Celtic music

Quick Q and A with Grace Morrison

Grace Morrison has been on my own personal radar for some time now. I vividly recall her opening set for someone at Club Passim. Isn’t that something? I can’t even recall who she opened for but it was her music that I took home in my heart. I feel like I’ve been watching a beautiful flower blossom over the years and Grace has come into her own self. It’s been an amazing journey for a once shy Cape Cod young girl to a married mom, musician and music educator. Grace’s music gives the listener a real taste treat — a musical smorgasbord of sounds.

Check out her music on her website.

Here’s a video of Grace singing the title song of her latest album, ‘Reasons.”

Your bio begins with a bang: you were a backup singer for the late great Eddie Money as well as Joey Molland from Badfinger.  Hold on!  Really?  Let me first skip a bit backward for a tiny bit and we’ll get back to your backup singing days.  
Tell me first, when did music start making you take notice?

I often respond to this question with “When I discovered the band Hanson!”  But I actually can remember first being moved by a song when I was 7.  I had a cassette tape which featured Psalty  (I’ve included the picture because his 90s style amuses me)–a singing hymnal who gave the history of the hymns.  Fanny Crosby was a female hymnist featured on the tape, and I would sing my heart out to those hymns.  One time I wanted to make a point to a neighbor friend and I found the perfect song on that tape to tell her how I was feeling.  So I got an extension cord, put my boombox on the lawn, turned the volume up to 10 and played that song over and over hoping she’d hear it and understand my feelings.  It took me a few more years to realize that I could make music that moved people too. 

Tell us about your own music education. Did you take lessons when you were young?

I did!  I struggled with an inordinate amount of shyness, and soccer didn’t work out for me because there were other kids involved.  But piano lessons with one adult were right up my alley.  I started when I was 5.  I have a Bachelor of Arts (in music) and am a licensed music teacher as well

When did you make the jump to performing on stage and writing your own music?

Ok here’s the Hanson part.  I had had some Hanson songs stuck in my head.  I was on a walk one day singing one of them and suddenly thought “hey, I can do that too”.  I went home and wrote my first (albeit not great) song.  I’m pretty sure it was about a bird flying.  Every artist needs a bird flying song, right?  I played at the next school talent show and haven’t stopped since. 

Was it around this time that you became a backup singer? (promised I’d get back to that!). What’s it like being a backup singer for musicians with some pretty amazing hit songs?

Those were such cool experiences.  I was offered a spot on a fundraiser tour the September after I graduated high school, so I deferred my college acceptance and hit the road!  The most exciting part for teenage me was living on an actual tour bus.  I think the bus driver said that he had just finished a run with the band Lit (remember that song “My Own Worst Enemy”?  Sorry if it’s  stuck in your head for the rest of the day) so I was pretty over the moon.  I’m slightly embarrassed to tell you that I was blissfully unaware of just how famous some of the other musicians on that tour were.  I knew Badfinger because “Now and Then” is my favorite movie and they’re on the soundtrack.  And I knew Chris Slade because was the drummer for ACDC.  But when I was sitting next to Carmine Appice I had no clue that he had written “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”.  Looking back I’m glad I was clueless because I could just play it “cool”.  If I were in that position now I’m not so sure I’d be “cool”.  (singing backup for Eddie Money was a lesson in how to lead a band.  I’m eternally grateful to Rock 4 Xmas for giving me those opportunities)

Your music touches on a variety of different musical genres ranging from folk to country to roots.  Do your musical inspirations fall under all those genres?

They sure do.  My dad and I used to listen to Fats Domino, my brother and I listened to Janis Joplin, working at a Renaissance Faire forever tied Celtic music to my being.  I’ve found that to be a blessing and a curse because I don’t always fit into the folk venues where singer-songwriters typically perform.  I often feel like a big, loud elephant in rooms that want to be quiet.  But man, sometimes that inner Janis has just gotta belt.  

Do you have a musical hero that we would all be surprised to hear about?

I, like many people I hope, had a very brief but passionate love of punk rock.  I cut my hair, dyed it blue and used Elmer’s glue to spike it.  And I loved Rancid…..the band.

Your music life blossomed down in old Cape Cod.  What is the music scene like there?

It’s really beautiful.  The Cape-based singer-songwriters that I know all support one another. And we have a lovely patron in Betsy Siggins (founding member of Club 47 and founder of FOLK New England). 

You’ve recorded four albums. Do you like the experience of being in the studio? With so many albums under your belt, what kind of advice would you give to aspiring recording artists?  Do you recommend having a firm vision of each and every song or being open to others who are participating in the process with you?

I’ve recorded two what I would call studio albums (I have a live CD and one older one which was the first….let’s call that one a learning experience).  My biggest piece of advice for someone going into the studio for the first time is to make sure you can play those songs backwards and forward.  Practice with your metronome and make sure you can play your parts individually (ie play the guitar without singing the song).  It’s an expensive practice session otherwise.  Beyond that, have a producer whose work you’ve heard and love, whom you trust.  I’ve gone into the studio with what I thought was a clear idea of where the song wanted to sit and found that as we built it and added parts it was a whole new being.  And that’s ok too.  Part of the joy of the recording process is watching your baby song become its own person.  Kind of like watching your baby person become their own person, which leads us to your next question.

What’s your songwriting routine like? Do you carve time out of your schedule to devote to writing? Now that you’re a mother, it must be pretty challenging!  

Challenging. Yes, that is the answer.  In the past I’ve written when I “felt” I had a song.  Now, I have to write when the time presents itself to me.  I had the good fortune (because of Betsy Siggins) to write with Lori McKenna.  We talked about the idea of writing when “the creative window is open”, which she did not subscribe to.  That has been immensely helpful to me, and I’ve realized that writing–although it sometimes feels magical…and you do have those magical songs that just seem to appear–isn’t always magical.  It’s something you can work and sweat and fight for too.  And that is what my songwriting routine is like now…mostly. 

How are coping with the current COVID crisis and how are you incorporating a healthy balance between home life and your music career?

The COVID crisis was a real whollop.  I was supposed to be on tour from April-June from Canada to Florida. So I, like so many touring musicians had to completely reconfigure at least an entire years worth of touring.   I’m not entirely sure I’ve discovered a healthy balance, but I HAVE learned how to record in my basement.  Being able to self produce has reignited a fire in me, and that is the truth. There’s something really special about creating a song all the way around.