New Music Interview: Grace Knight

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Entertainment editor John Turnbull sits down with Grace Knight from the Eurogliders, who have reformed for a nationwide tour starting this month, to discuss digital recording, TV talent shows and legacies.

Independent Australia: Thanks very much for your time today Grace.

Grace Knight: My pleasure, thanks for taking the time.

IA: You’ve been performing professionally since 1977, how do you think the Australian music scene has changed in that time?

GK: So much has changed.

Probably the biggest thing from my perspective is the fact that there are less venues available to play in. I mean, venue owners are running a business and need to make money from every square metre, and unfortunately they can make more money by putting in a bunch of poker machines than by employing a band. It’s just business – they need to make as much money as they can from that real estate, and pokies do that for them.

IA: How do you feel about the rise of digital recording and distribution?

GK: Digital recording is great for young bands, who can put together an album in their bedroom and then release it on the internet.

On the down side, I think there are a lot of young musicians now who don’t appreciate the subtleties of putting together a chord progression, bridges and a melody. Because they can play music using one finger and approximate the sound of an orchestra, in my mind this can never be as good as a group of trained musicians collaborating to put together a song.

IA: I hear you — the advent of Autotune was a dark day in the history of music.

GK: You’re right, but I don’t want this to sound like sour grapes. I think that all music has a time.

I mean, when rap music first became popular, I think a lot of us were shaking our heads and saying "what the hell is this?", but it’s really relevant to the times. It’s an avenue for young, pissed off people to express their feelings in a style that they identify with.

IA: Going back to the days when you started singing, who were your influences?

GK: I started singing around the piano with my family when I was five years old and we would sing traditional Irish and Scottish songs — songs from musicals like South Pacific. I just enjoyed the storytelling aspect of songs. I always felt that was what my job was, to be a storyteller in a three minute format.

With the benefit of hindsight. that has been a really good thing, because I haven’t been influenced by whatever was popular at the time.

I don’t have a marvellous range, but I do everything I can to interpret a story and be as honest as I can from that perspective. I think that’s why I’m still singing today, still recording and still playing gigs, and I think people can hear that in my music.

IA: You’ve recorded songs across a number of genres including pop, jazz and rock; do you have a favourite?

GK: It changes. When I was in my twenties, pop music and jumping around the stage belting songs out is what I did.

Then when I moved into the jazzy, bluesy genre it became more about the story and the melody.

At the moment, I’m listening to a lot of folk music, and I’m really enjoying the stories there. We’ve created this intimate version of Eurogliders, and although it’s still very exciting music — it has kind of a folky feel to it.  

IA: Following the storytelling theme, you wrote a book a few years ago. Can you tell me about Pink Suit for a Blue Day?

GK: It was something I really felt obliged to write.

I spent most of my life living with the legacy of childhood sexual abuse. The older I got the more I could see how that legacy had affected my choices and how I had allowed it to shape the person I was.

I had massive insecurities.

While I was performing in front of an audience of thousands of people I hated myself; I felt completely and utterly worthless. But because I was a storyteller I could use that craft to create a persona that could stand in front of that audience and be a pop star.

The reason I wrote the book is that I realised that I was the person who was allowing the pain to continue and I was the one actually nurturing that self-doubt. I was fifty years old before I figured that out, so I wrote the book in all its gory detail to help anyone who might be going through a similar situation.

IA: That’s admirable. I think a lot of people go through their entire lives without that level of self-awareness.

GK: It’s very liberating.

So much so, in fact, that I was able to reform a relationship with my father, who was the perpetrator of the abuse. For so many years I wanted vengeance, I wanted to shame and humiliate my father. I never did, but I certainly wanted to, because I thought that would bring me some sort of power.

The exact opposite happened; I forgave him, and I loved him very much by the time he passed away. I was so grateful that, in forgiveness, I found an incredible love that I’d missed out on for so many years. Thankfully, for the last seven years of his life I was able to care for him and understand him.

I could never condone what he did to me, but I think I understand a little more what was going on with him.

IA: It’s wonderful that you made the conscious choice to do that.

GK: I just gave myself a clean sheet of paper and let it form the way it was going to form. I just kept an open mind.

In forgiving myself and forgiving him it was so incredibly liberating. I had never experienced a feeling like that in my life, so that was an outcome I could never dream would happen.

IA: I understand that Eurogliders never officially broke up, but you’re getting back together for an Australian tour. What sparked this particular reunion?

GK: It all started with a phone call from Glenn A. Baker asking if Bernie and I would consider reforming the band.

I asked why, and he explained that the Boomtown Rats were planning an Australian tour and he felt that we were the obvious choice of support band. So we were booked to do a tour with the Boomtown Rats, then the tour fell over.

We had already put the band together and started rehearsals, so we said ‘bugger it’ and kept going.  

We’ve got what we call a full fat version of the band with six members as well as the stripped down version, which allows us to play in different sorts of venues. The response has been fantastic and we just keep adding gigs to the tour. [Tour schedule link]

IA: Do you have any advice for young musicians getting into the business?

GK: I would have so much advice I don’t know where to start! [Laughs.]

I guess the best advice I could give would be to love what you’re doing. Don’t make the conscious choice to sit in any single genre. As long as you love what you’re doing and keep working at it, that’s all you can do. Before other people can love your music, you have to love it first.

Oh, and get a good lawyer — a music lawyer. You’ll need one eventually.

IA: What’s your opinion of internet music piracy?

GK: I just think that it’s available, you know? I don’t really have a problem with it to be honest. People have been pirating my music for over thirty years, while record companies have been crying poor and screwing over artists.

It’s not equitable, the artists get so little from record companies and companies put so little back into the creative side. It’s always like; you’ve done your bit, what’s the next thing we can take advantage of?

IA: What do you think of TV singing shows like The Voice?

GK: I think it’s proof of my last point. Record companies looking for the next big thing and crushing young singers dreams on the way.

Do we remember who came first three years ago and the answer is not really.

There was a lovely girl with an amazing voice a few years ago called Casey Donovan, I don’t know what she’s doing these days. The system is just designed to chew you up and spit you out, then find the next person to fill that space — then the next. These poor darlings who are on the show get so much attention and publicity while it’s happening and then they’re gone.

I mean, I’m happy for the few people who did get a career off the back of a talent show, but for the vast majority it’s a heartbreaking experience.

Being a singer is not just about singing. In reality, it’s one of the many talents one needs to be a successful performer.

I look at the judges on those shows and think: they have to know that some of the people on stage are better singers than they are — technically they have better voices.

But the judges have had time in the eighties and nineties to hone their skills; they played gigs and practiced their craft. They have learnt how to harness the energy on stage and the connection with the audiences. When you’re on stage for a minute and a half that’s just not possible.

IA: Is there any chance of a new Eurogliders album off the back of this tour?

GK: There is indeed a chance; it’s happening right now as we speak. I’ll let you know once we confirm a release date.

IA: Thanks very much for your time today, Grace.

GK: Thanks for your time, and thanks for pushing the tour!

Grace Knight is on tour from 19 July 19, starting at Maroochydoore in Queensland, up until (at this stage, though new gigs are still being booked) 28 February 2015 at Pokolbin, NSW. Click here to find out when Grace is near you.

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