Grace Joyner talks Jeff Buckley, the internet, and badass women

Amber Grace Joyner, the frontman for Charleston based dream-pop band Grace Joyner, talks about breaking into the Charleston music scene, the internet, and gender politics.



How long have you been creating music?


I guess since I was in college. I was 19 when I started taking it seriously. I'm 27 now so it's been about seven years or so.


How did this all start for you?


I started singing in a friend's band, the band called Brave Baby. I started singing with them. We were all friends in college and I just kind of told them that I liked to sing sometimes and offered some female vocals for them. I started playing with them for a few months and that evolved to me joining a separate band that I was friends with. I was in that for about two years before I started this project, which is my own music. So mostly I started recording with other people and then I went off to do my own thing about three and a half years ago.


Did you do anything with music before college?


Yeah, I always kind of played the keys lightly, never very seriously. My mom is a musician, so I grew up around music. She put me in vocal lessons when I was really little so I did chorus and those voice lessons when I was a kid but that's it.


How did your mom, being a musician, shape how you thought of music?


I don't know really. I mean, she was a Christian song-writer so that's a little different than what I do. She's always really supported me and I think growing up around music and it being an important part of my life just lead me to do it, you know?


How would you describe your music then?


I hate this question, but the best description I've heard is dream pop. It's kind of poppy but it's also really mellow and light and ethereal.


Ethereal, that's a great word for it. When you're creating music where do you draw inspiration from?


Where? I think from general life situations, really. Just from growing up. I feel that when I really started writing music, I didn't realize how young I was. I grew up and learned a lot of lessons and wrote music throughout those lessons, you know. Songs that I wrote four years ago are such a reflection on things that I was dealing with when I was 22 or whatever, 25, 23. I just count it as a reflection on the different stages of thought I've been in or the different stages of life, whether it be a relationship or like a move or something like that. I've been writing a lot about music lately. Which is kind of new for me. I write a lot about things that take up a lot of my mental space and music has been doing that lately. My frustrations with the industry. It's something that I love a lot, but it comes with a lot of hardships too.


Now, what frustrations are you referring to?


I don't like to harp on it too much because it's what I'm doing, but it can be tough. Like with the way things are changing: the way things are so accessible through the internet. It's harder to put yourself in a position where its actually feasible to do it full time and have that be monetarily a possibility. Unless you hit a certain point, of course, which is what we're all striving for. But, to get to that point you have to sacrifice a lot. It's just that when you've been doing it for a long time, it can start to weigh on you if things aren't making any moves or any progress. But, I'm not in the stage yet where I'm ready to give up. I'm still doing it.


So you actually believe that the internet has hurt artist's chances to make it big?


It's definitely changed it. I don't know if it's hurt it, but it's changed everything. It's good in so many ways. I feel like I've been exposed to so many artists in so many ways that I wouldn't have had access to without things like Spotify or any of those services. And that's hopefully a way that a lot of people have found us too. So, in a lot of ways it helps, but I think that when it comes to pushing yourself to the next level where a label is ready to invest, you have to prove you're gonna make money some other way because no one is really making too much money off of selling their music. I don't think that it's hurt it; I think it's just changed it.


Speaking of other musicians, what kind of musical inspirations have you drawn on?


I think my biggest one that comes from when I was a kid is Jeff Buckley. He was a big one. I think he was the first musician who's music really really dug in, like I really heard it. He has this really powerful way of expressing himself and I was attracted to that. I think that's really interesting and cool when you can say something super simple but the way that you say it is so interesting and impactful so that whoever is listening just believes it. I think he was a big one. I grew up listening in high school to Radiohead and Feist, I was in high school in the 2000s so that was who was big back then. I think they influenced some of my stuff as well.


Okay, so let me know if this is too broad of a question, but how do you feel about the Charleston music scene?


I don't think it's too broad. I've been in it for like five or six years now so I've seen it change and I've seen it evolve and I think it's awesome. I mean, I think it's really cool. I'm really proud of where it's gone and the people that are succeeding. There is a group of musicians of friends of mine that all went to college around the same time and we're all around the same age. We've all been fighting for the same goals and to see some of them really push forward and make their way is super encouraging for the rest of us. I think there's a lot more women musicians, which is really cool, than there was. There's just a lot more female frontmen in bands which wasn't so much when I started out. It was a lot less. There were just not a lot of women around, or there were but it wasn't like it is now. Now I don't feel like an odd person out.


Can you tell me more about being a woman in the Charleston music scene?


Yeah, I think when I first started it was really intimidating because there were some women doing amazing things, but they weren't doing it in the same way that I wanted to do. I didn't know any women that were doing anything closer musically to what I was doing. A lot of them were doing Americana, which is awesome, you know we've got Shovels and Rope, Jordan Igeo, She Returns From War. There are women that have been doing it for a long time in Charleston, but with what I was doing, there wasn't anyone really like me doing it in a serious manner. I felt a little bit nervous about it. But, I think that's changed for sure. There's way more badass women coming up and it's awesome. I definitely did feel a little bit out of place in the beginning. I would always meet all these dudes at shows and dudes are sometimes a little weird around women in a situation where they don't normally see women. Sometimes I would get a look like they didn't really know what to do with me: like 'are you a musician, are you a girlfriend? I don't really know what you're here for'. Not that it was any mal-intent, it was just not common. Now, I feel very supported by other women in the music scene and I think that it's becoming more of a norm. I feel like when someone would ask me 'what Charleston band would you recommend?' more of them than not would have a woman in the project and that's awesome. I think it's really getting better.

Article by Thomas Sanders