Baker Grace is 17, but you wouldn't be able to guess it from her music. The New Jersey native, who signed a recording contract when she was just 16, tackles some intense material. Her new single, "Am I Talking To You?" is a mellow pop elegy about losing a friend to drugs, not unlike Chance the Rapper's "Same Drugs." Grace may be in high school — and she is, indeed, attending a normal New Jersey school when she's not in Los Angeles recording music — but she knows that music has a lasting impact, and that she has a responsibility to use it as a platform.
"When you sing a song, people really listen," she points out over the phone. "They listen a lot more to you singing a song than to you rambling on about something, or talking about something in person."
The music video for "Am I Talking To You?" drops today. In honor of its arrival, we spoke to Baker Grace about addiction, high school, and the lasting perfection of "Ultralight Beam."
Refinery29: You've said "Am I Talking To You?" is about losing a friend to drugs. Can you talk about this experience?
Baker Grace: "I think that as teenagers we struggle to find ourselves, and the place where a lot teenagers and people of all ages go to do that is partying and drugs and alcohol because it's a place where they can feel comfortable being themselves because they're under the influence. And because of that, a lot of young people are susceptible to getting involved in partying and drugs and alcohol. I thought it was something a lot of people could relate to. Also, it was for me an important moment because it was one of the first times I realized that sometimes you really just can't help people, as much as you want to save someone. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to just show them consequences of their actions and let them go so that they can realize what they're doing. And their poor decisions are affecting other people."
The music video is very grainy, like a home video. What is that graininess meant to portray?
"I think we wanted it to feel very raw and real because the content of the song was very raw and real. And, you know, we wanted to show what it would feel like to be that person who is losing their friend. And you know, you're kind of in this state, and it's dark and it's grainy and it's rough. The video shows the roughness and the rawness of the content of the song."
What do you hope listeners will glean from "Am I Talking To You"?
"Well, I hope that anybody who's had a friend or a significant other or a family member lost to drug and alcohol or addiction — I hope they can relate to it, and find more comfort in their choice to leave them behind. And I hope that anyone who has had an addiction that affected other people can realize what they did was wrong. And how what they did made other people feel. Showing specifically what happens with drugs and alcohol, but also showing how to take care of people and how to treat other people."
Talk me through how you write a song.
"When I'm at home, sitting at my piano or with my guitar, I just start singing. I'll play some chords and I'll just start singing a song. When I'm in a recording session making music with producers, I like to have a really strong concept first because to me, the most important thing is the message you're trying to portray in the song. And then, once you have that strong message, you lay down some chords, maybe a beat to set the mood. And then, the lyrics and melody start flow out at the same time for me."
How do you balance high school with a songwriting career?
"It's a lot of work, but it's definitely worth it. I try to use my time wisely and when I'm in school, [I'll] be very focussed on school, and then when I'm in music, be 100% focused on music. And it can be hard to switch in and out of both worlds because they're so wildly different. But I think the most important thing for me with school, is it just helps me develop myself as a person. I think the way I've coped with it is by using the things I learned in school, and the things I learned from the people and my peers at school, and to use that as material for my songs."
The U.S. is in a lot of political turmoil right now. Do you feel a responsibility as a musician to address that?
"Yeah, I definitely have written songs about the state of our country, and all the stuff that's going on. I try to be understanding of everybody's views and try to create a message that will speak to everyone, because I feel one of the biggest problems is we don't all understand each other. We're so divided because we're so caught up in our worldview and our perspective. So, I think a lot of my songs, it's a lot about self-reflection, and looking at yourself, and looking at your views, and thinking, is this the view or perspective that benefits me or is this the view and perspective that benefits everyone? And I think that what everybody needs to do is not just think about themselves, but think about everyone and what they can do to make the world a better place, not just their lives better."
What artists inspire you in 2017?
"I love rap music. I listen to a lot of Kanye, Kendrick, Chance. I think that they write about about real stuff, a lot about what's going on in the world. And they are really good at making an impact with their music. I also like Rihanna, SZA, and then growing up, I listened to all different types of music, but Carole King was a big influence."
Do you hope to also make an impact with your own music?
"Yeah. Ever since I was little, I always thought, I want to make as much of a positive effect on the world as I can. Because life is short and we don't have that much time to do that. But singing and music, it's something I love to do. I love performing, I love singing, I love writing, but really for me one of the most important things about it is So, I think it's very important for me that the lyrics and the messages in my music show through, and can impact people."
What song is stuck in your head right now?
"Lately, I've been listening to 'Ultralight Beam' on repeat."
Watch the music video for "Am I Talking To You?" below.
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