Since she was 16 years old, musician Grace Shaw's been living the average teenager's fever dream. Like every other adolescent detainee, she used to gaze out the schoolroom window in her hometown of Brisbane and wonder if there wasn't something better for her out there. Unlike most others though, Shaw decided against waiting for life to hand it to her.
“It was the last year of high school. For a while I was doing really well but then lots of stuff was happening at home, my grades were slipping and I was like ‘wait . . . I actually don’t like this’. Then I realised I didn’t know what I did like.” After a little soul searching, Shaw’s interest alighted on music.
“I started listening to this guy Allday. I went to one of his concerts and I felt so inspired. I was like, ‘I wanna be on tour with him, I wanna do what he’s doing.’ So I just started making beats on my computer and like singing over them. Then I knew I needed to find someone on the internet who could tell me what to do next,” Shaw recalls. “It was really daunting. I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t go about it in a professional way at all. I didn’t know anyone in real life so I literally just found people on Facebook.”
I've been trying to spend less time on my phone
Whatever she sent them must have been impressive. From there, Shaw’s career took off. “Some people responded to what I sent them, they were like, ‘Okay, I’ll make a beat for you and then we can go to the studio and record it’, and I was like, ‘Okay! . . .Who has a studio?’” she laughs. Luckily, some of her newfound friends did.
Since those heady early days, studios have become regular haunts in her life. Her success story is a PR’s dream – it took her little more than some music software and a Facebook account to make a name for herself, with no years of label image-crafting to brush under the rug. Shaw didn’t even get signed until after her first EP, Uninvited, was released. Since then, she’s recorded a follow-up EP, In The Sky, as well as a single just last month called Nobody’s Home.
Now 20, she's amassed an impressive online following, and some bigger acts quickly scooped her up for support slots, including Post Malone and Maggie Rogers.
Now trading under the moniker Mallrat – a pseudonym which evokes years of adolescent loitering in the sleepy suburbs of Brisbane – Grace lives up to the name. In her dressing room at La Gaite Lyrique in Paris (where she’s supporting Rogers), she’s the picture of sun-kissed, laidback youth. She’s even accompanied by her best friend from school, Denim Skrrt, who doubles as the DJ for her sets. Smiling warmly, and serenely offering me some kombucha, Shaw looks for all the world like she’s still back in Brisbane, chilling by the mall pond with a pal in the afternoon haze.
Shaw’s impressive self-made background suggests burning ambition, daring independence, and a brazen determination – none of which is evident in her very chill exterior or self-deprecating manner. “At the beginning, I honestly didn’t know if I was any good or not,” she says, “I had nothing to reference.” But despite her professed doubts, she powered through with a quiet confidence. Shaw is a bit of a contradiction.
Perhaps this is why she's resonated so much with youth across Australia, and indeed the world. Being young in 2019 is all about contradiction, and it's something that's evident in her rhymes and visuals. Mallrat's wistful electronic sound is coupled with lyrics that make stinging emotional observation feel softly nuanced: "I wanna see us together, but maybe it's not about me and what I wanna see."
In her video for Groceries, Grace nods to US idols Dolly Parton and Lana Del Rey with glittery thigh-high boots and a trailer park background, but most of the video emphasises her isolation, her solitary figure dancing an arc across the meadows and beaches of Brisbane. This is one of the paradoxes Mallrat represents so strongly – the idea of youth being infinitely connected to culture and history and one another via the internet, but still feeling so very cut off and lonely within our own lives.
“A lot of the first EP was about feeling really isolated,” she nods. “I think the internet has the power to be both connecting and isolating. I’ve met so many people that I’ve gone on to make music with because of the internet. But at the same time I’ve been trying to spend less time on my phone.
“I’ve been reading again and it feels much nicer. Constantly having something to look at, it doesn’t leave much time to be creative or think about stuff deeply,” she reasons. “That’s why so many people come up with ideas on their smoke break or in the shower.
“But now people take their phones in the shower because they’ve made them waterproof.” She half-grins, half-grimaces. Maybe it’s our destiny as young people to be our own worst enemies. Grace’s lyrics certainly hint at the anxious teenage brain’s tendency to turn good situations bad, to trap ourselves in loneliness despite our best intentions: “Everyone’s alive so everything’s alright, but maybe when the summer ends I’ll drift away from all my friends.”
But for now, Mallrat seems to be making the best of her good situation. Calmly sipping her kombucha and letting huge smiles light up her face, she tells me how she’s just moved to LA, where she’s sharing a house with Allday, the rapper who first inspired her to make music and with whom she’s since collaborated. Talk about coming full circle.
The whole point of going to LA is to try to understand how different people work and meet new people
“I’m excited,” she beams. But not nervous? “I didn’t feel that until a few days ago, actually. I did start thinking about how many people are involved now, like with the record labels. Everyone’s got an opinion – which is sometimes so helpful – but lately there’s this song that I’m so excited about, and I don’t know if anyone else is excited about it”.
It seems like a steep transition. Mallrat found her own path writing about smalltown teen angst on her laptop in Brisbane, and is now displaced into a huge network halfway across the globe. Especially in a post-Ryan Adams world when the music world’s dark underbelly is slowly being revealed, entering the industry as a young woman must be daunting. But Shaw has ways of maintaining her boundaries, she explains, nodding to her best friend Denim, still sitting in the corner of the dressing room.
“I don’t really work with people who aren’t my friends,” she explains. “I often work with people through friends recommending friends. And if I get to a writing session and I don’t like their attitude, I try to keep it short.”
Despite being only 20, she seems to have a keen awareness of the different interests that will soon compete for her attention, and has already devised thought processes to keep herself firmly rooted.
“I try and find a middle ground. The whole point of going to LA is to try to understand how different people work and meet new people. But I also know what I like and don’t like.
“A lot of it is just trying working with new people – half the time it’s amazing, half the time it’s like, ‘nothing came out of that but I learned something’,” she reasons maturely.
Later on stage, Mallrat wins over the early crowd in an orange hoodie, laying out her captivating lyrics while sipping on what looks like a carton of coconut milk. She puts it down when Denim jumps out from behind decks to join her for a dance break. It feels less like a concert, more like watching two best friends have the time of their lives. “OMG I love her,” I hear an onlooker say behind me. Something tells me LA will love her too.
Mallrat plays on July 6th at Longitude in Marlay Park, Dublin