Grace Banks could have chosen from any number of potential careers. In her school days at Bedales, she had sampled as many experiences as possible. “One of the great things about Bedales was the breadth of education it offered,” she agrees. “I loved all my subjects at school, I threw myself into sport, I played in the orchestra, I helped to edit the school paper….as much as there was on offer, I wanted to do it all.”
Unassuming, but multi-talented, Grace might have prospered as a philosopher, an artist, an architect or an engineer. She spent a year working at a civil engineer’s in Brighton while pondering offers from six different universities to study for various engineering degrees. However, realisation had gradually dawned on her that she was a musician at heart. She had grown up listening to the music of Paul Simon and Joan Armatrading; names such as Elliott Smith were to become influential in her life as she grew older. When she spoke to the music department at Bristol University about the possibility of switching to study for a music degree, she was accepted and went on to complete a First.
“I think that I’d always known that I wanted to write music,” Grace muses. “What I didn’t know was whether I could make any money out of it.” The possessor of a profoundly independent streak, she resolved to find out, although she had few illusions about how difficult her task might be. “When I was originally deciding on which course to apply for at Bristol, I discovered that something like 90% of Bristol engineering graduates were in employment a year after graduation. For music, the figure was something like 30%,” she says. On graduating, she found that aptitude is no guarantee of success in the music industry. “In most fields of life, if you work hard and know what you’re doing, you usually have a fair idea that you will be rewarded commensurately,” she suggests. “Music often doesn’t work like that.”
One of the great things about Bedales was the breadth of education it offered
“I’ve been fortunate in the session work I’ve got,” Grace reflects further. “I’ve played around Europe, sometimes in front of tens of thousands of people, but it’s just a fluke that it has happened to me and not somebody else who could do the job just as well.” She also demurs at the notion that her own career might be termed a success, despite the respect in which she is held as a musician and a songwriter within the industry and her work in support of acts such as Emmy the Great. In the end, a sense of honesty in a song is what’s important for me.”
Grace’s own musical direction is reflected in the catholic tastes which she reveals in her daily listening choice. “There are massive holes in my musical literature, but I’m open to a whole range of stuff, from Gregorian chants to heavy metal,” she admits. “I like to put myself in the shoes of other performers when I’m writing songs, imagining how someone like Leonard Cohen might approach a subject or a feeling.”
To speak to Grace about the craft of song-writing is to find someone still stretching to find her true voice. “My career ambitions are more about ‘composing’ than just ‘song writing’ and this is where I really feel I’ve barely started to show my potential. My Music Degree was rooted in the Classical tradition and I majored in composition. I won a competition for which I composed a work for chamber orchestra and my piece was performed live. I might not get an opportunity like that again but this kind of composing is what I’d like to do more of,” she explains. “At times, I still don’t feel as though I’ve achieved much yet,” she confesses. “Not long ago, I released an album that I wrote years ago, when I was as young as twelve, which was a real catharsis for me. What I need is to become more prolific, which I’ll do when I create the time and space for myself to write.”
Grace has high expectations of herself as a musician and a songwriter and appears to be her own sternest critic. “I’m definitely still trying to realise my potential,” she says. “My idea of success will have come true when I believe I’ve produced the very best stuff that’s within me. That’s what I’m working towards.”
Grace was interview in February 2012 by James Fairweather.