It’s a dreary Wednesday evening in London when Isaac Gracie answers the phone and mistakes me for his mother.
He’s just arrived home, tired from various meetings, and is sitting down to write when I call. After being discovered on Soundcloud with a single song in 2015 his deep vibrato, paired with an aching, crooning vulnerability, has garnered him major attention. Reminiscent of a louder Keaton Henson or a young Jeff Buckley, a comparison likely to follow him for a long while, his music is emotionally potent, flooded with nostalgic romanticisation and a relatable fragility on the cusp of adulthood.
He now sits on the brink of exploding into the mainstream with his most recent single, ‘Terrified’; a full-band-re-recording of an earlier track.
On what terrifies him now he pauses before answering, “the same things that scared me back then I guess… You know, failing and failing myself, failing my family, not writing good enough songs that I’m proud of or losing my ability to write good songs.” Surrounded by these fears he’s found himself caught in the struggle of what he describes as “trying to be successful in the public eye… and trying to be successful with something that’s very personal.” His anxieties are recent though he tells me, “there’s this youthful fear that starts cropping up when you turn 21 and hijacks your life.”
For Isaac who has gone from posting bedroom-recorded-garageband-tracks on Soundcloud to signing a record deal with Virgin EMI, performing in the US and touring Europe with the likes of Angus and Julia Stone you would expect the past few years to have felt like a whirlwind yet he disagrees. “It’s both fast and slow,” he explains, the words stemming from something an ex-girlfriend once said. “Everything is moving so fast and it’s so terrifyingly new and imposing but also everything is so slow and it kind of gives you all the time in the world to think and analyse and doubt and stress,” he continues.
This time for reflection seems to have resulted in a collection of worries, “my biggest fear,” he gently divulges, “losing my ability to feel things.” Harboring an urgent need to be in touch with himself to create “rawness about the songs,” he finds himself in what he calls “a juggling act,” needing to both “disassociate from yourself in some ways like emotionally speaking… and be really emotionally present” all at the same time. “It’s difficult,” he continues, pausing for a moment, “because sometimes you have to be numb in order to stay sane.”
Isaac Gracie’s latest EP, The Death of You and I, sees him backed by a full-band, adding a fierce and engaging energy to his music. “I always knew that I wanted to be with a band,” he explains with enthusiasm, “I’ve always loved the concept of doing it with other players and being at the front of that picture so it’s really nice to actually finally land in the position where I’m able to do that. I’ve never been in a band in my life but I always wanted to be so now it’s at the point where I get to play with some amazing players who are just so talented and it’s quite a lucky, fortunate position to be in so I’m really happy with that”.
There’s such a humbleness to his nature which shows itself entwined within his music as a raw honesty he is still trying to keep hold of. “I still write in the same way, it’s just I feel a lot less. It’s much more of a neurotic process now,” he says, pausing. “It’s harder to write something I feel proud of now, because I’m more aware of trying to please and that’s never good.” His way of writing hasn’t changed though as he laughs; “it’s the same plan I had when I used to write songs when I was 16 or whatever, just in the evening, get a bit drunk and throw some shit at the wall.”
Whilst many of his songs are written about a lover, he laughs when I ask if a song has ever been written about him. “Oh dude no, it sucks!” He jokes, “no one’s ever written a song about me, man, what the fuck’s up with that?” At the top of his list of inspiring female musicians he names Angel Olsen, Stevie Bridges, Aldous Harding, musing “I just hear how beautiful the songs they write are and I’m like wow, it’d be amazing to be in love with someone and for them to write such beautiful things. Like, not even if they’re positive or if they’re negative like just such beautiful things about your relationship, like the weight and importance of that… when I hear those things I’m like fuck! It’s a proud thing to be able to be a muse I guess of someone with such talent and artistry.”
The next year looks to be a busy one but Isaac has few expectations. “If I set a goal for myself in so far as some achievement then I might just be depressed if I don’t achieve it… so far as I’m concerned with music it’s just I’d like people to enjoy it and respect it and it to be received by as many people as possible”. He’d be content, he tells me, “If I felt like I was doing it justice and people were hearing me and understanding me or whatever and it meant something to someone… I have no big achievement thing which doesn’t mean I won’t work really hard but it is what it is, I can’t force these things so I’ve got to let them be what they are.”
With a tour across the UK and Europe awaiting him and a debut album due in the spring it’s sure to be a wild year for the young singer-songwriter – and maybe he’ll finally inspire a song, who knows?
Words by Amy Albinson