Representing the NYC and Beantown area, Nolo Grace showcases her versatile style through music with her fusion between pop and electronic. With her genreless approach, she continues to prove herself as an artist to watch for. To further learn more about the rising star, she chat’s with Kazi Mag’s Ethan Ijumba for a brief Q&A to discuss her musical journey, career, and newest single “Wake Up” Ft. Sean Kingston.
Ethan Ijumba: For starts, and for those who don’t know, who is Nolo Grace? Where are you from, what’s your purpose musically, as well as your plans to achieve as an artist?
Nolo Grace: I’m a producer/artist based in LA. I grew up in New York City and the Boston area. My parents were Korean immigrants who didn’t speak much English. They were focusing on succeeding in this country and emphasizing education but not my creative pursuits. Along with that, my earliest memories involve my spark for music, I remember obsessing over the piano and incessantly asking my parents if we could get one starting from when I was three. The idea of performing captured my imagination since I’ve always into the emotionality of sound.
EI: Based on your parent’s logical rather than creative support, what was it like learning and developing in music at a young age?
Nolo Grace: Unfortunately, I had intense stage fright from an early age. I’ve blacked out on multiple occasions just from reading in front of my class…and also during an audition at Carnegie Hall. These experiences made it hard for me to be a soloist, but I was in choirs and went on global tours singing in high school. My training was in classical music and opera, but I loved pop music.
Like many people, I had a few negative experiences and feedback and gave up music completely. It was effective to the point, that I wouldn’t even sing alone in the shower. So I took the “safer” path, got two Ivy League degrees, and ended up working in the corporate world on Wall Street as a senior executive. Literally, I was miserable, stressed out, always on a plane, never home, completely lost myself, and was completely willing to sacrifice myself and my health in the process.
Eventually, I made the change I needed to make. I left my job and life in NYC behind and started wandering around the world as a nomad. I started listening to the voice inside. One of my stops was LA. One year and 7 sublets later, I realized it was home. I started writing songs about my life and then got obsessed with music production. The realization that I could create my own tracks including instruments I don’t actually know how to play, record myself, and experiment with sound – that completely blew my mind.
My purpose musically is expansive. Eventually, I want to connect more deeply with myself and others. As well as, I want to occupy more than one lane and work on some projects that feel more commercial and others that are purely experimental. Hopefully to one day create community and make music without a sense of limits or boundaries. I hope it connects me to the universe, spirit, and emotional understanding in a profound way.
EI: Ideally, are there any main goals, awards, or aspirations that you look to achieve within both fields as an artist and/or as a producer?
Nolo Grace: It would be incredible to gain recognition, of course. I also know I can’t fully know or control where things will go. I’m trying to keep the love for creation pure, and I believe that will naturally lead to big things.
My aspiration is to have a successful career as an artist, producer, and music entrepreneur. In particular, I would love to develop innovative products and new business models for the music industry. I also would like to play a role in making the system fairer and helping creators succeed. I see my career developing on three tracks, hopefully converging and reinforcing each other – developing my artistry, my business empire, and philanthropic initiatives.
EI: Regarding your entry into the music industry, you began by doing music production via Ableton. When and what exactly made you want to instead pursue a career as an artist instead?
Nolo Grace: When I discovered music production – the fact that I could create my own compositions and tracks, record myself, sculpt sounds – it completely unlocked a new world for me. It’s crazy to think that less than two years ago I didn’t even know what a snare or synth was; I didn’t even really understand what a producer did. There is a fair amount of fear and self-doubt that comes with the creative process, and I’ve had a lot of hang-ups about sharing my voice. During the period of quarantine, I worked on myself. I knew it was something I always wanted to do, and I had to stop waiting around for permission or validation from others to take the step. I’m grateful to the people who pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me realize I was capable.
EI: With that being said, your sound is a mixture of electronic and pop elements in your music, are there any specific musical influences you listened to growing up that inspired you the most?
Nolo Grace: It’s too hard for me to consciously understand my own influences because I’ve loved such a wide range of music. Imogen Heap and Bjork come to mind as influences because I do love layering vocal textures, and I think that’s a part of my sound. Growing up, I was immersed in classical and pop music, which sometimes can be heard in my music even though it’s probably not that apparent. I also loved hip hop, grunge, indie pop, indie rock. When I think of the people who inspire me musically, a lot of that is rooted in process and psychology. I’m inspired by Rick Rubin, Timbaland, Alicia Keys, and Lorde, among many others, because of the way they think about music and the freedom with which they create.
EI: Your single “Wake Up” features Jamaican-American singer-songwriter Sean Kingston. What was it like based on the process of the song as well as working with such a prominent artist on your second single?
Nolo Grace: It was pretty crazy. I feel insanely grateful and fortunate. I had an opportunity to collaborate with Sean Kingston previously, but I was timid and didn’t end up following through. It was before I had made the decision to release music…I was just making it. When I decided to release Wake Up, I asked if he might be able to feature on it. A week later, I got back a bounce of my song with his verse. I can’t express what an incredible feeling it was to hear him singing on my song and his take on Wake Up. It made me reshape my approach to the song as well. Collaboration is such interesting alchemy, whether you’re in the room collaborating live together or passing things back and forth…it can be pretty magical.
EI: Similar to “Wake Up”, your single “Miss Perfect” featured production by Martin Wave and co-written by Natalie Elaine Bortolotti. How would you describe the composition and creative process for you in terms of the song’s production and songwriting?
Nolo Grace: My process tends to be a bit compartmentalized, which I’m trying to change. Either I start making a beat, then freestyle a bit, or I take a more structured process. When I wrote “Miss Perfect” right before LA went on lockdown. I went to Natalia’s studio and had a song concept, lyrics, and beats. We quickly reworked the lyrics and melody, and then I went home and recorded the vocals. Martin is a brilliant producer, and he polished the production and elevated it to the next level. He also helped finalize Wake Up.
EI: Having such a large array of artists you listen to, are there any artists on your bucket list that you hope to one day collaborate and work with in the future?
Nolo Grace: I can’t be a pretty solitary creator, or at least very compartmentalized, and I’m trying to change that. I’m really open to growing and working with many people. Some big names that come to mind are Rick Rubin, SZA, Timbaland, Sia, Grimes, MIA, Alicia Keys, Caroline Polachek, TOKIMONSTA, Santigold, Bon Iver, Swae Lee, but honestly, some of my friends completely blow me away too with their talent. Just today I heard some of my friend’s demos, and it inspired me so much. It’s a cool feeling when you care about someone as a person, feel connected to their story, and after all that, you hear their demos, and you’re like “Wait what?! You made this incredible body of work. I can’t even believe it”.
EI: From having such an eclectic mix of influences, for those who don’t know you or haven’t heard your music, how would you describe it, based on the sound, themes, and elements incorporated?
Nolo Grace: Sonically, I think of it as multi-layered, dreamy, vibey with speed-out vocals and hip hop grooves. I usually have a lot of layers in my tracks, including pads and various weird sounds that may not make it to the final mix. I love layering my vocals and tucking them into the song. A lot of my recent songs focus on the theme of personal growth and empowerment since that’s been a big focus for me, but I think the themes will evolve. People usually comment on my lyrics, and I think of the message as one of the most important elements of my songs.
EI: Is there anything that fans and new listeners can expect from you in terms of a full-length project such as a mixtape, EP, or album?
Nolo Grace: I definitely have material for several different EPs/albums, but it’s probably too early to commit. There are a few common threads among them like love and heartbreak, death and loss, the process of finding yourself. I’ll have to see how it evolves!