Article by Abe Plaut
Instagram & Twitter: @abeplaut
GraceKellie is the musical duo of Indiana University students Grace Leckey and Kellie McGrew. Both multi-instrumentalists, their musical partnership (and genuine friendship) as GraceKellie grew in the overlap of what Leckey called a “Venn-diagram of musical taste,” where “what we listen to and grow up playing are very different.”
After meeting each other during their first year of studies in Indiana University’s Audio Engineering department, the classmates jammed, performed, and recorded music together, becoming close friends in the process. GraceKellie released their debut album Like the Princess on CD and streaming platforms in February 2020.
With a background in folk and pop music, Grace Leckey’s keyboard playing on tracks like “Good Intentions (Everything)” and “KC” plants her songwriting firmly in the same tradition as Carole King or Joni Mitchell, both of whom she aptly named as creative influences during a video chat. Leckey credits her family’s own musicianship for helping her have an early start, taking piano lessons as a child and learning guitar from her father. Leckey’s horn writing and trumpet playing on “Ronnie Doesn’t Know Me” is simple but effective, adding to the energy and excitement of the song without distracting from the rest of the mix. Developing her voice in choir, Leckey contributed her vocals to the album and wrote lyrics that resonate and inspire.
Kellie McGrew, drummer, bassist and guitarist is a native Hoosier. Taking up the drums as a middle schooler, McGrew’s playing is inspired by the rhythms in the rock, funk, and hip hop anthems she listened to growing up. The closing track “Honey” reels listeners in with an infectious groove carried by McGrew’s drumming. The electric guitar solos, basslines and drum fills throughout Like the Princess echo the same power and fearlessness as any superstar on stage.
The songwriting process for GraceKellie usually starts out the same way. An idea will come to the mind and it gets written down by hand. For GraceKellie, writing by hand when possible helps facilitate a more authentic and honest songwriting process. A back and forth ensues, sending mini-demos or sharing during band practice sessions and it goes from there, with a pencil or pen scratching the pages of a notebook.
“Some of them are true stories, some of them are not,” Leckey explained about her lyrics, adding that “some of them are my own stories and some are stories that others have told me.”
One story that stood out from Like the Princess is the song “Tisha, Drink Your Coffee Black”. Listeners get the experience of being a fly-on-the-wall during a conversation between Leckey and one of her old friends.
For GraceKellie, black coffee is the stereotypical drink of choice “for the most elegant women” and people with their lives put together more. People who show grit, and a particular kind of sophistication. Musically, the song shifts between Db major and Db minor. Modal mixture like this is a musical technique found in symphonic works and, in this instance, it is almost an example of word painting after layers of meaning are uncovered.
The moments in Db major are meant to represent the masks women are expected to wear, always putting on “the smile that people want”. The shift to Db minor shows the change in thinking and realizations that feelings of discomfort or unhappiness are not moments of weakness, but opportunities to show your strength. Sharing empowering messages through music, GraceKellie has been a welcome addition to Bloomington's local music scene and earned the attention of Sofar Sounds Indianapolis.
*All images courtesy of GraceKellie*