Ep49: Grace Petrie on connection and communion – Transcript

Ep49: Grace Petrie on connection and communion – Transcript


SPEAKERS

Laura Kidd, Grace Petrie


Grace Petrie
The innovations that came up during lockdown were incredible to me, you know. I think there were so many of us that just totally rethought…well, when you strip it all away, what are the bare bones of what we do? And what we need is communion with each other, and if we’ve got that we’re all going to be much healthier, much happier human beings, I think.


Laura Kidd  
Hello and welcome to episode 49 of Attention Engineer.

I’m Laura and this is my podcast. Hi!

Attention Engineer is a show where I share deep conversations with fellow artists about creativity, grit and determination. My aim is to consistently remind you – and remind myself – that creativity really is for everyone. I definitely need that reminder, and having these conversations has been an incredible boost over the past year and a bit. Thank you for being part of this!


The rain is hammering down in Bristol today, after weeks of balmy weather. I hope you can hear it – I think it makes The Launchpad feel extra cosy.

I took an adventure week off recently, and started open water swimming. Wow. I was immediately hooked, and have been going regularly ever since, and it’s so interesting when you start doing something new how easy it is now to find others who love that thing, too. Thanks, internet! I’ve always had great admiration for anyone who follows their interests in life, anyone who loves something – however obscure that thing is – so much that their eyes gleam when they talk about it.

I played shows fairly relentlessly between 2010 and 2019, around 600 in total, and a gig didn’t really feel like a gig unless I got a chance to meet people afterwards and talk with them – about them. Compliments are lovely, of course, but as Tom Robinson said in episode 6, they close off a conversation pretty quickly. “I love your music”. “Thank you”. Or “wow, you’re _insert famous name here”. “Yes, yes I am”. The end.

This podcast has given me the opportunity to move right past the compliment stage and ask probing questions of some of the artists I admire the most, leading to some really fascinating and personally enriching conversations. I could never have predicted the glittering guestlist this show has had so far, and as I near the end of this phase of Attention Engineer, I’m feeling very grateful to you for tuning in.

Thank you for encouraging me by turning up to listen – this show passed 40,000 downloads last week and I’m just so pleased that the idea I cooked up in my home studio has entertained and informed you through some of the strangest times in recent history. Thank you to every single guest, and a huge thanks also to every member of my Correspondent’s Club for their generous support – I genuinely couldn’t have done this without you.

Today’s guest was meant to be one of the first names on that illustrious guestlist, but as it is, the timing worked out for the best because, in her words, if we had talked last March, she wouldn’t have had anything to say. No danger of that in this episode, thankfully, just a lovely opportunity to catch up with a friend from the road just before her new album comes out next Monday.


A folk singer, songwriter and activist from Leicester, UK, Grace Petrie has been writing, recording and touring relentlessly for more than ten years. Her unique takes on life, love and politics, and the warmth and wit with which they are delivered, have won over audiences everywhere, across the alternative, folk, political and comedy scenes.

Through all of this, Grace has quietly become one of the most respected songwriters working in the UK today.

Grace’s new album “Connectivity” is out on 4th October 2021 and is available to buy now.

Please join me for my conversation with Grace Petrie.


GP  
I’m actually quite useless at all that stuff.

LK  
Huh!

GP  
I only just like, in the last sort of three years, learned how to ask a sound engineer for what I actually need and mean. Do you know what I mean? But I think it was a confidence thing…

LK  
Yeah. Well, it takes a while, doesn’t it?

GP  
Well. It will be unsurprising to you to hear that I’m quite bad at, like – anything adminny I’m just like incredibly disorganised about. So for years and years and years, I would just get there and people would already be quite stressed. They’d be like, “We don’t know what tech you need!” And I would always just be like, “Yeah, it’s just that I need basically nothing, I know you’ll have it”, do you know what I mean?

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
“If you have a single microphone in this building, like I can use it, if you have anywhere that I can plug a jack lead into, and hear my guitar then like, we’re fine”. But there’d always be this, like, there’d be this like, kind of we’d start on a foot of real confrontation because the sound engineer would be like, “We just don’t know you need!” and I’d be like, “Yeah, I just need like the bare minimum”. And they’d sort of be like [breathes heavily] “Well, that’s okay”. And I’d be like, “Yeah, I know, I knew it would be!”

LK  
Today could have been the day you turned up with the full orchestra though, right? 

GP  
Yeah, that’s true.

LK  
Could have been that day.

GP  
And also, I learned my lesson because one fateful trade union event I played, where they said to me in advance – and I had told them in advance, I said I just need a mic and a DI. Does that sound like a normal sentence to you?

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
Yeah. But what you forget is, and what I learned that day is, that that assumes a lot of things about the event, like there will be a PA… And it was in this little pub in Birmingham, and I turned up and there was nobody there, and there was no stage, and there was no… it was just like, those small pubs that are on the corners of terraced streets that are like, L-shaped pubs.

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
And I got in there, and I was like, there’s nowhere obvious that a gig would even be happening here. And then the woman turned up and she was so lovely and she was so warm, and she was like, “Oh, by the way, before I forget, I’ve got these for you”, reached into her bag and pulled out a microphone, no lead, just handed it to me, and a DI box. And I was like…to be fair, that’ll teach me to ask for a mic and a DI, that’s what I’ve got. And I was like, “Yeah, I can’t do anything with these. It looks like I’m going unplugged tonight. We’re just gonna sit in the corner of this pub”.

LK  
Oh my.

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
What was the gig like in the end?

GP  
Mate. Very strange. Do you know Bethany Black, the comic?

LK  
I’ve heard the name. Yeah.

GP  
I saw that she was on the bill, so I was like, oh, if she’s doing it, it must be legit. And then she later confessed to me that she saw that I was on the bill and thought the same thing. We both agreed to do this thing thinking they must know what they’re doing. And then she got there and she was like, “So there’s no PA, huh?” And I was like “Noooooo”. The pub itself had a karaoke machine, one of those real bad kids’ karaoke machines with a terrible microphone that sounds like a loudspeaker. And they gave that to her, plugged in to the karaoke machine, no stand or anything, and they’re like, “If you want a mic stand, I’m sure we can fashion something”. So they gaffer taped this microphone to the handle of a mop.

LK  
Oh my God!

GP  
And me and her were like, blimey, this business we call show eh? But it was the first time I’d met her and it really bonded us, it was a real war story. So yeah.

LK  
Wow.

GP  
It was one for the memoir.

LK  
I’ve had two experiences like that one of which – luckily we figured it out beforehand that they weren’t going to have a PA. I think they wanted me to bring one and I was like, I’m not a weekend disco, I don’t have that stuff. Also, I don’t really… I can set that stuff up, I absolutely can do that, but I’d really rather just focus on the performing bit because there’s quite a lot to that as well.

GP  
Yeah, that’s a different job, isn’t it? That’s totally above and beyond!

LK  
Yeah, it is, but then when it’s almost implicitly expected, or when someone doesn’t understand what the gear is, it feels to me like I’m just sort of being really rude and going “Well no, I won’t do my own sound”. Like it’s bad. Yeah. Awkward.

GP  
Yeah, I know. And I felt so bad with this woman that I was like, I’ve made so many assumptions about what you might know about putting something on like this. And they were just trade unionists, they weren’t event organisers or promoters or anything, do you know what I mean?

LK  
But it’s hard to know in an email, isn’t it?

GP  
It’s very hard to know. And when they’re like, “What tech do you need?” And now, these days I would feel incredibly condescending saying “I need a PA…this is what that means. There needs to be some form of amplification, you know, probably an engineer to manage these things”. Yeah.

LK  
Jesus Christ, Who do you think you are?

GP  
We’re gonna be joined by this guy I’m afraid [Grace’s dog Frank joins the call.]

LK  
Frank!!

GP  
Because he is continuing his two year streak of not allowing me to do any Zoom calls that he’s not the star of.

LK  
Awhhhh, Frank.

GP  
Do you know what…after joking about my technical prowess, I haven’t been recording this, sorry.

LK  
Well, I have, so it’s fine. But feel free – get involved! I’ll send a PA system round…

GP  
[LAUGHS]

LK  
So, I love, love our opener about PA systems. I was looking at when we first met – I think it must have been Chris T-T’s Midwinter Picnic in 2012.

GP  
That sounds about right, at West Hill Hall, if I’m not mistaken, in Brighton.

LK  
I think so.

GP  
That was a gorgeous day, yeah.

LK  
It was so great. And I hadn’t heard of you before that I don’t think, I don’t remember that I had, but I remember watching you play and just from the very moment – the first note, first, anything you did, was just completely hooked on what you were doing.

GP  
Ah, thank you!

