Grace Morrison has spent most of her musical career seeking refuge from the spotlight. Whether it was singing backup for rock icons like Eddie Money and Joey Molland (of the band Badfinger), or trying to blend in with various bandmates, being the center of attention has never been comfortable for her. Fast forward to 2020, and just like for most of us, a lot of time was spent deciding what she really wanted after being told what she couldn’t do – in her case, play music for people.
With her new album, Daughter, Morrison establishes herself as a confident, refreshing voice in country-pop. The 12-song collection is certain to find favor with fans of the storytelling and delivery of Jewel and Lisa Loeb, as well as with those who enjoy singing along with Boyz II Men on their car stereo.
“The thing about this record that keeps making me chuckle is that the idea started as ‘Let’s make a 5 song stripped-down EP….really reinvent myself; but it turned into a fully-produced 15 song too long record, and wound up as 12 country songs.”
While self-awareness and identity is hardly a new topic for a songwriter to explore, Morrison displays an ability to embody a number of characters over the course of Daughter, from that of the title track, to loner, to confidant, to partier, to the restless rambler seeking an escape from small-town life, and finally, to mother. Throughout, country-tinged embellishments provide a perfect balance to Morrison’s crystal clear vocals, with pedal steel courtesy of Austin City Limits Hall of Famer Lloyd Maines (father of Natalie Maines of The Chicks).
“When Philly Folk Fest went virtual, they made the website look like festival grounds. Imagine my delight when Lloyd Maines performed on the same virtual stage I was playing. At this point the plan was still the 5 song EP thing, but in the back of my mind I knew someday I’d want pedal steel on an album and wouldn’t it be neat to have Lloyd play on one of my records someday? So, I wrote him an email not really expecting to hear anything – but he wrote back. And he was excited to play on my record. I suppose the lesson is that you don’t get what you don’t ask for!” laughs Morrison.
But Maines wasn’t the only high profile musician who jumped on board to help. Jon Evans, who boasts an impressive list of credits, including Linda Perry, Tori Amos, Paula Cole, Chris Cornell, and Sarah McLachlan, among others) signed up to produce the album and play guitar.
“My first concert was the Tori Amos/Alanis Morrisette 5 ½ weeks tour. I remember sitting there thinking, “Someday I’m going to be onstage with those people.” My favorite thing about this record is that my producer WAS on that stage. He’s Tori’s bass player. Full circle!”
One would be remiss if they didn’t also give the drummer some credit, as Matthias Bossi (John Vanderslice, St. Vincent, Pretty Lights, The Tiger Lillies) puts on a subtle but jaw-dropping show, particularly on the nostalgic, soulful “Alice.”
Morrison tows the line between personal and carefree effortlessly, most evident in the shift from the boy-band inspired “Things You Already Know,” which has the songwriter showing appreciation for her family (“I don’t say it enough … I hope you never doubt that I’m here for the long haul”) and features finger snaps, syncopated guitar, and remarkable backing vocals from American Idol alum Teddy Mathews; to the rocking, edgy “Sloppy,” an ode to nights Morrison spent during her 20s at the local bar, downing three tacos, rice, and a pitcher of margarita for $10. Ah, college.
In stark contrast to the trend in country music that often sees a long list of songwriters contributing to a single track, Morrison is the sole writer to which all the songs on Daughter are attributed, save for the touching “Just Loving You,” which she co-wrote with Grammy winner Lori McKenna. “At 8 months pregnant I drove the 45 minutes to Lori’s house,” she recalls. “The whole car ride I was thinking, ‘play it cool Grace, just be cool.’ And let me tell you, being cool is not in my skill set,” she says, modestly. When McKenna asked what Morrison wanted to write about, she said her initial response was “anything except the baby in my belly,” but that’s naturally where they landed. “Lori helped me put my finger on the idea that the girls needed to know that their new sibling was going to love them no matter what,” Morrison, herself a stepmother to three teenage daughters, says. “That writing session changed a lot of things for me, most notably my writing style. I walked away with a new confidence in my ability to tell human stories. Lori gave me a lot of gifts that day including the springboard for this record.”
A formidable instrumentalist, Morrison capably handles far more than lead vocal duties, rocking out on electric guitar on the pulsing “Put the Bottle Down,” and playing acoustic throughout the album, as well as contributing background vocals, piano, banjo, and synth.
Morrison has won a number of prestigious awards including the Grand Prize of the New England Songwriting Competition and the WPRI Rhode Show Big Break contest where her music video was played on the season finale of American Idol. In 2019, Grace was selected to be an Official Showcase performer at the Southeast Regional Folk Alliance (TN), the Southwest Regional Folk Alliance (TX), named a finalist in the Wildflower (TX) Festival performing singer-songwriter contest, and selected to perform in the Emerging Artist Showcase at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (NY). Her sophomore solo album, Reasons, debuted at #2 on the Roots Music Report’s Top 50 Contemporary Country Airplay Chart.
With Daughter now added to her calling card, Morrison is sure to rack up more accolades, but she’s happy to have finally reached a point of self-acceptance, regardless of what may come.
“The album is about stepping into your power. It’s the reason the cover photo is me looking directly into the camera. I want it to convey “Hello world, my name is Grace Morrison!” without apology.”
Thank you for taking this interview! How has the New Year been for you so far as an artist?
Gosh, thank you for reaching out to me! It has been a GREAT year thus far. After 2ish years of not much work, I’ve already released 2 singles this year (with another one coming out next month), toured the southwest, recorded a new album, and became a finalist in 2 prestigious songwriting competitions.
