Gracie Laboy is a singer/songwriter, originally from Washington DC, but now based in Los Angeles. Lisa met up with Gracie on 26 January, Grammys Day, right in the middle of Hollywood, at Hollywood and Highland, quite literally above where the Academy Awards were held the following week.
We are in Hollywood! Literally in Hollywood right now! The El Capitan is across the road, where Jimmy Kimmel Live is recorded, and I’m talking to Gracie Laboy. It’s a very exotic sounding name! What is the Gracie Laboy Story?
I’m from Washington DC, I’m a new artist, I recently started writing songs, and I’m trying to get into pop/RnB with Latin influences…
Are you Latinx?
Yes! I’m Puerto Rican – my last name Laboy is Puerto Rican. I’ve been really inspired by Latin music as pop music has been taking off, they’ve been doing some awesomely innovative things with it.
I have a classical background – it’s not what I’m doing right now, but I love all types of music, I grew up singing in choirs, and doing musical theatre. I then went to Berklee College Of Music for my Masters Degree and started songwriting there.
What are your biggest inspirations in life, and in music?
I would say my parents, in life, just because of how supportive of what I do. Support is not always easy to find, and I live far away from them, they’re still in DC…
My next question was going to be, are they down here…
They’re still in DC, but my brother is in San Francisco, so a little bit closer. My Dad has a cool story, he grew up in a pretty poor family and made a life for himself working really hard and gives back a lot, which is something which I try to do as well.
My biggest inspiration musically, probably two people – Lady Gaga would be one for me, because she’s such a versatile singer, and it’s been really cool to see her come up, being a pop star, then touring with Tony Bennett, that was really incredible. I’ve just seen her residency in Las Vegas, she did two completely different shows, one jazz and one pop, so that was amazing. My other inspiration would be Amy Winehouse, I have so much love for her, I just love her lyrics; she was a really complicated person, I feel like looking at her from the outside you would never have known she had all those feelings…
…and then she died!
And she was one of those people, she didn’t have the most beautiful voice, but it was sort of raw…
…so much soul…passion…
I love to cover her songs! She’s amazing.
You’ve told us a bit about your classical background – do you play instruments as well?
I actually don’t play any instrument very well – I dabble in keyboard…I can read music, but I’m not that good – I’m trying to get better at it.
What is your most memorable experience so far in your musical career?
Last night was a really great time for me. I put on a show in my apartment – kind of like a Sofar Sounds kind of thing – my apartment complex has a big beautiful rooftop, really nice views of downtown, and I produced an event last night, the first time I had done it, but it was me and four other acts performing 30 minute sets, two hours of live music – a lot more people came than I thought were going to come, and they really enjoyed it, and were like, “when’s the next one” – I really like intimate settings like that. It was really cool. I just moved to LA almost a year ago, and LA is a bit of an overwhelming city at times, and I am just starting to perform my original work, so it was a special moment to see people enjoying it.
Did you feel, doing that, like, “I’m here now”, it justifies you being here?
Yes! Last year was a rough year for me, so it feels really good to be performing, it’s why I moved here!
What do you miss most about DC?
Apart from family – I really miss seasons! I’m definitely not complaining…
…you’ve got a winter’s day here today!
I love the weather here, I’m very spoiled here, but I think having grown up on the East Coast, I do miss it. A singer I saw the other day said how time flies when the weather is the same, and you can’t tell the difference from one season to the next. I’ve been here a year and there’s no seasons and it’s hard to remember when things happened.
Do you get back there very often?
This is one of the times in my life when I’m feeling the distance, getting homesick, thinking that I’m probably going to be out here for a long time! I do travel back, and I do go back for Christmas, sometimes Thanksgiving. I’ve lived in California on and off since 2012, because I did my undergraduate studies in Northern California, then I lived in San Francisco, but when I was in college I went home every summer to work at home, every Christmas, every Thanksgiving – so this is different,
It says in your bio that you’re a mental health advocate. What does entail, and how did you get involved?
For me that means I’m really passionate about talking about mental health, and through music, I hope to, as I continue to write more songs. There’s some artists I’ve found that helped me, their lyrics are really cathartic and helpful. Demi Lovato is one, she’s been very open about it, she’s one such artist. As I continue to develop as an artist I’d love to speak about this. As a society I think we’re getting better, but we still need to get rid of the stigma. If you have a platform you should be able to use it. For me I feel everyone has experienced some sort of mental health issue, so I hope to talk about it, outside of music, and write about things that can help others.
What is your take on the current state of the music industry?
