As of last weekend, Brisbane’s Sewell family had a staggering 30% hold on the top ten singles chart here in Australia.
Conrad was responsible for two of those entries – the Kygo track ‘Firestone’ and his own former number one ‘Start Again’ – but it was his little sister Grace who claimed the No.1 throne first, with her rendition of the Leslie Gore ’60s anthem ‘You Don’t Own Me’.
With the platinum smash now under her belt and an impressive just-released EP, we sat down for a face to face with the singer and discovered a young woman with her finger firmly on her career trigger. She begins by telling us how she ended up here.
“I fell in love with music from a really young age,” Grace reveals. “My brother is a singer and my grandparents were singers, so I have a family that was very immersed in music. I started writing when I was 11 or 12, I signed my first publishing deal at 14, met my manager through my publisher at the time and spent 14 to 17 developing.
“I was still in school, so I was having to deal with both. I was growing as an artist, writing music and figuring out what I wanted to say and be. All of that fun stuff.
“Then when I was 17, I wrote a song called ‘Boyfriend Jeans’, which is the last song on the new EP. It was this scratched little demo I recorded in my bedroom on GarageBand. It was once of those instances where something shitty happens and you call your friend over to debrief and have a therapy session. And we ended up writing a song from it.
“So I recorded this demo and sent it off to my manager and he sent the demo off to five record labels in the States and within a week I was there showcasing for all of them. Then around the time of my 17th birthday, Sony RCA was the last label we saw. They were amazing and felt right, so we signed with them.”
It was around that time that Grace’s manager introduced her to an impossibly talented and rather legendary music business friend… producer Quincy Jones.
“They’ve been friends for a long time,” Grace reveals. “One day they were at his house chilling and playing records. He was playing Quincy some of my music and he heard a couple of songs and they decided that we should remake one of his classics.
“They were discussing which one and Quincy said that we should do Leslie Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’. Because Leslie was 17 at the time when she recorded it and it’s this timeless sort of song, he just thought it was a message that needed to be retold for this generation and that I would be a good voice for it.”
She tells us that the first version was recorded “about a year ago” and that, after plenty of to-ing and fro-ing and the subsequent addition of G-Eazy’s verse, they finally arrived at a place where everyone was happy.
“And then when Leslie sadly passed away in February, Quincy literally jumped on the phone and said that we had to put it out immediately as a tribute. The label moved within a week and it was out.”
Channel 9 here in Australia subsequently picked the track up to use as part of a sync in TV advertisements for their hit drama series ‘Love Child’, helping to propel the track firstly into the charts… and then ultimately to the top of it.
“I was in Atlanta. It was 12 o’clock at night and I was literally getting ready to go to bed and I got a phone call from Sony and they said, ‘it’s top secret, but this happened’. One of my friends from Australia was there and we were jumping around the house screaming and dancing for about 20 minutes.
“It still doesn’t even feel like it’s happened, so I’m waiting for that moment when it sinks in.”
As mentioned above, Grace is in good company these days too, with her older brother Conrad also recently claiming the No.1 mantle on the Aussie singles chart. We ask her if there may have been any sibling rivalry – or even a bet to see who could make it to the top first. She laughs.
“He’s doing incredibly well, which I’m so happy about,” she enthuses. “I’m his baby sister. If we were closer in age, maybe it would be more competitive, but for now it’s more of a protective thing. We’ve always been each others’ biggest fans and we’re both very supportive when it comes to the music, because it’s a rare situation. So it’s nice to have someone who you’re so close to go through the journey with you.”
Given the success of ‘You Don’t Own Me’ and the sudden appearance of Grace on our pop radar, Sony decided to strike while interest was high, releasing the singer’s ‘Memo’ EP. We ask whether the success of the single forced her to alter her plans for her originals.
“Yes and no. ‘You Don’t Own Me’ was the first thing to release, then people wanted more music, so the EP came shortly after. If anything, it helped push things alone. It’s not really altered any plans. We kinda just put it out there and thought, ‘let’s see what it does’.”
And the ‘Memo’ EP impresses, with a handful of beautifully produced, soul-filled R&B/pop nuggets that show a maturity beyond Grace’s tender years.
“‘Memo’ was a collection of songs from around 16 to 18. It’s like a combination of the music that I love. The running theme is that I’m growing up. It’s about having a crush on someone, mucking around and not listening to your parents sometimes, just being a kid. I’m still very young and have a lot to learn.
“So it’s just fun. It’s very youthful. It was more about me crafting a sound and getting what I’m influenced by into five songs. So it was amazing. All of them were created in a little studio basement in Atlanta. I have a studio house out there.”
Yes, folks… Grace has a studio house. As you do.
“It’s not a glamorous studio house,” she quickly qualifies. “The studio is in the basement… It’s not what you think it is. It’s very organic. So yes, these five songs, everyone else has heard and we all think are really cool, so I’ve finally figured out what I want my music to sound like and now the world can hear it too.”
Naturally, talk quickly shifts towards the inevitable debut album, which Grace hopes we’ll see before the end of the year. She reveals she’ll once again be working with Parker Ighile, who was responsible for most of the EP, along with some other big names.
“I’m doing some songs with Fraser T Smith, who did Adele’s ‘Set Fire To The Rain’, among other amazing songs. We’ve got a couple of tracks together. A couple of producers out of LA, Rio…
“For the album I want to record a bunch of songs and then pick my favourites. I’m doing a bunch of sessions in London after I leave Australia, so we’ll see. I don’t really know what’s planned, but I think there are some good ones in there that the label has set up.”
She also tells us that the styles of music found on the ‘Memo’ EP are pretty indicative of what her debut album will sound like.
“My influences are always going to be the same. I’m always going to listen to the same music and be inspired by the same artists and the same sounds, so it’s always going to feel like it’s got a throwback feel. My voice is probably going to mature, but I don’t think it’s going to change too much.
“Context-wise, I’m growing up, so maybe there’ll be a bit more of a serious lyrical slant to the album, but all in all I just want to make great music. So the album’s going to be a reflection of that. All the artists that I love wrote songs that had content that was meaningful and delivered it with conviction, so if I can do that throughout my career, I’ll be very happy.”
Grace’s single ‘You Don’t Own Me’ and the ‘Memo’ EP from which it’s lifted are both available now.