Mon 12th Dec, 2011 in Features
You’re a 16-year-old girl from Perth and you’ve just decided to be a musician. You upload the first two songs you’ve ever written onto the triple j Unearthed website and tell a couple of friends to check it out. The next thing you know, you’re on the phone to Heath Ledger who says his sister sent him your songs and he loves them. He organises for you to fly to Los Angeles and for Ben Harper to produce your first album. From there, you release your debut album and tour the US with Harper, playing to packed stadiums. New York Times names you as one of the best acts to see in the US.
This is Grace Woodroofe’s reality. Here, she talks about her whirlwind discovery; losing one of her best friends; harmonizing with Ben Harper and her plans to get in Jack White’s face.
How did you learn to sing?
By listening. I was always into music, but when I first started listening to blues, when I was about 15-years-old, that’s what first triggered a feeling in me to want to sing and want to express myself in that way. It all turned from there – female artists like Etta James and Nina Simone completely turned my artistic visions upside down.
Did you ever have any formal training?
No, I didn’t. I find that I learn so much from listening and I just became so enamored with these women and their stories and felt such a strong connection to it and that’s how I learnt.
You’ve talked about your mature taste in music from a primary school age, such as Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Were your parents responsible for that?
Yes. My Dad is a music lover and player and I had always grown up with him playing guitar around the house and playing records and stuff. It wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 years-old that I went. “hang on a second, this is actually really cool!” He gave me some Beatles records and I just devoured them and said “give me more, give me more” and that just led onto everything else, like Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys. It’s just a huge spiral once you discover those artists; you just keep going through the decades and that’s how it begun. So my Dad definitely stirred that movement
Do you have a favourite Beatles song?
Nowhere Man. It’s a hard decision and it can change all the time, but I think I’ve decided that that’s the song.
Was it an easy transition for you to go from writing and playing for yourself to all of a sudden being in front of an audience?
That was a huge leap when I first had to do it. It’s definitely something that gets easier – or something that I get more comfortable with it – but initially it was a huge shock. It’s just something that with more experience I find I can deal with better.
You have an incredible discovery story, can you take me through that?
When I was 16-years-old, I first started writing and singing and I put up two demos of the first two songs I’d ever written up on the triple j Unearthed website and sheepishly told a few friends at school to go check it out and one of my friends sent the link onto her brother who happened to be Heath Ledger. He really responded to it and wanted to get involved, because he liked it so much and brought me over to Los Angeles – where I am now. He sent the demos onto Ben Harper and Ben ended up producing my first album and that’s how it all began.
How did it immediately feel to be told that Heath Ledger was into your music?
It was very surreal, almost to the point where I didn’t believe it; like I wanted verified proof that it was real. When we finally got on the phone, that’s when I knew no one was playing a trick on me. I remember thinking “wow, now I truly believe anything is possible”, because it’s just such a crazy opportunity and I’m extremely lucky that it happened, because I wouldn’t be here right now if it hadn’t.
How did you find Heath Ledger?
One of the things that I remember thinking when I first met him, and we first started hanging out, was that he was so real. Just really grounded and down-to-earth and a complete Aussie boy – he was just such a boy [laughs]. But also immensely talented and passionate for the arts – film, music, photography – he was just so immersed in all of it and that’s what I really respected about him, because I felt the same way.
Your song H was written about Heath Ledger. It’s a deeply moving song and left me with a sense you had a great deal of respect and love for him. How did Heath Ledger’s death affect you?
I lost one of my best friends; there’s not really any explanation.
Did it have a large impact on your music career at the time?
Yeah, it’s the same with anyone who loses a loved one. Everything in your life takes a step back, but I work hard for him and everything that I do, I do it hoping that he would approve and that he’s guiding me with it.