You wouldn’t know it by her media coverage, but beneath all of Grace Petrie‘s fiery, political content – which covers anything from frustrations with the left wing’s in-fighting to various civil rights movements – there’s actually plenty of self-deprecation, too.
My personal favourite Petrie track is ‘Nobody Knows I’m A Fraud’. Not because I think she is, you understand, but because it’s a beautifully witty admission that those of us lined up on the side of social progress are often, nonetheless, wallowing in hypocrisy (but at least we’re trying, right)?
I’ve always a had a soft spot for activist music, and presented with wit, genuine intelligence and a fresh perspective (Petrie’s vocal recent noise on behalf of trans people in the feminist community on social media particularly stands out).
The lefty troubadour came to Dublin for the very first time only last year, and she’s back in a few days. I took the chance to catch up with her and see how life’s going, plus how she’s finding all the latest Brexit shenanigans…
This is your second stop in this particular spot in Dublin in less than a year. What did you make of it last time?
It was my first time playing in Dublin and I absolutely loved it. By some miracle I had a fantastic crowd, even though I’d never been over before, and they were brilliant, totally up for it and singing along to everything. So I’m really excited to be coming back.
At the risk of flogging a dead horse, you’re coming over right after Brexit. I think we’re all aware of how hard it could hit the music industry. Do you have any concerns? How do you view it all generally – obviously I know you’re anti-Brexit, but is it getting harder as the time approaches?
It’s funny because in the time it took me to reply to you, Brexit has been pushed back a bit and there is more doubt than ever about what’s going to happen next. Personally it’s very hard to actually believe that it’s going to happen because it’s all so illogical and Theresa May doesn’t have the ability to get a deal through anyway. Then we’ve had indicative votes that produced no solution – it’s all a farce. But I am deeply concerned about what logistically it will mean for touring musicians to isolate ourselves off like this.
The Frank Turner dates must have been some of your biggest shows to date. How did you find stepping up to such a big stage?
The first night I had a small freak out when I actually got up there and saw the difference in size, but Frank was absolutely lovely to me the entire tour, and so was the whole band and crew, so I felt at home really quickly. From the second show onwards it just felt natural and incredible and inevitably I was devastated when it all had to end.
Talk me through ‘Lefty Scum’ – great title by the way!
Ha, so Lefty Scum is a mixed bull tour I do with the comedians Josie Long and Jonny & the Baptists (which is the stage name of Jonny
Do you find your crowds tend to be quite lefty themselves, or do you get a good mix? Can you ever pick out the Tory lad in the corner wondering how he ended up there?
I don’t really get many Tories in to be honest! But that doesn’t mean it all preaching to the converted – unfortunately there’s plenty for those of us on the left to disagree about. Occasionally at a festival or something, someone will tell me that I changed their mind about an issue, and that’s a really rewarding thing to hear.
Music can be a great weapon in politics, of course. Do you ever write songs thinking about how they might impact on the listener?
Mostly what I write is just to comfort myself about the state of things, or to get a feeling of anger or sadness out. But it always ends up being those songs that are the most personal to me – as in the case of Farewell to Welfare or Black Tie – that end up striking more of a chord with the listeners as well. I think it’s really obvious when something has been written to try and feel like an Instant Anthem and at the end of the day the most authentic art tends to be the most powerful, in my opinion.
There’s been a bit of a fiasco over your Wikipedia page recently (You’ll be glad to hear I’m not sourcing questions there!). Why do you think it keeps getting messed with?
Ha – I wouldn’t say fiasco exactly, and I don’t think it has been intentionally messed with (unless I missed something?!) – it’s just very inaccurate regarding my discography and stuff, which isn’t a problem, it’s just funny that it always says it’s been updated in the last two weeks, and I don’t know who is returning to it so frequently but they aren’t getting any of the facts right so I feel like telling them they should give themselves a break since it’s all wrong anyway!
Twitter… it’s a great way to get a message out, but can be an absolute shit storm in the replies. You seem fairly prolific, how does it affect you?
Hmm, Twitter. It’s a tough one because I have been able to build a fan base of 18K followers there – the largest platform I have on the internet, outstripping other social media by miles – but yes, it’s the devil’s work, isn’t it. I think the music industry demands that acts are constantly promoting themselves and pushing their “brand”, to use a horrible word, and with Twitter, that line between who I am as a normal, flawed person with opinions, and who I am as a sort of semi-public figure gets very blurred.
I’m trying to engage in less pile-ons on Twitter these days because I think the online mob mentality it has created is really unhealthy and dangerous, and obviously it is an echo chamber for some of the worst and most bigoted views out there. But on the other hand, the thing that keeps me on there is knowing that there are people who are, for whatever reason, isolated or lonely in their everyday lives and situations, and an online community can be a real source of strength and support for them. And I think it can really be used for good things, I’ve had some great experiences with it.
The amount of shit replies I get over “controversial” issues – that element doesn’t bother me really, it’s just noise that you mute, but the feeling like I’m on stage all the time is the thing I find these days I have to work to balance. Between that and “real life”.
Amid it all, from my perspective, you’re now in the most successful phase of your career. Does it feel like that to you?
Thank you! I mean I’ve been immensely lucky the last couple of years. The last record did much better than I expected it to, and some amazing things have turned up – Frank Turner, and the Guilty Feminist podcast chief among them – right now I’m just trying to enjoy every bit of it for what it is, and not take any of it for granted because I’m aware the business is very fickle and it could all fall apart tomorrow, but if it did then I would be able to say I’ve had some incredible experiences and achieved some lifelong dreams and I’ve been luckier in 31 years than a lot of people are in a lifetime.
So it’s just about trying to enjoy it all and keep writing stuff I care about and hope that I can keep doing this as long as possible. It’s like tax dodging Tory Gary Barlow wrote, “someday soon this will all be someone else’s dream”.
If you could write and release a song right now, in ‘honour’ of everything that’s going on, what would you say?
Oh god – how about “let’s tear it all down and start again”?! I daren’t write political commentary right now, it feels like a house of cards. I’m sure a song I wrote on Monday would be out of date on Friday.
You’re touring right through the Brexit deadline. What’s your plan for after it’s all over?
Well as I said, the deadline seems to be a movable feast….what is clear is that Theresa May can’t hang on much longer and I desperately hope that whoever takes the reins next won’t be so stubborn about the referendum result, which was at best dishonest and at worst illegal.
Thanks for taking my questions, Grace!
Thank you for giving me such interesting ones!
Grace Petrie plays the DC Music Club on Friday, April 12.