A Conversation with Mallrat

She’s played SXSW, she has a fan in Mark Ronson, she discovered a species of spider at age four, and she’s only 19-years-old. She’s Mallrat, and she’s just happy to call music her “job.”
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When Grace Shaw saw a girl in Sydney, Australia, wearing a Mallrat shirt, she approached the girl to compliment her. As Mallrat herself, Shaw assumed she was about to make this fan’s day.

“She was just like ‘Thanks,’ Shaw recalls with a laugh, “and then went back inside this cafe and gave me a really weird look.”

The thing about Shaw is, she prefers not to make a fuss. Without much fanfare, she released her Uninvited EP in mid-2016. A bundle of ethereal and emotional tracks, the debut gradually gained steam as outlets recognized Shaw’s knack for articulate yet unassuming lyrics. This newfound attention has thrust Mallrat into rising pop prominence, where fans and industry peers alike now eagerly anticipate her moves. Shaw views her recent popularity with a reserved excitement; fame means a chance to tour outside of her native Australia and collaborate with some of music’s finest producers, but it also means more of the “toothless smiles” she fled from on Uninvited.

Most importantly, Shaw’s success gives her the confidence to call her music career “an actual job.” As a freshly minted employee of the business, Shaw navigates her new job with the same curiosity and aplomb she brings to her songwriting. I caught her in the midst of her first American tour, featuring performances in California, NYC, and an appearance at SXSW. Carefree and friendly, she’s as forthright as her music and equally as quirky. She feels ready to show the world what Mallrat can do, and she doesn’t need an elevator pitch to sell her talents.

If you were to present Mallrat in an elevator pitch, what would it be?

What’s an elevator pitch?

Oops, you probably don’t know that phrase! Basically, you would boil down what you think Mallrat is in the amount of time it would take to ride an elevator.

Oh, okay! I would say it’s like interesting pop music: catchy, but maybe not what you expect.

You told NME a psychic premonition came to you and revealed your future as Mallrat. Have you had any visions while you’ve been in the States?

Not really, I’m sorry! But worth asking. Sometimes if you don’t ask the question you miss out on a cool story.

Exactly, which actually leads to my next question: you ignited a conspiracy that Marshmello is actually Mark Ronson...

Yeah, actually he messaged me this afternoon and was like “What time are you playing? I bought tickets for tonight.” Isn’t that so cool? When people buy tickets when they could also get free ones, it’s very sweet. It’s like how your friends know you can put them on the list, so when they buy something it means a lot... I’m not saying that we’re friends, but maybe one day. He could have just asked me, but instead, he went and bought a ticket.

What’s different about touring in the States as opposed to Australia?

This is really just me dipping my toes in the water, so I haven’t got a good answer for you yet. But there are a lot more places to visit in the states. In Australia there’s about six cities you can visit. Most people do three for a tour. If you’re lucky you can do all six capital cities, and if you’re really lucky you can do a regional tour. But for most people, that tour will lose you money. In America there are a lot more people and a lot more places to visit.

Who are Australian acts you think people in America ought to know?

Jungle Giants, Cub Sport, they’re the two biggest ones. Confidence Man are really good to see live if you ever get the chance to see them. And Northeast Party House is really awesome.

Always happy to get new recommendations. What else is planned for this year from your label apart from the tour and EP?

Well, they’ll tell my manager, and she’ll tell me if she thinks it’s important. I’m just working on music on my own.

Speaking of lyrics, in another interview, you mention how many label people, namely producers and songwriters, want to make super-universal catch-all songs that appeal to everyone. You said that the “little details . . . are the coolest details.” If you’re focusing on the little details, why do you think your music resonates with so many people?

It does sound counterintuitive; you assume that more general things connect with more people. They might access more people, but they do not connect. People can recognize details and situations, and everyone has a similar character in their lives or found themselves in the same situation. It’s the details that make you go “Oh I know exactly who or what you’re talking about.”

Definitely. Who are other artists you want to work with?

Well, Allday and I are always making new music. My dream collaboration is Kanye, because I think he’s the best.

I really want to write for other artists as well. I don’t know if I’d be super comfortable working with other top vocalists for my own stuff, because I like to write all my own lyrics, but I would like to write for other people. Songwriting feels natural and performing feels unnatural.

