Grace Askew, a sixth-generation Memphian, might not have the typical façade of a blues musician, but she definitely fits the shoes and then some. Her skill on guitar lays down a firm foundation for her husky, dark voice to bring forth her knack for storytelling.
A singer-songwriter for years, Grace claims that her travels (which she’s been booking since her teen years) provide the people, the imagery, and the stories for her to incorporate into her stirring and often heart-wrenching songs. Her soulful delivery and relatable lyricism make her shows a must-see.
Topping ReverbNation's blues music charts in Memphis at No.1, Grace is a prolific musician who talks to our CEO Ysmay about her career as a musician, the music scene in Memphis, and advice for aspiring musicians.
You're born and raised in Memphis, right? What keeps you in Memphis?
After living in the heart of midtown Memphis now for almost 4 years, it has been one of the most creatively stimulating places to live in because it’s real. It has soul and grit to it and it never allows you to be completely complacent with the way things are... in other words... being in Memphis, with its plethora of amazing talents and heart has continually pushed me to be a better musician. It’s never completely satisfied with what you have to offer... which is what keeps me coming back... to prove myself to this city, time after time.
On a lighter note, it’s just a fun and friendly town. There’s always great live music going on, there’s always a new friend to be made, and there’s always going to be a real sense of family and community in the city of Memphis. It may seem like a big city... but to me it’s started to feel like a small, tight-knit town with a lot of charm to spare.
How would you describe your music to someone in 10 seconds or less?
Memphis Americana with a twist of country twang and a kick of sultry blues.
Do you remember the song you first mastered on the guitar? What was it and why did you pick it?
The first song I ever remember "mastering" on the guitar is "Here Comes the Sun," by The Beatles. I grew up with both parents being huge fans and always playing them in the car stereo and around the house, so it just seemed natural to learn that song. Although... I must admit... I am more of an Elvis fan than a Beatles fan (there's that theory in the movie Pulp Fiction "there are Elvis people in this world and there are Beatles people in this world")... I'd definitely say that I've been a closet Elvis fan from the start. Ha.
It sounds as if there’s a lot of Tom Waits' influence in your music; are there any other big influences you could name?
I grew up loving mostly the music of my older sister’s generation and beyond... it remains that way to this day. Lucinda Williams and John Prine are some of the first people that come to mind. They are some of the most prolific writers of our time, in my opinion. Nonetheless, they are both writing about things of the South and from a Southerner’s perspective, which I cannot get enough of these days.
The blues greats, of course, also sit very highly on my shelf: Mississippi John Hurt, Howlin' Wolf, Bessie Smith. Tom Waits mainly attracts me because of his irreverence and complete disregard for what is currently popular in the music world - he creates his own music world, makes it relevant to today, and says screw the rest.
What types of themes does your music cover and why?
My past couple of albums have dealt with things that most young female lives revolve around... love. It’s a lot of heartbreak, achin’, and unrequited feelings. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve learned to turn to the world outside for inspiration, because, after all... that’s the world that everyone else is seeing and experiencing as well.
If a songwriter can take everyday experiences that we all go through and express it in a way that no one else has ever thought of, then you’ve succeeded. Lately, the topics have come to center more around making adult decisions and where I come from and what I grew up knowing as a child. It has been a constant growing process and one that I know will always keep me on my toes and keep me evolving into a more inter-connected person.
What distinguishes you as an "artist" instead of just a musician?
I consider an artist to be someone who cannot only play music and perform, but one who also create their own songs. A cover band is a group of musicians, not a group of people who create their own works. I write my own material for every album, which I think is the artist component.
What’s the best piece of advice you got when you were getting started in music?
Never let anyone take charge of the situation, always be the one to have the last word... this is your career... your music.
What advice do you have for any aspiring musicians out there?
"No matter what, do not try to be a professional musician... because if someone does tell you that and you quit, then you were probably never going to make it in this business anyway." - Harlan Howard
What’s the secret to balancing your music with other obligations?
Well, music has become my full-time job... as for love life, family life, and home life... I'd say I try to never let the business and industry side of music overrule my passion for it.
Your passions in life should remain exactly that, something that you LOVE doing.
I’ve just got to keep reminding myself that this is what I was born to do and that God never gives us more than He thinks we can handle.