Artist Spotlight: Graci Phillips
This month we shine a spotlight on Graci Phillips. Graci is well on her way to making a difference in the music world as a genuine, quirky, and creative singer-songwriter who is sure to inspire a lot of people and bound to leave her distinctive mark on many hearts.
First off, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Tell us a bit about you and what got you interested in a career in music.
Thank you so much for having me! I grew up in a very eclectic family. Both my parents are singer-songwriters, performers, motivational speakers, artists, and ministers who ran a non-profit most of my childhood. We grew up on the road traveling in a bus full time for the non-profit and ministry, and a lot of it was centered around music! Growing up, there were always instruments around and we were always playing music. On the weekends it was typical to invite over all my families friends, have a big meal together, and then play music and sing for hours. Singing and writing has just always felt second nature and my parents have always been incredibly encouraging of creativity. I think it was early in high school, after I had been writing for a couple years, that I realized I was much more passionate about music than anything else I had thought about “doing with my life.” I am so blessed to have parents who not only encouraged that, but did everything they could to help me on my way. When I try to picture my life without music, I can’t picture anything. It’s just part of me.
I read that your entire family are musicians and you recorded a family album with your parents and siblings. What was that experience like? Do you still listen to it ever and if so, what do you think about it years later?
Yes! It was an incredible experience! My parents have actually recorded several albums, they were in the Nashville scene back in the day, and we got to make little “appearances” on a few of them. But when I was in high school my parents wanted to do a real family album with all of us. This was around the time I was starting to realize how important music was to me. I had been writing a lot, so my parents asked if I wanted to include some of my own songs on the album. That was crazy exciting for me! Up until that point I had only been playing my own songs at school, church, random events. I ended up choosing a song I wrote called “I Promise You.” We recorded the album at Ricky Skaggs studio just outside of Nashville. It was amazing getting to see the music come together from the ground up.
I do listen to it from time to time! It’s very nostalgic and sweet to hear all of our voices. My youngest sister, Sarah, was still very young when we recorded it. Hearing her tiny voice makes me happy. I would love to do another album with my family. They are all so talented. This album was a really important time for me. One of the producers (and long time family friend) that worked on the album, Mike Demus, heard “I Promise You” and was really impressed. He invited me to his studio to hear some of the other songs I had been writing. At the end of the session Mike had offered me a production deal and we started work on what would end up being my first studio album, “Catastrophe.” And we actually ended up adding “I Promise You” to that project! It was a really incredible experience.
With five years in between your two albums, “Catastrophe” and “Burning House EP” – talk about how your sound developed over the years and what were some key factors that influenced the growth?
Wow, so much has happened in my life in the years between these projects. I think as my life has developed my sound has naturally developed with it. I feel like the biggest difference is the song content. “Catastrophe” is largely about high school romance/heartbreak. Those were some of the biggest things that were happening in my life emotionally at that time, so the way I processed them was through song writing. I’m now happily married, so high school heartbreak isn’t really at the top of my list anymore. But on the other hand, in the last five years I’ve lost loved ones, watched friends go through divorces, lost friendships, celebrated life’s highs and mourned life’s lows. I still process my life through songwriting, “Burning House” is a really good snapshot of some of the most impactful parts of my life since “Catastrophe.”
I think another thing that has been a big deal for me is honing my craft. The artist that are most impactful to me have one major thing in common, excellently crafted songs. From the music to the lyrics to the production, they’re not just music–they’re pieces of art. As I’ve gotten older I’ve spent a lot of time just soaking in the genius of the artists that I admire. I have learned so much and grown so much as a songwriter from paying attention to how my favorite writers use literary devices and melody in their songs. Then figuring out what it looks like for me to try out some of those methods. I hope that I’ll never stop growing and learning when I comes to writing music.
Explain your typical song creation process.
