Gracie and Rachel, Orchestral Pop Duo: Piano, Violin & Fierce, Haunting Vocals – Oh My!

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I listened to the music of orchestral pop duo Gracie and Rachel before I read their pre-publication interview. It was the middle of a weekday and my brain was on work mode autopilot, operating my mental hamster wheel of calendar invites, conference calls and emails.

I saw a new Slack message come in from someone on my team. It was a link to “Don’t Know”, one of the songs off of Gracie and Rachel’s self-titled debut album. “Hey”, the message read, “Listen to this and let me know what you think.” It sounded innocent enough.

*Click*. A mere 20 seconds later, the music contained in that link had teleported me far, far away from my here-and-now to-do list. There I was, floating along in the deep, reflective-thinking part of my brain that is usually reserved only for staring at a night sky full of stars and other activities of that nature.

“Who do I think I am?” I found myself pondering on the northwest corner of 10th Street & 5th Ave (and yes, as cliché as it sounds, I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Gracie and Rachel’s music). “Maybe I am, in fact, just a nobody, posing as a someone.” (Listen to their song, “Only a Child”, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

I have heard Gracie and Rachel described as a study in the beauty of duality, and their interview with Like a Boss Girls was no exception. Their responses to our questions were such a juxtaposition to the serious themes written into their music – anxiety, self-doubt, mortality – that they totally threw me off my game. To my surprise (and delight), Gracie and Rachel’s interview was playful, self-deprecating and made me laugh out loud several times.

My experience with Gracie and Rachel seems to be fairly universal — I am just another audience member, knocked on my ass by the disarming complexity of Gracie and Rachel, as both humans and artists alike. It is clear that they possess a distinct emotional intelligence that lends itself well to artistic expression. In the end, it is Gracie and Rachel’s ninja-caliber ability to carry their audience through a wide-ranging emotional journey that — I can testify — will leave you hooked and wanting more.

The following interview is the first in our Steereo Featured Artist Series.

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Names: Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles

Band Name: Gracie and Rachel

Based in: Brooklyn, New York

Originally from: Berkeley, California

LET’S START WITH A WARM-UP ROUND OF QUESTIONS!

Your superpower: Power in contrast! Classical meets contemporary, yin and yang unite.

Biggest pet peeve:

R: When people walk slowly in crowds.

G: When people walk quickly in crowds.

Favorite 90s jam: “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child

What are some of your hobbies outside of music?

Rachel cooks vegan meals, does the yoga thing, and makes holistic potions, and Gracie likes to draw, write poetry, and dance around.

If money wasn’t an issue, what would you love to splurge on (something totally impractical & just for you)?

R: Thousands of black violins.

G: Thousands of white pianos.

What is a quote or piece of advice that you try to live by?

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt

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Gracie and Rachel recording “Only a Child” at Paste Studios in NYC. (Photo: Paste Magazine)

NOW, SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR MUSIC!

Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?

We both started playing our instruments at very young ages and didn’t really see the world without sound at our fingertips. Rachel remembers dropping her violin when she was six and never wanting to do that again, and Gracie recalls throwing up after her first recital, so as you can imagine, we were destined for the job.

How would you describe your sound?

Cinematic, orchestral, chamber, baroque-pop. To put it simply.

What are the main themes or topics in your songs?

Anxiety. Self-doubt. Mortality. Those kinds of cheery themes.

As a whole, what is the message your hope to put forth with your music?

We hope to empower those dealing with anxiety, self-doubt, hopelessness. We aim to inspire people to combine ideas and sounds they wouldn’t maybe think they should.

How did you meet one another?

We met in high school in Berkeley, California in a dance class where we were set up in a sort of arranged marriage to create the music for a dance. Then we ended up digging the sounds we were making and being like, “Ok, let’s do this NOT on assignment.”

Who are some of your favorite artists/which artists are your greatest musical inspiration?

Agnes Obel, Anohni, Erik Satie, Yann Tiersen, Olafur Arnalds, My Brightest Diamond.

Who would be your dream artist to collaborate with in the future?

Missy Mazzoli (composer, arranger)

How do you feel your music evolved since you first started as a group or solo artist?

Well. Our arrangement used to just be simply piano, violin and voice, and now we have incorporated timpani-like drums, electronic pad elements, live layering, and dissonant harmonies.

Do you play any instruments, and if so, which ones?

G: Piano and voice!

R: Violin and voice!

Who writes your songs?

We do!

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What do you do or where do you go when you need to find inspiration for your music?

Go on walks with our headphones, listen to old voice memos and see what they muster in us. We also go to the club where we make mistakes that we can write about later. We call this the “inspiration zone”.

What is a project you’re currently working on that you are most excited about?

Record number two, baby!

What has been one of your favorite performances of all time?

Recently we played Bloomington, Indiana at Buskirk-Chumley Theater opening for Ani DiFranco and not only was the theater space magical and gorgeous but the energy in the room and on stage was especially electrifying. We were sweatier than ever coming off of stage in the best of ways. Our favorite performance to date!

What stands out as one of your worst/most horrifying performances of all time?

Also on the Ani DiFranco tour, our audio wasn’t sending to our ears correctly so we lost all sound on stage and had to basically play the entire show guessing and hoping that we were playing the right notes at the right time. It was… horrible.

What is one thing that you have accomplished as a musician that you’re most proud of?

Our NPR Tiny Desk Concert was a pretty sweet experience. Nerve-wracking and surreal, but sweet.

Share a story of a time you screwed up in your musical career and how you recovered:

R: We’re actually perfect. Never messed up ever… Just kidding. There are probably too many to count.

G: Recently in the middle of an anticipated NPR showcase at SXSW, my voice cracked pretty hardcore during the chorus so the second time I sang the chorus I made my voice crack again on purpose to make it seem intentional. Whether or not it was effective is still up for debate.

What (in your opinion) is one of the greatest challenges facing your industry today?

Equal representation for men and women and payment for musicians in general.

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Are there any resources you have discovered that have been an asset to you as a musician that you’d like to share?

YouTube has been extremely useful to us in tackling Ableton and other musical toys. We also like the resources ‘money’ and ‘food’. Those definitely are assets to us as musicians.

Were there any other band names that you almost chose instead? And if so, please share!

Grachel. But not really, no.

If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you’d be doing for a career?

Rachel would be a chef of her own restaurant, and Gracie would be a hype dancer.

Where can people go to download your music and find more information on your music, tour schedule, etc?

Spotify! iTunes! Amazon

Anything else we haven’t asked about that you’d like to add?

Think we got it all! Thanks for everything, Steereo!

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Follow Gracie and Rachel: Website + Tour ScheduleInstagram / Twitter / Facebook

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