Full of Grace
Local singer-songwriter-guitarist Grace Gatsby just released a new album, Strange Attractors. Musically, the album is fantastic. Produced and recorded by Johann Wagner at a studio up in Portland, the sound of the album is warm and gorgeous. The instrumentation is eclectic: oscillating keyboards and shimmering guitars are at the core, but they’re joined at different times by jazzy brass, hony tonk pedal steel and solemn strings.
But the big attraction is Gatsby’s voice, which at different points of the album sounds like a smoky coffeehouse chanteuse, an introspective girl-with-a-guitar folkie, or the frontwoman of an urbane, electronic-tinged indie rock band.
But it’s also somewhat misleading to refer to the album as “new.” It was recorded during an intense 10-day period back in 2010. Some of the then-unknown musicians who performed at the sessions went on to play in high profile projects like the Heartless Bastards and the Shins.
Gatsby grew up in South Dakota, lived in Los Angeles for a time, doing the music business grind, before moving to Reno in 2003. She was drawn to Reno for the welcoming music scene.
For about a decade, she performed often around town, both as a solo act and with her band, Grace and the Gatsbys. As a songwriter, she writes from a very personal place. “It’s confessional stuff,” she said recently. “It’s really personal writing. It’s how I processed my 20s. It’s how I processed emotions. … It’s a niche. Not everybody is into what I play. Not everybody grew up, like I did, with my ear to the speaker, like weeping to Simon & Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell.”
She’s a very different person now than she was seven years ago when the album was recorded or 10 years ago when some of the songs were written.
“It’s a huge part of why I couldn’t get it out for so long,” she said. “I’m in such a different place. I was in a lot of heartache.”
She’s now a happily married mother. Her daughter, Lucy, has a genetic disorder called Nonketotic Hyperglycinemia, which means her body won’t break down the amino acid glycine.
“Before I had her, I would have thought that was the most terrifying thing in the world,” Gatsby said. “But now I get it. I feel chosen. I feel honored. She’s extraordinary. She just gives perspective on everything. She affects people in this amazing way. When you have a child who’s medically needy or a special needs child, it’s just unbelievable what people want to try to do for you. People just want to help. … They said she’d never smile—she started smiling at 10 months.”
The focus on family and motherhood took Gatsby away from music.
“I had truly accepted that I was never going to get this album out—even though I love it. I hold it dear, honestly. It was pretty heartbreaking. But I couldn’t see myself going out, playing shows again, promoting a record.”
It was hard for her to reconnect with the version of herself that wrote those songs, hard to imagine playing them in front of an audience. Hard for her to do anything for herself without feeling selfish.
But then she realized that her daughter wants her to be happy. And she comes from a musical family—even grew up playing in a folk band with her father.
“I realized I don’t need to run from this,” she said. She decided to release the album. “I didn’t listen to it for so long, and, as I put it back on, it was a very emotional experience for me. … It takes me back to where I was.”