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GRACE GAUSTAD | MEANING BEHIND ‘BLKBX: WHT R U HDING?’

December 14, 2021

Read the full interview on Flaunt.com!

It’s hard to believe Grace Gaustad is only 20 years old, and even harder to believe she’s only just getting started. Boasting a standout voice that could move mountains, the singer-songwriter doesn’t just see music as a hobby or job, she sees it as a coping mechanism that holds healing power. Plus, it’s her down-to-earth, resilient personality that fans all around the globe can’t help but fall in love with.

Gaustad describes herself as “a very creative, artistic person. A lot of people who meet me for the first time describe me as a living, breathing, piece of art. I tend to be a very eccentric dresser. My shoes are always colorful, my socks are always outrageous.”

In a world that seems to be plagued by negativity or darkness, Grace arrives as a breath of fresh air in the music industry, with a mission to inspire hope and remove the stigma surrounding mental health. Directly in line with that, Grace unleashed her short film titled BLKBX: wht r u hding?, coinciding with her album of the same title. Topics range from mental health to bullying to sexual/gender identity to depression to body dysmorphia. The project is executive produced by Emmy award-winning actress, Mariska Hargitay, who also plays Grace’s therapist in the film during the song “93 Days.”

Most recently, Grace released her own rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” in perfect timing for the holidays.

Flaunt caught up with Grace via Zoom, who was visiting her mom in New York. Read below as we discuss her roots, where the idea for BLKBX originated, the importance of mental health, performing at The Roxy in LA, seeing Mick Jagger dance to her song, her goals for the future, and more!

You’re from Phoenix, Arizona originally. When did you come to LA?

I moved to LA right after I graduated high school, so about 2.5 years ago.

What was a young Grace like coming up in Phoenix?

Super adventurous, loved being outside. I was one of those kids who from a very young age never fit into the typical mold. I spent a lot of time alone, which is how I got started on music. I had a lot of free time, so I picked up piano very young. I used to sit and play with my mom all the time and started writing music very young. Pretty much how I occupied my mind and all the free time I had when I was younger. I was a super active kid. I was one of those kids, I couldn’t stop. If I wasn’t doing one thing, I had to be doing something else. I was incredibly creative. I was a bit of a painter, I used to paint all over the walls and draw everywhere. Super energetic and very artistically curious.

Who were you listening to that made you want to do music?

I was in the car with my dad and one of the first Lady Gaga records came on. I believe it was “Just Dance” at the time, I remember hearing it like “Whoa, who’s that?!” YouTube was new, but my mom would let me go on her channel and look through a few videos. I remember falling in love with her as an artist. She’s been a huge inspiration for me. Gaga definitely kicked off my fascination with pop music specifically and my fascination with becoming a musician/singer-songwriter.

Do you see yourself in the same vein of pop as her?

I think so. I write a lot of dance music. I write a lot of straight forward pop. Overall, my music maybe isn’t that uptempo. She’s almost crossing over into that EDM space on some of her records. I don’t think I ever go that far. Maybe if her and Taylor Swift had a little kid, perhaps I’d be that kid.

How does it feel to have BLKBX: wht r u hding? Out?

I’m stoked to have it out, I worked on it for a really long time. It was supposed to come out at the beginning of 2020. Because everything that happened with Covid, it got pushed back quite a bit. Seeing it out in the world, doing its thing and reaching the right audience has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me.

You’re from Phoenix, Arizona originally. When did you come to LA?

I moved to LA right after I graduated high school, so about 2.5 years ago.

What was a young Grace like coming up in Phoenix?

Super adventurous, loved being outside. I was one of those kids who from a very young age never fit into the typical mold. I spent a lot of time alone, which is how I got started on music. I had a lot of free time, so I picked up piano very young. I used to sit and play with my mom all the time and started writing music very young. Pretty much how I occupied my mind and all the free time I had when I was younger. I was a super active kid. I was one of those kids, I couldn’t stop. If I wasn’t doing one thing, I had to be doing something else. I was incredibly creative. I was a bit of a painter, I used to paint all over the walls and draw everywhere. Super energetic and very artistically curious.

Who were you listening to that made you want to do music?

