The opening notes of Gracie and Rachel’s new song “Trust” immediately create a palpable atmosphere. Between the angelic choral arrangement, the sparse moodiness of the percussion and the buoyancy of the vocal melody, the intro acts as a doorway into the world of their artistry. The Brooklyn-based duo — comprised of Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles — put out the single ahead of their forthcoming sophomore LP, which is due later this year via Ani DiFranco’s label, Righteous Babe Records. Friends since high school, Coates and Ruggles have been exploring the dynamics of their relationship on their new material, and “Trust” is no exception.
“We have so many beautiful, but complex, blurred lines in our relationship,” Coates told American Songwriter on a conference call. “Sometimes we’re grateful for it and sometimes we’re frustrated by it, but it always fuels the music. We live together, work together and create together. Sometimes we forget what our roles are in that way.” At that point Ruggles jumped in, adding that “sometimes we forget our personal senses of identity too.” As the two explained, they see themselves as opposites who complement each other, and they use that as a source of inspiration in the writing process.
“We recently realized that we kinda wrote this record as a way to work through our over-involved relationship,” Coates said. “When we have moments of tension or when we need a release, we would go to the songs as a way of helping ourselves get through. We could talk ourselves down, talk the other down, whatever it was. We’re not claiming to be a self-help book, but with this record it was kinda like we wrote one to ourselves.”
Tagging in (the two have an effortless rapport), Ruggles said “to be more specific, something I struggle with is that I have a hard time validating my emotions. I judge my emotions and my opinions very harshly. Instead of confronting them, I typically push them to the side.”
Then, Coates jumped back in: “whereas I do the opposite. I over-confront my own emotions and beat into them when really I should push them to the side more. We have a very opposite way of dealing with things. I rush things whereas she’s more patient and slows me down. We have opposite strengths. That’s something we tried to use to fuel the lyrical content of the record.”
The lyrics of “Trust” touch on this, but they also touch on a larger, societal message that is common throughout Gracie and Rachel’s work.
“A big theme in our music has been about communication with one another and with ourselves — for us, that’s an instrument of activism,” Coates said. “It’s been really amazing to see people using their voices to empower one another. Something that happened after the Kavanaugh hearing with Christine Blasey Ford was that many people started coming forward because they were able to see other people doing that more and more on their screens and in their daily lives. Being able to power yourself and cheer yourself on is the biggest political movement that we know we have control over. It’s been really important for us to remind ourselves that we have permission to control our own narrative”
At the forefront of the movement to humanize culture — whether that be through destigmatizing talking mental health or destigmatizing talking about sexual abuse — Gracie and Rachel have embraced their dualities as a source of strength.
“I think something we’re trying to explore is how opposition feeds the other side,” Coates said. “We’re trying to say ‘how can the things that we’re lacking feed us and the other person?’ We use our opposition to express the fluidity of the world. I think that we’ve always wanted to use our contrast to express things. It can be as simple as classical and contemporary, dark and light, yin and yang. But we’re also trying to have a conversation where we can establish that ‘darkness’ isn’t always bad, evil or scary and ‘lightness’ isn’t always angelic. It’s like ‘how can we find the more complex nature of these things and weave them in together so that it becomes a bit more blurred?’ We use our bodies and our visuals to hopefully express some of those conversations we’re having within our music.”
Beyond their personal and thematic dualities, Coates and Ruggles embrace their musical dualities as well. Coates went to the Berklee College of Music and specializes in writing music in an emotional, intuitive way; whereas Ruggles specializes in writing music in a principled, technical way. When the two combine these strengths they get a unique and inimitable result.
“I grew up in a very institutionalized program of being a classical violinist,” Ruggles said. “Until I met Gracie I don’t think I was ever encouraged to write a sonic idea that came out of thin air or from my mind — instead, I was always just reading what was in front of me. I think Gracie opened my eyes to being a more creative instrumentalist, which allowed me to trust myself and my musical ideas. I came from such a diligent and exact way of doing things. We like to say that Gracie gave me freedom and I gave her structure.”
In response, Coates added “I really learned from Rachel. She came from a technical background whereas I was more like ‘oh, I have an idea. I’m going to put it into words and play this on the piano’ without really knowing what’s happening. I learned so much from Rachel’s expertise. She really has an ability to take what she’s learned and what she wants something to sound like and give them each such equal balance and attention.”
Jumping back in, Ruggles added that “when we first got together I didn’t really know what to do. I remember being in her living room and she would play a song on the piano and I would be like ‘okay, where’s my music? What is this thing you want me to do?’ A lot of times I was like ‘huh, never been asked to do that before.’ But, now we’ve gotten into a nice groove where we don’t really have to talk about it too much anymore. We’ve gotten to a point of finishing each other’s sentences musically.”
And that ‘nice groove’ is wildly enjoyable. With thoughtful lyrics, an alluring and encapsulating sound and a palpable message of unity, Gracie and Rachel are pushing the boundaries of what modern baroque pop can be.
Listen to Gracie and Rachel’s new single “Trust” below: