Gracie Abrams is ready to bare it all to the world: “I’m writing my deepest, darkest feelings down on paper”
In the best way possible, Abrams has had a whirlwind 2023. Between releasing her debut album, ‘Good Riddance’, the 23-year-old has embarked on her headline nationwide tour whilst also opening for her hero Taylor Swift on The Eras Tour. Now, during a much-needed period of rest, the star is here to tell HUNGER all about her recent successes.
I catch Gracie Abrams in a rare moment of downtime over our trans-Atlantic Zoom call. “It’s good to be doing less today,” she says with a chuckle, as one headphone sits in her ear, and the other is left dangling. Relaxation is clearly the mantra for the day, and given that she’s close to wrapping her sold-out nationwide tour and has returned from supporting Taylor Swift on ‘The Eras’ tour, it’s safe to say it’s deserved.
The 23-year-old Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter is fresh off the back of the release of her highly anticipated debut album, Good Riddance, a project that has cemented Abrams’ position as one of indie pop’s most exciting rising talents. Through a winning combination of relatability, vulnerability, and sometimes painful honesty, the singer-songwriter has quickly built up a legion of adoring fans ever since the release of her debut EP, Minor, in 2019. Gone are the days of bubble-gum-flavoured pop music; in the modern era, it seems audiences want something a little more authentic from their stars, and when it comes to Abrams, they get that in abundance.
Good Riddance doesn’t hold any punches; in fact, Abrams comes out swinging right from the gate. Album opener ‘Best’ is practically an emotional uppercut – except it’s Abrams inflicting the blow onto herself. The track sees the singer explore shortcomings in her past relationships with intense introspectiveness, setting the tone for the rest of the project’s runtime. “Used to lie to your face / 20 times in a day / it was my little strange addiction,” Abrams sings in her typically softly sung vocals over a plucky acoustic backdrop. And as the album continues, Abrams’ vulnerability only becomes more prominent. On ‘Difficult’ she alludes to her “bad decisions,” while on the sorrowful ‘Amelie,’ the vocalist reminisces on a girl who “sort of ripped me open.” Meanwhile, she’s worried about the possibility of growing apart from her family or recalling the golden days of a failed relationship that can never be fixed. And that’s just scratching the surface of Abrams’ issues.
Crafted alongside The National’s Aaron Dessner, the album’s recording process was intimate, allowing for an unfiltered peak into Abrams’ personal diary. Dessner, who’s also worked closely with Swift, became the perfect musical partner to accompany Abrams’s writing style. “He’s the best listener I’ve ever met,” says Abrams. “His empathy is so inviting for the artists he works with.” The producer-artist relationship has always been crucial, but none more so than when you’re bearing your soul on wax. And thankfully, Dessner and Abrams established a practice that would bring her most inner feelings to the surface in a way we hadn’t quite seen before.
Now, it feels as though Abrams is on a victory lap. As previously mentioned, she’s approaching the last few dates of her solo tour whilst just beginning her time alongside her musical hero Taylor Swift on the road – and is gearing up for a European tour in the fall of this year. It’s the busiest year of her life, but it’s clearly just the beginning for Abrams, and as she’s already shown, she’s more than ready for whatever the future holds. Here, Abrams discusses her love of being on the road, the intricacies of Good Riddance, and embracing her deepest, darkest feelings.
So, first of all, you’ve recently performed on your first two dates of Taylor Swift’s ‘The Eras’ Tour; what were those experiences like for you?
Abrams: It’s pretty wild, and it was hard to imagine the scale of a place like that before stepping onto the stage. But the crowd was so welcoming and kind, and I think really for me, just the knowledge that Taylor is as generous as she is to share her stage in the way that she has with me and the other openers on this tour is just a huge and constant pinch me moment. So it’s a blast, it really is. I miss it already, and I’m excited for the rest of it.
How did you feel when you found out that you were going to be on the tour?
Abrams: I didn’t know how to feel. I really didn’t. It was my end goal and dream for my entire life as long as I’ve known of her existence and as long as her songwriting has had the influence that it’s had on mine. I lost my mind and texted her complete gibberish immediately in all caps, trying to find a way to say thank you.
What were your feelings like before the shows? I imagine a lot of nerves.
Abrams: I think you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel nervous for your first time ever on a stage like that. But, I did learn from my therapist once, two years ago, that anxiety and excitement come from the same place. It’s a very similar feeling, so I think just trying to channel all of it into excitement and avoiding the anxiety. The joy is so overwhelming that it left little room for fear, which is funny and unexpected. I thought I’d be a lot more horrified than I was.