I was in the car with my dad and one of the first Lady Gaga records came on. I believe it was “Just Dance” at the time, I remember hearing it like “Whoa, who’s that?!” YouTube was new, but my mom would let me go on her channel and look through a few videos. I remember falling in love with her as an artist. She’s been a huge inspiration for me. Gaga definitely kicked off my fascination with pop music specifically and my fascination with becoming a musician/singer-songwriter.

Do you see yourself in the same vein of pop as her?

I think so. I write a lot of dance music. I write a lot of straight forward pop. Overall, my music maybe isn’t that uptempo. She’s almost crossing over into that EDM space on some of her records. I don’t think I ever go that far. Maybe if her and Taylor Swift had a little kid, perhaps I’d be that kid.

How does it feel to have BLKBX: wht r u hding? Out?

I’m stoked to have it out, I worked on it for a really long time. It was supposed to come out at the beginning of 2020. Because everything that happened with Covid, it got pushed back quite a bit. Seeing it out in the world, doing its thing and reaching the right audience has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me.

When did you first get the idea for the concept of BLKBX?

It was at the end of 2019, I was reading an article in the middle of the night. It had mentioned something about a black box in an airplane, how it stores all this data when a plane crashes that can tell you what happened. I was thinking to myself that night, “what if we as human beings had these metaphorical black boxes that were a representation of all our pain? Our trauma, but nonetheless our healing.” I don’t believe anyone turns out the way they do just by coincidence. We’re made up of a combination of our experiences and the people in our life, so that’s where the idea was born.

When did the “wht r u hding?” part come into the equation?

wht r u hding?” was added a little bit later after I explored the concept further. As the project went further along, what I realized was I was telling all these secrets. I discuss my sexuality, which I never really openly talked about before. I discuss body dysmorphia. I discuss a learning disability that I struggled with. It was me almost coming clean with all these things nobody knew. I was hiding all of these things and the question I wanted to ask the other people was “What’re you hiding?” Are you hiding the same thing I am? My guess is you probably are. A common misconception with human beings is we don’t all go through the same thing, we do and no one talks about it. You think you’re having this unique experience, when in reality there’s a lot of people struggling with exactly the same thing.

How did it feel to be so vulnerable and show this side of you to the public?

It was scary at first. I definitely was worried about the public reaction with such a provocative project like this, but ultimately, I felt really good seeing the response from so many young people who reached out to me over the course of the last few months saying how much this project has helped them. I’ve had thousands of people tell me stories about how “Red” on the album helped them come out to their parents, so I had to put myself above my own emotions a bit. As much as it was hard to struggle with all those things, seeing what it’s been able to do for other people has made it worth every second of it.

How was the process of shooting the docu-film? It’s 20 minutes long.

It’s about 20 minutes long, and we filmed 12 music videos as well. It was a draining process. The 12 videos are separate from the docu-film. Some of them are weaved in, but the 12 videos tell a linear story of the first 18 years of my life. To be honest, it was unreal. We shot a lot of days. I worked with an incredible director, Van Alpert. He’s so talented. I’m working with them again on my second project. I met a great team through BLKBX. Although it was a lot of work, especially shooting during a pandemic which is very tricky on its own, we had a great team and I can’t wait to do it again.

Favorite memory from shooting?

My favorite memory from shooting has to be meeting my girlfriend who was cast as a mean girl. She was playing the bully, but the reality and behind-the-scenes of it all, we were slowly having this relationship start building. She was easily the best thing that came out of the project for me. [laughs] It was really cool seeing the juxtaposition between who she was meant to play and what we ended up being off screen.

With your journey with mental health, what does it mean to be able to help others through your art?

Every artist’s dream or ambition is to bring some sort of happiness, peace, and help to other people. I certainly look back on my life and I remember music helping me through some of the most challenging times. For me, I want to be able to do that for the next generation of people. So many people struggle with mental health, I definitely have had a lot of experience with it. Music is one of those things that can truly make a difference in someone’s life, and it’s relatively accessible. I can’t even imagine my life without music. It’s changed my life in so many ways. For anyone who’s an artist, you want your art to fall into the right hands, and that’s one thing I’m always striving for.

