There is something in the voice of alt-pop artist TRACE that commands you pause and listen; an earnest confessionality in unerringly dulcet tones that draws you closer and makes you want to stop and really hear what it is that she is saying.
The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter has been grinding out her unique blend of electronica for the past two years, bubbling in the undercurrent of better known contemporaries such as TUSKS and drawing influence from Lykki Li, the West Coast cool of Lana Del Rey and the moody R&B of James Blake, to name a few.
Her 2016 EP, Low, saw TRACE unfurl a confidence in her music with brooding efforts “Heavy Shoulders” and “Honey”, and now she is set to return with new track “Oh My My”. Here TRACE dials back her sound even further, eschewing much of her throbbing synth work for a more understated atmosphere and recounting the candid details of her days with a voice that is icily pure.
"Lyrically, the song is 99% factual and so honest that I finished writing it in 15 minutes,” recalls the singer. “Sonically, I wanted the track to feel easy on the ears because I knew the words behind it would be kind of cutting; in a way I wanted to put the listener in a trance so they would be distracted by what might feel like a lack of empathy.
“Being wanted is addictive,” confesses TRACE in regards to the lyrics of "Oh My My”. “It’s totally a drug; this song is about that willingness to let someone pour out their adoration, knowing that you yourself have no true interest in them. But I won’t ever stop you and I’ll never lie."
Listen to TRACE’s “Oh My My” below, and read on to discover more about the track, her DIY ethic, and drawing inspiration from her mother.
Your newest track “Oh My My’’ is out now. Lyrically, it is rather personal; can you tell us a little of what was inspiring you when you wrote it?
I wrote the first line first in a voice memo to “Oh My My” before I finished it in the studio. I just recalled talking to someone about relationships and dating and said to them, “I don’t know, I can be the worst sometimes.” Then I realised I was in this season of just talking to different people (like dating or whatever) and I didn’t really, genuinely like anyone in that way, but really enjoyed their company. So that truth, that fact, that circumstance really drove the song. The feeling was so potent, I wrote it under twenty minutes.
We love the understated vibe, which is quite different in comparison to previous tracks such as “Away”. What led you down that direction when you were composing it?
Thank you! To be honest, we spent a lot of time in the studio working on more upbeat tracks and this was the last song to be worked on in that chunk of time, and I wanted to slow down. I also wanted it to feel peaceful and calm and well, maybe, something Frank Ocean would be into. I think the words are pretty rough and discreetly mean, so I wanted to balance it sonically too.
It’s not been long since you released your 2016 EP, Low. Did you plan to have new music so soon? How do you keep the momentum going?
Timelines have been an interesting thing in my career. I technically had my EP ready in 2015, but I think the timing wasn’t right. When we released the Low EP things started to move and I knew more material would be expected, from others, but mostly from myself. I was and am in a place of excitement to share all that I’ve learned. In a way, I’m like “You guys, I think I’m getting the hang of this!” I just feel really more myself these days; I’m sure that evolution continues forever but it’s fun. That’s also a way to keep momentum going - to know that there’s more inside that must be outside of myself. I just have a lot to confess and I’d rather not keep it all in my head.
You’ve been supporting Jai Wolf and toured with Mr Little Jeans late last year. What has the experience been like for you and what do you try to bring to your live show?
Touring with Mr Little Jeans was my first experience on the road and singing that often back-to-back. It was so crazy and so amazing and I learned so, so much about myself and performing: tour life, the people who listen to my music - it was truly incredible connecting with people on that level. With the Jai tour I added a live drummer to bring a heavier sound for my live performance, since his stuff is more constantly high in energy and I wanted to be a complimentary opener. That was a rad time too, yet much shorter than the Mr Little Jeans run. Overall though, I try to bring a sense of connection in my live show. I want to make potentially awkward but honest eye contact with you on stage and I want to talk to you and meet your sister and parents or BFF after. And of course, I want to bring a sense of charm and originality. It’s really important for me to never bore people. You can be uninterested, but please don’t be bored.
Do you have a preference for creating music or performing live? Why do you prefer either one to the other?
I don’t know why but right now, I’m torn 50:50. It changes from time to time, but I’d say right now, no. I also feel like I haven’t done one or the other more yet either so I’m still learning every corner of each compartment of being an artist. One day, I’ll want to be in the studio for twelve hours eating dried mangoes and writing all the songs and other days I want to be on stage with my band in New York or LA or wherever singing the sad stuff to your face.
Your mother was a Vietnamese pop icon and you spent your childhood watching her on stage. Do you feel that her career has inspired your own?
It has indirectly inspired me for sure. I’ve found myself more recently just thinking about her more and her career and how I want to glean from it, and have curated questions in my mind about it every time I know I’m going to see her. There are values she has taught me in general growing up that I have felt really impacted how I maneuver through life with my career and it has definitely inspired me to be the woman/artist I am today.
You had a career in writing and editorial before coming back to music. Was there a pivotal moment where you realised that you had to pursue music?
I did! And I think so. I’d say it was probably when I decided to launch a Kickstarter in order to get funds to make an EP while I was working a full-time job as a Managing Editor. It was crazy to do both but in that season of life, I felt the good kind of pressure to really pursue music and only music.
You self-recorded your first EP in your bathroom. Do you still try to keep your creative process as DIY as possible?
I really did! I don’t know if I’ll ever record something in a bathroom again, but I’m open to trying new things and anything. The bathroom wasn’t an intentional move, it just happened to work out really well. I think as long as it’s quality and honest, I’m down, and that could look like DIY in a hallway of a vacant building or it could look like a really expensive studio.
Is there more new music in store for us in the near future? What can you tell us?
What I can tell you is that there is definitely more new music in store for you. And I’m really excited about it - whilst also always nervous - but this year will be a year of new music.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Glad to be here. And glad you’re listening.