This interview was originally conducted by Andrew Jackson for 4Q Magazine in 2012. Unfortunately, the magazine folded before the article could be published.
“If I beatboxed and a fireball came out… I could just kill my opponents.”
Say hello to Grace Savage: murderous, hadouken-firing, beatboxer extraordinaire. Well, not quite: “Maybe not kill,” Grace concedes, after pondering what her superpower might be. Of course, some might say beatboxing is a superpower in itself. As a stage art done well, beatboxing becomes a magic trick of the human voice, blending a catalogue of imitative enunciations and subverting the expectations of hearing: did that sound really just come out of her mouth? ”I think that the body as an instrument is so unexplored and there’s so much more we can do with it,” says Grace with evident passion. As the No. 1 Female UK beatboxer 2012, she should know. In fact, Grace appears to be on something of a mission: to challenge our perception of music, sound, and genre as we know it. How did it all begin?
“I have a bit of an obsession with imitating things like accents, and doors opening and closing, and things like that. So when I [first] met some beatboxers I could naturally make the noises and rhythms.” Grace’s initial steps into beatboxing were coached by 2009 Female World Beatbox Champion and childhood friend, Bellatrix, who introduced her to the basic techniques. From there on though, it was all down to Grace: “I spent a lot of time on my own, and on YouTube, and annoying a lot of people; I was really bad for a good couple of years.” But things started picking up once she got involved with beatbox acts Shlomo and the Vocal Orchestra, leading on to open-mic nights and theatre gigs. Just this October Grace has been touring the UK with singer/songwriter Newton Faulkner, playing to her biggest audiences to date.
But who, we must ask, are the Demon Barbers? “They’re a folk group,” laughs Grace, reminiscing about her appearance with the band on the BBC show Room 101: “Ross Noble was trying to get rid of folk music, and we were the example of how it’s kind of cool. So he didn’t get rid of us, which is good.” Surviving Room 101 isn’t something many people can claim on their CV, how about impersonating jungle noises for a Cbeebies show? “I’m actually quite proud of it – I did a little rap about a parrot and looped some animal noises on a loop station.” Not your average portfolio.
Which is all well and good, but where does a beatboxer at the top of her game go from here? “As much as I champion it and think it’s an amazing and incredible art form, there are only a few people that are really doing things with it that are pushing the boundaries.” Grace’s personal direction endeavours to blur unexpected genre lines. With a healthy talent for singing and songwriting on top of her beatboxing powers, she’s already taken to experimenting with new angles, forging her own style through a series of secret gigs: “[it’s] been a really good test and challenge because getting the [right] mix of beatboxer and loop station […] and the guitar and bass, is something that I’m just really needing to get used to.”
The result of Grace’s creative alchemy is her debut album due in 2013. But it’s not what you might think: “beatboxing is traditionally known as the fifth element of hip-hop. So people assume ‘beatboxer – she’s going to be hip-hop/drum ‘n’ bass/dubstep/hardcore.’” Which is all fine in Grace’s book, but not quite where her creative stimulus lies: “as a person, it’s not really what I’m about: I’m from Devon and I’m white, I’m not particularly gangster. And when I sing my voice is naturally sort of emotive […] the lyrics are really personal and emotional.” The result? A tantalisingly heartfelt fusion of soft, earnest vocals rubbing up against loops of urban scratches and beats conjured from her own preternatural phonations. “When you hear the beatboxing it’s different and it’s fresh, and it’s unexpected.”
What perhaps is most surprising is how well such an odd coupling works: even though most of the album is tightly under wraps, what has been revealed (try searching YouTube for ‘Animal’) shows a real integrity in reaching across established genres, styles, and sounds to bring together something engagingly different. So what else can we expect? “[Recently] it’s taken a different turn, it’s got a lot darker. Probably more to do with the fact that I’ve just come out of a relationship, so […] it naturally just comes out in the music, and I’ve really enjoyed that. I love darkness… But then there’s also a lot of upbeat stuff as well like ‘Prowler’ – it’s got a drum ‘n’ bass feel.”
‘Animal’ and ‘Prowler,’ oh, and darkness – seems we have something of a ‘savage’ theme emerging already (ho ho!). But perhaps this vision of a primal, deconstructed music is exactly the antidote we need to today’s prevalence of assembly-line pop and auto-tuned sterility. Attempting to merge styles into a fresh direction always comes with great risk, but with potentially huge reward. Grace Savage undoubtedly has the passion and the talent to pull it off – just watch out for those fireballs.