She is beauty, she is Grace. Grace Gardner, that is.
On a returning flight from New York City, I heard the crisp vocals, cathartic lyrics, and beautiful storytelling that Gardner’s music embodies for the first time. Days later, on a Zoom conference, the doe eyed singer-songwriter told me and other writers about the origins of her music journey, how she copes with heartbreak, what inspires her, and the process of completing her first EP, “Peach.”
The title for Gardner’s debut EP has ties that reference back to her home state of Texas, and the peaches that grow in the area she was raised in.
“I grew up in rural Texas, and a few hours away in Fredericksburg, which is just outside of Austin and San Antonio, they’re famous for peaches,” Gardner said. “I was raised to think these peaches are God's nectar — they're amazing. So, peaches were always my favorite fruit. I would wait every spring and summer, and we would go and get so many peaches. They were just a central part of my childhood.”
Bong Joon-ho’s film, “Parasite,” was also an inspiration for the fruit-titled EP, as they were a symbol or bad omen of what was to come. With themes like heartbreak and love lost throughout the EP, the title is very fitting. Not to mention, a very special reference Gardner made sure to make us aware of.
“It's also the name of my ex’s cat,” she stated.
An ex who resided in a place that Gardner called home for three years, New Orleans. Spending time in New Orleans gave Gardner inspiration and insight into the jazz music scene that has continued to flourish in the city for many years. The apartment that she lived in even had a jazz bar on the first floor that Gardner would visit frequently.
“Watching those performers play their instruments with so much intention, with their eyes closed. They know exactly what they're doing,” she said. “It's just so beautiful to watch, and being exposed to that so much, I was so inspired by that intentionality.”
The intentionality and passion in Gardner's music is illustrated with lyrics like, “I’ve got a death grip on someday / maybe it's got me the other way around / do me a favor and let me down,” from her song “Deny Me.” The music video for the track brings the vision to life in 3D with somber shades of blue and gray coloring, rainy weather, and, of course, peaches.
The song is one of four on her EP. The other tracks are as titled: “Parcel,” “Designated Driver,” and “Acrobatics.”
The title for “Parcel” comes from an experience Gardner had with a past lover.
“I had written it in August, I had just moved to Austin from New Orleans, and the person that it is about was mailing me the rest of my stuff,” she explained.
Gardner will be touring with Adam Melchor and Hans Williams beginning in March. Of the songs on her EP, “Parcel” is what she is looking forward to performing live the most.
“It's just so fun to play live!”
Listeners can expect to hear jazz influence from her time in The Big Easy. Additionally, “Parcel” and “Deny Me” have beautiful picking instrumentals and string instruments to make for a cinematic listening experience.
The production process encompassed a lot of alone time for Gardner. She created the four-track EP alone at a desk in her room, where she ruminated on the heavy feelings that came along with her songwriting. Even while working with collaborators on the EP, everything was done remotely, and because of this, Gardner is looking forward to the in-person collaboration for her album.
For Gardner, this EP explores themes of unrequited love and heartbreak that she was facing while creating it — and not just romantically.
“It's not healing and recovery. It's kind of a processing project,” she said. “I think, for me, unrequited love is a big part of it. Unrequited love in multiple ways. It shows up in the album both romantically and platonically speaking, because I do have another song on the EP that's called ‘Designated Driver.’ That's a friend breakup song, which hurt me more than any real breakup.”
She also felt that the songs she wrote while creating the album connected the vagueness of what she was feeling, self sabotaging behaviors, and an understanding of her emotions at the time.
A last minute creation was her favorite part of making the EP.
“My friend and I were just messing around and we had no inspiration,” Gardner said. “I just kind of started ranting about something I was feeling about not having closure with somebody, and the whole situationship thing — mental gymnastics, yada yada yada. It was three days before my EP was due, and we just hammered it out. We wrote, produced, and mixed everything in like eight hours.”
Even as a child, Gardner used the art of songwriting as a processing tool, to understand her emotions. Now, she even uses it to understand others' emotions.
“When writing from other people's perspectives, I’m using songwriting really as a tool to just gain understanding about the things around me,” Gardner said.
Speaking of people surrounding Garnder, fans who come to the shows might have the chance to hear a surprise rendition of an ’80s classic from Gardner if they’re lucky.
“I had this cover of ‘Jessie's Girl’ on my setlist, it was like an acoustic gay yearning version. A lot of people, including my dad, really loved it. So, I'm really excited to do that one again...I think I'm gonna keep that one,” Gardner said.
Throughout her life, Gardner has learned to play not one or two instruments, but 10. Growing up, many of her family members were “music hobbyists” as she calls it, so this helped her learn how to play new instruments. Her family's music taste also influenced her, and continues to. She grew up listening to ’70s and ’80s music, and her dad loved KT Tunstall.
“I take a lot of inspiration from her,” she explained. “A lot of her music is made solely from loop pedals, which I think is really cool.”
Eventually, Gardner started exploring her own music tastes, and began listening to Lucy Dacus and Taylor Swift. She admires songwriters such as Lizzy McAlpine and Jensen McRae.
“I love Alison Pontiac because she and I are from neighboring small towns between Dallas and Fort Worth. I really love her music, but that connects us I think to an extra degree, because there's so many people to be inspired by,” she explained. “There are so many sounds that people are fusing together. I just love being surrounded by so much. I think some people view music as an echo chamber, and it can feel like one sometimes, but it's so nice to just be surrounded by it.”