LK  
It was so impressive to me. And I just – I think this must have been before I went on tour with Chris, it was just before, and I remember spending a lot of time in the car with him talking about what life performance is for. You can make it your own thing, obviously, make it whatever you want – but having a bit of intention about it helps. So I did a lot of soul searching, cos I’d been doing a lot of gigs before that, playing in other people’s bands, and that was all about I just want to play music and learn my instrument and learn my craft. And then it was playing music for money, because I was hired to play for people, so then it becomes a job. Yeah, there’s that aspect to it as well. But just spending a lot of time thinking “What am I doing this for?” I found that really interesting. I was wondering if you had a moment that that became clear for you, if that’s something you spent time on? How intentional the way you perform live is.

GP  
I mean, it’s a funny question to be asking me at the moment, though, to be honest, because err…

LK  
Yeah, do you remember?

GP  
Well, I was gonna say I sort of feel like I’m having it now. I suppose because I always wrote songs about politics, and Billy Bragg was a big influence…and, you know, I’m 34, and my first record was like, 2010, and that was just after the first Conservative government got in – Cameron’s government. And I wrote loads of songs about politics, and I was part of, I guess, then I would have been in my early 20’s, 22 or something, and I had loads of friends who were at uni, and I was working at the time at the Sheffield University Students Union bar. And I was quite involved in the student protest scene that was initially sparked by tuition fees, and Nick Clegg, but joined the wider anti-austerity movement.

And I was really inspired all the time about politics back then, and it felt like those first couple of years, you know, there, it just felt like we were marching all the time, and there were demos all the time, and it was Occupy St. Paul’s, and it felt like this incredibly fertile time, politically, you know, and it really felt like the songs… You know, I think looking back – I think ridiculously naively – I thought, you know, they could really be an important part of that sort of thing. But it was very self fulfilling because I didn’t really know very much about politics when I first started with all that stuff, but the more I went to, the more demos I went to, the more people would come up to me and say “Have you heard about this story, this injustice, this politician, this whatever, you should write a song about it”. So then I just would, I’d be like, “Sure”, and then I’d just go off and learn about it.

And, so I wrote two or three albums’ worth of songs, mostly of political material between 2010 and 2013. I was doing a DIY record a year, almost. I don’t want to be too much of a downer straight away but, you know, here we are 11 years later, and I have never been less politically optimistic, I suppose, about where we stand in terms of this country and the wider political direction of any kind of movement for social justice. It feels like it’s been quite wilfully and deliberately stamped out, certainly in the Labour Party, and in a wider sense in this country. And it’s a funny thing to sit and think about where that leaves me. Like, it’s not the most important part of the conversation for social justice…

LK  
“But what about me?!!!”

GP  
But what about me? But as an artist, I always wanted to be a musician before I ever was in any way doing anything that could be called protest songs. You know, I knew I wanted to be a singer when I was a teenager, before I knew anything at all about politics. And I kind of got involved in politics, and it really felt like…it’s very comforting to me to feel like, you know, wow, I’m sort of, I’m, I’m being an activist, you know, that made me feel great about myself, like, I’m being part of the revolution. And now, you know, I see people coming up, 10/15 years younger than me who are writing amazing songs, amazing, urgent political songs. And that’s absolutely their job and their place. And I just feel like, I’m so burnt out politically, and I still want to be a musician, you know, and I’m always gonna want to be a musician, but it makes me feel like a bit of a fraud to sort of turn around… I’ve got this new record which is my sort of seventh album, depending on who you talk to it’s either my seventh or my second album, but it’s my second studio album.

LK  
How is it your second? You’ve done so many!

GP  
Yeah, I know. “Queer As Folk” was the first one that actually was done in a studio, basically.

LK  
Oh I see. That’s how you’re classing it?

GP  
I don’t class it that way, but my agent was like “It would be better if we called the earlier ones demos”, but I don’t know. If you asked me I would say this is my seventh album, because I’m 34 years old, do you know what I mean, I’ve been doing this a long time. I don’t people to think it’s taken me 15 years to put out two records.

LK  
The ingenue, Grace Petrie. Brand new!

GP  
Yeah, absolutely. Here she comes…with my debut! But yeah, so here I come with my seventh album, and it’s not very political, because that’s not really what I was writing. There’s politics on it, but it’s from a more personal perspective of what I would regard as the much more self indulgent side of like, how do you keep going in terms of mental health, and optimism, and living in a world that is telling you every single day that you’ve already lost.

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
But they’re not barnstorming, let’s take the barricade songs like I was writing, you know, 15 years ago. And that does make me think, what am I doing this for? What is the point of this? I never claimed ever that I didn’t want to be a musician, that was always what I wanted to be, and I always said that I was writing things that I was passionate about. And I was – obviously I am passionate about politics, I always will be passionate about politics, it’s just at the moment that passion is… I’m passionately despair filled.

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
At the moment, I’m passionately despairing!

LK  
Yeah, and you have to choose what message you want to be sending to people who like you and people who will find you as well, right? I feel like it’s whatever’s most present in your life at the time is what you’re gonna write songs about. That’s how it is for me.

GP  
Yeah, I think so, yeah.

LK  
I don’t think getting pigeon holed by yourself makes any sense. “I can only write songs out these things otherwise I’m not being me.”

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
Because a person is a myriad of things inside, we will have these vast inner lives and… some people might not, but I think most of us do! I think most of us do.

GP  
Yeah, definitely and I think that idea that I have to be a protest singer and everything I have to say has to be really, really political… To be honest, it comes from a place of musical insecurity, I think. Definitely when I was younger, and I mean, we’ve spoken about this before, but when I started playing on the folk scene, which is, you know, particularly in Britain, folk music is spectacularly technically proficient, and that is not the sort of musician I am.

I’m a three chord strummer, and I don’t say that in a self-deprecating way, it’s something that’s taken me a long time to feel like that’s fine, you know what I mean, there’s room, we have an infinite bandwidth and it’s definitely okay for there still to be G/C/D songs in the world. We’re never gonna run out of them, you know, but I think earlier on when I started playing on the folk scene, a lot of people would say some variation of “she’s not much of a guitarist and she’s not much of a singer, but what she’s saying is really important”, you know, and so I think it sort of left me with this hangover that I’m like, “Well anything I’m saying has got to be really important, because if it’s not then I’m just not much of a guitarist and I’m not much of a singer, like what else is there?”, you know. 

LK  
Yeah, yeah.

GP  
Yeah, I don’t know man, I’m 34, I think I should just let myself off the hook for that and just be like, absolutely, you got to write what you got to write about. I never want to be disingenuously writing political songs, I never want to be scouring the headlines and being like “Oo, I wonder what’s going to go viral?”, do you know what I mean, “I’ll try and fucking write something about that”. That way lies madness, I think.

LK  
Yeah, I think that’s what successful people do, but I’m not sure I want to be that kind of person either, where it’s so calculated.

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
But so coming back to live stuff…how do you feel after this, you know, enforced break? Because how important has live stuff been in terms of building your career over the past let’s say 11 years?

GP  
100%. 100%, you know, it’s not come through anything else really, for me. And I’ve been very very very lucky in that I was able to support quite a few comedians who tour throughout the year, so you know, for the past 10 years I’ve been able to tour – you know, there was many years that I’d do six or seven tours of the UK in a year, and just keep criss-crossing, and they would always be new audiences because that’s the nature of supporting different people in different scenes, so I was able to play to loads of rooms of people who’d never seen me, even if I was coming back to a place that…you know, I think one year I played Manchester with Robin Ince four time, I think, in one year. But it’s still loads of new people.

Yeah, I just gigged and gigged and gigged and gigged, you know, and never really stopped that level. And you know, the pandemic was a big shock to the system. Obviously it was for all of us, but I mean, you know, I think in 2019 I did like 140 shows and then it was from that to obviously immediate standstill, and nothing, and no way of knowing when it was going to end, either.

LK  
Yeah, yeah. Because to me from the outside – and I just see online stuff, and whenever we bump into each other we have a chat, but I haven’t bumped into anyone for a long time, so mostly online – but I just see…you seem to be someone who’s very focused on making music and touring it. I don’t see loads of stuff in between. I know you do stuff with The Guilty Feminist as well. But whereas I’m always, you know, fucking about something else as well, you seem very focused, which I think is wonderful. I think I’d probably like to be a bit more like that, but I don’t feel I can.

GP  
Oh, I feel like I’d like to be much more like you, actually.

LK  
Really?

GP  
Yeah. And coming out of this, I think I’m…it’s a craft, right? And you’ve got to hone it. And I think for years I sort of didn’t, because I was just gigging all the time. If I had, you know, a two week period with 13 gigs in it, and then I got offered one on the night off I’d be like great, it’s the night off, I can do that.

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
But I had a quite obsessive, almost, sense of like, well, that might be the one. If I missed that gig, that’d be the one, you know?

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
And I think, yeah, quality over quantity, is not a bad tenet to try and build into the thing. And I’m sort of starting to be a bit more like…I’ve got a small studio setup here in my house now that I put together over the pandemic, and I’m learning more of the production side of things, very tentatively, and dipping my toe in the water there.

