Photoshoot by Ned Simes//
When we meet for our interview, she’s coming from our LWA photoshoot (pictured below), dressed in a way that could only be described as a gothic pixie. But despite the frills and unlike the airborne folklore character she resembles, Mallrat, known offstage as Grace Shaw, is immediately down to earth. She speaks of her debut album, Butterfly Blue (out today) with the same candidness that fans would expect from an artist known for her raw lyricism, and remarks matter-of-factly that the new project will precede an inevitable Grammy.
It’s this sincerity, both in her songwriting and in her conviction to experimental indie-pop, that has characterised much of Mallrat’s work, steadying the momentum of her sound since her debut single in 2016’s ‘Uninvited.’ Since then, she’s released a trio of EPs and amassed some 300 million streams, quietly becoming one of Australia’s most successful musical exports along the way.
‘Quietly’ is the instructive word there, because although she humbly insists that the title of her most recent album is “not that deep,” Butterfly Blue is objectively Mallrat’s biggest triumph to date. Across 12 tracks, the popstar synthesises her fluid vision of the genre, with assists from the likes of Azaelia Banks and Alice Ivy. Such success is no small feat for a musician whose career began on Garageband, and yet, as Mallrat herself says so earnestly, “it [was] only a matter of time.”
To celebrate the release of Butterfly Blue, we caught up with Mallrat for a chat about her inspirations, songwriting and that one time she (successfully) fangirled over Azaelia Banks.
The album for me is just an example of my first album that I’ve put so much love and time into. There was no other goal than to make something I’m really proud of and feel excited about sharing. So, it’s not that deep, it’s just an album that I’m incredibly proud of and I think is excellent. I think something that I got to play with was contrasting textures, like really beautiful, ethereal vocals- not necessarily of me singing- but in the samples or the instrumental or the production. Contrasting it with quite abrasive, distorted, harsh sounds.
I have been a fan of her since I was 12, basically. She’s always been one of my favourite artists. Broke with Expensive Taste was the first album I bought with my own money and listened to front to back. So, ever since I realised that I could aspire to work with whoever I wanted, she has been at the top of that list. So that’s the context for it, but how it came about was a year or so ago. She did this live stream and she was playing my music in it. Someone sent it to me afterwards, and she is playing [my] song ‘Charlie.’ She’s like ‘this is this girl Mallrat, she has some really good music.’ Then she goes to turn it up and she’s like, ‘actually, she has some really good fucking music.’
When I saw that, I just felt so validated and excited and a million other things. So I would occasionally DM and say ‘I’d love to work together,’ ‘I love you.’ She didn’t see them for a while, but then I was in the studio finishing up ‘Surprise Me.’ Ever since I started that demo I felt like it needed the energy of someone else, maybe a rapper, but I didn’t know who exactly. But I was in the studio finishing up some production stuff on it, and I was like ‘I’m just going to give this one more shot’ and I messaged her. I said ‘hey I have this song that I think you’d be really good on,’ and she was like ‘yes babe, send it through.’ And that was how it happened!
She’s been such a dream to work with. She just kept re-recording her verse to make it better and add things to it, and she’s been so supportive and has basically become a mentor, which is pretty crazy. I have so much respect for her. I think [‘Surprise Me’] is probably her most playful verse as well. She’s put in so many fun pop-culture references, so it’s cool to see that side of her and I’m inspired by that type of lyric writing.
How I started making music was through that kind of witchy stuff. I feel like so many amazing things that have happened to me have been through witchy manifestations. So yeah, I believe that I’m going to get a Grammy [laughs]. It’s just a matter of time.
I feel like the process of making songs was always very experimental to me. Even though they all have a lot of pop sensibility, I think I really like to push textures and some of my favourite artists are quite experimental, or at least forward-thinking. SOPHIE is one of my favourite artists of all time, and her production is very inspiring to me. So the process has always been experimental and fun for me, and I’m always trying to push what I’m doing.
Even though I like to experiment, I also have a short attention span and I like catchy melodies and all the things that you need to write a pop song. So to be able to draw from rap and electronic and folk and country, and make it all make sense in the context of a pop or indie pop album is really fun. I like that I don’t have to be too worried about being cohesive or predictable.
