Grace Love and the True Loves: Seattle soul

Published in the January 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine

by Kristen Stanovich

Grace Love’s voice is dulcet, flowing like liquid through the speakers of my phone as she answers softly, “Hello?” Like one of those classic pre-recorded voices at old movie theaters listing show times with perfect pitch, resonance and meter. The kind of voice that makes you wish she could narrate your life as David Attenborough does a nature series. 

Love, who has been performing professionally for 10 years now, sounds calm and assured as though she knows exactly what she’s yet to say, even when answering on the fly. It’s the same way she approaches her performance on stage: no ounce of doubt, exuding confidence and pure, unrestrained joy as she belts out seemingly timeless originals like “Nobody Sweeter” and “Fire” with a professionally untrained voice that makes you want – no – need to move. Seeing her perform on a stage with her band, the True Loves, you’d think the group has been together for years, though it’s only been a year.

Love grew up watching her mother sing in the church choir in Memphis. She knew she had an affinity for performing when at just four years old she was asked to sing “This Little Light of Mine” in front of the congregation. Love’s mother attempted to escort her daughter on stage, perhaps in anticipation of her being nervous. Little did she know, Love was made for the stage. 

“I was like, ‘I got this,’” Love said, with a full, deep laugh. 

Even throughout elementary school, she couldn’t help but stand out. In second grade she was given a fifth grade role for a performance at her school; something she said was intimidating at first, but she eventually owned it.

“I wanted to be like everyone else,” Love said, “but while standing out.”

As she grew older she realized her inspiration no longer came solely from the church, but from soul and rock and roll artists like Ray Charles. His performance style and musicality heavily influences what she brings into each of her performances, she said, though Love also draws inspiration from unexpected places and moments. 

“There’s sound and inspiration all over if you are quiet enough,” Love said. 

Often times she retires to her “woman cave,” her studio apartment in Seattle, and listens to all the sounds within the space. Sometimes she’ll use the creaks and groans of the apartment to find inspiration for melodies.

“I remember one day in the summer it was really hot and I had my fan in the window and I think I maybe hummed or something,” Love said. The whirr of her voice as it passed through the fan made a sound something Love likes to call “cheap auto-tuning,” and has even served as stimulus for her tunes. “It’s the childlike wonder of using something [like that] that a lot of people forget about.”

Her sound is unique indeed. While still amongst the greats like Etta James and Mahalia Jackson, Love presses the bounds of conventional crooning, altering her voice from low and gravely to bright and gospel-like within the same breath. 

Though Love had never performed as a frontwoman for a band before forming her current 9-piece group, Grace Love & the True Loves, she was encouraged by her friend Jimmy James, guitarist for the outfit, to stop by a practice with he and some other musicians. After finding that the group fit in seamlessly together in the midst of freestyling and improvising music and lyrics, it was keyboardist Anthony Warner who proposed the group recorded a single at Studio Litho in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. Instead of stopping at one single, the band completed four full songs – the catalyst for their self-titled full length album.

“I think the coolest thing about this band is that all of us are all about the clean takes, we try to get them done in one or two,” Love said. “We want to get it done organically and naturally.”

Though the songwriting is primarily Love’s territory, she said the collaboration and input that everyone gives in the band is what makes the experience worthwhile.

“Me and Jimmy James will sit down and we’ll write something and for whatever reason he and I writing together… it’s been magical,” Love said. “He’ll write something totally different and off the cuff and I’ll be writing lyrics and when we try to put it together, there’s no trying. It just ends up being this beautiful thing.”

Using her own personal experiences as the narrative throughout her melodies, the magic that ensues permeates each track of the album featuring songs sodden with heartache like “Mean to Me” and those like “Fire” filled with joy, conviction and encouragement. The full album tells a distinct story that only Love can convey, and the narrative is quickly spreading. 

The band is currently on a mini tour throughout Washington, passing through Bellingham on Jan. 8. 

Love said after long stints of road tripping, she likes to arrive at a venue the day before showtime to get a feel for the energy in the room.

“I’m a weirdo about space, especially if I haven’t played it before,” Love said. “If I can’t go in the day before, I have to go in about four or five hours before and just walk the space and just feel the energy from prior shows. It’s weird but it’s something that I’ve always done.”

Love said her performance also feeds off energy from the crowd when she is on stage. To this day, she said the most memorable show she’s had was at the Schanachie Pub in Willits, California.

“It was one of those things where there was seven of us crammed into this really small pub in this really small town, but everybody was just so grateful and they were so responsive,” Love said. “It was a really fun time. I couldn’t have planned it better.”

For a self-proclaimed homebody who enjoys quiet and cooking, you would never know it when Love steps on stage. In the spotlight she is a powerhouse of confidence and passion, singing with everything she has and conveying every emotion she feels in her songs. 

“Words will just flow sometimes, and I won’t be in a conscious place [even when] I am just writing lyrics,” Love said. “It’s been great to just write what we love, and it just comes across as something people enjoy.”

LIVE SHOW: See Grace Love and the True Loves at The Green Frog on Jan. 8. For more about the band, see www.graceloveandthetrueloves.com or follow them on Facebook.