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
But, you know, before, I would never work on a song at home. You know, every time I’ve ever recorded, I’ve just kind of been like, “Cool”. I would like literally finish one and be like, yep, that’s 12, let’s go in, let’s get them down. Whether they were good or not, you know. Which is why there have been so many records over the years, but I think again, it just comes from that vague sense of like, well, I’ve just gotta be out all the time, gotta be out all the time, and, you know, like, if I’ve got a new album, great, I can go out and flog that flog that flog that, and you know, it’s just a sort of sense of like, scattergun approach. It’s never been very strategic, I don’t think.

So it’s funny that you – it’s sort of nice that from the outside you’d regard that as focused, whereas I kind of regarded it as, I don’t know, frenzied.

LK  
Well, we’re all just making it up as we go along, aren’t we.

GP  
Yeah, absolutely.

LK  
My normal will be different to your normal.

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
And then my perception of you will never be the same as your perception of you.

GP  
Sure.

LK  
Of course. That’s very interesting because, yeah, I think this enforced break, shall we say, hopefully has caused people to take a bit of stock and think about what they were doing. I think I was gigging too much before and it was quite scattergun, and I started to really dislike it. Because I never really had the feeling that you mentioned about oh, this gig might be The One. I just, I assumed it wouldn’t be. I think I got to the point where I was like, well, and this won’t be either, because that’s not – to me, in my career, there hasn’t been The One, there really hasn’t. And it has been incredibly difficult to get on to bills that would be sort of, you know, have an audience who would get me, or be into the sort of thing I was into, so I found that really difficult.

I was gonna ask you about genres though, because we’ve mentioned protest singer, you’ve mentioned folk. Because it seems to me that your music can fit into lots of different kinds of categories, and the only reason categories are important is to sort of get on bills that make sense, or find audiences that makes sense for you. I think your music crosses those, but I also know that folk, in the UK particularly, can be very specific, and the people who are big in the folk scene in terms of audience members are very specific about what is folk and what isn’t folk. So what’s been your experience of that? Are you welcomed by folk, or would you call yourself a protest singer? What are you? What are you, Grace?!

GP  
Yeah, what am I? No and no. It’s probably unfair to say that I haven’t been welcomed in folk.

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
I’m horrifically oversensitive and horribly narcissistic, so if 9 out of 10 people like me, I’ll just be like, one person didn’t like me.

LK  
Same here, yeah!

GP  
So I have this like, horrible fucking victim narrative about the folk scene, which I don’t think is probably…the folk scene does not deserve me going around telling people that the folk scene has been mean to me. But the folk scene…what I would say is, when I was a kid I was listening to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, and people referred to that as folk music.

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
And then I started playing an acoustic guitar and writing some political material, so I was like, I guess I’m a folk singer.

LK  
Right.

GP  
And then I was like, I’ll try and get gigs at folk festivals. And I didn’t really know very much about British folk music, English folk music, I didn’t know anything about traditional music and I was quite ignorant and I was quite arrogant. I did go into it with a bit of a chip on my shoulder being a bit like “Why won’t I get booked at any of these folk festivals?” And it’s because I wasn’t really doing folk, as they saw it, do you know what I mean? When I was younger, I was a dickhead about that, and I wrote a horrible immature song about it. 

LK  
Which one? I want to listen! 

GP  
It’s called “Revolutionary in the Wrong Time”, and it’s got this really mean spirited line about how, “Well, I’ll never get booked for a folk festival because I can’t grow a beard”. Which is just such low hanging fruit, you know what I mean? And just pathetic.

LK  
Did it help you get booked, by the way?

GP  
What do you think? Yeah! Now I look back and I just think, but I wouldn’t try and get booked at a jazz festival. Do you know what I mean? I wouldn’t be like, “It’s so unfair, this jazz festival hasn’t booked me”. Like the way I used to feel about folk festivals. And I think that it’s tough specifically with folk, because it’s a massively broad church and you will get your Frank Turners at Cambridge Folk Festival, but then you’ll also have your Morris dancing at Shrewsbury Folk Festival, and the idea that those two things are supposed to be part of the same genre is quite mad. Do you know what I mean? That’s such a wide ranging spectrum.

LK  
They still won’t let *you* in. 

GP  
Yes, absolutely.

LK  
What?!!!!

GP  
I know! I used to be part of a six piece collective called Coven which was me and five other people, and those five people were much much more folk. Pure folk artists, you know?

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
Incredible folk artists. It was a trio and a duo and me and we made this six piece band. It was Lady Maisery, O’Hooley & Tidow and those guys – all very rightly so – were already incredibly respected in the folk scene, and continue to be so, and that was a bit of a foot in the door for me at a lot of those clubs and those festivals that previously hadn’t really had much time for me. But they were like, “Oh, here’s a band with O’Hooley & Tidow and Lady Maisery and it’s also that girl – I guess we have to let her in”.

But then by that stage I think I had written some more stuff that was a bit more folk-influenced, and made a bit more sense in a folk context. I think I do I have the two different types of things in my catalogue which is like, I do have the real strummy strummy shouty shouty we’ll fight them on the beaches protest singing, and then I do have the softer element of things I think just sort of belong better maybe in those contexts, those folk contexts. But it’s a tough thing.

I find genres a really tough thing because I’ve always had this problem with people when they’re trying to sell music or when they’re trying to sell art of any kind, they’ll be like, “What’s it like? Give me some other artists that you’re like” and the point is we’re all trying to be like no one else. We’re all trying to do something new. Obviously we’re influenced by people, and we can say people that it’s kind of like, and I developed this style because I was doing so many gigs all the time because when I was in my early 20s I was like, “I guess what I’m supposed to do is try and get a record deal”. Which is very funny. [laughs very loudly] I’m still waiting on it!

LK  
You know how I feel about that shit.

GP  
Yeah, yeah. I think that was just never going to be an option for me. I was just never going to be what the industry are looking for, and so the other way I found was just to gig. Gig and gig and gig and gig. Take any gig that’s offered, and I was offered quite a strange, beautiful variety of gigs.

So I got offered folk gigs, but I got offered punk gigs, and then I did get offered some comedy gigs as well, and because I’m always trying to please the people that I’m playing to, I would kind of adapt to whatever room I was in. So I would never call it comedy, but I started writing some stuff that was a little bit more lighthearted, a bit more comedic. Just so that if I did get offered a comedy gig, I wasn’t totally out of my depth being on a bill with comics and going out and just doing something really angry and serious, you know what I mean?

So then, likewise, when I started getting more folk gigs I wrote “Queer As Folk”, the album that came out in 2018. It’s quite a lot more folk inspired, and that’s probably the folkiest thing I’ve done. And that was just reacting to where I was going to be, where it was going to be the best received – and that’s not something that I would recommend, that sort of chameleonesque sort of just adapting to whatever room you’re going to be put in. I don’t know if it necessarily makes for the best art, which is why I think that it’s been weird, the pandemic, obviously it’s been a very, very strange thing and it’s been a whole reckoning in terms of my personal – as it has for us all, I’m sure – mental health and stuff. You know, I feel like I’ve been meeting my worst self in every corner of my house for a year and a half.

But I do think the record that I wrote largely and recorded in lockdown, it couldn’t really be a chameleon of a record because there was nobody else around. So I guess we’re gonna find out what colour I am when I’m not trying to blend in with a tribe, I suppose.

LK  
Yeah. Do you listen back to any of that earlier work and think “I don’t know who that is” now?

GP  
Yeah, definitely, definitely. Yeah, more the love songs. I just think I have a lot of regrets about the way that I…we’re all so good, aren’t we, at writing songs that just paint us as the victim of everything – or I’m very good at writing songs that paint us as like, you know, this kind of…

LK  
That’s what my entire first two albums are, I’m pretty sure. I thought that was directed at me!

GP  
So there’s this song on the new album called, “No Woman Ever Wants To Be A Muse” , and it’s about this idea that all of us have war stories from love and heartbreak and we all remember it in this way, where we did nothing wrong and they did everything wrong. 

LK  
But I didn’t though.

GP  
Yeah, absolutely. Apart from you, who actually didn’t, yeah. And in lots of ways, you know, I was just reacting to a patriarchal society that has always immersed me in this very specific mainstream depiction of what love supposedly is, and how love supposedly is… Sorry, I’m forgetting that you’re not putting out the video of this, but I’m putting quotation marks around the word love. But what that supposedly is, is just the endless pursuit of somebody, and persisting with somebody whether or not they love you back or not.

I look at “Friends” now, the TV show “Friends”, and I think that was my cultural landscape growing up. The most romantic thing that my generation believed in was this idea of this guy who just never gives up on his ex-girlfriend for like, 10 years, until eventually what happens is he wears her down, basically. 