How was it having actress Mariska Hargitay play your therapist and executive produce the short film?

Mariska is fantastic, she’s so talented. She’s played a real-life superhero on screen for so many years on Law & Order: SVU. She’s an incredible person inside and out, so having someone with her expertise and background be a part of this project was a dream come true. She’s such a mentor to me, I’ve learned so much from her over the last few years. She was one of the first people who ever saw BLKBX, one of the first people who ever believed in the vision of it. I’m so grateful to Mariska for everything she’s done not only for me, but for the project and spreading the message.

3 things you need in the studio?

Definitely my phone, I write a lot on there. I definitely need my Airpods because I listen to melodies and things all the time. Always some sort of drink. I usually have one drink that’s for hydration, like water, and I almost always have something that’s totally not good for you, like a Root Beer, Dr. Pepper, or something like that. I always have my fun drink, then I’ve got what I should be drinking. [laughs]

What philanthropy do you have going on?

A few weeks ago, I performed at the Stand Up for Heroes event, which is the Bob Woodruff Foundation. They put on a massive event every year and raise a ton of money for Veterans and their families. I’ve been a part of that a few times, it’s an incredible experience and was again this year.

I’m a huge animal lover so I’m super involved with ASPCA, always donating. If I could have 15 dogs, I definitely would for sure. [laughs] On my own little sector, I have BLKBXProject.org which is a place that offers resources to teens struggling with mental health. We’ve partnered with an incredible therapist, Jaz Robbins, who goes through the 12 topics discussed in BLKBX and offers free advice to people who might not have access to therapy. We work in partnership with the Joyful Heart Foundation, which belongs to Mariska Hargitay, the Born This Way Foundation which belongs to Lady Gaga, and also with Teen Line which is a free hotline for teens who are struggling with mental health issues in general.

How was it performing at the legendary Roxy?

So cool! There’s so many bomb places in LA, it’s got such a culture about it. I’ve been lucky enough to perform at some of these legendary clubs. You go back in these green rooms and it’s humbling to think about some of the people who have played there before. It’s almost surreal standing in there knowing the legends that have walked through those doors. I’m a huge fan of the LA music scene, there’s nothing cooler than some of those places that have been around for years. They each hold so much history.

 

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How was it having Mick Jagger dance to your song “Supersonic”?

That was wild. I woke up one morning and I had all these text messages from my entire family, because obviously Mick Jagger was of a time when my parents were younger, my grandparents, that was their hero. The Rolling Stones were so big, and they still are. I had my entire family saying “Oh my god! Did you see this?” To have someone that legendary to hear your music is crazy, he’s so talented. I grew up listening to a lot of the Stones’ music, they’re one of my mom’s favorite bands. To have someone that iconic in the music world dancing to my song, was unbelievable. It’s like a dream almost, that I never woke up from. [laughs]

What was your initial reaction?

I was shocked. I had so many messages, I’m going through my phone like “What’s everybody talking about?” Then I got on social media and saw it like “Holy shit, what’s happening.” It took a minute to really register, but was so cool. If only I knew the day I was writing that in the studio that Mick Jagger would be dancing to it. [laughs] That blows my mind.

What’re you most excited for next?

I’m wrapping up my second album right now and can’t wait to share more details about that project. Most of December I’m cutting all the vocals, getting it mixed, getting it produced. Going right back at it early next year. I’m stoked to start filming again, stoked to get more music out. I’m very excited. 2022 is going to be a super dope year for a lot of reasons. I also have a Christmas song out. I did a cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” it’s one of my mom’s favorite songs so I did it for her. We shot a pretty cool video, I’m excited for that as well because Christmas is my favorite holiday of all time.

Any goals for yourself at this point in your career?

I don’t know about short-term goals, but I have a countdown on my phone that reminds me of my long-term goals. I made it when I was 13 years old; it’s a countdown of wanting to play Madison Square Garden and it expires on my 25th birthday. My 20th birthday just happened and I look at that countdown every morning when I wake up. It’s part of my motivation to keep going. I’m a big believer that if you work hard enough you can get to wherever you want to go. So that little clock is always in the back of my mind.

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