Grace White, the female half of the punkgrass duo Grace & Tony, likes to tell stories through her music with her husband Tony White. Their self-proclaimed style of music which they have dubbed “punkgrass” grew from Tony’s former musical genre where he played with punk bands, and mixed with Grace’s influences of her music through her bluegrass instruments. Grace began playing her Grandfather’s guitar at the age of 8, and later picked up the mandolin and banjo in recent years.
We had a chance to chat with Grace about meeting Tony and falling in love, their songwriting process, and their new full length debut album November due out November 11, 2013 through Rock Ridge Music and recorded in Nashville at Villain Place.
GGM: I read where your husband had been a fan of yours before you were married. How did you meet and eventually become husband and wife?
Grace: We had mutual friends and we were in the same places at times, but never really talked a lot or hung out. I guess he noticed we were friends on Facebook, so he sent me a message and asked if I would come jam with him and his friend because I had played in front of him before. So one thing led to another and we started to jam. He asked me to be his girlfriend and I’m pretty sure I told him ‘no’ the first time [laughs] but he kept on asking me, so I finally said yes. I think two weeks after that he told me he loved me, and I didn’t know what to say so I told him my favorite color was teal. [Laughs] I’m pretty sure I crushed him, but one thing led to another, and we fell in love and we got married.
GGM: How was the band Grace & Tony formed?
Grace: When we first met technically on Facebook, he was playing with his friend who was playing drums. So I came in and then eventually we did try to bring in other people at different times, but it always ended up not working out in one way or another. So it just ended up being me and Tony and us taking on everything together. We wrote songs that were created to be played by two people, so we had to make sure they had really good substance and could catch people’s attention even though it was just the two of us.
GGM: And you were lucky because you got to have your name first?
Grace: Yeah [laughs].
GGM: I talked with Tony about the release of your new full-length debut album titled November, which will be available on November 11, 2013. You recorded this album at Villain Place in Nashville. How was it working with the team at Villain Place?
Grace: The engineer was actually one of my best friend’s brother and that’s how we found him. He was working with Lloyd. It was just really fun and I think that we hit it off with them friend-wise from the beginning. They are phenomenal and creative people. So now Lloyd pretty much does everything for us. It was just a really good experience. You know what you want your music to sound like, but then to get someone else’s creativity in there and sometimes Lloyd would suggest things for us to do that I was just not sure of but did them anyway, and they ended up pushing the songs to another level.
GGM: Sometimes it helps to have another perspective.
Grace: Another thing, that is the first album that we recorded and was the first album they ever recorded together. I just think both of them are very creative people and when they get a lot of experience, they are going to be phenomenal because they are phenomenal right now with very little experience.
GGM: Your prior EP Inside a Seven-Track Mind was acoustic and the new album features a full band. How was it working with a full band and what can your fans look forward to on this new album?
Grace: It was different because you don’t want to step on anybody’s toes but then again it is your music and your sound that you want to be portrayed. You already have in your mind what you want the drums to sound like or what you want the bass to sound like. We’re just really lucky that we found people completely willing to listen to our ideas.
Fans will definitely hear a more mature sound from the last EP and I also feel like we’ve developed our characters a little more on this album; and we’ve really worked really hard to create a story line for each song. We tried to add a twist to each story so I think people that like a really good story will enjoy all the songs on this album.
GGM: Did you use studio musicians or did you bring together a group of musicians from your contacts in Nashville?
Grace: Tony and I actually knew people. We had a few personal friends that came out and helped with the album.
GGM: Can you share with us how you and Tony work together and collaborate on your songwriting and what is your inspiration for your songs?
Grace: Tony is the person that comes up with most of the music part and I’ll come in and write I guess what you would call a lead part at times with either the mandolin or banjo, whichever one we decide fits with the particular song. Then we will collaborate on what we will write for the lyrics. Usually that is what I do…the lyrical part. I guess I would consider myself a writer and I love to think that’s the inspiration for what I do. I read a lot of murder mystery stories set in the 1800’s in Britain and there’s a lot of high society people murdering other high society people. And there’s some really good twists. We don’t always think it’s going to be who it turns out being. I really like to write about things with the unexpected.
GGM: Kind of like the game Clue, huh?
Grace: Yeah! I love that game and movie. [Laughs] Tony gets so mad at me…’Are you watching that movie again?’
GGM: Favorite song you’ve ever written?
Grace: I think it would be “Parting Gifts” from our last EP. It’s basically about a couple trying to murder each other. I was into a bunch of emo crap at one time, and I just got tired of myself and said, ‘Why can’t I write something upbeat?’ so I just wrote “Parting Gifts” to be funny. When I met up with Tony, I played it for him and he was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s really good.’ So it ended up being one of our songs and one of our fans’ favorite song.
GGM: Do you come from a family with a musical background?
Grace: Yes, my mom played piano in the church that we went to my entire life and my Grandfather and my Uncle on my Dad’s side played guitar, and so I would always go over to my Grandparents’ house and pick up my Grandfather’s guitar and would start playing on it and he would say, ‘Gracie, stop banging on that guitar and I’ll teach you some chords!’ [Laughs] So I think I was about 8 or 9 when I starting playing guitar. Then my Grandfather got sick and he died from leukemia and so basically from there on out I just self-taught myself guitar. Then when I was high school, I did chorus all four years so I was able to learn to read music, how to breathe and to use my voice. I eventually learned the mandolin and banjo about 3 years ago.
GGM: Can you share with us some of your early musical influences and how they affect your songwriting today?
Grace: I really enjoy stories so much that I really enjoyed Johnny Cash, Tracy Chapman and Jim Croce because they tell stories through their songs.
GGM: Your music has been described as “punkgrass.” Can you tell our readers a little about your musical genre and how “punkgrass” was born?
Grace: By accident. [Laughs] Tony was playing in a punk band with Sam and their band had broken up, but he and Sam had written a lot of the songs and they were just playing it acoustically…just the two of them. When I came in and brought the mandolin and banjo, they were punk songs but they had a bluegrass feel to them with the kind of instruments I was playing. So it just kind of caught on and with the blending of the two styles – punk and bluegrass – “punkgrass” was born.
GGM: You’ve been on the road since mid-August and still have several months left on your tour. How is it sharing all that time with Tony?
Grace: I think there’s times in everyone’s marriage where you just need your space, but I think that we’ve found a way that if we each need our own space, we respect each other. If I don’t feel like listening to music, Tony will put his headphones in and I will read. We have this guy Kyle Kelly who comes along with us now and works our merch and he’s a tension breaker and he’s always funny.
GGM: I always like to ask this question, can you tell us what music means to you in one word?
Grace: Is this a timed question? [Laughs] It’s hard to say in one word, but it’s that creative expression that goes on in my mind…I write stories and this is what I do. Another important thing, when I’m done with school and we’re on the road again and I don’t have to study; I plan on writing short stories for most of our songs and compiling a book. So….storytelling.
GGM: Thank you so much for your time and I love your music. I really, really enjoyed talking with you. I look forward to catching a live show soon!
Grace: Oh, thank you. And we’re so excited about this new album.
For more on Grace & Tony, their music and their album, click HERE.
Photo Credits: Wes Carter