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
There’s a lot of early songs…there’s a song on the first album called “Incompetent Love Song”, and it’s six minutes of me listing all of the ways that I’m not good enough for this person, and the amount of people that have come up to me over the years to say, “Oh, that’s mine and my partner’s song” and I think “Get out of the relationship!” [laughs]

LK  
Oh my God!

GP  
Honestly! That’s six minutes of me apologising for who I am, and also at the same time, in this weird narcissistic way, sort of making the audience think that I’m this little self effacing little self deprecating cool guy, who actually underneath it is just so romantic, and reliable, and believable. Listen, I gave as good as I got in that relationship. I think that wherever she is now, she could write some dreadful songs about me as well, and thank God she didn’t – to my knowledge.

But I think, yeah, a lot of that early stuff, I mean…it’s tough, isn’t it? Because we’re all growing all the time and we use songwriting as a way to expel what’s happening inside us, and it’s therapy and it’s catharsis, and I think that’s important. It was important for me, it’s important that I wrote all that stuff. But now I’m a grown up I want to talk to that 21 year old kid who wrote that song and be like, first of all that’s not love, that’s obsession, and second of all, you don’t have to play this game that mainstream patriarchal society has always told you that there’s one way to express love, and what that means is utter self sacrifice forever in total martyrdom and making yourself…prostrating yourself and not putting your needs first, and that’s romance, baby! And I think that’s all bullshit, and I feel like I was conned, and then I feel like I became a tool of the patriarchy to then repeat that con in my music and put it out there, and be like, “Isn’t this great? Isn’t this love?”

So those are the things that I regret much more than…I mean, my politics haven’t really changed, broadly. I mean, I have kind of gone sort of ping ponged between Labour and the Green Party in various records over the years, but I think the general tenets of that stuff…I like to think I’m learning still about politics all the time, but I definitely think that the love stuff…it’s a cruel irony, isn’t it, that you’ll never feel anything as intensely as you do when you’re 17/18/19, and I think if you could bottle those feelings, the intensity of those feelings – sorry to anybody older than that listening to this, but spoiler alert you’ll never feel anything as intensely as you do at that age. But good, you know? I’m too fucking tired! I’m too tired to live like that all the time, you know?  

LK  
Yeah, absolutely. Well, yeah, the love stuff is interesting, isn’t it? I asked that question because I look back at my stuff…I haven’t got to the point where I want to delete anything from the catalogue of life, you know? It’s not like I’m so embarrassed by myself 10 years ago that I want to remove those songs from existence or anything, but I do find it kind of interesting. It centred around “this person’s been so terrible to me”, but then when I look at it now, I just think no, they just knew that we weren’t right together, and they called it at the right time. 

GP  
Yeah. 

LK  
And really the thing I think I learned eventually, I hopefully have now learned – I’m now married, so if I haven’t learned and I’m just hanging on to this thing, this dead relationship… He’s gonna listen and be like, “Err, I thought we were okay!” But I think I’ve learned to call it earlier now, when a relationship isn’t working out.

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
It’s not the other person’s fault at all really, if you have an inkling that it’s not the right thing, and you feel like you’re just “trying to make it work” for four and a half years after the six months honeymoon period is over, they just weren’t right for you. 

GP  
Yeah, totally. 

LK  
And there’s this wonderful article I share with friends who are thinking about leaving their partners which is called “Fuck Yes Or No” – it’s by Mark Manson, who’s this wonderful writer – and it’s essentially that, “if it’s not a fuck yes, it’s a no”. 

GP  
Yeah. 

LK  
And that can apply to anything. 

GP  
Yeah. 

LK
If you’re not fully into something, it’s a no. Obviously, if it’s a job you might need to keep doing the job because you need the money – it’s not quite so simple, please don’t go and quit everything and dump everyone and blame me, please. But I really love that idea, and instead of agonising for literally years over “should I be with this person or not?” I’ve learned now that the agonising thing means no, it’s not working – it’s not working out.

GP  
Yeah, absolutely. 

LK  
And I’m not saying everything needs to be easy. Sometimes you’re gonna have hard times, obviously, but not that hard and not that early on. 

GP  
Yeah. 

LK  
So a lot of my songs are that kind of thing. There’s a song called “Delete”, which is about wanting to not have to make a decision in this relationship, which I think I wrote six months before I finally did break that one off. 

GP  
Yeah. 

LK  
And it just seems so crass now, because…I don’t think we shouldn’t be writing songs about real things, I think that’s what they’re for. Like you say, it’s therapy and it’s working through stuff, it’s figuring out who you are, where you are, all that. And to be honest, again, if that person wants to make some shitty art about me – not shitty art – if they want to make some art being shitty about me, that’s absolutely fine. That’s their right. And it’s my right to tell my stories.

GP  
It’s funny because our stories change. 

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
I always say we’re gonna be growing until the day we die. We’re growing up all the time. There’s never gonna be a day in my life that I feel like I’m cooked, until it’s over. But it’s tough because what we’re doing all the time is recording our journey, so they’re like logbooks, it’s like field recordings from the road, and then you have this literal record, a record of where you were, and who you’re in love with, and how you felt, and what you thought about yourself. And yeah, I don’t know. I just feel like my whole back catalogue is like, I listen to them now it’s like, “Kid, get some therapy, go to therapy. It’s all gonna be okay, but you need to go to therapy”.

LK  
Yeah, yeah. But would the songs have suffered for that, because you just would have been fine?

GP  
I guess. I guess, yeah, yeah. But then that’s also a thing, because I feel like that’s also like, they really want us to believe in the tortured nature of art.

LK  
I know and I’m not into that, actually. 

GP  
No, and I think particularly, like I was talking about that song that I wrote in my early 20’s, I know that I stayed in that relationship longer because I was like this horrible tempestuous, one day it’s fireworks, the next day it’s the best day ever, the next day is a massive stormy row, it’s like screaming at each other in the street at three o’clock in the morning. I knew I was writing loads about it. I’m ashamed now that I was like, “she’s just such a muse, you know? She’s such a muse for me”, and it’s just so gross. It’s so gross. I’m personally happier than I’ve ever been in my life, and I’m in an incredibly fulfilling relationship, and I like the songs that I’m writing at the moment and I think my ability to write songs didn’t desert me the moment I got with somebody who was good for my self esteem.

LK  
Yeah, same here, same here. And this wonderful man that I’m with – I don’t write songs about him because he hasn’t done awful things to me.

GP  
He hasn’t fucked you over!

LK  
Quite. I was gonna say that, and I don’t know why I didn’t. He hasn’t…as yet, touch wood, touch all the wood. But then I still managed to write two albums worth of stuff I’m really proud of, so “Brace For Impact”, and then the last album “Exotic Monsters”. 

GP  
Yeah. 

LK  
And none of those are about sad, sad, current relationship or awfulness. It was about stuff I hadn’t dealt with from before… 

GP  
Yeah. 

LK  
…which was very useful, and cathartic, and good therapy and stuff. And just stuff that was a bit more kind of, I wouldn’t say not navel gazing because I don’t think navel gazing is bad. I think if we say navel gazing is bad that means you can’t look at yourself and figure stuff out. But that is what songwriting is for me. But I was able to lift my eyes up just a little bit, and have thoughts about the wider world, and I thought that’s surely just maturing as a person and songwriter at the same time. 

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
So I felt that. So I was really excited to read about…you did a really good in depth interview with Get In Your Ears wasn’t it? About the thing about “Connectivity”, and it being maybe something a bit like that for you.

GP  
Yeah, I think so, and I think the wider message of the album I suppose is just that we need connection. Human beings need connection, and I think what was so mad about the pandemic was – is so mad, I know – what I talk about it in the past tense is like the extreme lockdown, I know some places in the world are still in lockdown. It was a mad juxtaposition of, we’re literally globally all going through the same thing, which has never been the case in my lifetime, in our lifetimes, or probably I suppose since the Second World War. Has there ever been a thing that was so global that everyone in the world was touched by?

But the thing that was connecting us was the thing that was separating us, and we were literally more separate than we’ve ever been as well, and it was this thing of going through this thing separately but together, in this way that everybody feels the same way but nobody really can connect those feelings to each other. A lot of it is definitely looking inside, that album. A lot of it is. And I think of it more maybe, because I’m used to writing such specific political things.

In the past I’ve definitely written things that have aged very, very quickly, because it’s not just a song about politics. It’s a song about this particular schism, in this particular part of the Labour Party circa 2014 to 2015, and that stuff is over so quickly. So even though I suppose I am writing about things that are, I’d like to think, quite universal, they feel like they’re so personal because they’re not specifically talking about Kier Starmer, or Boris Johnson, or Dominic Raab, or whatever, which in a way I think I would have done earlier on in my career.

