Gracie and Rachel‘s new album, Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong, is a journey into the inner lives of the artists. We spoke to them about the album, as well as their writing process.
How would you describe the general theme or arc of your new album, Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong?
Gracie: This record hopefully embraces the challenging parts of ourselves, to find strength from the complicated bits within us all. It’s not always an easy thing to do, to welcome weakness, but I think it’s so crucial that we learn to dance with the things that make us vulnerable and not suppress them deeper into our subconscious, only to have them continue to stunt our potential growth down the line.
Rachel: Patience and trust in yourself, in others, and in process itself.
I notice all the tracks have a single word title, and yet there is a lot of coherence across the album. Can you talk about how you went structuring the tracks?
G: Yay, you noticed that! That became a really fun challenge for us. Sometimes, in the writing and editing process, as we were narrowing down which songs we would continue to work on, we would reject songs that didn’t feel like they could carry a one-word title. One-word titling is hard! It holds a lot of weight and sort of demands that the word should support the entire sentiment of the song. For me, the one-word titling was important for this record because I started to feel like the record as a whole held a bigger message of unity, of unifying ourselves as being one messy, complex contradiction, and the songs served as windows, or chapters, into the bigger story at hand, into unpacking our own undoing. It felt important to have the arc of the album feel like it starts off a little uncertain, though trusting, and evolves to a place of dissecting the self, then it moves forward without looking back.
A theme that stands out throughout the album seems like an exploration of self and various experiences of the self in relation to others. Does that feel accurate to you?
G: Absolutely! Well, we live with the self (ourselves) and we also live with one another. It’s very convoluted. In a wonderful and challenging way. There’s a lot we deal with on a daily basis as far as our own internal experiences and how those experiences relate to our working-living relationship, our communication, our opposition. The ways in which we navigate challenging moments in differing ways has really been a driving force for a lot of this new music, conceptually.
What are your favorite tracks from the album and why?
G: I have a really hard time naming favorites for our songs. It feels like what I imagine it would feel like to decide which of your children you like best. Each song is different, each tells a different story in a different way, and so I rely on certain songs for certain things and other songs for other things. If I had to point out a song that feels like one I’m just so proud of for coming as far as it did in the process, I’d have to say “Underneath”. That was a song that was written somewhat like a diary, like a long run-on sentence, and it initially didn’t really resonate with our team as a song that should be further explored. After pushing to get it into the studio, we were able to really spend time chipping away at it, and it really got shaped to be a song that everyone could get on board with. It was almost the song that never was, and so I’m just grateful that it’s here. Lyrically, it describes the layers of stories we tell about ourselves and is about stripping away those layers to find out what’s underneath, but the way the song was made feels like the total opposite in an interesting way—we had to build layers on top of the core of the song in order to really find its potential.
What is your process in developing and composing your music? Can you speak to this album specifically?
R: It’s so much trust in intuition and in the process that follows. We learned a lot about composing and orchestration during the writing of this record and learning how to self-produce played a pivotal role. We both have a lot of musical ideas in our heads and prior to this record we would try to articulate those ideas to outside producers, which sometimes worked but more often than not felt like the art would slip away from us, like we were only scratching the surface of an idea and handing it off to someone else to complete it. We’ve been able to give a lot more power to our sonic preferences because we now have the ability to experiment and audition different instruments and different ways to obscure or manipulate those instruments. This could mean playing a cello part that we pitch up to sound like a vocalist. Or running the bow hair on the edge of a glass of water to sound like a synth sample.
G: It might sound cliché, but for this album it truly was a different process for almost every song. Sometimes I would come up with an idea on the piano and bring it to Rachel and she’d fill in the gaps or push the song into new territory, other times Rachel would come to me with a fully fleshed out track in Ableton and I’d write lyrics over her sonic worlds and melodies. Sometimes we’d start from scratch together with prompts like, “Let’s write a song based off of a vocal loop,” and we’d build from there. Not every challenge worked, but it certainly got a lot out of us along the way.
