“With this record I learned that I’m allowed to influence myself instead of taking in anyone else’s ideas”, Grace Cummings explains. “I learned to completely trust what I see and hear in my head, and I stuck with that and focused on creating what I love the most: something real and raw and ugly and beautiful.”
The Melbourne-based folk singer’s forthcoming album, Storm Queen – to be released in January - is exactly that. It feels drawn from a deeper well than most others are, showcasing the depth of her vast and volatile landscape.
The self-produced album follows Cummings’ tenderly understated debut Refuge Cove, which came out two years ago on King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s Flightless Records. True to its title, Storm Queen has a distinctly tempestuous spirit, raging around Cummings’ spellbinding and otherworldly voice.
A near-lifelong musician, Cummings got her start as a drummer in a series of high school bands whose repertoire largely consisted of AC/DC and Jimi Hendrix covers. As she began writing songs of her own, she mined inspiration from artists like seminal Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly, Bob Dylan and Spiritualized frontman J Spaceman, as well as from the traditional Irish folk music her father often played at home. “Irish melodies are some of my favourites”, she says. “They go to such dark and dramatic places”.
After striking out on her own as a solo artist, she released her debut album and opened for the likes of Weyes Blood, Evan Dando and J Mascis, while continuing to perform in the Australian theatre; recently playing the lead role in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Joanna Murray-Smith’s Berlin. There is a loose sense of drama and theatricality that she brings to her peculiar brand of folk songwriting, as she journeys into dark and dramatic places all of her own.
With a busy January ahead of her, Holler sat down with Cummings to talk about her influences, recording the album and how she goes about capturing those sounds she hears in her head.
Where are you from and how has that influenced your music?
I come from Victoria, Australia. The Victorian landscape is something that comes up in my writing a lot. Particularly in this album I think.
What did you listen to growing up?
My childhood sounds like… Van Morrison, Neil Young, Dylan, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Wu Tang, The White Stripes. I had a full on obsession with The Beatles when I was a kid. Painted their lyrics all over my bedroom walls with pictures of suns and clouds. I used to hide under a table in my room with a blanket over it and listen to Dylan, writing down the lyrics that got to me on the underside of the table so that nobody could see.
What prompted your decision to self-produce the album? And what was that process like?
I’m not sure that anything prompted this or if it was a real decision. It just sort of happened that way. I do like to hold the reins most of the time and be in control so I can follow the images in my head. I think what I am searching for a lot of the time is quite specific.
How did Storm Queen shift between writing and producing it? You capture such a spare, crackling end result, but we’re curious how the idea first sounded in your head compared to the finished version.
Storm Queen sounds pretty bloody close to what I had going on in my head when I was writing it. I knew that things were going to be hard in the middle of a pandemic and Melbourne’s lockdowns, so I knew the album had to be simple. I wanted the important moments to come out strong, for it to be dynamic; the perfect mix of gentle and ugly.
What was your favourite song to write on Storm Queen?
I think the song that is the closest to me - at the moment - is the title track. I’m proud of myself for sticking with the idea I had in my head. Recording the song with Cahill Kelly and Harry Cooper was one of the greatest moments of making the whole album.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
Well if it’s a dream… Dylan.
Getting on the other side of this pandemic and playing as much as I can.
Storm Queen is released on ATO Records on January 14th.