I used to just be so plugged into the news, and yeah, just writing in that really immediate way, writing about specific events or specific news stories, and I think I can’t write that way anymore. At the moment, anyway, I feel like I…and this is obviously a very privileged thing to say, this is a privileged position to be able to take, but I feel like I can’t really be engaged in political news in the way that I was in earlier points in my life, because I was just finding that it was just really having an impact on me.

We came out of the 2019 election virtually straight into the pandemic. There was only three months between losing the election in this really catastrophic way, after what felt like five years of embattlement really, for people who were on the left of the Labour Party. It was five years of being constantly battered and then feeling like it was lost in this really cataclysmic way, that certainly initially felt like it was impossible to ever come back from. I’m just not sure if I feel like that anymore, maybe, in such a pessimistic way…

LK  
Well it’s natural to feel like that then, it’s such a huge loss and so much hope. I mean, I even allowed myself to hope that time! 

GP  
Yeah, yeah. 

LK  
I tend not to go there too much, because it’s just so upsetting to feel so under-represented in your own country. 

GP  
Yeah, yeah.

LK  
It’s horrible. So when you’re actually, like you, really super involved in it and then it doesn’t work – that’s a loss that’s like a… it’s not like a death but there’s I think there’s a level of loss.

GP  
It felt like a bereavement to me, it felt like a bereavement to me. I acknowledge obviously, I keep saying this is a very privileged thing to say – I’ve lived a very, very, very privileged life. I have a lot of privilege in the world, and I haven’t had very many difficult things happen to me, and that period immediately after the election was sort of one of the worst things that’s ever happened – not that it happened to me, but it happened to us, it happened to a movement of people who I think are going to be demonstrably hurt by the decisions of this government that could have been avoided, and I think caring about that…I don’t know anybody who wasn’t devastated about it, and I think that’s difficult because, you know, everybody goes on about the echo chambers that we’re all in because of social media, and I think that massively came into into play with me.

I think I had a disproportionate amount of hope for the outcome of the election, because I was only spending time with people who really wanted the same things as me, and I was campaigning for the month before and so I was only hanging out with Labour Party volunteers, and councillors, and people organising benefits – and I wasn’t getting any negativity from them. So I think a lot of us were quite unprepared, the people who were the most in the thick of it I think it was the biggest shock to.

LK  
And it’s hard to tell online, for so many reasons, but partly because the negativity does tend to be much louder than the positivity, or can be – depends who you follow obviously! But so you can get this sense that oh, it’s okay, that’s just a loud bunch of people, it’s actually not very many people, this is going to be fine because in your offline world you’re talking to people in real life about this stuff, and it seems really positive. 

GP  
Yeah and it’s completely distorting with so many issues, you know, you see at the moment with vaccine misinformation, and the way that that is just spreading like fucking wildfire across Facebook, completely unregulated and completely unmoderated, and it’s so mad that the internet…I owe basically my entire career to the internet, I would not have been able to be a musician if I’d have been born 30 years before I was, but it is crazy to me that we live in the time of the most unprecedented access to information that there’s ever been, at any point the majority of the world can access information at a whim, and we seem to know less than ever.

You would think that the logical conclusion of that would be that we’ll know the truth of things, won’t we? Once the facts are out there and everyone can access them at any one time, then the truth will be out there, and that just doesn’t seem to be at all the case, you know, it feels like you can just choose your own truth on the internet, and people are, and as a result we’re just becoming so polarised on so many different things.

And again, you’re right that it’s completely impossible as well to tell how how prevalent is this opinion that I’m seeing everywhere all the time? I just don’t know…I mean, I kind of have this lovely lefty bubble going on on my Twitter that if I never walked outside my house or looked at the front of the newspaper, then I would assume that Black Lives Matter is not contentious at all, and everybody completely agrees with it, and everybody absolutely is working for an anti-racist society, and I’d believe that there’s no transphobia and there’s no homophobia, and obviously we know that that isn’t the way things are.

So it’s a strange time I think, and it was a strange time to be plunged from this all-consuming grief about our political losses into then, like, and now you’re on your own in your house for a year and a half to think about it.

LK  
And you had to cut short an Australian tour? 

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
That must have sucked.

GP  
Yeah, yeah. I mean, obviously it sucked. It was made to be…I’d never been to Australia before, and because you’re on the opposite side of the clock, I wasn’t really in touch with anyone, because when I was up everyone in the UK was in bed and vice versa. So, I was over there with my fiddle player, Ben Moss, and it hit Britain worse, COVID. Australia was a bit behind. So we were seeing it…it was like a horror film – we were seeing it develop in peoples’ consciousness on the social media of our friends and stuff.

We’d wake up in the morning and scroll through peoples’ tweets from the day before, as it was, but it felt like a very foreign concept because no one in Australia was that bothered about it, and I remember us having this weird sense of like, “God it really feels like people in Britain are really losing their marbles about COVID” and then obviously, I think within 24 hours of us having that conversation it had hit in a big way in Australia, and then our festivals cancelled.

We were due to fly home on the Tuesday, the festival is cancelled on the Friday, so we were planning then to just hang out in Sydney and just get our flight home. And then over the course of that Friday, it all started to look quite a lot more serious, and I think by about three o’clock we kind of looked each other and said, “Do you think we should actually just move the flights? Do you think we should just get home actually?” And so we moved them up to the Saturday, and I think if we hadn’t…it was that day that we flew out that Australia started grounding flights. So I think if we’d have waited, we wouldn’t have got home. We flew back on the 13th of March or something, so it was within days…within three days of lockdown, I think. So it was mad.

LK  
So weird thinking back to that. I think it might have been that day that I drove to see Frank Turner play, and I interviewed him for this show…

GP  
Oh, cool. 

LK  
…he was one of the really early guests. He was the last in-person guest I had on. 

GP  
Oh, right. Yeah, yeah. 

LK  
And I don’t pay that much attention to the news, because I find it really, really detrimental to my mental health. I don’t think 24 hour news is good for anyone. 

GP  
And neither do I, I fully agree.

LK  
It’s just dreadful. So I’d only picked up a few bits about it and people were talking about washing their hands, and I remember feeling like “Don’t you already wash your hands, you gross person? My hands are always clean!” But obviously I didn’t know what they were really talking about, and then we were driving to the gig and the motorway on a Saturday afternoon was really empty, and that’s when we knew ohhhh, this is an actual thing.

Saw the gig – it was in Aylesbury, that’s where it was – drove back the next day and saw empty supermarket shelves, and then we were like ohhhhkay, this is a real thing. And again, what a privileged position to be in to wake from this little hermitude sleep going oh, okay, something bad’s happening. But it’s one of those things isn’t it, those sort of things don’t tend to come to the UK – how lucky are we, you know – SARS etc, they don’t tend to come here.

GP  
And I think with what you were saying about 24 hour news, I think for my whole life for as long as I can remember, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph and The Times have just been screaming at me about something that’s going to get me. Something’s coming and it’s gangs, or it’s…you know, and they operate at this constant fever pitch of threat, and honestly I did think, initially, I bet this doesn’t come to anything. I bet this is just going to be another one of these things that doesn’t really come to anything. And that aged like a fine milk, that attitude!

LK  
Yeah, weird times, basically. 

GP  
Yeah, very.

LK  
But it was good you we’re able to make music during it. Because I get the impression that a lot of people put things on hold. They put releases on hold, they stopped doing things, just waiting for it to be over, and I do remember those early days when…I remember when there was the thing of if you’re in a vulnerable category or you’re over a certain age you need to stay home for 12 weeks and that seemed like, oh my god, that’s so long to stay home. 

GP  
Yes, yeah, yeah.

LK  
And then there was that neverending lockdown towards the end of last year where we we’re all losing our marbles. 12 weeks would have been a dream. 

GP  
Absolutely. 

LK  
But just to be able to keep creating – and I know this is a difficult subject for some people, because some people have felt very uninspired – that’s fine, my existence is not a judgement on the way you choose to do things! I was able to create music during that time, you were able to create music during that time. That’s just what happened, okay? But I’m really glad, because I love it when more Grace Petrie music comes into the world. So I’m really pleased to hear that. 

GP  
Oh, thank you. Well yeah, I totally sympathise with people who struggled and I think at first, I found myself like very, very… You know, like I said, I’ve always just been gigging as hard as I can since I was 20. And at first I found the expanse of time very intimidating,  and just the idea that people would be saying, “Well, you must be writing loads, you must be writing loads!” And there were people going “Oh, I’m gonna have time to write a book!”

Ben, poor old Ben my fiddle player, came home with me and he was staying in my house for a few days, and then of course because he was sort of between places – he was house hunting at the time, and then they just made it illegal for him to leave, so he was stuck here for six months completely unplanned, and within the first couple of days of lockdown I said, “Let’s just do a couple of cover songs”, and so we came up with this idea to do an alphabet of cover songs, and we started with A and went through to Z, and initially that was the only thing I could do for the first month. All I was doing really was just arranging these covers, and there were days that I was like, this is the only thing I’m getting out of bed for, you know what I mean? It’s the only thing I’m getting dressed to do. But it was nice, because there’s precious few silver linings, of course, about the last 18 months, and I am aware that I just massively slagged it off. But I think if we hadn’t have had the internet, I think it would have been… Can you imagine how horrendous that would have been?

