Meet the rising star channelling raw emotion into essential soul music...
Tears roll down Grace Carter’s cheeks. She raises her fingers to catch them but it’s too late. “If you want to say something, say something/Don’t say nothing,” she sings, before the screen fills with smoke, covering her silhouette. As an intro to the 21-year-old’s piano-led future soul, the video for 2017’s debut single Silence was extremely effective. “It’s about someone that should have been there for me not being there and not telling the truth,” Carter tells Music Week. “That frustration came out in the video.”
The 21-year-old didn’t intend to cry but Silence, like all her songs, draws on her Brighton childhood. “Growing up with a single mum was a very big deal to me,” Carter explains. “And growing up without the black side of my family, there were a lot of identity issues, I didn’t have a sibling or parent I could physically identify with.” Those feelings, the singer says, have shaped her life to the point that it feels almost unnatural to write songs about anything else. Indeed, Carter had no outlet for them until her stepdad, a songwriter, gave her a guitar aged 13. “I went from being a really angry and frustrated child to someone who had processed the anger and sadness to a point where I could overcome it,” she says.
On a strict diet of Lauryn Hill, Nina Simone and Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, she was experimenting with production by 15 and has spent pretty much every moment since making music. Rory Graham (aka Rag‘N’Bone Man) filmed an early gig in Hove, and Carter has since started working with Dua Lipa and Lana Del Rey’s Tap Management, not to mention gigging with Graham and Haim. Her debut album, recorded with collaborators The 23rd, is coming via Polydor. Part of it was made amidst snowdrifts and isolation in the Welsh countryside. “I want people to connect to my music, cry to it, smile to it and feel like they’ve come through something,” says the singer. “I would love to sell out arenas and tour forever, but I want a career, not a minute of the spotlight, I’m not here for that.”
Carter’s rise is by turns “exciting, daunting and overwhelming”, but close relationships keep her grounded. Plus, there’s always time to “go home and play Sims”. With a debut UK tour kicking off next month, she’s getting used to the attention. “I didn’t know why everyone was shining their phone torches at me,” she says, remembering dates with Dua Lipa. “They were there for upbeat pop and I was looking confused and singing ballads about my childhood!” Now, Carter admits that she “wants a lot of people to know who I am [because] they listen to my music”. She may just get her wish.