Grace Mitchell Explains Things to Me

Nada Alic gets some life lessons from the wise-beyond-her-19-years pop badass. 

Photo by Jon Chu. Rebel Rebel Moto Jacket.

By Nada Alic

Grace Mitchell not only defies all qualifiers, she transcends them in a manner that can only be described as disorienting. So when I tell you that she’s a 19-year old pop artist on the rise, I can almost *feel* her rolling her eyes at me. She knows who she is and according to her, it is almost none of the above. On an unusually-cool LA afternoon, I watched her breezily unpack and dismantle everything from intersectional feminism, female bodies, the music industry and self care without skipping a beat. As an observer, it was dizzying. Fresh from her first appearance at Coachella and on the heels of the release of her major-label debut LP, we shared a few La Croixs and got down to business.

So much has happened to you in quick succession: you recorded with Richard Swift, even before you signed to a major label (Republic), you released two EPs and now a full length. Does it ever feel like, how is this all happening?

What’s funny is that even though it all happened in relatively quickly, it all happened very fluidly so even this moment now feels like I’m supposed to be here. It’s tough, but the music industry has taught me patience, because you absolutely cannot project how your life will be, even three weeks in advance. I’ll get calls from my manager regularly and he’ll be like, “we might need you to fly to New York next week” so I just don’t make plans. Sometimes it gives me anxiety, the not knowing, but sometimes I really love it. I love that I don’t have obligations to anything besides my career, and people make space for that. They’re like: I get it, your career comes first.

You’re having an art baby pretty soon! Your first full length album. I feel like there’s always a complicated mix of emotions that comes with releasing art, you have this idea in your head of what it is or what it represents but then it’s interpreted and labeled by the world like, “it’s this thing!”

I used to get kinda nervous about that, but now I don’t really anymore because I know that no one defines me besides me. People will have perceptions of me and sometimes they’re frustrating. Like, people tell me all the time that I look like Taylor Swift, and I’m just like “lalalala, I don’t want to hear it.”

“Every musician, producer, artist, all of them were fucking dorky in high school. All of them.”

You moved to LA from Oregon a couple of years ago. I feel like no one can ever really prepare for what happens when you move to LA. Even for me at 27, it took me a while to find my footing and not get lost in it. How did you navigate LA while still keeping your soul intact?

When I first started coming to LA, I was 14 and I was coming here to write and hangout. I had a friend who was my cultural shepherd (my best friend Jason, who is 40). He would basically be like, I’m taking you out tonight and we’re gonna go to an art show or to Laurel Canyon or to Mulholland Drive up to a huge Hollywood Hills house party. He would just slug me along places and drop me in circumstances and see how I reacted. I had to adapt very quickly in order to survive, and I feel like I’ve been doing that ever since.

What did you do to adapt?

I front, I totally front. I’ll just put on this kind of [persona]; she needs a name because she’s such a character. She’s this crazy, kind of mean drag queen lady, and she completely takes over when I’m in self defense/celebrity mode. And that character has helped me navigate LA. It’s a total defense mechanism. She comes out on stage too. It’s a big old front, because I constantly have self doubt and think I’m a huge dork.

I think a lot of people do that, they just don’t name it.

Ok that is something that keeps me totally grounded. Every musician, producer, artist, all of them were fucking dorky in high school. All of them. Everyone who is in music and art was a fucking weirdo at one point and we’re all here being badasses, and it’s so cool.

Photo by Jon Chu. All Eyelets On You Vegan Suede Moto Jacket

Can you tell me about your sense of style? It’s pretty eclectic.

I’ve gone through so many different phases of trying to figure out what I’m into like–my music is going into this more alternative rock [direction] so I’ve been reading a lot of biographies about alt rock and punk and all sorts of guitar-influenced music and picking up style references from it. Sometimes I’ll do a cowboy look, sometimes I’ll do a very severe 1970s house mom look, sometimes I’ll do like a Jane Birkin, Patti Smith. It’s just whatever the fuck I feel like that day.

People often bring up how young you are and preface your music with other qualifiers like “female pop star.” Do you reject those labels or do you embrace them?

I think the age one has been a constant battle for me.  Right now I’m going through a stage where I’m fucking hating it, because it’s really all people talk about. Lately people have been qualifying me as a feminist, and advocate for LGBTQ rights and that’s been really dope because I want to really nurture that and be a voice for that. Being a woman and subscribing to this societal pressure to be perfect in every way, I just want to dismantle that in art. Seeing people that have done that before me really inspires me, people like Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Alanis Morissette, all of those women were just like, fuck you!

Do you ever worry that by speaking up about feminism, you run the risk of making sweeping generalizations or that your words will be taken out of context?

I try mainly to talk about my experiences and my peer’s experiences, which comes from a pretty limited space because I’m white, I live in LA, etc. When I’m talking about me and my white friends, it’s coming from that place, so I can’t make sweeping generalizations about women, but I do know that how the media makes women feel that can be totally generalized.

But I’m constantly trying to break those barriers, but it’s also weird because I want to look pretty. It’s complex. I want to have a partner, I want to have sex, so I’ve gotta shave my armpits–one time I didn’t for a year and felt really sexy and hot. I just have to try and stay true to myself and remind my friends to stay true to themselves and not try to let men, the media, or their peers dictate them, and not to put their physical substance above their emotional and spiritual substance.

How have your female friendships informed your sense of self?

At one point in my life I didn’t feel like I could relate to other women, it was so so hard. Now I have almost exclusively female friends, because I took the time to realize that women need each other. We celebrate each other and we relate to one another.

I just have to try and stay true to myself and remind my friends to stay true to themselves and not try to let men, the media, or their peers dictate them, and not to put their physical substance above their emotional and spiritual substance.

Self care has been brought up a lot lately, in regards to feminism. I sort of resent that self care is always like, take a bath! Or, eat some yogurt! Just these very stereotypical female tropes. How do you approach self care in your own way?

It is just so so hard to love myself. It’s so hard to not look at myself through the eyes of a totally obsessive compulsive brain that wants to be meticulously sexy and perfect. It really is trying to figure out how to love yourself because everyone fucking hates themselves. It’s such a journey, and when you see the people that have an ounce of security in their personality, [know that] it took them a long time to get there. You can’t get it from going to a therapist, you have to look within, meditate. I’m constantly trying to do that because I have so many physical insecurities: I’m tall, so as a woman being tall my whole life has been like super weird with my femininity. Now I try to embrace my height, but never really feeling dainty really fucked me up inside.

I think the thing that actually helped with self care was finding women that were breaking the constructs of self love and learning what they did, like Patti Smith for example. She was just like, I’m sexy in a new way, bitches!

Right, it gives you permission.

And people think she’s so fucking sexy, it’s insane. Like even now, she’s old and people think she’s fucking sexy. It’s so dope. And that helped me love myself because I don’t need to fit into a structure, people are rockstars and they are weirdos. I am on that journey now.

Find out more about Grace Mitchell here:

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