Photo Credit: Jacqueline Justice
There was a lot of energy whirling around inside Grace Womack as a kid, but her parents opted for the sports route for their daughter to channel it all. “We went through every sport until I proved to them that we’d have to leave the athleticism to their future child because I was simply not cutting it in that department,” said the Austin-based singer-songwriter.
After one too many sports, that journey came to an end when Grace’s mother got an email about a performing arts center at the end of the gym where Grace was participating in what would be her last attempt at athletics, gymnastics. She remembers, “They had dance classes and voice lessons and were about to audition “Bye Bye Birdie” for the 10-and-up kids. I was only 9, but I made my mom email the director and convince her I was a particularly mature 9-year-old, and they let me audition. From there, I just fell more and more in love with it and with performing and somehow ended up here!”
That was it, now Grace Womack is focused not only on her studies but also on her musical endeavors. Which includes the release of her EP, ‘Yellow Cowboy Hat,’ on August 13th. We start this back and forth with how she wound up studying in a very music-centric city…
Kendra: Today you’re juggling school with music in Austin. Was your choice of college based on which locale had the best music scene?
Grace Womack: I didn’t! I just got lucky with going from one music city to another. I picked UT just because of its academic reputation and closeness to home for me. I truly am so excited for all the opportunities for my career here, though. There are just endless live music venues and so many people who truly appreciate music in every form. After being in Nashville to create the EP, I have grown so used to the huge presence that music has there, and I’m so glad not to lose that in Austin.
Kendra: It might surprise some that you’re not a music major but instead English and Government. Are you learning anything in those classes that have helped you in your music career?
Grace Womack: That’s a really good question. I think I’ve learned things from both majors that have come to apply to my music career. From my English classes, I’ve learned, obviously, a lot about writing and creativity and structure and stuff like that that I apply to my songwriting process. I’ve also learned a lot about the creative writing process in general, and that a lot of times you have to get the bad ideas out to find the good ones, which has been helpful. The Government major is a bit more of a stretch, I would say, but I’ve learned some things about public appearance and communication styles that I’ve found to be important to some of the behind-the-scenes stuff.
I think a lot of people think that a music career is basically writing songs, singing them, and putting them out, but there’s a lot more to it than that. There’s a ton of meetings and phone calls and emails that go back and forth every day, and I think my ability to communicate effectively and prioritize my time has come from my education both in English and in Government.
Kendra: Perhaps you turned to English because your dad also had these dreams of being a novelist. Were any of the songs off your upcoming EP, ‘Yellow Cowboy Hat,’ inspired by any of his tales?
Grace Womack: Not specifically, but his writing abilities have found their place within the EP. I always have him look over every school writing assignment to this day before I turn it in, and I’d like to think I’ve adopted a lot of his creative skills and talents along the way. He has such an appreciation for a good story, whether that be a book or a poem or a movie or a song. I don’t know if it’s a conscious thing on his part, but he has truly raised me on good stories in all of their different forms, and I’ve picked up on that appreciation. I used to write songs about feelings exclusively from my point of view, and those lacked the depth and imagery that are necessary with musical storytelling.
As I’ve gotten older and my dad has kept sending me new artists to listen to and new shows to watch, I’ve just kept fine-tuning that storytelling aspect. “Pity the Fool” is literally all about stories and their impacts (and was almost named “A Story to Tell” at his suggestion), so my dad definitely has a place within its lyrics. When it comes down to it, nothing beats a good story, and my dad taught me that.
Kendra: It’s been said, and it’s apparent with just one listen, that you have a sort of old soul when it comes to songwriting and performing. Much like someone from the ‘70s. So if you could time travel and tour with a ‘70s artist, who do you think you’d vibe best with both personally and musically on the road back then?
Grace Womack: Thank you!! I love so many artists from that time and wish I could go back and be a fly on the wall in so many studios and industry parties. I recently watched a documentary about Linda Ronstadt and felt so connected to her. I loved her story and her humility throughout every interview, even at the height of her fame.
There are so many artists who I admire, but she’s one of the few I feel like I would genuinely get along with and have substantial conversations with. I also feel like I could learn so much from her. Obviously, the path to musical success is different now than it was in the ‘70s, but learning about her path gave me so much insight into this world I know very little about, and I know that touring with her and watching it all unfold would be so fascinating and valuable.
Kendra: Listening to “Pity the Fool,” I wondered was this based on a personal situation or a more universal one, and if personal – will the person know this song is about them?
Grace Womack: It’s a little bit of both. Breakups are pretty universal so I think everyone can find something they relate to in the song, but a lot of the smaller details are very personal to me and situations I’ve gone through. When I was first getting over the break-up and trying to force myself to move on, I would always say to myself, “One of these times will be the last time you ever even say his name,” to remind myself that this was something I could and eventually would overcome, and that was translated into the song.
I also once physically broke up with a person while sitting on the curb of a cul-de-sac (ha ha ha), so that made it in there, too. This whole relationship happened while I was very young and learning a lot about myself, and I think you can hear some references to that throughout the lyrics. I tried to tie the personal experiences in with the overarching theme of post-breakup regret so that people can feel all the feelings when they scream it in their car.
And yes, the person it’s about definitely knows it’s about them. We’ve talked about it both before and after the song came out and it ended up being a much smaller deal than I thought it would be. They took it like quite the champ.
Kendra: You said, “I often end up writing about what I don’t know.” Do you think getting these things down on paper and working them out in song helps you to better understand them in the end?
Grace Womack: Absolutely. I tend to over-intellectualize my feelings and try to work them out as a series of equations that can be resolved with pure logic, but ultimately, feelings are more than that. The experiences we have as people moving through life are so complex and nuanced, and there have been a lot of times in the past couple of years where I’ve had to admit that I can’t just problem-solve everything I feel.
That’s sort of where songwriting comes in. I have to permit myself to feel everything to the fullest extent to write an honest song, and that often means sitting in painful and uncomfortable emotions while I write. It’s extremely cathartic and comforting to get it all out of my brain and down on paper. And like you mentioned, it does help me to understand my emotions and where they’re coming from.
Kendra: Lastly, it’s getting a little easier with the vaccine rollouts, but it’s still kind of hard to have a definite answer when it comes to future plans given the current state of everything, but as far as what you can control when it comes to your career and creativity – what do you have planned in the coming months for yourself?
Grace Womack: There’s so much coming! I’ve got some cool video plans and have started writing so many new songs that will hopefully be in production very soon. I also am gonna start performing live more and more as things open up post-pandemic. I think that’s what I’m most excited about. Putting together a band, fine-tuning my live performances, and playing my songs in front of real live audiences is just super exciting for me as a new artist. I can’t wait to see the opportunities that may come from that.