With a Little Help From The Social Experiment, Grace Weber is Creating Her Own Musical Space

Photos by Michael Salisbury

Photos by Michael Salisbury


Words by Rachel Blackman  •  Wardrobe Eugene Taylor Brand


I first met with soulful Brooklyn-based, Milwaukee-born singer Grace Weber on the afternoon of her 29th birthday. With a youthful excitement and ease, she struck me immediately as someone with a deep understanding and confidence of self.

Growing up in Milwaukee, Grace got her start in a gospel choir at her church. She describes the experience as “sharing moments” with her fellow singers. She elaborates that “it felt like ‘Come into this space and we will welcome you exactly as you are’…It’s the feeling of someone looking at you and, in their eyes, you see that they’re not judging you.” Not only was this an encouraging environment to grow up in, it was conducive to Grace pushing herself musically. “You do have to prove yourself a little bit. And all you actually have to bring is real and bring authentic…It was a beautiful experience.”

Now, with a foundation of proving herself and always bringing the real and the authentic, Grace has been seeing this groundwork pay off in a big way. She won her first Grammy this year for her work vocally and lyrically on Chance The Rapper’s “All We Got”, she has nearly completed a record with Nico Segal, Nate Fox, and Peter Cottontale of The Social Experiment, and she has found that same freedom she felt in her church choir once again.

 
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It has not been a straight line to reach this musical liberation, however. While Grace has already accomplished a number of impressive achievements, from taking to the Apollo Theater stage for Showtime At The Apollo when she was 16, performing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, singing the National Anthem to 82,000 listeners at Giants stadium, opening up for James Blake, and the list goes on, some of these experiences presented distinct challenges. For example, The Oprah Winfrey Show was not an entirely positive moment for Grace. She felt the pressure of her own expectation and “what happens after the show? I was so focused on everything else except for ‘Shit, I get to sing on Oprah.’” However, from this experience, Grace was able to draw a valuable lesson about being fully present and not letting her preconceived expectations take the joy out of performing and creating. “It’s a practice... It’s okay if you mess up…Just try to keep choosing the positive thing that you want or that you think is actually good for the world…Just keep choosing that.”

In the vein of choosing to do something positive for the world, Grace created The Music Lab in Milwaukee. The Music Lab is a platform for high school students from all over the city to perform (be it music, poetry, etc., all is welcome) for their peers and Grace, as well as special guests. “We wanted to create a program that would bring high school students from all different backgrounds and all different schools together…from the most expensive private school to the most underfunded public school in Milwaukee.” Through this outlet, some of these students have created bands together and found that their lives are changing for the better. “It’s been those moments where…I didn’t even know that this was going to be this deep, and it made us feel even more committed… We have to have this be a program that sustains.”

Even with her devotion to ensuring The Music Lab goes off without a hitch every month, Grace is and has been intensely focused on the release of her upcoming project. With production from The Social Experiment’s Peter Cottontale, Nate Fox, and Nico Segal, Grace has had a far more organic process in creating her new music than she ever has. After meeting Nate and Nico in a freak coincidence in LA, Grace immediately connected musically with exciting results. Shortly thereafter, her project was underway.

On the first day of recording, Grace, Nate, Nico, and Peter wrote a song completely out of improvisation and exploration.  “Nate just opened up a session at one point and picked a bpm and just kind of started working without even really saying anything, Peter was there and he started playing something on the keys, and inspiration just hit. Nate walked over to me and gave me an SM57 and said ‘Here, if you get inspired, sing.’” From that point, it was clear how the creation of Grace’s record was going to go. “’We’re just going to dive in and explore. We’re just going to see what happens. There’s no expectation, there’s no clue what’s at the end of this, but let’s just start making stuff.’

By the end of summer 2016, Grace had over 50 beats to narrow down into what she wanted to keep and finish writing for her project, and the narrowing process became an exercise for her introverted self. Some of her writing process took place in her parents’ house on Lake Michigan, which she converted into a studio, giving her the space to flex her songwriting skills and select which songs she felt the most passionately about. Finally, after months of separation, Grace, Nate, Nico, and Peter reconvened and resumed their work together on the tracks they all decided were the strongest. From that point on, the project took its shape throughout the recording and mixing stages.

Now, Grace’s first single “More Than Friends”, a stunning display of vocal prowess over subtle-yet-aromatic production, has officially been released today. With her record completed after a long and deeply thoughtful process, Grace is ready “to get the music out and celebrate it,” and we are ready to listen.