I think the fact that we were able to connect in all manner of ways, and now I’ve seen a lot of people say like, “Oh yeah, it sure beats a livestream!” when they’re in front of an audience, and I think fair enough, but I would have died without livestreams, I would have died without Facebook Live, I would have died without social media, you know? I needed to know there was somebody out there, it didn’t matter how many people it was. And I think we were doing these silly – and they were mostly silly pop songs – we’re doing these pop covers, and we would just post them on Instagram every day, and as it went on it got a bit of momentum and there were times that I got a couple of really, really nice messages from… I remember a nurse sent me a message saying, “I just got in at four o’clock in the morning from the most horrifically traumatic shift, and I just watched this video of “Sound of the Underground”, and it feels like the first time I’ve smiled in days and days”.

And you know, to be able to – at a time that I felt so completely and utterly useless and I felt like I’ve chosen this incredibly non-essential bourgeois career that can’t possibly be any help to anybody – feel like, well, if there’s one person in this incredibly troubled world that I can make smile today, then that’s has to be worth something, you know? How would we have got through it without the ability to commune in that way?

I remember one of the livestream gigs we did on Facebook Live, one of my favourite moments of the night was at the start when you see people login on the comments, and one of the first comments was this guy, he just logged in and said, “Evening everyone, want anything from the bar?”, just as a joke, but Ben was the only person I’d seen in months and months and I was the only person he’d seen in months and months and I remember both of us, it was so mad how we could come out of it feeling the gig adrenaline, and feeling like there were all these people here tonight, and of course they weren’t – but they were, you know?

LK  
Yeah, that’s the thing – they were. Those things are completely legitimate. I’ve been doing online shows since 2013. Because I knew that so many people who might like my music or already did, would never be able to come and see me play because of so many reasons: geography, children, money, whatever – so I wanted to make it more accessible. So I was really delighted to see that the rest of the world realised that you could do online gigs last year.

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
But then I really don’t like it when people dismiss them as not real gigs – or virtual. It’s not virtual, it’s actually happening. I actually am playing and you actually are listening in real time. I know that word is sort of overused, and used badly. But there’s something very beautiful about that, and I think that time certainly shows the relationship between a performer / artist and audience in that collaboration, that giving and taking – but both giving, and both taking, because I got so much from being connected to people and they tell me they got so much from being connected to me in the various ways. And I have a big problem with the internet and social media taking up too much of my time and focus and making me feel shit a lot, but last year made me think, well, but it’s so wonderful though, it can be so wonderful and it’s so powerful. So it’s just not a simple thing to dismiss.

GP  
It’s not. 

LK  
You can’t just go “We shouldn’t be on Facebook”. Because there’s value to it for everybody, too.

GP  
I completely agree, and coming out of this I’m definitely gonna keep doing livestreams for exactly the reasons that you say, and I realise there were so many people saying to me, “I’ve never been able to come see you before because of x y, z and now I can”. And how shit, that it took a pandemic for me to consider those people, and consider that that was something that I could offer using the internet –

LK  
But you were always out, to be fair. 

GP  
Sure! But I totally agree, and I think that I need social media for my job, I need social media for my career, obviously, we all do – 

LK  
Yeah.

GP
I also am old enough to recognise that I need to feel connected to people, I need that interaction, I enjoy the engagement from people online, and I get self esteem from it and I think that it gets people to come to my shows, it gets people to listen to my music, and – and it is often very harmful to my mental health. Both things can be and frequently are true. And I think it’s quite, sort of in vogue at the minute for people to be sort of, when we’re talking about musicians’ mental health and stuff, it’s quite in vogue for people to be like, “Yeah, get offline, get offline”. It’s not that simple. For independent artists like us, there’s only ever been online, and also there’s a part of me that sort of feels like, you know, if you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best, you know what I mean? It’s the real thing, and yeah, there were definitely times in the pandemic that I was like, just on Twitter all day, and probably in a way that wasn’t useful to me, but at the same time I felt like my community was out there, and they were holding me, and they were holding space for me, and they were making me feel like they were going to catch me when there wasn’t anybody in the real flesh and blood world who could, and I’m grateful to them, and I’m grateful for the feeling that I could offer the same thing to anybody else in the world. It’s a complicated beast, the internet.

LK  
It is, yeah because it’s incredibly disingenuous to just post positively. 

GP  
Yeah, I’m sure the printing press caused this much of a stir when they first came up with that, I’m sure they were like, this is gonna ruin the world and I think it’s just a tool, like all things. It can be used for good, it can be used for bad – and we’ve all experienced both.

LK  
Yeah, yeah, I think it’s incredibly disingenuous to only post positive things. But I also find it hard sometimes to be…like, I’m not completely honest on Twitter, when I get really fucked off about something I don’t really tend to go there, because I don’t want to just use it… because it’s the easiest one to post something quick on, that’s not like a big palaver. If I do a Facebook post on my Penfriend page it feels like “I am making an announcement”, whereas on Twitter just feels like “this thing just really annoyed me”, it’s easier to sort of chat on there. 

GP  
Yes.

LK  
But I don’t want to always turn to it for negativity, which because of the medium it sort of inspires that, clearly, if you look at what people post on there. But then yeah, I think just being honest is really important.

I got a bit narky with someone on Facebook on the weekend, and it was playing around in my head a bit because I think peoples’ intentions – especially if they’re visiting your page on the internet – are generally good. It’s not like a driveby random person just negging you for no reason. But I think also, only very recently, I’ve been establishing some boundaries of like, no, it’s not acceptable to send me an email that contains that. 

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
And I will block you, I will remove you from my mailing list, I will block you on all platforms because I just don’t need to see that. It’s not about only accepting compliments, it’s just about going “I’m a person with feelings, and that’s not okay. It’s not cool that I have to open my email and read that from you”. And then likewise, on Facebook, some people saying some stuff and I’m just like “What? I’m an actual person here, what are you saying that for?” I find that to be annoying.

It’s worse when it’s someone who’s supposedly a fan slash supporter or whatever, much worse, because I just expect it from random strangers who don’t know my stuff yet. So it is complicated but I’m glad you’re getting good things from it. It’s not generally bad for you, doesn’t seem to be generally bad.

GP  
It’s not generally bad, it’s not generally bad, and to that end I completely agree. And I’ve had some people…sometimes it’s the worst things from the people who supposedly like you – because I think it does engender that familiarity. A lot of people think that we’re friends, they think that they’re pals and so they can say “You look a bit fat in this outfit, lol”. 

LK  
Oh my!

GP  
Like, in what universe? Do you know what I mean? How has this happened that this person that I don’t even know who’s sitting in Stoke on Trent or something, has written to me on the internet and kind of lowkey ruined my day? But I think that, also, and I found this observing Frank actually…because there’s a lot of people…

LK 
Dog or Turner?

GP  
Oh, Turner! Yeah, you’d be amazed how often I have to make that clarification in my life. Some of the stuff that he gets –

LK  
Oh, it’s ridiculous.

GP  
There are people who make a fucking sport out of it, out of hating him – not hating him, because I don’t think they actually do hate him, I think that’s the point. I think they don’t think about it…and it’s exactly what you say, that any one of us who performs under a name, if it’s your own name, if it’s Penfriend, if it’s Frank Turner, if it’s Grace Petrie, it’s like, as soon as you have the page that’s like an artist’s page, in some peoples’ minds – and I’ve seen this happen, it’s this disconnect as if you become an entity, not a person. You’re not a human being and it’s like, there’s only ever one person reading these notifications, and it’s the person they’re talking to, you know what I mean? 

LK  
Yes.

GP  
And I think that I was guilty of that – before I knew Frank, I thought he’s huge, there’s no way he’s seeing his social media engagement, and then I met him as a person, and I was like, he’s a real person, he’s a real person reading this, that’s happening to him the way that it happens to me. Obviously on a much larger level.

I’ve sort of stopped doing it now, because you never get anywhere with anyone, but I did go through a phase of saying to people when they would troll me or whatever, I did go through a phase of just saying, “Do you know there’s a person here? Do you know that there’s no manager reading this, there’s no one shielding me from this? Do you know that this is the same thing as ringing my doorbell and saying that to my face? Do you know that’s essentially what you’re doing?” 

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
“And would you ring my doorbell and say that to my face? Do you need to say this today?” It’s particularly random people commenting on sponsored Facebook ads of my tour, or whatever. 

LK  
Oh, they’re the absolute worst. 

GP  
Yeah, they’re the worst, and I’m sorry but it is always men. It’s just always men who like…

LK  
I’m sorry that it is too, but it is. Always. 