Do you have any pre-show rituals to ease the nerves?
Abrams: This was different just because it was our first time doing it, and we wanted to be as clear, quiet and almost invisible to everyone so that everyone else who runs the entire operation could do their jobs without having to think about us for even 0.5 seconds. And so we as a crew huddled in the ways that we always do and kept to ourselves, but there was lots of internal screaming.
You’re close to wrapping up your own solo tour, too; what has it been like being able to share your new music with your core audience?
Abrams: It’s the luckiest thing in the world. It’s like the community that we’ve built since I started putting music out is one that makes any city feel like home immediately. I think for me, also having had such a specific unique and fulfilling experience making the record, it feels like an extension of that. It’s not what I anticipated, really, but it is what I had hoped for in a dream world, to feel really understood by my audience. And I feel I really understand them too, and there’s this mutual respect. The kindness that they’ve shown me at all of these shows is amazing. It just feels like the shows are places where we can all feel whatever it is we need to based on whatever it is we’re going through in our personal lives. It’s a beautiful outlet.
So, would you say it’s quite a communal experience?
Abrams: I think that’s accurate. It does feel intimate to me, and obviously, the rooms we’re playing in aren’t massive, so I do feel like whenever we are in a place where I can look out and see everyone’s faces, there’s this ability to really connect that has helped me also feel closer to the music. It’s nice to have somewhere we can actively work through our feelings together.
Are there any venues that have stuck out to you or maybe somewhere you’ve always dreamt of playing that you ticked off your bucket list?
Abrams: It’s definitely all different. But Brooklyn Steel was a venue that I had always wanted to play, and that night there felt like something special was in the air. But, all the shows have had something different about them that has made each so specifically memorable. There’s no way to pick favourites, honestly, and I wish every time I’m with a new crowd, I could bring them with me to every show. Because people’s personalities really shine through at shows. I show up as myself every night. They’ve let me have this space where I don’t feel like I have to be performative in the sense that I’m hiding or pretending. Whatever’s going on in my life outside of music isn’t real. And that transparency there is really lovely, and it’s helpful when you’re on the road and playing almost every night. There’s obviously the voice in the back of your head that could turn it into, “well, you’re doing the same thing every day. How is it special?” But it does remain sacred. At least to me, but I think it’s entirely due to the crowd’s energy.
Moving on to your debut album, Good Riddance, how does it feel now it’s been around just over a month since you put it out? Have you had time to reflect on the success of it all?
Abrams: It’s been lovely, but the process of making it was so fulfilling and clarifying in terms of what works for me in the creative process. And thanks to the partner [Aaron Dessner] who I made this project with, there was something so cosmic about all of it that when it came to releasing it, I was not looking for outside validation. It’s obviously so nice to know that any single person connects with what you write and make, especially when it’s as honest and sincere as this project was; I feel relieved to know that other people feel similarly to the way that I do.
But that being said, this process has recalibrated the way that I look at success in general or expect it to show up. I don’t think it needs to be packaged in the kind of virality way that a lot of the music industry has pivoted towards over the past couple years. Especially with the influence that TikTok, for example, has on music, which is also a beautiful thing in and of itself because it is indicative of what is popular sometimes. But the way that there’s been a slow burn with this record, even though it’s only been out for a month or two, I do feel It’s being understood in the way that I hoped it might be. Our goal with this record wasn’t to make something that might have a ten-second clip that goes somewhere. I wanted it to be listened to in full and in order, and of course, the conversations that I’m having are primarily with people that come to the shows and have spent the time doing that. And yes, it is a bubble or maybe somewhat of an echo chamber, so I am aware of that as well, but I do feel relieved to know that there is even a small group of people that are digesting the record in the same way that Aaron and I did while we were making it.
How long had you been working on the record in total?
Abrams: It wasn’t that long, to be honest. I took multiple trips to Long Pond, and we would work and write for the days that I was there, but otherwise, we weren’t really making the music independent of each other. It was really special because there was a serendipity and spontaneity to it. And I think the instincts both Aaron and I have are wildly different but also aligned. I mean, my sense of time is all so screwed up after the past few years, but I think spring to fall is when we really started writing songs that we were aware would be for the album.
You just mentioned working with Aaron. What was that experience like getting to work with someone with a career such as his in such close proximity?