While the instrumentals always stand out in your music, so do the lyrics. Can you talk about how you write lyrics and ensure they have a place of prominence?
G: Well, that’s nice to hear. I’m glad to hear you feel the lyrics have a place of prominence in the music. I don’t think we do that so much on purpose than we just try to let the instrumentals have a conversation with the lyrics so that when the words need to be heard, the music listens to them, and when the music needs to take a stance, the lyrics take a step back. Whenever the sentiment being expressed is honest and transparent, I can write lyrics with abandon and place them where they’re asking to be placed. I keep a lot of notes of little poetic ideas or phrases that sometimes come to me and that I want to come back to later, but other than that, usually just the acoustic piano, the mute pedal, and a good dose of anxiety and a dash of self-loathing are what help the words come out best.
As a duo, you’ve been described as ‘opposites who attract.’ Can you talk about your partnership and how those artistic differences work together?
R: Oh, we are quite different! Let’s see. On a basic level, Gracie drives probably a little too fast, and I drive probably a lot too slow. She’s the breakfast chef, and I’m the dinner. When we go out to eat I ask a million questions about the food and she’ll ask a million questions about who made the plates. She loves to talk about her feelings. I’m scared of feelings. But musically, the ways in which we were nurtured, me from a strictly classical pedagogy and her from a more unconventional fluidity, gave us this opportunity to fuse these strengths and create music that values both musical and lyrical importance and experimentation. Gracie has always been a curious wordsmith, poetically inclined, constantly exploring dialogue and how to translate a feeling into words. I am quite the opposite when it comes to how I work through a feeling. I speak better through sound than words and have more confidence in the instrumental realm helping me guide my sentiments and inclinations. It’s become almost a musical telepathy between the two of us where sometimes Gracie will write a song, a tone poem, and I will respond with a violin melody that scores her narrative, or vice versa. I may create an instrumental track where I’m mumbling through a melodic conversation without using any words and she will come in and transcribe exactly the scene I am working through in my mind. It’s something I value tremendously in our collaboration, her understanding my heart and my mind and thoughtfully supporting those emotions by talking through it with me and figuring out what it is I may be trying to say.
What role do you feel music plays for people in the time of COVID-19? Has the current world situation factored into the creative process for this album and your work more broadly?
R: Music feels like a reflection of your reality, whether that’s political or personal, and we try to write to honor those feelings with a hope in connecting with others along the way. I think a lot of this record was honestly about connecting Gracie and I together in our sphere. In our very involved working-living partnership I think we needed these songs to be gentle listeners, to help express ourselves and give us strength and perspective when our insular reality was closing in on us. So perhaps, during a time of isolation, other people are experiencing some of that same kind of discomfort or anxiety in their spaces that we have faced in ours. And maybe these songs, these notes to ourselves, will give them strength in that discomfort or help them feel a little less alone.
I remain really moved by your 2018 video release ‘HER’. As female artists, how do you tackle feminist and gender issues in your work?
G: That’s so lovely to hear! So glad that piece resonated with you. As women in this industry, or in any industry really, we feel inspired by those who come forward and are able to be brave when the odds are against them. As musicians, it can be exhausting to walk into venues and have sound engineers tell you how you should sound when you’ve been crafting your sound for years, so we’ve just been working on taking back the control where we can, educating ourselves and supporting one another when it’s time to stick it to the man. Rachel has been really inspiring to me in her producer roles for this album and I’m so grateful to her for how much she’s conquered in that world. We were getting so tired of other producers telling us how we should sound, so Rachel upgraded her Ableton program and got to work.
What else do we have to look forward to from you in the future?
R: More B-sides, more sonic and visual experimentations, more worries to work through probably!
G: The future is so uncertain right now that telling you what you can look forward to or plan to see from us would likely only cause you to stop trusting us. May we keep making art, keep listening, and keep exploring the unknown.