British singer-songwriter Isaac Gracie on choir-boyhood and his creative process

We chat to the English musician ahead of his sold-out Beijing show

Photo: 247tickets
Twentysomething West London native Isaac Gracie first turned heads back in 2015 with 'Last Words', a brooding, dark-folk track reminiscent of Nick Drake. But upon further inspection, Gracie's real take-off as a singer began during his teenage years in the Ealing Abbey Choir. Songs From My Bedroom, his debut EP, culminated with a contract with Virgin EMI Records. Since then, his lo-fi, earnest vocals have garnered him an international fan base and a host of musical foils. An eponymous debut album arrived last year to much acclaim. Gracie is set to play Tango on April 25. Ahead of an already sold-out show, Gracie examines choir-boyhood and his creative process.

You started singing at 14 as a choirboy for the Ealing Abbey Choir. Who or what encouraged you to get involved in that group, and how did your background in choral music affect your experience as a singer-songwriter going forward?

My mum was definitely an encouraging factor. She knew that I loved to sing and thought I would enjoy having that be a part of my life. I think the choir probably became my main musical foundation. I heard and sung and rehearsed such beautiful pieces at such a young age that it conditioned me to long for the same musical nuances that made those works so beautiful.

Your lyrics have been described as deeply poetic and confessional. Did you always have a passion or knack for creative writing, or was that something you garnered through studying other musicians? What lyricist do you admire and for what reasons (you seem like a Bob Dylan guy)?

I think everything lyrical has been adopted by growing up surrounded by a family who cared about words and how they are used. My mother and brother and sister all studied English to the highest level, so I guess the value of caring about lyrics was instilled from an early age. Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan are lyrical titans. I always loved Radiohead; Thom York's melding of lyric and melody has always affected me.

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Some people have likened your vocals to Jeff Buckley, Thom Yorke and the Britpop singer Tom Chaplin (Keane). Is it validating or pressure-inducing to be put in the same league as these artists? Amid all the comparisons, is it hard to create an identity that is uniquely your own?

I'm not sure I think about that stuff too much. I think I'm just doing what I'm doing and I'm already super self-critical as it is. If I placed any true value in those comparisons, I would become all kinds of confused about myself. I just try and do my thing and am grateful and humbled that anyone might think to make those sorts of comparisons.

You recorded your debut, self-titled album isaac gracie (2018) with producer Markus Davus, who's worked previously with acts like Coldplay, Arcade Fire and Florence + The Machine. What was it like working with such an iconic producer? How would you compare your experience in the studio to your live performances?

It was a mammoth process and a real learning experience. Davus is a legend and I think I learned more about musical production in the months we made that record than I had my whole life. It was an entirely new experience for me at the time, so I'm very grateful to have had it.

This is your first time touring in China. Do you have any expectations going into your shows in Beijing and Shanghai? What are you anticipating most about the crowd, the culture, the food, etc?

Honestly, I can't wait to just get there and meet with the fans and experience the environment. It's been over a year since I initially wanted to do a show in China, and since then I've received so much beautiful support and messages hoping I would come. It's so cool that now it's finally happening. I just hope I can meet as many people as possible and really take it all in.

By Elena Robidoux

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