In one of her first ever interviews, when asked what her greatest source of inspiration for making amusic was, Grace Shaw gave an answer that still resonates perfectly today.
"I want to document being human and imperfect and then make people feel something with that."
It would be impossible to better encapsulate in a sentence what makes Shaw (or Mallrat as she's widely adored) and her music just so special. Few Australian songwriters have captured the attention of their generation quite like her, and it's been the honesty and sincerity of her lyricism, her humble stage presence, her unwavering ambition, and her warmth as a person that has won her fan after fan after fan. She perfectly represents being "human" and "imperfect" and yet all the while she's written some of the most human and most perfect music of the last decade.
In the five or so years she's been on the scene, through three EPs and a number of guest features, Shaw has established herself as one of Australia's best-known and most-loved singer-songwriters, while always constantly evolving her sound and her approach -- somehow simultaneously capturing the zeitgeist while also dictating it.
She emerged as a starry-eyed teen from the suburbs of Brisbane, dreaming of being a hip hop star while instantly connecting to fans through her quintessential references to the banality of suburban life (from crappy house parties to adolescent haunts like Hungry Jack's and Westfield malls) in the effortless hip-pop brilliance of songs like, 'Uninvited' and 'For Real.' As her career progressed she developed her voice, those proto rap verses gave way to growing confidence as a singer, as she discovered her voice with singles like 'Better' and 'Groceries,' as well as the collaborations 'UFO' (featuring Allday) and 'Nobody's Home' (with producer Basenji). Those songs transformed her into a genuine star, while also placing her at the head of an international musical movement of empowered, creative introverts making online bedroom pop that became anthems for people craving a sense of individualism.
Then came 'Charlie' -- a song that saw her reveal a whole new side of her songwriting. Delicate and relatable, she wrote about her sometimes difficult home life growing up, the love that she's still surrounded by despite of it, as well as a somewhat tribute to her pet Labrador, Charlie (who's been a constant presence in the story of Mallrat). It was a song that catapulted her to the top three of the triple j Hottest 100 and saw her make her first appearance on US television, cementing her place as a bone fide young icon.
Now, in a year that has arguably been the most difficult for those in her generation, she emerges with a song to save them, yet again, in 'Rockstar.'
'Rockstar' will come as a total surprise to some and feel like a logical next step to others. Written and recorded in her part-time home of Los Angeles, the song was a collaboration with songwriter/producer Tommy English (Kacey Musgraves 'High Horse,' Carly Rae Jepsen 'Dedicated') and sees another evolution, this time into an indie dream pop alt rocker.
Shaw has long-celebrated her love for artists that have blurred the lines of commercial success and artistic sincerity like Lana Del Rey and Kacey Musgraves, and the last couple of years has also seen her grow in public admiration for the likes of '90s dream folk icons Mazzy Star, as well as the hazy indie rock that populated the legendary soundtrack to the 2000s hit melodrama, The O.C. All those influences can be heard pulsating through 'Rockstar,' although she admits she's also giving a surprising nod to some of her own teenage Brisbane idols.
"I feel like it reminds me of a mix between Lana Del Rey, Kacey Musgraves and Violent Soho," says Shaw. "All through my teens (and obviously still) I loved the early Violent Soho albums self-titled and Hungry Ghost -- those two albums I've listened to a lot and I think that's seeped its way 'Rockstar.'"
That grunge factor can clearly be heard in English's production, as sludgy, lethargic guitars and muffled, lo-fi drums underpin the steady softness of Shaw's vocals as they sit front and centre in the mix. Once the song reaches the chorus though, the haziness of LA dream rock washes over the song like an Orange County sunset, as Shaw sings some of the most spectacular lyrics of her career -- somehow aspirational, boastful, humble, and heartbreaking all at once:
Maybe I'll fall in love with a rockstar,
We'll be married forever,
I'll forget all about ya, one day.
Maybe when I've won all the Grammys,
and I've got my own family,
I'll forget all about ya, one day.
"I feel like a lot of the songs I've been writing lately have been me realising my power," says Shaw of the kiss-off lyrics. "The first part of the song I wrote a year and a half ago, just the chorus on its own. That chorus has a completely different attitude on its own, but when you listen in the context of the verses and the really aggressive guitar outro it completely flips the perspective of everything. When I wrote the rest of the song a year later I was feeling a lot more sure of myself. It's interesting how time can reframe things that you still think and are still true but just give them a whole new house to sit in."
That realization of power once again relates to the confidence Shaw has in herself as a musician. Never traditionally trained but undeniably talented, these days she has more belief in her vocal abilities than ever -- still honing her craft; already a superstar.
"I've always thought of myself a whisper singer and not even a very good singer, but when I listen to the chorus of 'Rockstar' it reminds me that I have more range than I probably even give myself credit for and it's quite a big chorus for me."
To say it's a "big chorus" is typically self-effacing of Shaw. Play 'Rockstar' for anyone and you'll quickly see a wave of recognition flow across their face as the music, Shaw's voice and those irresistible lyrics sink in, bringing with them that rare and inescapable feeling that comes with hearing a song for the first time that you know will be a part of your life forever.
How could it not? It's human, imperfect and makes you feel something -- just like Mallrat planned all along.