Grace Weber doesn’t remember the first time she started singing. As far as she’s concerned, she’s been singing her whole life. “I feel like it was before I started talking,” she tells me over the phone from the back of a cab on the way to the airport. As a twelve-year-old in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Weber joined a gospel choir, and quickly found her place in the ranks, feeling for the first time like she found a musical home. From there, her musical education continued in an organic way. She took a shot in the dark with an application and ultimate acceptance to appear on Showtime At The Apollo, and was admitted to NYU to study music.
It was after her move to New York that Weber started exploring songwriting for the first time. “I was always musical and a singer, but when I got to college is the first time that I started writing songs and figuring out how to do that,” she recalls. Everything changed for Weber in August 2015 when she was asked to sing on a track and walked into a studio, unknowingly tracking some vocals with members of Chance The Rapper’s band the Social Experiment. They played her the rough cut of a track, and she was immediately filled with a sense of excitement that had been lost since she was about thirteen and singing in the gospel choir.
“I had this feeling of ‘I have to sing right now and express myself because I’m so inspired,’” she remembers excitedly. It was a very awesome moment of validation. I felt these guys could be amazing collaborators and we could make some music together. It was such an organic experience. It was sort of the beginning of my journey. I’ve always known who I was as a singer, but it was the beginning of my journey as a songwriter and an artist.”
Together with the Social Experiment trio of Nate Fox, Nico Segal, and Peter Cottontale, Weber got to work on what would become her debut solo album, earning a Grammy in the process for her appearance on Chance The Rapper’s “All We Got.” Over almost a year, they put together about fifty ideas and beats.
Then, when the Social Experiment embarked on Chance’s massive 2017 world tour, Weber followed in the footsteps of one of her musical influences (and fellow Wisconsinite) Bon Iver: She packed up and returned to Wisconsin, where she wrote lyrics for nearly thirty songs by secluding herself in a little cabin on the lake and giving herself space and time to tap into her creativity. After Chance’s massive Grammy win earlier this year, Weber showed up in Los Angeles to continue work on the record with the guys, spending February to May finishing the production and vocals.
The first taste of Weber’s solo offering was “More Than Friends,” a soft, simple track that showcased Weber’s incredible vocal range and leaned into her R&B influence. While details are still in flux regarding the full record, Weber has now shared its second single, “Elated,” a song that came very naturally to the group early in the process.
“I started the song with Peter, and I think it was the first week or so of working on the album,” she explains. “We started writing a song on the piano and I was singing these melody ideas. I was starting to get a melodic structure. He put up his iPhone and pressed record and we started recording these ideas. Then I show up at the studio and Peter had taken this iPhone recording and picked out eight chords that he really liked. He put everything an octave down. He started putting this two-step drone beat to it and it made me really happy. I just couldn’t not smile when I was listening to it. The chord progressions that he was putting through the song was really reminiscent of my gospel choir roots. This is the song that I can explore my vocal stuff on.”
With the pitched-down vocals, the syllables Weber sang into the iPhone started to evolve, sounding as if she was singing, “I feel elated.” That got her thinking, considering what it really means to be elated, and to evoke that sense of complete unending happiness in the music and lyrics of the song. “It’s definitely a true story of the past year and a half, two years,” she quickly replies when I ask if the song is autobiographical or more rooted in idealized fiction.
“It’s been a personal journey of self-acceptance and feeling comfortable stepping into my own. This year I realized that being yourself is being able to relax and not judge yourself too much, or take yourself too seriously. Not to worry about what other people think of you, because you just accept yourself and like yourself; not trying to fit into a mold or people-please… A lot of that was meeting Nate, Nico, and Peter. Meeting these friends, my musical soul mates who made me feel like I could be myself completely in the studio. There wasn’t such thing as a bad idea when we were creating. I felt very accepted by them.”
Somehow, the group was able to capture these feelings on “Elated.” You can even hear Weber laughing during vocal breaks, intentionally included to show how genuinely happy they all were while producing the track. It’s really something special. Check out the track below.
With the full album, Weber has finally incorporated all of her wide-ranging influences from Whitney Houston to Joni Mitchell to Frank Ocean, creating a sonic offering that can be considered equal parts R&B, soul, and gospel, with a little touch of folk in there, too. “I’ve been feeling really excited about this album because I really feel like it sounds like what the inside of my soul sounds like,” she says as she wheels her bag into the airport. “It’s like how I’ve always wanted to express myself, and I’m finally hearing it back.”
Asked when to expect the full album, Weber says there may be one more single before the whole album drops, with each individual song released hopefully peaking curiosity for the whole thing. The strategy is working: With the two singles already released, curiosity has definitely been peaked.