After 18 months of serious Seattle stardom, Grace Love bowed out from the limelight over the summer. The singer declared her separation from the True Loves, the vintage-soul revue that flavored her distinct sound, and went on the downlow, playing occassional one-off shows with a small jazz or rock combo. Tomorrow night she makes her first major appearance in months, singing a slew of jazz standards with the Seattle Symphony as part of the Sonic Evolution series. We caught up with Love, one of our 2015 cover stars and Artists of the Year, to talk about her recent career shifts, her new hometown and how she got involved with the Symphony.
How's life these days?
It’s still busy and full but it’s time for change for me. Over the years of my career I’ve adapted to any group I’ve been in and it was getting comfortable for everyone and I was feeling stuck. I have more creative flow and I think Sonic Evolution will show that. I’ll do some jazz standards and show I’m not a one-trick pony.
How’d the Sonic Evolution connection come about?
I did a private party for [the Symphony] this summer and I was gonna do something with Sir Mix-a-Lot but I had to say no because I was too busy. They were like, there’s something else we can do with you. Ludovic [Morlot, Seattle Symphony conductor] was coordinating this show and the Symphony was like, we really wanna play with you so let’s put you in this. It’s happenstance that it came together.
And what’s the program like?
It’s a dedication to Quincy Jones. Most of the music he’s written is awesome. Apparently Ludo dues a standard set and then does a tribute to a local artist and brings in local people from Seattle to put the show on. I’m doing an Ernestine Anderson piece called “Never Make Your Move Too Soon.” And I’m doing Dinah Washington’s “What a Difference a Day Makes” and closing it out with “Time After Time” by Ella Fitzgerald.
That’s a lot of jazz.
That’s all jazz!
So this is what you mean by showing off new styles.
Yeah. And when my single drops, it’s totally different from all of that. It’s more rock-forward. I love rock n’ roll music. And I’ve been trying to do rock-soul for a long, long time.
“Rock-soul?” Is there a precedent or model for that?
Alabama Shakes. Grace Love soul meets meet Alabama raw rocky growl. Getting some stuff out! I was on tour with this program. And in that program I got to write music with a guy from Belarus and he’s got this Tom Waits avant-garde take about him and I bought my soulful blues to him and it made magic!
What program are you talking about?
It’s called One Beat and its sponsored by the State Department.
How’d you get hooked up with that?
I was at my bar job sitting at the bar and one of my patrons was like Grace Love I think you’re amazing and one of my friends started this thing called One Beat and you should apply. I didn’t know anything about it but I applied. And out of 4,000 people 25 of us were chosen, people from all over the world—Tanzania, Brazil, Russia—and all of us met in Florida and did a two-week residency where we got to know one another and had to write music. That was our goal: to create music together.
When was this?
This was in September. So I did this for two weeks in Florida and we did two big shows in Florida and then we took it on the road. I was in New Orleans, Chattanooga and ended in Chicago. It was incredible.
And that was what inspired the new direction.
Motivated, more so. Rock and soul was always there. Before the True Loves I put out an EP called Love Notes. It was regarded in Germany, it got a little wave. And then the True Loves amped the musical stuff to the top. It changed what I really wanted to do. Like, this is amazing but it’s hard to start over. So now I have to full-force it and put more effort than I have to push this new sound out. One Beat encouraged it. I’ve never been so positively surrounded by new stuff.
What caused the split with the True Loves? You were ready to play a different style?
It was more like emotionally I was feeling pushed. I think it was a lot of people who got comfortable with the West Coast circuit and I wanted to branch off. It didn’t seem like anybody wanted to push forward more, to go and travel and figure it out along the way. I’m one of those people—I can have fun for a certain period of time but if I get bored it’s time to press forward and travel and tour. Maybe only make $50 but have an opportunity to see the world. It wasn’t conducive to bring a really big band anywhere. And my vocals were tired of pushing over such a big sound. That was kind of the straw for me—wearing myself out doing these festivals with such a big group and not really feeling, I don’t know, heard. It got to a point where it was too loud. Not just physically but emotionally it was too loud. I miss that authentic easy sound of bass, drums, guitar. I think I just got watered out and I wanted to do something different. So at the end it was my decision to say, “We’re on the top right now but music means more to me than that.” People think I’m crazy but that’s alright.
You’re very transparent and revealing with your emotions on social media—that might be why people think you’re crazy!
The moment I hit 30 I was like, I don’t care. I wanna clean up stuff. I’m sick of hearing through the grapevine half of a whole story. I was just getting frustrated. There’s no point in me not being transparent because everybody sees it. I’m honest to a fault and I always have been but I filtered myself. Now I’m like, people are gonna say what they wanna say so I might as well be as brave as I can. To stand up for me and the things I’ve been through. In the last year and half I’ve been homeless and without great people in my corner I would’ve been in the Jungle and not emotionally able to cope with that. It’s been a roller coaster of a ride. I’m happy to be transparent.
You’ve amassed a pretty big fanbase around the Northwest by being who you are.
I’ve been very blessed. It’s always so overwhelming to see that. To move to Portland and the first day I’m here meet the baddest cats in the scene who know me from playing the Portland Blues Festival... It’s been a blessing, definitely.
You’re fulltime in Portland now?
For the most part. I’ll be in Seattle once or twice a week but for now my home base is in Portlandia. I’m ready to live the adult life as well, as far as starting a family and being responsible.
How are things going on the restaurant front?
Very slow. [Laughs] We got a piece written that it was gonna be in the KEXP building which would’ve been magical but because I didn’t make my goal on Kickstarter it wasn’t going to happen. In the new year my goal is to get it off the ground. Find the right people to invest and the right situation. For me it’s gonna be a food truck [laughs]. So I can travel back and forth between Portland, the land of. And finding the right food truck situation and getting it set up and bringing it to Seattle, because that’s where the food base for me is. And starting another Kickstarter in the next few months and getting at least a part of it raised so I can put all my feets in it. It’ll be all my heart when it happens.
Grace Love joins the Seattle Symphony tomorrow night at Benaroya Hall as part of Sonic Evolution. Get further details here.
Photo by Michael Porter.