GP  
I’m sorry that it is too, but it’s okay to just let things pass by your chops. It’s okay. Your input isn’t needed on everything, and you might write something funny about how shit I am, or how shit I look, or whatever, and never think about it again. But I’ve got that now, that’s happened. That’s come right to my phone.

LK  
It’s going around and around. 

GP  
A bell has rung on my phone that’s gone “Look at your phone, someone said something to you”. And I’ve opened it, and that’s what it’s been. And it’s so mad to me – I honestly don’t think Joe Idiot on Facebook who’s done that, I don’t think they complete the thought to that conclusion. Like all the rest of us, they’re just stupid animals looking for dopamine – that’s the only reason any of us are on social media, of course. And they’ve said that to get a few likes, to get a few whatever. There’s just a lot of people who are using those things without any sense of empathy, in the truest sense of the word – any sense of this is a fellow human being who’s gonna read this about themselves. 

LK  
Yeah. 

GP  
But it’s so in the minority, you know? It’s so in the minority. People overwhelmingly use the internet to be gorgeous. They go out of their way to say things that mean very much to me. But like I said, I am the sort of person – we’re all the sort of person, this is not something specific to me, but we’re all the sort of person who remembers the one person out of ten that didn’t like us, do you know what I mean? 

LK  
Oh, yeah.

GP  
I’m sure you’re the same, like off the top of my head I could recall to you the ten meanest things anyone has ever said about my music.

LK  
Oh, they’re all going around in my head right now, yeah. 

GP  
Yeah, for sure. For sure. 

LK  
It’s like they’re at the top of the filing cabinet at all times.

GP  
Yeah, yeah yeah yeah.

LK  
People love to say “Oh, don’t read the comments. Oh, don’t respond. Don’t feed the trolls” and all this, but 1) I don’t think they are trolls, I think they are people, and I think everybody has value. Yeah, some people are mean – and some people are evil – but some people are just really mean and casually cruel and things, and I’m not going to get into a long drawn out debate with people but I’ll always give people the benefit of the doubt.

Tim, my husband really hates it when we do a Facebook ad, and it’s random people and really, once you’re reaching outside your bubble, you’re going to get casually cruel comments, you just are, it just means that the ad’s working and that’s what we want, isn’t it? What’s the point of doing them otherwise? So he does actually shield me from the worst ones. But I always would prefer to respond to someone just to go “Hi, I’m a human. You are too. You said something you thought was important”. I might just sort of acknowledge it, or maybe stand up for myself if appropriate. Like someone had a go saying “What’s all that mess on her lips?” and then some sick face [emoji] –

GP  
Oh God.

LK  
– because I had some lipstick on…

GP  
Oh, fuck off!

LK  
Well, quite. 

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
And that’s one I’m not going to leave, because it’s absolutely my right to wear whatever the fuck I like on my face. It’s not okay for him to tell me what to do about that. So I did respond to that one. Someone just did a driveby “Tattooed slut”. That was a good one.

GP  
Wow. 

LK  
But like, no comment on the music. He doesn’t like women existing I think, so that’s a different matter, that’s definitely his problem. That’s one that we would just remove, you know, that’s fine.

GP  
Absolutely.

LK  
But you know, all of this – and it doesn’t personally hurt me. What personally hurts me is when someone who’s supposedly a fan or supporter starts telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. I just think “You don’t know me but at all. Like, what do you think’s going to happen here?” And that’s when I will stand up for myself, because I’m a 40 year old woman, I’ll do what I like, and surely that’s why you follow me in the first place. I would hope that some of that independent spirit would be why. 

GP  
Yes, of course.

LK  
So I find that to be irritating, and it’s just a bit deflating because I’m just trying to do nice things, and put things that are positive into the world and then to have to deal with that is just a bit annoying. But, like you say, overwhelmingly people are awesome, and it’s wonderful to be connected to them online, and they give us both a living from the things that we make. I’m incredibly thankful for that. But that’s not without its’ problems, but no job is.

GP  
It’s not without its’ problems, and I think both of us obviously have that gratitude to the grassroots engagement and, as you say, where would we be without it? But I do think I wouldn’t change it for the world – I love being DIY. I’m sure that at this point I will always be DIY, and actually if I had a choice at this point, I would always be DIY. But I think you’re more open to it, because you’re more accessible. We have to be more accessible. Do you know what I mean? 

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
I’m sure there are label bands and artists who aren’t dealing with their own social media engagement and aren’t facing that sort of thing. But I think you take the rough with the smooth.

We have a genuine engagement with our audiences which we need to have – I know that I need to have for my own self as well, not just in terms of like I wouldn’t have job without it, but I like to feel – and I know you like to feel like – I’m connected to these people, you know? We’re having a communion here, we’re sharing something. This is a conversation…I might be the one on the stage, but this is a conversation that we’re having, and that’s important to me and that always will be important to me, and it’s just a shame that it means you let the bad in with the good I suppose. But, yeah.

LK  
I suppose there’s always gonna be some fuckwit talking at the bar, isn’t there.

GP  
There always will be! There always will be! Yeah.

LK  
How’s that been? I know we’ve been talking for a long time, I will wrap this up soon, but – 

GP  
Oh, no, I’m loving it. 

LK  
– but have people been chatting at gigs as much as they did before the pandemic, in your experience?

GP  
Well, I’ve only done five or so, which have all been completely disparate and mad and weird. One was outdoors, and it was in Nottingham, and it was socially distanced outdoors and honestly, no offence to the people who came and obviously no offence to Nottingham Arboretum, but I found that quite hard, just quite a bad time, just because everyone was so spread out and it was very hard to get any kind of atmosphere going, I suppose. But the ones that I have done that have been indoors…it’s a difficult thing, because I know and I completely of course respect that not everybody feels comfortable to attend gigs yet, and some might not return to that. It’s not as though we have an end point in sight for all of this. But I think that the ones who have come back are the people who really, really, really need live music, you know, the ones who really missed it from their lives. 

LK  
Yeah. 

GP  
And they are so joyous to be there, and I’ve just found them so engaged. Yeah, so I think less talking in terms of like, the randos who’ve come in and they were dragged along by mates, or they were drinking there anyway and then the gig started and somebody forgot to kick them out or whatever. That just isn’t happening. It’s the people who are the most dedicated folks are there. But people are still wanting to come up and talk and have a chat, and it’s difficult at the end of the show because I’m such a huggy bear and I’m such a like, let’s jump in and have a photo and let’s have a hug and let’s tell each other our coming out stories and let’s do all of that.

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
So it’s, it’s gonna be a tough one. I’m heading out on tour next week and having conversations with my agent who’s like “You do know, you’re not going to be able to do all that?” And I’m a bit like, “You do know I’m not gonna be able to not really do that. That’s kind of how I work”. So yeah, it’s a difficult thing. I guess people have gotta do what they’re comfortable with, you know? 

LK  
Yeah, and then it’s also about tours being able to continue to completion, isn’t it? So I know, especially in America, that people have been really super strict on everyone on the crew – big tours I’m talking about – like everyone has to have double vaccines and all this stuff, they just have to because there’s just so much at stake in terms of money, venues, all of that – insurance, whatever. As much as anyone needs to get through the tour and be able to sing every night, even in pre-pandemic times.

So shouting at the bar until two in the morning, you know, talking to people, isn’t something that everyone can do because they need to sing the next night. I think it’s a similar thing, like, you need to stay well to do your whole tour, to show up for those commitments you’ve made to all those people, not just the first three nights or whatever. 

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
But it’s hard, isn’t it? Because that stuff is so much part of the gig, isn’t it? Especially for you, I feel the same.

GP  
So much for me, so much, yeah and I sort of learned my lesson immediately pre-pandemic, because the last tour I did was in the autumn of 2019 and I lost my voice because I was talking to people. I was doing merch in the interval and then at the end, and chatting, and I enjoy talking to people. And also, I was touring on my own then.

Ben’s actually coming with me to play with me on this tour, which will be really nice. But most of my twenties I’ve been touring on my own, and yeah, I’m on my own like twenty hours of the day, it’s nice to have some company, I’m going to talk to people. But I lost my voice through chatting not singing. So again, I’m just trying to be a bit disciplined about that these days. But it’s a shame, it’s a shame because that’s the most important part of it for me, and it goes back to your opening question about what you’re doing it for.

I think it’s very easy for me to think the only worth in what do is if I’m saying this really clear political message or if I’m, you know, like my exceptionally arrogant – early on in my life I had these arrogant grandiose ideas that I was going to change peoples’ hearts and minds in terms of what they would vote for and what they believe politically, and it was very easy to feel like I’m a crusader, that’s my purpose, that’s my purpose. And actually my purpose is to connect with people, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and there’s been times that that connection has taken a political form, but also there’ll be times that it’ll just take other forms and as long as I’m doing it, I’ll be happy.

