The wicked flick Mean Girls was released over a decade ago. But its barbed plot – featuring Rachel McAdams’ teen-queen character Regina George presiding over a catty, vindictive clique of elitist classmates known as The Plastics, who delighted in making other students’ lives a living hell – still rings true today, swears 18-year-old artist Grace Mitchell. In fact, it was’t too long ago that she experienced her own female bête noire while attending public high school in her native Portland, OR. And Regina sinking her claws into her cinematic victims was like getting pawed by a kitten in comparison.
“There was this girl, and I did not get along with her, because for some reason she hated me,” says the ginger-haired singer, who penned her first song at age nine and entered her first recording studio at 13, which eventually led to a contract with Casablanca/Republic and her remarkably mature new EP, Raceday. “And she actually did something really severe, some serious online bullying. She told me to kill myself over the Internet, and that was like a really profound moment for me, because I couldn’t believe that someone could be so cruel.”
Mitchell didn’t shrug and let it slide. Authorities were contacted, as was the school board. There was zero tolerance for such Mean Girls behavior, no matter how zany it might have appeared onscreen. “She was a bully,” she says of her antagonist. “She had friends and everything, but she just didn’t know what she was saying. But if there’s anything I could really raise awareness about, it’s the desensitizing of the modern generation, to the point where they think that you can say whatever you want over the Internet, and there aren’t going to be any consequences for it. It’s really fucked up, and I think kids should be more mindful of what they say to their peers, because it can be really traumatic.”
Ultimately, Mitchell chose to be home schooled instead. But she didn’t quit class over that particular harrowing incident. “No, I stuck it out,” she recalls. I”’m a really strong person, and I obviously didn’t take it personally – I knew it was something she was trying to reflect onto me, her own issues.” Besides, she adds with uncanny confidence, she had other fish to fry. She didn’t enjoy high school, anyway, and – unbeknownst to almost everyone around her – she had already learned to play drums, guitar, and keyboards, and had begun flying down to Los Angeles to co-write with top-flight producers like Morgan Taylor Reid, of Backstreet Boys renown. Soon, she was uploading soulful originals like “Your Design” and “Broken Over You” to SoundCloud, then dreamily covering the Hall and Oates classic “Maneater” for the soundtrack to 2013’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Ben Stiller vehicle. She was on a fast track to stardom, and not much could divert that trajectory.
Talking to Mitchell, you definitely get the feeling that you’re conversing with an old soul, a talent that might have flourished on Earth many years before. But laughs dismissively at the notion. “I feel like I’m doing everything for the first time, and it makes me feel really young,” she declares. “So I’m fascinated with the contemporary age, and the present. And I just think music is a pretty easy thing to incorporate into your life at a young age, so I was really inspired artistically by music. As I feel like any young kid would probably.”
But there was one major difference. When the prodigy played her very first composition for her parents – a song called “United,” she says, “that was really cheesy, and about community and coming together and peace” – Mom and Dad didn’t respond with “Aww!” and a there-there head pat. They took their daughter seriously, enrolled her in choir, and finally allowed her to follow her dream down to Hollywood on regular collaborative junkets. “I started really traveling there around 14, and I was signed at 15, and I’ve just been writing and recording there ever since,” Mitchell says, adding that she initially had to be accompanied by a legal guardian. On Raceday, she would go on to work with studio svengalis like Rich Costey and Mark Foster of Foster the People. But it was her symbiotic relationship with Reid – who oversaw her first EP Flawless – that really helped her blossom.
And make no mistake – Mitchell (whose songwriting idols are mainly women who are recognizable via a single moniker – Joni, Tori, Alanis) is dying to learn everything she can about her craft, and she behaved like a humble apprentice around the older, wiser Reid. “He’s like a serious musician, so he was able to teach me a lot about music from a theoretical place,” she explains of her mentor. “He knows, algorhythmically, how to make music, so he has a formula for making a really good pop song, which I think is one of the most fascinating things – how to make something more abstract from that.” The other L.A. musicians she’s been meeting have been equally impressive. “Because they were able to just nurture and hone in on my creative skill, so I could really evolve – It’s been really cool, learning from people that are already really established,” she adds.
Ergo, there’s an experimental edge to Raceday that bodes well for her forthcoming full-length, due later this year; in addition to the more sultry title track, there’s the punk/New Wave-infused “No Lo,” a minimal, jagged “Jitter,” and “Breaking Hearts,” with a backbeat so huge and rousing it could be a cheerleader routine. She wants her name on a plaque, she vows in “Raceday.” And it will probably happen – Mitchell’s name will most likely be inscribed on a Grammy someday, because she’s just got that ‘It’ factor. But first, she wants to study at the feet of some other heroes, like Daryl Hall. She’s a huge fan of his TV show Live From Daryl’s House, she confesses. “It’s really cool how he has all these other musicians down, and I love how he learns the other artists’ songs – he just seems like someone that you can really relate to on a creative level, so I’d love to perform with him.” Hint, hint. “A big shout-out to Daryl Hall!” she giggles.
The mean girls are a thing of the past now, though. Mitchell just moved to her beloved Los Angeles, where she resides with roommates. She treats food essentially as fundamental fuel for making music, and she relies on simple dietary staples like granola, bananas, yogurt, honey, and almond milk. “I need a regimen, or else I get really overwhelmed,” she says. There’s only one little problem – remembering to stock her own cupboard. “I’m super-annoyed by the fact that I have to buy my own food now, and buy my own everything,” she harrumphs, suddenly sounding all of 18. “I forgot that your parents do that for you, but only when you’re young, so now I have to do all that stuff on my own.
“It’s scary, and I don’t like it! I want to revert back to being seven!”