By Colin Kirkland
“TRACE” is predominantly a nickname for Tracy, but it is also a symbolic title: to trace lines, to trace emotions. There are many indicators on TRACE’s Facebook profile that encapsulate sorrow. She describes her music as “lonely, with a beat,” characterizes it as “Sad-synth,” and writes, “It will get emotional” in the About section. Before we got the chance to talk several weeks ago, I was expecting a moody millennial on the other end of the telephone, and I’m sure TRACE wouldn’t venture far from that description of herself. However, our conversation stayed up-beat and touched on recording her debut EP (in a bathroom), the power of words, and the boldness it takes to be vulnerable. Behind the long black hair and eye-shadow, TRACE is still hopeful for the future – channeling her sadness allows her to thrive. And people can’t seem to get enough.
TRACE has almost one million followers on her Spotify page. This baffled me the first time I tried looking her up. How has such a new artist, with so few songs released, attracted this many listeners? Maybe I was surprised because I generally don’t gravitate toward newer pop music, but this seems to be the way of the music-world now. Could the very thing artists used to fight – free online streaming services – be more beneficial than damaging? I asked TRACE.
“Has finding popularity on Spotify helped you sell out live shows?”
“Yeah, it really has,” she said. “It’s cool to see that exchange between people streaming music online and them coming to see me – ‘cuz that’s like the goal – and I think I remember the first few shows I’ve done, it was more like friends and me, but I think ever since growing a presence on Spotify, each show there are people, like ‘Hey, we found you on Spotify!’ and if it works, I’m very glad for it.” TRACE believes that online music platforms are helping artists to get their voices out to the public. She expressed to me that she has a close relationship with Spotify and that as they grow as a company, they are making their services more reachable to bands. But how does TRACE listen to her favorite tunes? There are so many options these days between Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, TIDAL, and the ever-growing vinyl market. “I feel like they’re all different moods,” pondered TRACE. “I have a record player and I have records and I love buying records but I usually buy old records. I don’t usually listen to like Drake on vinyl, I listen to like Joni Mitchell on vinyl…I love vinyl but my true way of listening to music is Spotify.” I feel similarly.
In August of last year, TRACE released her debut EP, Low. But it wasn’t just a new project, it was her first attempt at creating anything musical. She had been working on it for years prior, but besides a few friends and her mom, no one had ever heard her sing. I asked her what went into the production of this cohesive five-track release. TRACE described her set-up: a chord with a mic at the end of it running from the living room into a single-person bathroom where cushions lined the walls. “Was it weird taking your most vulnerable writing and performing it in a bathroom?” I asked.
“Uh, it was weird,” replied TRACE. “Mainly because I got to do my EP and pay for it through Kickstarter and one of the prizes – like the biggest prize – was ‘You can come watch me record my EP!” TRACE told me that one of her best friends won the prize and therefore, sat on the toilet while watching her record. “I was like, ‘This is what you won, girl!’ So I was more entertained by that. But I feel like once there is a mic, my eyes are closed – I don’t really think about my environment.”
A day before our interview, I read an article in NYLON magazine about Mac Miller. Mac described his love of the home studio, expounding on the comfort and creative freedom it allows him as an artist. I decided to ask TRACE, who has now had experience in various studios, whether or not a do-it-yourself space allows her more creativity than a larger studio.
“I think yes and no,” she said. “I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. I probably wouldn’t record again in my old apartment, you know, it was kind of just DIY, which I love, it’s a great beginning, but in my mind it would be nice to have this massive, beautiful home studio that is mine and people would come in and work with me and that would be my hub of creativity. I like the idea of convenience and comfort and safety, but I also think for me it’s been about being comfortable with the people around who I work with. If I love the producer we can do anything anywhere.”
“What have you learned since recording Low? I asked, always eager to hear what new artists are discovering about their method and career.