Like I said, the pandemic took away in lots of ways the only kind of connection I’d ever known, but I found all these other connections, I found ways to do it online. I think the innovations that came up during lockdown were incredible to me, I think there was so many of us that just totally rethought – when you strip it all away, what are the bare bones of what we do? And what we need is communion with each other and if we’ve got that we’re all going to be much healthier, much happier human beings, I think.

LK  
Well that’s a lovely way to end our chat.

GP  
I suppose so! 

LK  
How beautiful! 

GP  
I didn’t mean for it to sound so conclusive.

LK  
Don’t ruin it now by some old blab… 

GP  
By rambling on! Yeah.

LK  
Could you please recommend three songs that people should listen to that are by you, when they’ve finished listening to this?

GP  
By me? Gosh. Crikey. 

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
I suppose the the obvious one would be “Black Tie”, which is the song that probably more people would have heard of mine than anything else, it’s the most well received thing I’ve done, which was a song on my album “Queer As Folk”, which was out in 2018. And it’s a song about being a queer teenager, and it’s about being a queer adult as well and living with that as life goes on, and specifically about being a butch lesbian and always being quite insecure about that in my younger life, and then growing into a grown up who understands that the reason that I felt insecure about that is because a patriarchal society told me that I don’t look like what the male gaze wants women to look like. And I feel like since I found that life hack, I have been much happier in myself so I wrote a song about it, and it’s kind of a letter to my teenage self and that’s called “Black Tie”.

And then the new stuff, there’s a song called “Storm To Weather”, it’s the first single from the new album and that was about the pandemic, about lockdown, but I also think it’s about political defeat, and the idea that we’re a big team, and we’ve just gotta stick it out and we’re going to weather the storm, and we’re going to be here at the end of it because these ideas will never die. So those would be two ones to go for.

LK  
The video for that also just looks very, very cold.

GP  
Do you know, I really got away with that!

LK  
Were you cold?

GP  
No, a lot of people said that to me, and I have to ‘fess up and say it was the perfect day for it because the sky was incredibly grey, but it was very, very warm. So the temperature was really warm, but it was really moody and grey. So it looks like I did something really brave. It does, doesn’t it? It looks like I did something really tough and I didn’t at all, it was quite warm. The hardest thing about it was that we chose that stretch of beach because…so, my girlfriend lives in Norwich, and that’s in Happisburgh where we filmed that video, and she recommended that beach because it normally has incredibly big waves, and we wanted me standing in the sea holding a guitar, singing the song, getting bashed about by the waves – kind of goes with the lyrics of the song. And for some reason on this day, it’s like the only day I suppose of the year or whatever that there was like basically no waves. We got there, it was warm and still and lovely. So in order to make it look like I’m being bashed by the waves, it looks like I’m standing up in the sea and I’m actually on my knees. I’m, like, kneeling in the very, very shallow end sort of being lapped by these very, very gentle waves that only come up to like…if I was standing up, they’d come up to about my shins.

LK  
Right. It looks really good.

GP  
Thank you. I mean, talking about the pros and cons of the internet. I think we all live with the fear of cancellation every day, and what am I going to be cancelled for? And I think the closest I’ve ever come to cancellation is the number of people who were like, “What did you do to that guitar?!” Because I took a guitar into the sea. So honestly I would say the ratio of people saying “I like this song” to people saying “Is that guitar okay?” is like a 1:1 ratio. As many people worried about the guitar as they were saying good job on the song.

So that’s two: “Black Tie” and “Storm To Weather”. And then I guess I’d go for the second single for this record as well, it’s like a country song. Sort of a bit of a like…is pastiche the right word? A bit of send up of the kind of traditional sad country music thing, and to really sort of lean into that idea we did a barn dance, line dancing video shoot, which was quite a lot of fun. And that’s called “The Last Man On Earth”, which is about falling for a straight friend and never being able to realise those feelings. It’s one of those songs that, again, I wrote it quite a long time ago.

But it’s one of those ones that again, I feel like since my improved understanding of the way that jaded, embittered men have written the story of the world, I’m a bit like, “Oh, gosh, it’s just so lame. It’s so lame”. But, yeah, I shouldn’t say that because I’ve had a couple of very nice messages from people being like, “This is exactly how I feel about my friend”. And again, I just want to be like… 

LK  
Yeah.

GP  
“Move on. Move on”.

LK  
Well yeah, maybe you can help them move on, that’s the thing, isn’t it?

GP  
Yeah, I hope so. Yeah, yeah. My advice to those people is, “Go to therapy, meet a nice queer girl, you’ll be fine.” That’s what happened to me. 

LK  
There you go. Yeah, sorted. 

GP  
Yeah. That makes it sound like I met my girlfriend at therapy. I just mean have some therapy, you will stop choosing people who are completely utterly self sabotaging to your happiness.

LK  
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Definitely words to live by there. Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to a listener who wants to be more creative in their own life what would that piece of advice be?

GP  
Oh, you know what? I would always say, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. I think try and try and try, you’ll get better.

Another consequence of the internet is that I think we all feel like everything we do is carved in stone now forever, because everything we do we put online, and then it can be viewed by so many people, and we feel like it’s this very permanent record but A: it kind of isn’t. You put something online, you can take it down if you stop being happy with it. But also B: like we said earlier on, it’s all a journey, we’re all improving all the time, and I think that I learned on the job, I learned on the job from gigs, and I’m still learning. I’m always learning, and I never have a gig where I don’t feel like I learned something, and hopefully become better from the end of it.

So I think, like, crack on. Never feel like you have to wait until you’re perfect. I recorded, like I said, as soon as I had ten songs that were even finished I just was like, let’s get these down on an album, and that was my first album. And you know, I don’t think much of it now. But it’s nice to be able to look back and be like, I’m 11 years better than I was then, do you know what I mean?

So I just think try, I think try and DIY. You don’t need anybody’s permission to do anything. That’s the wonderful thing about the age that we live in. You will find your audience, they will definitely be out there, and you have means to connect to them wherever you are. That’s a beautiful thing, and it’s a privilege that not everybody had. I mean, think how many musicians, artists, creators that there were in previous decades before there was this wonderful tool that we have to self publish and find people who will like our stuff, wherever they will be – because they’re out there, you know? They’re out there. So yeah, I’d say DIY till I die. That’d be my advice, I think. 

LK  
Me too, 100%. 

GP  
Yeah, for sure. 

LK  
Thank you so much for being my guest. 

GP  
Thank you.

LK  
Because we were gonna do this before the stupid pandemic.

GP  
We were, yeah. 

LK  
I think it was just as it started I’d set out a week where I was like, this thing seems to be approaching but I know, I’ll spend a week driving up and down the country. That’s what I was gonna do, I was gonna come and meet you halfway between Leicester and here, I was gonna go up north to speak to Ginger. Yeah, I was gonna go and see Miles. So I had this plan and then everyone was like, maybe not. 

GP  
Yeah.

LK  
Let’s maybe not do that, and then we just did it all remote. But I’m so glad we managed to do this. Thank you so much.

GP  
Well, I’m so glad as well. Yeah, yeah. Lovely to talk to you. And I mean, if we had done it before the pandemic, I guess I wouldn’t have had anything to say. So I feel like everything I said was like, “I’ve really learned in the past 18 months…” But yeah, like I said, it’s all a learning curve. Life’s a learny journey.

LK  
Well exactly – and if you hadn’t put that record out ten years ago and if I hadn’t put my record out in 2010 then we wouldn’t have made the things we’ve made now. 

GP  
That’s true. 

LK  
If we’d just sat around waiting to be perfect, like you say –

GP  
Absolutely.

LK  
– it just wouldn’t be the same. We did it all brilliantly, that’s what I’m saying. We aced it.

GP  
We did! And how much worse would it be to turn around and be like, fuck, I was loads better in 2010 than I am now.

LK  
Yes! Yeah.

GP  
That’s the alternative at the end of the day. You’re either improving or you’re declining!

LK  
May we continue to improve.

GP  
Let’s hope so, yeah.

LK  
Like a fine wine.


LK
If you do one thing for independent music today, please make that ordering Grace’s new album “Connectivity”. Head to gracepetrie.com for all the info and sign up to her mailing list while you’re there.

The deluxe show notes page for this episode is at penfriend.rocks/grace, and you can grab two free Penfriend songs there as a gift.

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend, and I do try not to bang on about this too often but please do consider leaving a review of the show on Apple Podcasts, because that really helps spread the word. Thanks for considering it.

Big love to my Correspondent’s Club for powering the making of this show and all my music – and if you’re not a member yet, visit my website for information on joining our friendly group.

If you’d like to keep listening to Attention Engineer now, I recommend episode 6 with Tom Robinson and episode 4 with Frank Turner as good follow-on listens.

I’ll be back in two weeks with episode 50, the last one until next year, so make sure you click subscribe to listen first.

Have a fab day. Take care, and thanks for listening.

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