What is “real” music? For Texas based artist David Grace that question can’t be answered by a simple explanation, but with a melody of country-fried, R&B infused experiences.
Battalion Life & Arts writer Hollis Mills sat down with Grace to discuss the influences on his latest album, therapeutic recording sessions and new-wave country.
Your latest album, “The David Grace Project”, is defined as a “distinctive blend of classic soul and rugged country creedence.” With each song having its own unique intricacies, how did you narrow down your sound?
“When people ask me what kind of music I play, obviously it’s soul music. It’s from the heart and all the songs are pretty much from personal experience type things. As far as creating sound, I grew up on traditional country--’70s, ‘80s, and a little bit of ‘90s--but I also listened to a lot of R&B when I was young. That’s kind of where I created it. I started playing when I was about--well I’ve been playing professionally for about 11 years now, and when I first started playing I was doing some country. I’ve always had an R&B voice, so I started listening to more Blues type stuff. It’s just kind of been all over the place for the last couple of years.”
Being from Texas, there were a lot of Texas-born country artists you could draw inspiration from, but what’s interesting about your upbringing is both of your parents have musical backgrounds as well. How did they influence your path?
“I didn’t start singing until I was about 20 years old. I was just real big on sports. I played college football and all that stuff, and my dad tried to get me in music by the jump but sports was a big influence on my life when I first started. I always loved music, though, I always loved being around it. My dad was in a band for 30-plus years and I loved going to his shows and watching him play.
Influence wise, my dad is probably my biggest influence. He’s a fantastic guitar player, songwriter--he’s written a lot of great songs. Actually, I put one of his songs on the record, ‘Better Late than Never.’ That was actually one of the first songs we ever co-wrote, as well. He can play pretty much anything with strings.
My mom, she’s been singing since she was a little kid, but she didn’t go out and sing. Mostly just in church and weddings, but she loves to sing. She’s very, very good at it, and she’s a big influence on me. You really can hear her vocals inside of mine, because she has a really powerful voice. In church, they usually don’t give her a mic because she’s so damn loud.”
We’re always so quick to ask artists about their inspirations and favorite musicians growing up, but which artist do you think is changing the country-scene today?
“Man, I’m not going to lie to you. I really don’t listen to much country radio or any style of it on any basis. On a national scale it’s just so broad. I think it’s more pop tracks and not a lot of real music out there anymore. I think it’s much more of a popularity contest, but I would say my favorite artist that’s out there on national radio today is Chris Stapleton. Yeah, I like him a lot. He just has real songs.”
I entirely understand where you’re coming from. If I can recommend an antidote to that Luke Bryan pop-country scene, it would be Colter Wall. He’s originally from Canada, but if he doesn’t sing like he understands the world.
“Yeah man, I’m a fan of real songs. Just like you said, the whole Luke Bryan phase, I can’t get into it. I’m not saying those guys aren't talented, they are given how their careers are going, but it’s just not my cup of tea. Obviously a lot of people like it, but I’m just not one of those people, you know?”
Your work on the latest album is the culmination of a decades worth of singing and songwriting, but it was also crafted in the “aftermath” of a really tough year for you. What does it feel like to see those worries subside with the release of this album?
“I had a major breakdown for a while. In my educational background I got a bachelor’s in psychology, so I realized what was going on. It was a crazy feeling and I’d never felt like that before. It was an everyday struggle, but it’s obviously gotten much better. I finally got the record started with a little backing to get it going. It just really come together. I think it’s by far my best record I’ve ever put out. Compared to my first album I put out in 2010, it’s black and white. It definitely helped me get through the hard times. Working on the record and playing music, doing the shows and creating this music, it was definitely a therapy and it all came around.
Things happen, you make bad decisions, you make good decisions. You just gotta keep moving forward.”