One thing I’m dealing with right now is streaming. I think it’s made it – Maggie Rogers posted about this the other day – it’s really quick – people expect new music all the time – there’s a lot of pressure, not every artist can pop something out once a month. Maggie Rogers said something along the lines of, “I prefer quality over quantity”, so I’m going to take my time and only release those things that I believe are my best work, so I think that streaming has really changed all of that. There’s some big artists who are anti-label and doing it on their own. There’s a lot to navigate. The industry is changing a lot.
It’s difficult to make any money in music these days! And it keeps changing!
Unless you’re a huge artist, you’re probably only going to break even on tour at best – you’re more likely to lose money. When I lived in Spain a few years ago, there was no such thing as an influencer, but now that’s where a lot of people seem to be making their music.
And like syncing their music to ads and so on…
It’s a tough industry. You have to want it.
So what artists apart from yourself, we should be listening to? Who’s on top of your playlist right now?
Right now, Jorja Smith – she’s really amazing, she’s so young! Last night at my show I did a cover of one of her songs, about death actually, but it was a beautiful song. I do listen to a lot of Reggaeton, but probably Jorja Smith is on the top right now.
If you right now as you are, and given what you know, could go back and talk to your younger self just starting out, what would you say?
I think one thing is that I would have tried to encourage myself to have less fear. I didn’t start songwriting until very late in 2017, and I think partially I was just afraid to do it. I made excuses like, I can’t play an instrument and so on, but I think I would just encourage myself to do it, and just start…and keep doing it.
How do you write songs?
It’s just poetry…
But how to do you work out how to put it to music?
I think what has been cool with technology and so on, is we have the tools to do it. I took an Ableton class, and I learned to make a demo that I could take to a producer. Now I like to write in Ableton, because you can get different instrument sounds, keyboards and so on. I’d have thought by now I’d have some sort of consensus in how I write, but no. One was just lyrics and the music came later, another was lyrics and melody at the same time; one time everything came together and no lyrics – I was rehearsing with a band and singing “la la la”, knowing generally what the song was about but no lyrics…it depends. The process is different every time.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given, and what’s the worst?
I can’t think of anything that’s been really bad so far, but I do think someone pretty high up at a label came to Berklee and said that people who are getting older should be worried because all these younger people are coming up that are going to kick you out – “you better bet that Ariana Grande and Camila Cabello are looking in the mirror and seeing a wrinkle…” They’re scared of the 16 year olds coming up. Which I think is a bit wrong…
…isn’t there room for everyone?
Yeah! But in entertainment there’s this thing, especially for women, that once you hit 30 you’re not relevant anymore, not seen as sexy and so on…obviously that’s not what I believe…but I feel that was pretty discouraging!
Hopefully not many people heard that and thought “right that’s my degree finished”…
The best career advice – someone who had gone to my high school, and they became a professional opera singer, and came back to talk to us, and they said, if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, then it’s worth it, but if you can imagine yourself doing something else then you probably shouldn’t do music. And that just resonated with me, and as I’ve got older I think I really can’t imagine myself doing anything else, it’s like I’m put on earth to do this.
My last question – what question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview, but nobody ever does?
I do like to talk about my travels, it’s what I like to do outside of music. I’ve had some really cool travel experiences, I did the Camino Santiago pilgrimage in Spain after I gradated from college. I had a really cool experience with that, where I kind of became part of this little family. A lot of people go alone, and meet people along the way. I met these brothers, one had very severe cerebral palsy, so he couldn’t talk or move, and they were doing the whole pilgrimage with a wheelchair, and I became part of their group, and it was a really inspiring story, and it really helped my mental health a lot. It helped to see someone with so little be so happy. They had a really supportive family, and were so positive.
So where else have you been?
I went on a safari in East Africa! It was a spiritual experience – seeing the guides, and being so up close to the animals, it was amazing. Puerto Rico I love, I try to go as much as I can, and my most recent single, ‘Boricua’, is about Puerto Rican pride.
Have you been into Europe?
I’ve been all over Europe! I lived in Valencia, and Madrid – I have relatives in Madrid – I’ve been to Amsterdam, Paris, Lisbon, Berlin…I got to tour Italy in a Children’s Choir when I was growing up – I also got to go to Thailand with the Chamber Chorale at Stanford when I was an undergrad. That’s been cool that music has taken me places – and I’ve gone places for fun too.
Do you have a bucketlist of where you still want to visit?
Yes! I’d like to visit Japan, it’s right on the top; Greece; I’d like to go back to Italy as an adult. So many places I want to go back to!
Thank you so much for talking to us!
You can stream and download Gracie’s latest single, ‘Boricua’ here.