“I think when starting music, I was just excited to do something new,” said TRACE, “and after finishing an EP I feel like, ‘This is real.” This is both terrifying and exhilarating for TRACE. She now feels that she is “getting away with it,” her pop-musician title. “What I’ve learned a lot over the last two years is that I can get better, that there is so much to learn and I feel like no one will care about your art more than you do.” TRACE has learned to be confident in what she likes, even though she admires the opinions of people close to her.
Like a lot of her fans, I was most taken by her first single, “Heavy Shoulders,” the opening track on Low. The lyrics come through so clearly as TRACE, over simple snare, bass, and fluctuating synth, takes her time enunciating each syllable. While listening, still, I get the essence of living in a fast-paced world of technology, trying desperately to navigate through it and somehow attain wisdom. I told TRACE of my impression and asked, “Is this song at all related to being a millennial?” Her response showed her true self and her reason behind being an artist.
“I love that,” she said. “That’s what I want. That’s the most common song people have spoken to me about. It’s definitely hints of that, I think I wrote it personally – I guess so, now that you mention it, I wrote it from the perspective of millennial arrogance about thinking that I know better but I’m just not going to do better because that’s boring. I think it’s a combination of trying to keep up with the mundane, which is ironic, and alongside the feeling of being heavy from expectations from the world.” Expectations, I thought to myself, must be creativity’s Kryptonite.
“How did the song “Low” come about?” I asked, curious about the first line of the chorus – “I prefer better though I prefer you.”
“I think it’s a melding,” TRACE said. “It’s a melding of relationships and people that have come in and out of my life. It’s catchy because I want to make sadness catchy. It’s mainly about me and how I feel about most people that try to enter my life and it’s very hard to, you know, make me love them. I don’t know, it’s about being low. No one likes that feeling.” There it is, I thought. Isn’t that what so many artist attempt to do? Try and make sadness catchy? As a music-lover, I know I need that to work sometimes. Humans need something to relate to, to have their back when a relationship goes sour or you’re having trouble finding love. This is TRACE’s mission.
“I was kind of desperate to share something,” Trace said, remembering how she felt before the EP dropped. “I was like, ‘You guys, you gotta hear this. I’ve got some stuff you would love and relate to, let’s be sad, lament, and just dance to it.’ I feel like the new stuff I’ve written for this next chapter is less desperate and more like – what’s a girl version of cocky? – it just feels more assured. I feel like everything’s elevated in the sense that it should, not elevated by success or exposure.” In an interview with ReverbNation back in September, TRACE was quoted saying, “The journey to the debut has been filled with a lot of complexities, hesitations and too much honesty.” When I read this, I felt that I could trust her as an artist. Without vulnerability, is there anything real going on anyway?
“Is this a common theme in your writing still?” I asked, hopeful that the answer was yes.
“Yeah,” she said. “I have this thing where I’m not at all a perfectionist – that’s not at all interesting to me. I’m more obsessed with authenticity…I guess for me it’s gonna be the main problem of my life, to be too honest.” TRACE has been working in bigger studios since last year and she told me that honesty is more of a tool than she originally thought. Because she is put in situations where she needs to work more efficiently, she said that if she is being honest, her songs come together much faster than if she isn’t. “When I’m honest about my personal experiences,” she remarks, “it’s crazy how fast I can write. So I want to stick to that because that’s what works for me.”
“Was it difficult being vulnerable to the entire world?” I asked her.
“100%, yeah.” When “Heavy Shoulders” went live on iTunes for the first time, TRACE was sitting with a close friend at a diner eating “terrible French toast.” And even though the feedback was good, TRACE remembers it being the most terrifying moment of her career. “But as it’s grown and reached more people that I don’t know,” she said, “it’s not hard because if someone says something to me about my music I literally keep it in a folder on my desk. I keep their messages in a folder because I don’t want to forget why I’m doing this.”
Two days ago, TRACE released a new single. Check out “Oh My My” below!