On creativity, the importance of good mental health, and his debut album...

When Clash finally catches Isaac Gracie he's only just woken up.

But then, the frenetic pace with which the songwriter has conducted the past 12 months would wear down even the hardiest of souls.

Emerging from a hard-earned break, he's ideally poised to look back on his successes, and to sketch out where he could go next.

New EP 'Death of You & I' is out now, and with a flurry of live dates scheduled both for the UK and the continent Isaac Gracie is set to be busier than ever over the coming weeks.

So it's perhaps apt that Clash finds him in a rare state of relaxation, able to talk freely about creativity, the importance of good mental health, and his debut album...

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The tour kicks off in a matter of days, how have the live shows been going?

Live is pretty much my favourite part of the whole equation at the moment! I’ve never played with a band before, and since I’ve started with that everything has taken on a whole new life. The shows are just different!

And it also helps for when I play on my own, as well, because it puts everything into perspective a little bit. And I think it makes you better – or more comfortable, at least – onstage when you have other people up there with you. Which I’ve never had before!

You’ll be travelling to the continent, which must be quite exciting. What is it to travel and visit these places?

Yeah! I mean, it gives me something to do… It’s like having a job, in a way! And you get to travel and play gigs. Aside from a long tour where you’d maybe get worn down a little – I can imagine – I really can’t see what’s wrong with that set up, y’know. Everything about it is enjoyable. Even travelling isn’t that bad because it’s meditative… I’d probably just be wasting time anyway.

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Live is pretty much my favourite part of the whole equation...

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Can you write on the road? Or do you need to find somewhere a little more solitary?

No, I’ve tried… I recorded a whole bunch of voice memos, and that’s generally how I write my songs. I tried on the bus before to score through them, and finish the lyrics and stuff like that, and get that whole picture worked out… Sometimes that works, and it’s fun, and that’s excellent, and other times it doesn’t because the further away you are from actually being able to implement the changes you envisage in your head it can become quite a maddening and depressing thing.

So if you’re on a seven hour drive from France to Germany then you might start that drive and think, oh cool I’m going to write some lyrics to this song and it’s all good, but then three hours in you’re like: I’m getting nowhere with this song, that’s three hours wasted!

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So is the studio where those ideas come together in a coherent sense?

Not really… It’s more in my bedroom. The song will be written and I’ll usually have a picture of it because I’ll usually do a demo. What we do in the studio is to seek to replicate that.

‘The Death Of You & I’ was written by me when I went for a jog, just me writing it in my head while I went for a jog, and then the next day I had a rehearsal session with the guys and I just played it to them, put it to the floor, and that’s how that happened. So it’s changing, it’s evolving, it’s not the same necessarily as when I started. It’s rare that ideas come to fruition in the studio, it’s usually the leg-work happens prior to that.

Each EP from you seems to say something different, is that a purposeful approach?

I’d like to say yeah, but at the same time it’s more that when we put out those demos they truly were my demos, and at that point I had no conception of the music industry or what it was to play music for a job. I honestly had no idea about any of that stuff, so it was the rawest form of my relation to music. Invariably, when more doors opened up to me and what I’m able to do with music – in terms of writing songs or producing them – the sounds can change and grow and become more fleshed out.

I didn’t come into music obsessing over any sort of plan or idea of where things were going to go or what would happen. I feel the releases we’ve put out have just been an organic representation of where I’ve grown.

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The album is a representation of how I’d rolled with the punches...

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You’ve stuck to that EP format, will there be an album in the not-too-distant future?

Yeah. I mean, that’s an ongoing passion project over the course of the past two years – and it’s finished, actually… today! Which is really cool. Right here as we speak it’s being finished! It’s just grown with the project and how things have evolved, it’s taken different recording sessions but it’s a representation of how things have grown along the way.

Did you have a single vision of what the album should be, or was it more a case of accepting the differing ways it was to change and evolve?

I think it was more like I was rolling with the punches. I think when we started doing the album I needed a lot of help, a lot of guidance, a lot of direction from other people because I felt really out of my depth in terms of understanding these things. I’d never really been into a studio before! It took time.

As far as I’m concerned it isn’t a bad thing that the album is a representation of how I’d rolled with the punches. It’s almost an honest thing. And if I were to try to do an album that had more of a preconceived look or feel – in terms of the songs themselves, or the way it was done – that would be in the future, when all these things are understood.

I think there’s something about a debut album that it has to demonstrate the rough ‘n’ tumble of finding your feet in music. It’s not an easy thing. I never had any formal training in terms of understanding music as a professional endeavour, so you’ve got to learn the steps and that’s evident in the record.

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Have those experiences helped you gain confidence, both in yourself and in your artistry?

It goes in waves. I honestly feel… low, sometimes. I feel worried and I feel anxious… but then at the same time I also feel reassured in finishing the album. You go through peaks and troughs – you might have an experience that brings you confidence in yourself, some reassurance, and sometimes it will be difficult. When there’s an absence of things to do, especially. This is why I like being on tour – it’s difficult to maintain that confidence because you’re not doing the thing that makes you confident about the thing that you do. And for me, that’s always been writing songs.

So I find if I go through a period of writer’s block then it can get really challenging. I wouldn’t say there’s any complete answer in the sense of confidence or assurance that I didn’t have previously, but I would say that I’m learning to understand how I feel about all of it a bit better maybe.

Do you have techniques to get yourself out of periods of writer’s block?

No… I wish I did! But I’m far too much of a hypochondriac… even about writing. So when I can’t write – which is a lot of time… because who can, really? - I might over-dramatise the fear of it. And it is scary. When you can’t write a song you worry that you’ll never be able to write a song.

I try most of the time to just write more, put myself in a position where I’m forcing myself to write. But in all honesty I don’t think that’s the best way of dealing with it, as it ultimately leads to me becoming depressed. The more time you spend doing something you’re failing at, the more pressure you put on that thing to make you not feel like a failure, not feel depressed. It’s like sinking into quicksand.

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When you need it that much you can’t turn your back on it...

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So I genuinely think that taking myself away from that, finding interest in other things, finding beauty or purpose in something else that would make me want to write a song… That wouldn’t be too pre-constructed or preconceived. It would feel fresh and natural and just leap out of me. It’s difficult because when you need it that much you can’t turn your back on it.

If the album is finished then will the upcoming shows feature new tracks?

There’s quite a few new tracks in there, and I’m excited about that. They follow in the vein of the last few releases, and it’ll be good to play them live. One of my things about releasing new music is that the whole point of the deal is you want to put out music all the time, and it’s nice to be able to do that. When you’re not putting out new music you just want to be doing that… so it’s good when you can, I guess.

So is that plan for 2018, then? A lot more music and a lot more shows?

I think so! Pretty much. If I can play as much as possible then I’ll be happy. Hopefully it’s just playing lots of gigs and releasing the album and putting out new music. That’s all I look for, really.

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Photography: Laura McCluskey

Catch Isaac Gracie at the following shows:

27 Cambridge Portland Arms
28 Bristol The Exchange
30 London Village Underground
31 Manchester The Deaf Institute

1 Newcastle Think Tank

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