Sculpting voices: an interview with Grace Savage

GS David Gilkinson photography

One of so many highlights from the recent Dizraeli & The Small Gods gig at The Boileroom Guildford was supporting artist Grace Savage. Singer songwriter and beatboxing champion, Grace mesmerised and thrilled the audience with her skills in the craft of beatboxing but also with a wonderful and engaging vocal performance which radiated from her equally impressive songs. Knowing next to nothing about the lady before she stepped on the stage that night, we thought we would learn more by letting Grace herself reveal all in an interview which she very kindly agreed to.

Hi Grace, thank you for taking time to chat with us.

Having just seen your wonderful performance at The Boileroom in Guildford supporting Dizraeli & The Small Gods, the first question has to be where have you been hiding up until now? 

I’ve been working with Producer Dee Adam in the studio over the past year, developing the sound of the album and doing very low key gigs around London…I’m just about being unleashed into the big wide world of announced gigs now!

What inspired your hunger for music and also beatbox?

Most of my performance experience is rooted in theatre; I started going to stage school at about eight years old and it was there that I had my earliest experiences of learning and performing music. It was around that same age that became interested in writing creatively and even a few songs… inspired by my biggest musical influence of the time – The Spice Girls. I even started my own girl band ‘Flash’ and auditioned people during lunch times at primary school!  I’ve not really had any formal training in music; I think I have grade one in piano, grade 5 in classical singing and had a few guitar lessons but I always eventually lost interest once it came to being assessed and graded. That all changed when I discovered beatboxing! There were a few beatboxers in the little town of Crediton where I grew up in Devon and I was lucky to be mentored by one of them who happened to also be my good friend and 2009 World Beatbox Champ, Bellatrix. She taught me the basic noises when I was about 16 and I caught the beatbox bug instantly. Two years later I found myself performing my first gig on stage at the QEH, Southbank Centre in London with Shlomo and The Boxettes for 2,000 people!

…And your biggest inspirations?

As a young girl with a serious lack of role models in the media, I have always been inspired by strong women in music. Early influences include Beyonce, Amy Winehouse, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Eva Cassidy, Alanis Morrissette, India Arie and Pink. As for the beatboxing, Bellatrix and Shlomo certainly played a big part in my development but right now, my biggest inspiration is probably Reeps 1 because he is seriously changing the game and pushing the boundaries of beatboxing. My inspiration for rhythms and beats comes from listening to a lot of hip-hop, dubstep and drum and bass but equally can come from everyday noises, if I hear something: a door, a police siren or a phone buzzing, I feel compelled to imitate it…I think it’s a syndrome!

I am right in believing you were singing and playing music long before you developed your other immense talent?gs3

I was playing guitar in an all-girl rock band at the age of 14 (with Bellatrix!) and was taking classical singing exams throughout my later school life but music was never a career choice or serious ambition for me. I went on to study theatre at Leeds University and that was what the path I had always planned on following. Things changed when I started working on projects as a beatboxer throughout my final year at university, as a result of that I decided to move to London and have a go at being a professional beatboxer. It was tough at first but I soon met producer Dee Adam and before I knew it I went from singing privately in my bedroom to singing on stages and officially pursuing a musical career! I had never actually sung in public until a couple of years ago. The thought of it terrified me. So it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster to say the least 🙂

From the gig alone we can see you are trying to combine the beatboxing and your songwriting and performance, is it an easy mix or two aspects you have to carefully craft in to a union?

It’s been a learning process for sure, especially in the studio. As far as the beatboxing is concerned, it was a challenge to find the right balance; we wanted it to sound authentic and recognisable as a human mouth but didn’t want this to compromise the overall muscle and punch of the songs.  Most are a mixture of beatboxing and programmed drums and so work together to create an organic but still hard hitting sound. Having said that, some songs have no beatboxing in them at all which is just as important to me as having it in – Beatboxing is a unique aspect of the music but the strength in the records comes from the left field production, emotive lyrics and soft vocal tones; first and foremost I want to be seen as a singer. The Beatboxing will have the most impact as part of the live Grace Savage experience. Ha. Did I just say that?!

First can we talk about the beatbox side, when did you ‘crack’ it so to speak and beyond being a UK female Beatbox champion which you were last year is there a limit to its potential musically?