What do you do to get in performance mode?

It doesn’t feel like nerves. It’s more from what I noticed as I was first starting out, and I looked really uncomfortable even though I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I just wasn’t good at adjusting my body language to the stage, which is different than standing on the street. I think I was a bit too casual about it for a while.

You have to watch videos, be self-conscious about certain habits, and phase them out. For a while, I was always walking backwards as I was singing. When you walk backwards it feels like a dance, but it looks like you’re scared of the audience. You’re feeling yourself, but it doesn’t translate.

Who are the cream-of-the-crop performers in your opinion?

I really love watching videos of Florence and the Machine and ASAP Rocky. Two very different artists, but I love their music. Also, Lana Del Rey, and she’s more in my lane in terms of her performance style. I love the energy that ASAP brings to the stage; that’s a hip-hop show thing, but I would love to emulate that in my own shows.

Do you want to start incorporating more hip-hop elements into your music as well? You sort of already have in “Suicide Blonde” and “Tokyo Drift”.

So, I don’t like that song anymore (“Suicide Blonde”). *Laughs.*

That was the first song I ever made, so I was really referencing Allday and answering the question of ‘how do you make a song?’ Now I’ve kind of found my own style. Listening to that now feels really uncomfortable; I just can’t do it. But I still have to perform it because I don’t have enough songs in my set to take it out yet! So I just change how I sing it.

So yes, there will be more hip-hop elements, but not from me rapping. More production style. On “Tokyo Drift”, the last song I recorded for the EP, you can hear that percussive element, but the vocal treatment might be the biggest element.

You had said that you were initially hesitant to use autotune, but you like the way Kanye and others use it.

Travis Scott is a great example because it’s not just him using autotune on his voice. He’ll do reverse-reverb on different melodic parts that you would only recognize as vocal elements if you have spent time in the studio. I think that maybe because a lot of rappers aren’t the strongest singers they get really creative with vocal processing. Conversely, a lot of people who are good singers also don’t step outside of their comfort zones and try different techniques with post-production.

How has your own recording process changed over the years?

Now I know a little more about what I’m doing. I’ve been working with a guy called Fossa, a fantastic producer from Australia. He taught me a lot about vocal processing and going in and doing less takes, and maybe even worse takes. Sometimes worse or more casual, slightly-flat takes sound better when you affect them certain ways. It’s cool to do one, or two, or three takes and then just use that for the song and play with it more.

Who are the other producers who are on this EP?

Japanese Wallpaper and Golden Vessel from Australia. My friend, Connie, from Australia, who produced “Better”. The one person not from Australia is BJ Burton, he produced the Bon Iver album. He’s done a lot with Francis and the Lights and Chance the Rapper. We started working on a song, and I brought it back to finish it with Japanese Wallpaper. It’s my favorite song ever. It’s called “Make Time”, and it’s the last track on the new EP.

Going off of how Fossa taught you the value of “worse takes,” what was a situation you anticipated to be bad but ended up going really well? Or a song you thought would be a throwaway?

“Tokyo Drift”. The EP was due the next day, and I wanted to have six tracks. In Australia, six tracks can chart as an album, so I thought why not go for it. So it was my last day to record and I didn’t think I was going to have anything and I stayed up all night till about 4 AM trying to write something, going over notes. It was also the first song I used autotune on because I was in such a rush, and then I ended up loving it. It’s probably my favorite track from my first EP.

*Her tour manager enters*: Sorry, we got to wrap it up in a sec, almost time to go on!

No problem! Let’s close with a fun fact

I discovered a species of spider. Genus octavious, genus auranius, I think. I’ve tried looking it up, because it’s a big conspiracy theory. I was four-years-old when I discovered it.

So we brought it into the museum, and they were like “Cool, thanks for the spider, here’s your certificate” and I was like “That’s okay, what’re you going to do with the spider?” And then I looked across at this board with all these spiders pinned to it and I thought “Oh no no no no! You can’t do that to this spider.” And they’re like “Um, okay.”

So I come back the next day and they were like “We lost it.” So it’s a big conspiracy theory still since we don’t know what happened, but I still have the certificate. 

In The Sky arrives in the US on June 1st on Netwerk Records.