Gracie and Rachel are a study in duality: light and dark, classical training with a pop sensibility, Californians in New York. Their music pits anxiety and tension against an almost serene self-assurance on their self-titled debut, and their live show is equal parts fierce drama and delicate intimacy.
Their music is a compelling juxtaposition of Gracie’s piano and lead vocals and Rachel’s violin and voice, augmented with stark percussion. The nine orchestral-pop songs on Gracie and Rachel tell a story that’s rooted in the truth —their truth — but retain an enigmatic air that makes them relatable to anyone who has ever found their heart racing with doubt and pushed forward regardless, or triumphed in subverting expectations imposed from without. “I think that’s representative of how I feel as a human being, of how Rachel feels,” Gracie says. “It is our story, but we’re working to express a duality that’s open to everyone.”
Their story begins when they met in high school in Berkeley, California, in a dance class, and were assigned a musical collaboration that took hold. After attending music schools in different parts of the country, they moved to Brooklyn where they built out a loft space to be their studio and home. That’s where they started writing the songs on Gracie and Rachel, “living, working, breathing every moment together, and making music in that universe,” says Gracie.
Their close-quarters creative process lends a sense of urgency to their music that cascades through the rollercoaster arc of the album. Baeble Music hailed opener “Tiptoe,” with its eerie ghost tones and taut percussion, as “beautiful and unsettling,” a description that applies to the spacious piano and sympathetic violin on “(Un)comfortable,” or the hammering piano part on “Go,” all the way to the ringing vocals that build to a defiant crescendo on “Don’t Know” to close the record. “We tiptoed into this not sure how to make our mark, and by the end of the album, hopefully, you’re feeling a lot more anger and confidence and empowerment,” Gracie says.
“It all comes from the intimacy of Gracie’s piano and voice and my violin and voice,” Rachel says, and it’s no accident that the effects are often physical. “We try to hone in on the body experience as well as the mind experience.” The women have become so attuned to one another that they seem to instinctively know where their songs are going without having to discuss it. “There’s just an understanding of what’s going to work,” Gracie says. “She’s classically trained, and I had these verse-chorus, verse-chorus tendencies. We both helped each other break away from certain constructs at the beginning to find our own sound. It’s taken some years, but there’s almost no verbal conversation about it now.”
“We’ve gotten more trusting as we’ve gotten older,” Rachel adds. “We can anticipate the other person’s inclinations.” Gracie and Rachel pair their music with a strong visual aesthetic that emphasizes the ways in which they complement each other, even as they contrast. It’s evident in their striking black-and-white videos that play with light and shadow, and in the photo that graces the album cover, where Gracie, dressed in white, covers Rachel’s eyes with her hand while Rachel, dressed in black, covers Gracie’s mouth. “Sometimes Rachel says she’s my ears, and I’m her eyes, and I think that’s true in our music,” Gracie says. “Sometimes there’s something I see in the world I want to comment on, and she knows how to express it through sound.”
Though they make music as a duo, Gracie and Rachel together far exceed the sum of their parts. Like their stylized color palette, their instrumentation appears simple and spare at first glance. But there’s a powerful prism effect at work in their music that brings us back to the concept of duality: their songs are intimate and expansive, introspective and also inviting. “Using black and white, we don’t want to only make gray,” Gracie says. “We’re working to find different ways to make more colors come out from just two entities.”