I can’t remember a specific time when I suddenly felt like I had cracked it. It’s just something that comes with practice, it’s a gradual process and the more you do it the better you get. Getting over nerves and stepping on the stage to perform live is half the battle because beatboxing when you are short of breath is not easy! Being relaxed and feeling the groove is one of the most important things to remember when first learning, when I started relaxing I definitely started getting better. Whenever I start to think there might be a limit to beatboxing, someone does something to prove me wrong and the new generation of beatboxer’s are a clear example of that. Technically things have advanced an incredible amount over that last few years because as music changes and becomes more technical/electronic so does beatboxing. Reeps 1 just posted a video called ‘metal jaw’ where he beatbox’s heavy metal music which I never thought was possible! Having said that, unless you are absolutely exceptional, I do think there is a limit to beatboxing as a solo act. The beatboxers that are most successful and doing the most interesting work (in my opinion) are those that experimenting in different areas, theatrical shows, developing notation for classical concertos, dance shows, incorporating technology.

One imagines it takes constant work and practise to stay at the heights you have achieved, does this impact or distract from your other musical invention at all?

You have to be very disciplined if you want to get better and no matter how good you are you can always get better. I’m nowhere near where I want to be with it. I’m competing for the title of UK Champ again this summer and will need to start putting the hours in soon to refresh my material, construct new routines and learn new covers. But I have been so focussed on my singing, loop station and guitar playing recently; I have kind of neglected beatbox practice. Naughty Savage. Inspiration comes in waves!

Does it also place stress on what is your powerful and soaring vocal beauty, or is there a mutual use of vocal factors in both aspects?

Only certain noises in beatboxing are harmful to your vocal chords, usually involving throat bass which I avoid anyway…mostly because it sounds terrible when I attempt it! The physical power of Beatboxing comes from the plosive and percussive sounds made by the lips and tongue, breath is achieved quickly and often taken in whilst making a noise ( inward snare noise for example) whereas the power from singing is made using a different breathing technique entirely, deep and from the diaphragm.  So although I am using my voice and body as an instrument for both singing and beatboxing, they are very different disciplines to learn technically.

I will be honest and say I was expecting just a display of beatboxing on the night, not knowing of you before, so was wonderfully surprised by your outstanding vocal performance and stirring songs. Who has inspired that side of your invention musically and personally the most?

Within the beatboxing community creativity is respected and imitation is not, it forces you to be original and that mentality has certainly transferred into my music as well so I wouldn’t say there is anyone I am significantly inspired by in terms of musical or singing style.  People love to make comparisons and I’m sure they will but I really am just trying to be myself and hoping that will be enough. I wouldn’t be able to do that if it wasn’t for Dee Adam, she is a seriously talented producer and songwriter and her sensitivity & creativity combined with my odd little mind, we have managed to find the sound of Grace Savage, which I believe is something quite unique. But we will have to wait and see!

GSAre you a lone songwriter or do you work with others to create songs?

I’ve been keeping a diary most of my life and started scriptwriting a few years ago so have always been in the habit of observing people and recording my thoughts. Initially it starts as a lone process, sometimes it’s an idea, a verse, a title, an image or a story I’ve heard but once I take this to the studio it very much becomes a collaborative process and I’m very lucky to have developed such a strong song-writing partnership over the past couple of years with Dee.

Where do you get your inspiration for songs predominantly?

Relationships. I know, how predictable. Since working in the studio over the past year or so I have had a few for want of a better word ‘dramatic’ experiences within my relationships, these experiences have naturally bled into the mood and lyrics of the songs that we write.

Do you place a rich personal element onto your compositions then?

It’s important to me that the lyrics are personal and that I am singing from a place of truth.  A few writing sessions have turned unexpectedly into therapy sessions over that past few months! However, if every song related to a personal experience, it could become a bit emotionally exhausting. ‘By a Bullet’ is one of my favourite songs lyrically and that was written about the last woman to be hung in England, which I obviously have no personal connection with but we had to get into the head of her as a character in order to write the story. As a singer, sometimes you are bearing all and sometimes you are simply telling a story, lyrics can be a personal diary or a fabricated script and therefore sometimes you have to act.  Either way, if you are good at it, the audience will never know and I think that is fine, we all project our own emotions onto songs and create our own meanings for them anyway.

