How old were you when you started playing guitar?
I was 12. I started piano at 5 and I had a good ear for music. I remember seeing behind the scenes footage of Lilith Fair on VH1 (am I dating myself?), seeing all of those women playing guitars and I thought “I can do that”!
What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?
I do still have it! It’s a sea foam green Peavey telelcaster. The color caught my eye first, not only because it’s pretty but because Billy Joe Armstrong’s guitar was the same color. My parents bought it for me for Christmas and I’m pretty sure they got a discount because none of the *mostly* boys who played guitar wanted that color.
Grace with her sea foam green Peavey telecaster.
Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?
My parents and grandparents didn’t play, but my great-grandmother (who died in 1954) played piano for silent movies. I’ve got her Victorian-era piano stool. It’s gorgeous--claw foot with little glass globes in each claw.
Grace's great-grandmother, Lucy Besse Morrison.
My brother is the closest family member to have played music. He bought me my first amp, gave me his audio equipment from the 70’s and said to me “you do know that a song needs a chorus, right” (after hearing my first song which was one run-on sentence).
Grace with her big brother.
What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?
My first “nice” guitar was a Taylor 714ce that my dad found in the Want Ads and then purchased in a parking lot (I LOVE that that’s how he bought it). I wanted a Taylor because all of my songwriting heroes played them (Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, etc.). Over the years I’ve tried other guitars, but fun fact about me--my hands are the size of an elementary school child. The Taylor neck is the only one that is comfortable for my mini fingers.
The house I grew up in had no heat, and Massachusetts winters get darn cold. So that first guitar baby of mine has suffered a bit. For our 5th anniversary my husband bought me a new Taylor 714 so that I can protect my old fragile one. I just love those guitars. Not only do they fit my hands perfectly, but they sound amazing. And there’s just something about a new Taylor smell that I can’t get enough of.
What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your strings?
I play D’Addario phosphor bronze mediums. When I’m touring and playing most nights, I’ll change them once a week.
Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?
I do! My favorite picks are D’addario .84mm green ones which I don’t think they make anymore. They sponsored a tour I went on in 2003 and we got bags and bags of them. Those picks and I have seen some things!
Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?
No effect pedals for me, just a Joyo EQ pedal
Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?
I definitely don’t work on my own guitars aside from cleaning and changings the strings. Nesto (through Rick’s Music World in Raynham, MA) is my guy.
Ernesto "Nesto" Hernandez
Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?
My favorite guitar shop is Charlie’s Music in Hyannis, MA. I haven’t been in years, but that was where my brother took me to buy all of my first gear. I can still smell that new amp smell. When I think about it I get that adolescent excitement I first had about music.
Charlie's Music - Hyannis, MA
At what age did you start writing songs?
When I was 12. It was a combo of Hanson being on the top of the charts (they’re my age) and Lilith Fair at it’s zenith. I could see myself in both of them and thought “oh ok, I can do that too”. I remember the exact moment I decided that I could write songs too.
From Grace's own collection.
What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?
This is pretty variable actually. If it’s me by myself, for the most part I write on paper with a pencil and the melody drives everything.
But I do a lot of co-writing in Nashville and via zoom, and for those sessions I’m using the computer (thank you Google docs for your collab feature) and things tend to be lyric driven. But then again I’ve written entire songs while driving home from a show. No paper and no instrument. The most important part of my process is that I’m always writing. Being a songwriter is my job, and the songs don’t get written unless you show up. So I treat it like a 9-5 and write every day.
Just Loving You - written by Grace and Lori McKenna
Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?
I can go 2 different ways with this answer! The top 3 musicians that got me doing this thing in the first place are Hanson, Jewel, Lisa Loeb.
If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
Photo credit: Mark Seliger
What are your top three “desert island” albums?
Wildflowers - Tom Petty
Scarlet’s Walk - Tori Amos
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Chronicle: The 20 Greatest Hits
What was the first concert you attended? What was the last concert you attended?
First - Lilith Fair
Last - The Chicks
The Beatles or the Stones?
Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?
The Hardware Café Marion, MA. I think I made $200 in tips opening for fingerpicking guitar phenom, Geoff Bartley.
What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?
The friendships with writers who inspired me in the first place! My mind is blown sometimes when I think that Susan Gibson (she wrote “Wide Open Spaces” and I just can’t say enough about her as an artist and human) told me she believed in me. And writing with Lori McKenna. And my friend Dana Hunt Black. Having people like that say “girl, you keep writing” is pretty darn cool.
Grace with Susan Gibson.
Grace with Lori McKenna.
Grace with Dana Hunt Black.
What has been your worst gig so far and why? (You don’t have to name names).
Was it the time I sang in the cheese at Whole Foods? Or the time a random dude with a harmonica rushed my stage in the meat pit of the Portuguese Feast in New Bedford and then refused to leave the stage? Haha honestly, that’s as bad as it’s been for me and those stories have become funny memories. I think I’m luckier than many.
Grace's view from the cheese.
What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?
For me, having a kind and skilled audio engineer is #1. For that reason the New Bedford Folk Festival, Zeiterion Theater, The Spire Center, and City Winery Boston. Good communication, shows that feel like an even partnership, and stools that aren’t too tall and skinny (that might sound dumb, but seriously. If you’re gonna give me something to sit on, please oh please make it something sturdy and kind to the short).
Grace playing The Spire Center for Performing Arts - Plymouth, MA
How do you work out your setlist?
Oh you gotta work out the power positions first! Start strong, big one in the middle, biggest at the end. Make ‘em cry before the last tune not AS the last tune. That’s my general plan. But you know, every show is a little different and you gotta read the room.
Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?
This career is a LONG, SLOW climb. Don’t think of it as something with an end goal, you’ve gotta love what you’re doing and embrace it as a lifestyle. Music as a career has meant doing a wide variety of things, and when I look back that has been the best part. It’s an adventure.
Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?
Keep showing up.
If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?
I’m a licensed teacher, so I suppose I’d be teaching music in a school. I taught private lessons for a long time, and I think what I enjoyed most about that was being the one person kids saw for a dedicated time every week. How many people in our lives do we see one-on-one every single week? It made me realize I probably would have loved to be a therapist in another life.
Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.
I’ve got a lot of really cool merch here: gracemorrison.com/shop (soap, mugs, shirts, signed cds, hats, etc).