Instead of simply making a record, Grace Gaustad made her own world…
The 19-year-old Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer magnifies her message on tape, on-screen, and beyond. Through her independent full-length debut, BLKBX: wht r u hding, she presents a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, and multi-sensory world where all are welcome. The music only serves as the gateway as she widens the scope of this place with an accompanying video for each song, culminating on the BLKBX feature-length film. At the same time, a poem corresponds to every track, and she invites further immersion via the YouTube series BLKBX: A Therapist Speaks. As a multimedia curator, she actively maintains a safe haven for a generation beset with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, uncontrolled emotions, and tendencies to self-harm.
Generating tens of millions of streams and receiving acclaim from Wonderland Magazine, Nylon, American Songwriter, Pollstar, and more, she opens up this place for anyone who needs it in 2021.
“The glue that ties everything together is the story—which is the first 18 years of my life,” she says. “Even though these are experiences I’ve gone through and continue to go through, the topics are universal. The songs, the videos, the artwork, and the poetry play a different but major role in the narrative. Writing BLKBX taught me when you keep things to yourself, they just grow. They don’t get any smaller or quieter; they just get bigger and louder in your head. Once I finished writing the project, I remember a tremendous amount of relief. It’s not because any of these problems went away, but it’s because I was being completely honest about them with myself for the first time.”
During those first 18 years, she grew up really fast. She took piano lessons at the age of six and immersed herself in pop music, listening to the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and Taylor Swift as she also absorbed the poetry of R.M. Drake and Edgar Allan Poe. In high school, she faced relentless gender, body, and beauty shaming and endured harsh bullying for her learning disability. However, she found solace in music. Grace first made waves with a 2018 piano and vocal take on Hozier’s “Take Me To Church.” Posting up 25 million-plus views, she carried this momentum into the Human EP before dropping her Welcome to Jupiter 1.0 EP in 2021. It incited the adoration of a growing fan community and attracted critical praise from the likes of Wonderland Magazine who observed, “Gaustad’s approach to music is defined by a determination and passion that would see her going places, and that’s exactly what it has done.”
Working with director Van Alpert [Post Malone, MGK], she co-wrote the treatments for the twelve videos comprising BLKBLX: wht r u hiding and starred in the BLKBX film. She sonically and visually follows a teenage girl through life’s most confusing years with empathy and understanding. Grace introduces the story with the dreamy “Sandman.” Lo-fi beats and keys hum in tandem with her vulnerable delivery as she recounts a simpler time.
“It’s a nostalgic song about my childhood,” she reveals. “When I’d go to sleep as a kid, my mom told me the ‘Sandman’ would visit us every night, sprinkle dust in our eyes, and help us dream. That’s why you wake up with crust in your eyes,” she laughs. “The song feels like one of my best childhood memories. If I’m ever anxious or have trouble sleeping, I’ll close my eyes and imagine this little man flying around the room and sprinkling dust to help me go to sleep.”
“Red” catalogs a different, yet equally formative memory. Over lush piano, Grace details the discovery of her bisexuality in ninth grade without fear or apology.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever openly written about my sexuality,” she admits. “The first person I ever fell in love with was a girl. I was a freshman, and she was a senior. The rainbow symbolizes the LGBTQ+ community, and red is the first color. So, the concept is coming to terms with the fact my sexuality could be fluid, and I might be red. This is my first step on the rainbow. There’s something super special about it.”
Then, there’s “Code Black.” It examines one of the darkest periods of her life as palpable pain rings out through her voice. “A ‘Code Black’ signifies a bomb threat,” she states. “When my depression was at its worst, I felt all of this anger and pain. It would bubble up inside of me. I was worried I’d explode. I couldn’t turn it off. I wanted to regain control of my situation more than anything. I didn’t want anyone else in my life to have the power to take me down. I was going to do it myself.”
“Hero” reflects the polarities of humanity as “heroes and villains exist within us—it’s about which side we want to showcase and locating the hero inside.” On “Vaccine for Sympathy,” she stretches her empathy as far as possible by actually attempting to understand the mentality of a bully through as delicate piano and acoustic guitar wrap around her words.
“When someone is mean to you, it puts your guard up, and you become jaded,” she observes. “If you’re mean to someone, this person will be mean to someone else. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s a conversation I wish I could have with the same girls who tortured me. I want to say, ‘I understand how much pain you had to be in to do that to me. After I was hurt, I became like you’. No one is born cruel. People are made cruel.”
Completing a full circle, the journey concludes with “Jupiter,” which she penned first as “a young letter to my younger self with all of the things I wish could’ve done and lessons I learned I wish I could share with baby Grace.”
In the end, Grace urges for a better and kinder world with BLKBX: wht r u hding?
“BLKBX is a safe place for kids and adults,” she leaves off. “Even though it’s about my teen years, the issues don’t necessarily go away when you turn twenty. I want people to get safety and courage from the project. The world is a really hard and cruel place. It’s comforting to know we’re all facing this. Music has always pulled me out of darkness. It’s gotten me through a lot. If this music changes one person’s life, that’s all I’m hoping for. I want to reach anyone who needs it. Hopefully, you explore your own black box.” (S)
08.Vaccine For Sympathy
09.Elephant In The Room
10.Learning To Love Me
OVERALL RATING: 4½ stars