I believe your debut album is on the near horizon?

Yes, nothing happens overnight though!

What can we expect from the release?  Any clues or details you can reveal?

Beatboxing. Big Chorus’s. Freshness.

How did the link-up with Dizraeli and the gang come about?

I was asked by the promoter if I could perform as a solo beatboxer, I sent them my music as an alternative and they liked it. I actually know Dizraeli through Bellatrix (who plays bass for them) and also worked with him teaching workshops in primary schools a couple of years ago so it was a real nice vibe at the gig.

Tell us about your two companions on stage; are they a factor in your work beyond the live shows?

Yes, we write together too, it’s a really great team we have and I’m so lucky to be working with such talented and generous people.

Apart from the album what is next for and from you?

I’m performing at The Social on May 13th, As One In The Park festival 26th May and have just been confirmed to play at Kent Uni summer ball alongside Chase and Status, Labrinth and MistaJam in June! I have a music video for Wrecking Ball which is being released soon and I am performing at The National Theatre’s new space ‘The Shed’ throughout August as part of a verbatim musical piece called ‘Home’. It’s all go!

Once more many thanks for giving us an insight into Grace Savage.

Any last thoughts you would like to share?

Just a cheeky social network plug if I may 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/gracesavageofficial

http://www.twitter.com/_GraceSavage

And lastly…who did that ironing board belong to? 😉

The keys player from Dizraeli’s crew!

Check out the live review of Grace Savage and Dizraeli & The Small Gods  at The Boileroom Guildford@ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/disraeli-the-small-gods-guildford-boileroom-saturday-march-30th/

The RingMaster Review 17/04/2013

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Actions! : South Of The Water single

Since receiving the promo for the debut single from UK power pop band Actions! the band has announced its demise due to personal commitments of its members. Despite this South Of The Water is easily worth checking out as the band bid their hello/farewell on a bit of a bang rather with two songs that displays much promise for what one suspects could have been a rather notable pop punk styled band.

The band started in the opening weeks of 2011 though bassist Mat Wilson and guitarist Ryan Stuart had played together from Year 9 in school and alongside drummer Laurence Mosley since 2008 when he jammed with their previous band. With the addition of vocalist Emily Cracknell last year Actions! became a complete and focused entity.  Taking open pop punk influences from the likes of Blink182 and Amberlin as well as the pop styling of a Jessie J and Pink the quartet has developed a sound which is tight, energetic, and eagerly accessible,  the single suggests the band were still yet to find their completely distinct sound but with rhythms that pump up the blood, guitar melodies which easily draw attention, and the excellent rich vocals of Cracknell  the band was easily one of the more interesting and promising pop driven rock bands to emerge in the UK, as successful supports slots with bands such as Inme, Skindred, Paige, and Not Advised proved.

Released May 21st, the two songs making up the single were recorded  at the beginning of the year and more than deserve firm attention  even if the band are no longer a breathing creature. The song South Of The Water opens with a slow enchantment from the appealing and impressive vocals of Cracknell with a subtle melodic guitar in company. As the emotive bass of Wilson steps into view with the firm and punchy beats of Mosley alongside, the song spreads its wings and pulls one into a vibrant blend of impassioned guitars and flavoursome guitar driven rock. It is Cracknell that lights up the song most, her delivery and great voice well formed and captivating. The song does not explode within the ear but swarms around and warms up the senses with a fine all round display of craft and intent.

The second track on the release is a more direct pop punk energised pleasure. One Minute Smile dances and beckons with simple riffs that spark and again excellent vocals which lead every aspect of the great song with an assured belief and confidence. As with the first the song does not stand atop a hill of originality but satisfies and entertains with an accomplished ease and ability which is just as full and pleasing.

With essences of Paramore as apparent as previously mentioned references the band fit alongside the likes of Me & The Mountain and Hitchcock Blonde in promise, sound, and creativity. That promise is strong and unmistakable from this their debut and departure so it is a shame we will not get to watch and hear a great band evolve into one suspects would have been something even more special.

     South Of The Water is a fine single that deserves plenty of attention and will leave many upon hearing it with disappointment that this is all we have from Actions! to enjoy.

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RingMaster 08/05/2012

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