I feel like it’s different almost every time! For my own music, sometimes I get the foundational lyrics first and build the music around it, and sometimes I figure out a melody and try out different lyrics. My voice memos on my phone is nothing but bits and pieces of songs. A lyric or two, humming a melody, talking myself through how I want to produce a certain song. When I’m writing for Song Finch it’s almost a totally different process! As I read through the profile for the song there is always something that sticks out and it’s like, “That. That right there is the base of this whole song.” And I know as soon as I read it what the melody is going to sound like, what the style is going to be, and how I’m going to approach the lyrics. It’s actually really amazing how inspiring it is reading these stories from people that I don’t know, and probably will never meet. The amount of love that is apparent reading through their stories makes the songs just come together so beautifully.
What has been your favorite song you’ve ever written? Why?
That is a very hard question! I don’t think I have a concrete answer, but there are songs that I’ve written that are the most important to me. “Roger Ebert”, which is the last track on the “Burning House EP” is one. I wrote this song when I was learning some life lessons about not taking yourself too seriously. And being okay with being a flawed person! I am not perfect, I do not know everything, and it’s okay that people know that. Society and social media can trick us into thinking that other people’s lives are perfect and that we should present ourselves that way too, but it just isn’t true. So that song is a great reminder of that. Another one that means a lot to me is “I Don’t Cry” from my first album, “Catastrophe.” This is one of the most personal songs I’ve written to date, and it is a really condensed and concise retelling of that really painful part of growing up; high school romance. There was a time that I couldn’t play it without crying, and now it’s something I look back on as a stepping stone that I had to cross to get to the person I am now. It’s amazing how much songs can document our lives!
When I listen to your music, it sounds like you have fun with it. You can get serious when needed and have fun and be a bit quirky when you need to. I feel like your personality shines through in your sound. With this being said, what do you want people to get from your music? After they listen, how do you want them to feel?
That is a big compliment, thank you! I want people to find themselves in the songs. I think there are few things as magical as hearing a song and saying, “That’s me. This is also my story.” It can be really empowering to have a voice, and it can be really cathartic for that voice to be a song that you can sing at the top of your lungs! Music just has this incredible ability to bring people together from all walks of life. I want my music to unite people. And that’s not always a sunshine-feel-good thing. Sometimes it’s learning hard lessons together, sometimes it’s mourning together, but sometimes it is enjoying the sunshine together!
Who are your top 3 musicians right now?
The Beatles have always been, and will probably always be, at the very center of my love affair with music. I am constantly pulling new inspiration from their music as a group, and their individual careers! So aside from the Beatles:
Chris Thile! He’s actually just under The Beatles. I’ve loved him since Nickel Creek, I walked down the aisle to Goat Rodeo Sessions, I listen to “Live From Here” nearly every week, and I’ve seen him in concert every time he’s been to Nashville in the last
few years. Punch Brother’s is the tops!
I’ve had a lot of people tell me over the years that I sound like Joni Mitchell. Up until recently I hadn’t really listened to much of her stuff, but lately I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to Joni Mitchell Essentials and loving it! Her voice is as much the instrument as her guitar, she writes some killer melodies. I just learned how to play “Big Yellow Taxi” so be on the lookout for a cover of that soon. 😉
This week specifically I’ve been listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder! I’m covering “Isn’t She Lovely” for Mother’s Day this year I’ve been digging into that album, “Songs In The Key Of Life.” That album came out in 1976, over a decade before I would be born, and it’s still important and impactful today! Just an amazing example of how incredible and transcendent music can be!
What are you currently working on at the moment and what plans do you have in the future?
This is a big year for me! I’m about to start a radio campaign for “Burning House,” we’re planning tour dates for the fall, we’re doing a straight to vinyl session at Leesta Vall Studio in Brooklyn in August, we have three music videos coming out, and we’ll be in the studio this year starting work on a new project! I am super excited about all the things ahead for this year! It feels very good to see all your hard work start to come together.
Anything else that you want to say?
I am so grateful for companies like Songfinch that believe in independent artists! The financial support is crucial as a full-time artist, and it is such a great way to stretch as a writer! I love the challenge of writing for people other than myself, it is absolutely making me a better songwriter. Thank you Songfinch for all that you do and thank you so much for having me!