Can you tell us how you've transformed from the beginning to now as an artist?
I think the biggest shift has actually come these past two years. I always wrote songs with the production in my mind (harmonies/background vocals, lead guitar parts, etc). When the pandemic hit and I could no longer play with other musicians I realized I had no songs written that could stand up with just a vocal and guitar. So I spent the entire pandemic working on that. Writing songs with clear lyrical messages and stories while maintaining my love for a good hook.
How did you come up with your latest project?
I’m not sure which project to comment on here. I keep saying I “accidentally wrote and recorded too many songs” haha. The single I released last month, “Window Watching” and the upcoming May single “The Sharpest Arrow” were actually written for my 2021 album “Daughter”. But I was doing a full PR campaign for that record, and my publicist felt like a 15 song record for a first time PR campaign might be a hard sell. So I shelved 3 songs from that…which was hard. But now I have them to release this year and they each get their own special moment in the sun. “Window Watching” is all about living through social media, and the fact that what we see on social media is rarely reality. “The Sharpest Arrow” I wrote when my son was just a few months old. During the point in new motherhood when a day you’ve brushed your teeth twice feels like a huge win.
Where are you from originally?
Born and raised in Cape Cod, MA and still hanging there!
Where do you live now?
We just got back from driving across the country. We drove from MA to AZ and back for a tour and to record a new record. And while the rest of the country is beautiful, I just couldn’t wait to get back home to MA.
Do you think where you live impacts how your music is made?
I do, in the sense that the musical community isn’t quite so large and bustling as Nashville. I’ve been spending time in Nashville to work on cowrites and I feel so fortunate I’m able to do that. Of course there are wonderful writers at home, but man it’s so easy to find writers hungry to work on something new in Nash! I feel like I get the best of both worlds bouncing back and forth between TN and MA.
What was the inspiration to make music your career?
I should manufacture a cooler answer. But in 1997 I picked up a guitar after hearing Jewel and Hanson. I remember the moment I thought “Hanson is my age. They write songs. I can do that too. Then I can marry one obviously”. I’m comforted by the knowledge that millions of us 1997 tweens intended to marry a Hanson brother and didn’t quite make the cut.
How do you want to shape your career?
The lofty goal is to be able to make a reasonable living off of my writing and performing. It strikes me as INSANE that the idea of a basic living made by writing and performing your own music is lofty. So many people, when they hear you’re a singer-songwriter come back with “oh, so you want to be famous”? When the truth is, most of us write and perform because we have to. To not follow that muse just wouldn’t work for our souls. So I’m working on building a career around music that speaks to the emotions and struggles we all face, with a group of fans I can connect with. Thankfully, because of live streaming, I’m able to do it every week!
Do you work on a tight timeline always or do you go with the flow when it comes to your music?
I treat my songwriting career as a 9-5. I get up in the morning, and head to my basement office/studio. I had the good fortune to have Lori McKenna invite me over to write with her. I asked her about writing “when you feel a song in there”, and her response was something like “no, you write because it’s your job. You show up and write”. I took that to heart, and it’s made a HUGE difference. The more you put yourself in front of a piece of paper, regardless of whether you feel like writing in that moment, the easier it becomes to get into that headspace.
How did your latest title of your music come to be?
Well I suppose I’ll talk about the new record in the works here. Last year I had the great fortune to be a finalist in the Songwriter Serenade Competition near Austin. The judges were these amazing songwriters-Kim Richey, Josh Grider, and Walt Wilkins. Something inside me felt drawn to ask Walt about the possibility of him producing a new single for me. He said, “well if you’re going to do one you may as well do 2”. But then I kept “accidentally” writing songs I loved. So then we planned to record 4. I asked my publicist if she can promote a 4 song EP, but she said 6 songs minimum (see where this is going?). And by the time we were done, we’d recorded 9. Phew. The working title is ”Maybe Modern” which was the original title of one of the songs. But it refers to the recurring thought I have “was I born in the right century”?
Is it hard to let go of the music when it is done?
No, I don’t think so. But I get this feeling of “I am a great songwriter” in the moments just after finishing a new song that I like. But within a day you start feeling like “am I even a songwriter? I can’t come up with anything”. It’s such an emotional rollercoaster.
Do you feel an emotional attachment with your music?
I think most of the songs that I LOVE that I’ve written come from feeling my feelings. I’ve written about everything from King Henry VIII to the Titanic, to my loved one’s struggle with an eating disorder. And hands down the ones I connect most with, and the ones my fans connect most with, are the ones coming from my experiences.
How would you describe your music in one word to someone who hasn't listened to it yet?
Americana/Country that feels like your best friend talking about their day.
Where do they go to listen NOW?
I’m on all the socials and streaming platforms!
www.gracemorrison.com has all the links.
What has been the best fan reaction to your music?
I hope this doesn’t sound cruel, but having an audience member come up after a show to tell me they spent parts of my show in tears because the music spoke to them. I love that we can have these human experiences together, that’s why live music is so important.
Is there anything exciting coming up for you?
I’m headed to the Songwriter Serenade Competition, coming home for two days then heading off to the Newsong LEAF competition. And the rest of my year I’ll be touring around, and planning an amazing 2023 album release and tour!
Are you performing the song anywhere LIVE?
This year I can be found in Austin, TX, Asheville, NC, Whitefish MT, and all up and down the east coast! I’m adding new tour dates every day so please check my website, join my mailing list, or tune in for one of my Monday night livestreams on my facebook and youtube pages!