Visuals are really important to me, but they’re always kind of an afterthought. I’m not one of those people that when they’re writing a song, they’re like ‘oh, and the video is going to look like this’ or ‘the cover is going to look like this.’ It’s always the last step of the process for me, but that’s not to say that I don’t care about that stuff, it’s just that I have tunnel vision, and when I’m thinking about a song I can only think about the song. But I really appreciate art and photography and I like taking photos and styling and all these things, but it’s always the last part of the process for me.
That’s what the really gentle, dreamy vocals with the abrasive, distorted textures are about. The first song, ‘Wish On An Eyelash,’ is definitely just angel choirs floating around, and then I think songs like ‘Rockstar’ and ‘Teeth’ and ‘Heart Guitar’ are kind of examples of the harshness that I wanted in there.
I think I kind of got over that fear when I put ‘Charlie’ out, because that was really fucking scary. Ever since then, nothing has ever felt as personal, or not necessarily as personal, it’s just that was next level for me. I have all these tricks I play on myself to try and get around those fears, like I tell myself that when I’m making a demo that it’s just for me and I’m not going to show anyone, and that helps me to not let my insecurities get in the way of the song. But then I break my trust with myself because I do show people when it’s finished. I just have to play lots of tricks with myself and remind myself of what I connect with as a listener.
I think that my love of country music has come through on this album, and especially my love of Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. There’s a song by Johnny Cash called ‘She Used To Love Me a Lot,’ and the lyrics of ‘Heart Guitar’ were kind of inspired by that song. Then also, there’s a few songs that sound kind of country, folky and lullaby-ish, and that’s inspired by just my love of Dolly Parton. She’s so incredible, such an icon.
Well yes, but some of the people that I’ve enjoyed working with, I’ve never finished a song with and they’re not on the album. I did a few days with Clams Casino in New York and I didn’t write anything good, but I learnt so much from him and it was so incredible to watch him work. Someone that I worked with a lot on this album was Styalz Fuego and he is a producer from Melbourne, and I think he is so clever. He definitely pushed me to make things better and not settle for just good, to try and go to the next level. He’s got years of experience programming drums and all these different things, so there was definitely a lot to learn.
Producing is my first passion in music. I started making beats on Garageband before I even started writing lyrics, but then I started to do more with the beats. Then I kind of fell into vocal stuff for a long time while I got better at production. I still feel like I have a lot to get better at but it’s my first passion and I think I get to play more when I’m making beats, and I definitely have a big love for rap production. One of my dreams is to produce for Vince Staples or Kanye, so I’m going to do that one day. It’s going to happen.
This is my favourite topic. There are so many different approaches. I think the biggest rule in my head is to avoid clichéd metaphors, and to avoid saying ‘feel’ too much. Don’t say ‘I feel sad,’ say ‘I’m sad,’ because it’s a song, so it’s obviously about a feeling. Another rule is to try and describe things in ways that people haven’t heard before, because then it sticks more. I’m also a big fan of repetition, especially in choruses. Sometimes it comes across as lazy, but that’s what I like. I could go on forever, but [songwriting] can be fun and silly and easy. I think it’s important to bring lyrics back to real-world things that you can touch and feel and see, and not make it all abstract. Break up talking about feelings with things you can see and hold.
I’m really excited to go back to Dublin, because Dublin crowds are crazy. So fun. I feel like wherever I go, I’m kind of surrounded by very creative people, so I’m always in a comfortable little bubble. I’m happy anywhere, but it’s so nice to be back in Australia for the last few years and have time to rest and be in Melbourne and visit family in Brisbane. Australia is a pretty special place to be in. We have some really amazing artists here as well.
I think when people see how obsessed I am with butterflies, they think I’m always trying to make some metaphor about metamorphosis or growth or something, but I just like them. I love insects, nature and biology. I’m a big nerd for that stuff, I love reading books about insects or nature books. I find butterflies fascinating for so many reasons. I do think their metamorphosis is incredible, like they start off as a caterpillar, and then they go into a cocoon that they make themselves. They have digestive enzymes that completely dissolve their whole body and they become this whole new creature basically with stem cell technology. That’s essentially what’s happening in their chrysalis. Then they emerge as this completely unrecognisable animal yet they still have memories of their time as a caterpillar. I could go on forever. I should do an entomology series where I’m like ‘this is an ant’ [laughs].