Abrams: I’ve been a fan of his for over a decade. I fell in love with The National when I was in middle school. And I think alongside all the work that he’s done with Taylor, he’s made such iconic work. But as soon as we met each other, there was nothing scary about him at all. He’s one of my best friends now, the least intimidating person, and the best listener I’ve ever met. His empathy is so inviting for artists who he works with; he makes it easy to just show up as yourself and work through issues in real time. It was like having a partner to solve personal life problems with, and then that bled directly into us writing songs about whatever it was we were ranting about. It was really magical. I think what he does so beautifully, which can be rare in an industry with a lot of egos, is that he listens to the story first. The way that he builds worlds around narrative, and the way that he stacks the sonic identity of the album is so in tune with the voices that he’s working with. He’s a true artist. It’s hard to describe him accurately because I always feel like I’m leaving some crucial piece out.
Obviously, introspection and vulnerability are a big part of your songwriting. Is that something you were always comfortable with from the beginning, or has that been a more recent revelation?
Abrams: I think both are true just because, obviously, the more you do anything, the better you’ll be. I expect and hope for my songwriting to evolve as I do just as a person. However, songwriting has been my outlet since I started writing at eight years old. It was a thing that I did when I had big feelings and didn’t want to talk to other people about them. It’s always been the place where I think I’ve shown up most honestly. Even though I desperately wish I could, I can’t imagine writing about anything other than my personal experiences.
Even being on this tour with Taylor the past two nights and watching her shows for the first time, she talks about folklore at one point. Her intro is about having never imagined that she could write about anything other than her own feelings, experiences and relationships. You can create these characters, and that’s something that I hope to gravitate to in the future. But it’s a beautiful thing when you talk about your own personal feelings. I intend never to stop doing that, but I know it’s complicated. Especially as you, if you’re lucky enough, grow your audience over time, and there is more exposure, it can feel more invasive. And I think that is one thing that I’ve kind of not let get to my head, and I hope I never do, but people who know you and don’t know you make assumptions about your lyrics. That can feel strange when you’re not there to contextualise every line. I think letting go of the desire to have everyone understand is a huge part of just growing thicker skin. It’s a strange thing for your personal life and your work to be so deeply intertwined.
What kind of advice would you give to a younger artist who was maybe in your position a few years ago?
Abrams: I Was listening to an interview that Phoebe Bridgers did recently where the crux of it was kind of like, don’t gaslight yourself into thinking you like someone you’re working with. I think when you’re young, and you’re starting out, especially when you are a young woman, there are so many men in this industry, period. And then there are a lot of men in this industry that claim to know everything and have done everything. Again, a lot of that is ego talking, but what she touched on is a desperation to do something again or to revive their careers and that people look at young women as potential vessels for money and to make some big splash. Listening to your gut when you don’t feel like something is right is super important. Because when I heard her talking about this the whole time, I was just like, “holy shit.” I wish I had heard that earlier because it’s just a slippery slope. It’s complicated. It’s hard when you’re young, and you’re new to anything. And there are grownups who sometimes have been working in this industry for longer than you’ve been alive, telling you a lot of bullshit. I sometimes wish that I’d asked more questions to people who I trust. I think I tried to keep little bits of information that I would get in this career early on to myself because I wanted to be in complete control of it, and I didn’t want any outside influence. I didn’t want my parents involved, I didn’t want anyone involved, and I didn’t want help. I just wanted to handle it myself, and I think I would advise any young person starting out to listen to themselves and heavily lean on those outside of this industry you love and trust who love you for you. Be really aware of the vampires who are always lurking. People are scary and don’t have your best interest at heart most of the time. And that’s just the truth.
How would a young Gracie Abrams feel about where you are right now?
Abrams: Sheer disbelief, probably, for every reason, but also mainly because when I was younger, I didn’t want to share my feelings with anybody. And yeah, it’s kind of at the core of what I do now, writing my deepest, darkest feelings down on paper. And then they leave my journal, and they’re on everybody’s devices. That part is bizarre. But I also think that there’s a kind of courage that I feel I possess now that I never did growing up. And that to me, is way more important because it’s universally applicable in every other lane in my life. So I feel like little me would probably very much look forward to getting to that place.
What can we expect from you for the rest of the year? Anything exciting you can share with us?
Abrams: I’m touring all year long, somehow with Taylor through August, which is a crazy thing to say. And then I have my UK and a European headline tour in the fall, which I’m so thrilled about. I am writing all the time, so I’m hoping, just because It’s fun for me, to get more music out this year, but that’s something that I’ve not even talked about with the label or anyone except for you just now [laughs].