With her clear, powerful voice, and ability to deftly interpret a song, Grace Clark has become a must see performer for Front Range-based fans of bluegrass, folk, and Americana. Don’t get hung up on genres, though, Grace’s voice transcends them. A vocalist since childhood, she studied opera, but wanted to branch out creatively. Her opera bona fides intact, she discovered bluegrass and put her training to good use.
Swallow Hill Music is excited to present the Grace Clark Band at Four Mile Historic Park on Wednesday, August 21, where they’ll close out the 2019 Shady Grove Picnic Series season. We recently caught up with Grace via email to learn about how she made the transition from opera to bluegrass and folk, her experiences as a songwriter, and who she admires in the Colorado music community.
What can the audience expect at your concert at Four Mile Historic Park on August 21?
The audience can expect a mix of genres including bluegrass, folk, and good ol’ singer songwriter sounds. I think there can be a bit of pressure in the music scene to claim one kind of genre as your own, but I’ve always found that to feel a bit limiting and embracing a variety of styles into our music feels so right. You can expect to hear sweet sounds from the fiddle, banjo, double bass, acoustic guitar, cello, and maybe even a bit of electric guitar just to spice things up a bit!
You are a classically trained vocalist who has studied opera, has that changed your approach to how you select and perform roots and folk and bluegrass music?
I studied opera for most of my life. I attended Interlochen Arts Academy and studied with Jeffrey Norris and continued pursuing that training in college at the Lamont School of Music under Cathy Kasch and Ken Cox. I will always be grateful for my training, but I’m happy I found a style of music that feels like home. I always felt a bit out of place with opera, like I was trying to make my voice sound a certain way instead of just letting it flow and find its ease.
One thing I loved about opera, though was the theatrics of it all. My favorite process was learning a new aria and diving deep into the opera, the character, the specific scene, etc. Everything about opera is larger than life and it’s about sharing a story, many times a very tragic, passionate story.
When I entered into the bluegrass scene I wanted to perform at picks, so I started learning standards. I found it difficult to relate or even agree with many of the stories being told in the songs, so, I’ve found it extremely helpful to approach those tunes the way I do arias. Become a character, identify the key emotion in the piece, and try my best to connect with it and then convey the overall message to the audience. Singing is all about storytelling and I think it’s our job as singers to share our story as clearly and honestly as possible.
You clearly love Colorado – as witnessed on your song “Going to Colorado.” How much did Colorado’s strong tradition of acoustic and roots and bluegrass music influence your creative musical path?
Yes! One of my favorite songs written by my band mate, Summers Baker.
I feel confident that I would not be where I am now if it wasn’t for the incredible acoustic community in Colorado. I think it is a rare thing to find a community of musicians who are as supportive and welcoming as the bluegrass scene out here. Just like opera, I think bluegrass has given me an incredible foundation for where I want my music to go. I’m not trying to make traditional bluegrass music, but it is without a doubt one of my biggest musical influences. I respect the tradition, but I am so excited to see this style of music go into new directions. Artists like Crooked Still, Lindsay Lou, Sarah Jarsoz, and the Punch Brothers are doing incredible things and inspiring so many of us.
You’ve been a vocalist since childhood, when did you start writing songs? Where do you feel you are in your evolution as a songwriter?
I haven’t been writing songs for very long. The first tune I wrote was about three years ago. My friend Annelise died from a drug overdose and I was overcome with grief. I needed an outlet and writing a song felt like the healthiest and most therapeutic thing for me at the time. I knew about five chords on the guitar and went to town, haha.
I’ve learned that like everything, sometimes songwriting flows naturally and bam, you’ve written something really great in one day…but I’ve also learned that more times than not, the process can be challenging. Maybe you make a lot of momentum on a song one day and wake up the next day and feel completely stuck. I admire so many of my songwriting friends, especially my band mate Joe D’Esposito who enjoys the process of writing songs so much. There is such a beautiful ease and element of fun that he finds, a lack of pressure to get to the finish line or an expectation that it should be perfect.
I think us songwriters can become far too serious and aim for perfection…which never ends well. I feel like I will spend my entire life working to become a better songwriter and I’m grateful and excited for it.
Who are some contemporary Colorado artists you find inspiring that your fans might also be interested in listening to?
I love The Railsplitters, Avenhart, Taarka, Monica Marie, Courtney Hartman, to name a few. I appreciate bands and artists who aren’t afraid to go outside of the box and embrace an exciting new sound.
I also love that all of the artists I mentioned are women/have women in their bands. I think right now, the music scene needs to do a better job at supporting women in the scene and encourage them to keep going. Especially in genres like jazz and bluegrass where the majority of the musicians are men. It can be difficult as a woman to let your voice be heard and be seen as an equal by your male counterparts. I am all about supporting the incredible women in the scene and highly recommend you check out these artists if you haven’t already!
Do you have any new recordings in the works?
Not at the moment. My goal is to start working towards an album. I came out with my EP in January and it was such a thrill. The entire process was so exciting and has left me eager and ready to keep the momentum going!