“Inspiration In The Uncomfortable” by Gracie and Rachel
As this rollercoaster year comes to a close, with a new one to take its place, we’re overwhelmed with feelings of both anxious introspection and profound optimism. While 2018 bore witness to a slew of unnerving feats, we also experienced the uprising of countless people who influenced so many in magnetic ways, using their voices to demand growth and change. When it’s all said and done, though, we’ll close this year like we closed the last: rooting for the next chapter to be better than the one before.
As musicians through it all, we’ve spent our time funneling our hope into lyrics, our sorrow into sounds. When we began 2018, we’d come out of a year where we’d released our first-ever full-length record. We felt electric on the energy of being new to new people, connecting with exciting worlds in exciting ways, and finally starting to get our live set to come alive in the way the album already lived. In February, we were invited to travel the country opening for the activist-songwriter icon, Ani DiFranco. As we’d only just begun wrapping our heads around what our brand new record was capable of doing live, and the concept of performing in front of thousands of people night after night was also wildly unexplored, we were equal parts amped and underprepared. When one of your personal heroes asks you to come on the road with them, you don’t say no, you go. So we dove head first into rehearsals with our drummer, fine-tuning our in-ear systems, click tracks, violin pedals, piano settings, vocal processors, and, most importantly, our emotional stability to conquer it all.
When the time came to head out on tour, we were nervous in the way you’re nervous when you have to go around the table and say one thing you’re thankful for but you feel like you have a good one so you sort of can’t wait until everyone hears it, and the moment it’s your turn, your heart races faster than you’d thought it would, but you get through it anyway. At least, that’s what the first few shows were like. Like being at a traffic light seconds before it turns green and you’re anxious to move forward but still cautious about cross-traffic. All the eager anticipation of a promising outcome and the corresponding uncertainty of what will happen, the paralysis of not knowing, and the unrivaled thrill it gives you, all wrapped into one beautiful mess.
Night after night, we watched as a team of professionals made large-scale productions look effortless, and so we pretended we knew what we were doing until we did. Until we learned to evolve the order of our set to direct the audiences’ experience with intention. Until Ani asked us on the fly to join her on stage to play on one of her legendary tunes, until one of those tunes turned into two and then into three and then into ten, and then into a live bootleg recording. Until we forgot we were performing our own music along with someone we idolized, in front of packed theaters, in cities we’d never been to. Until we could practically do it all in our sleep, which at times we were essentially doing, coming off sleepless nights chasing a tour bus, learning songs in the backseat, living off the adrenaline of the unpredictability of it all. We had never felt more awake in our lives.
After the exhilarating runs with Ani, we headed back to New York with the sole intention of writing our sophomore record (and to hopefully push new boundaries doing so). We went from playing the same songs live multiple nights in a row to hibernating in our Brooklyn loft to make new music behind closed doors. This adjustment coming out of tour felt just as difficult as the one we’d endured going into it. Not to mention, having an expectation for yourself to create an innovative body of work is like deciding it should rain because we’re in a drought and we need it. The rain comes when it wants to. Sometimes it sprinkles. Sometimes it pours. There’s no choosing which way it will strike. You can show up for the song, the painting, the photograph. You can sit at the piano, the canvas, behind the lens. Whether or not that unique moment of inspiration presents itself isn’t entirely up to you.
In the midst of this process, someone was nominated to be Justice of the Supreme Court and someone else came forward to accuse that nominee of sexual assault. On the day this particular situation went to trial, we were in our studio working on a song — half-glued to the hearings, half-glued to our instruments — when that unique moment of inspiration hit. By the end of the day, we had written and recorded a song for those who come forward when it isn’t necessarily easy to do so, and we set the song to visuals of these various people. We immediately felt an urgency to put it out into the world (whatever that meant) to be one of the voices actively supporting this cause. We were in the middle of writing a record, though, and we weren’t supposed to release any new music any time soon; there wasn’t a proper “plan” for such a thing. But we realized this song wasn’t for us — it was for courageous voices all over — so we put it out just days later and donated all the proceeds to survivors of sexual assault.
To our great surprise, within just days, the video got hundreds of thousands of views, and we were able to connect with an incredible number of people on the topic of standing up for what you believe in. These interactions gave us overwhelming sensations of gratitude for moments of showing up when you don’t think you can. Like our time on tour, where we did things that made us uneasy, things we didn’t know we could do, we felt empowered by the many voices of support rising up together. All that time we’d been pushed to do things we hadn’t previously explored prepared us to create a piece like this in the moment. Embracing challenges we might have once been unsure about facing, we opened our minds to the concept of dancing with the darkness.
Back in the studio, we worked to bring this acceptance into our creative process, writing and recording a song almost every day until we had a substantial collection of songs to dissect, pick apart, and put back together again. It was and continues to be a daunting experience, often fraught with uncertainty but equally, if not more, full of revelation. Now, as we gear up for the year to come, we bring with us all the ambivalence and strength from the year’s past. We look to challenge ourselves to find beauty in unsettling truths, to find outrage in fixed narratives and, ultimately, to find inspiration in the uncomfortable.
We hope you’ll join us.
Video by Wonderkind Works