s also really exciting because you have the to opportunity to explore so many different passions, projects and places – it’s an amazing time, and proof that life does get better!
You’ve always written from a place of truth. As time has gone on, and you’ve been able to a little more clarity, do you think some of those early life experiences have inspired the concepts and topics on this new album?
That’s a great question, but it’s one that’s difficult for me to answer. This whole project has been very, very well thought out – it’s a highly conceptualised body of work, and there’s intention behind everything that I’m doing and saying. It has purpose, and like I said before I’m shining a light on a lot of the problems we’re all facing today, so lyrically not I’m just pulling from my own personal experiences, I’m reacting to what I’m seeing happening in the world. The concepts for these songs and these videos, were drawn out on paper and written up in documents LONG before I even stepped into the studio to begin work on the album. I had a very clear vision for what I wanted to do right out of the gate. You very kindly said earlier that my songs sound like conversations, and that’s because they are! I’m talking directly to the listener and sharing exactly how I’m feeling about the state of the planet. Having said that, all of the songs have different messages tucked away within them that are left open to interpretation, and I’m really enjoying hearing people’s different takes on them.
One of the standout tracks you’ve released so far is ‘Beauty & The Beast’ – what can you tell us about that song?
Ok, so ‘Beauty & The Beast’ is all about extreme narcissism, and what happens when it takes over a person. We’re living in a time where we’ve all just become a little bit too fixated on yourselves – and I put part of the blame for that on social media, because it’s made us all far too concerned with how we look, and with what other people think of us. Why do we feel the need to put so much of our lives on display? And what are we trying to prove to people by creating this online narrative that creates the perception that our lives, our careers, our relationships and our bodies are perfect? We as human beings have never spent as much time as we do now looking in the mirror, obsessing over what we’re wearing, worrying about our bodies, and stressing about our supposed imperfections… we’re a society obsessed with appearance, and it’s not good! In my opinion things have gone too far, and I feel like too many people, girls especially, are falling into negative thought patterns with regards as to how they view themselves, because of what they’re seeing online. It makes me so sad.
It’s a song that has sparked quite a lot of debate and conversation online, how have you found the response has been from fans both old and new?
Erm… it’s been very different! With ‘BLKBX’ a lot of the feedback I got from people was very emotional, and I think that’s because the subject matters and topics I covered were so vulnerable and delicate, that people felt some sort of deep connection and affinity to what I was singing about. With a song like ‘Beauty & The Beast’, I would say the response has been a little more… dramatic, but it’s ok! I think I knew that was coming because there are elements to it that some people are going to find controversial, so it’s to be expected that there might be a little bit of a push back. I’ve received double, maybe triple the amount of love that I saw from ‘BLKBX’, but I think ‘PILLBX’ has evoked a little bit of hate but I’m cool with that – I’m not afraid to speak my mind, but that’s okay. My vocal coach always told me “when people start giving you hate, you’re doing something right because you’ve gotten under peoples skin.” Anytime you get a lot of love, there’s going to a certain amount of hate that comes with it, so you just have to imagine that it’s like the more hate you get, the more love you’re getting somewhere else.
Another song that has garnered quite a lot of attention is ‘GAGA’ – your epic homage to legendary female recording artists Madonna, Rihanna and Lady Gaga! Explain to us what inspired you to write that song…
You’ve kind of hit the nail on the head – it’s a celebration of women who have encouraged me, and inspired me to be my true authentic self in both my personal life, and in my career. Madonna, Rihanna and Lady Gaga are three artists who ripped up what rule book and re-defined that it meant to be a female artist in this industry; they’ve opened so many doors for people like me so I though it was important to pay my respects to them.
The music video looked like it was so much fun to shoot!
Oh it was SO MUCH fun! We had 7 amazing drag artists join us on set who were all incredible! I was totally in my element because I’m a huge fan of RuPaul, and the whole Drag Race franchise, so to be able to have some of the Queens from the show feature in my video was crazy – I was so excited! They brought such a fresh energy to things and made the whole experience ten times more fun! I seriously had the best time… I felt like I was actually Gaga (laughs).
Grace Gaustad x GAGA – PILLBX: Episode 1 (Official Music Video)
Talking of Gaga… rumour has it she actually reached out to you personally after hearing the track – is that true?
YES! So first of all she actually tweeted about the song, which I honestly couldn’t believe it… I mean, wow; what a moment! And then after that she and I were actually able to connect and have a conversation, artist to artist over the phone, which was beautiful and she gave me some incredible advice. I know it’s often said that you shouldn’t meet your idols, but she’s was wonderful, and she couldn’t have been nicer to me.
Talk about a ‘pinch me’ moment! You must have been beside yourself with excitement to get that call?
Oh, I was going out of my mind! I seriously couldn’t believe it! I tried to play it cool but the 10-year old in me was losing it BIG TIME! (Laughs).
You’re clearly very committed to this project! How are you feeling about the future as you continue to roll-out this new album campaign?
I’m feeling good and I’m genuinely excited to continue to share more music from the album and show people what I’m really all about. I have odd moments where I experience feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, but I know that’s just my ego talking and trust me when I say that once ego gets involved and begins to cloud the art you’re making, it really takes away from the overall message the you’re trying to convey and ultimately what you’re trying to achieve. So I try my best to surround myself with good, positive people who will support and uplift me when I need it… so if anybody is causing trouble or creating a bad vibe in my camp, then it’s goodbye from me, I wish you well in the future, but you’re not welcome in my world!