Hometown: Perth, Australia
Album: Always Want
For Fans Of: Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Cat Power
Grace Woodroofe’s voice calls to mind Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Etta James—maybe even the weighty, raspiness of Tom Waits. Certainly not a 22-year-old singer/songwriter from Perth, Australia. And if she sounds like someone who’s lived through decades of crucial life experiences, it’s no accident.
Woodroofe has already toured with Ben Harper, Cat Power, WIM and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. She first tried her hand at songwriting at age 16, recording demos of the first two songs she wrote. She submitted those songs in a radio competition and sheepishly asked her friends if they would listen. One of those friends was the sister of actor Heath Ledger, and her soulful singing caught his ear. Ledger flew her out to Los Angeles for a recording session. Quickly Woodroofe’s age became nothing but a number.
“I think it proves that you don’t need to be a particular age, race or be from a particular place to be able to feel these certain emotions,” Woodroofe says. “It just proves that you can never really know what people are going through, no matter who they are. Hopefully my music gets that point across and people can embrace their emotions listening to [it].”
While she was in L.A., Ledger would even sneak Woodroofe into clubs as a teenager. From there, her career blossomed. Ledger introduced her to Ben Harper before she’d graduated high school in 2007. The next year she sent Harper some of demos and returned to L.A. He had some free studio time after finishing his first record with the Relentless 7. Harper asked her to come in and try a song, and then he produced Woodroofe’s debut. Ledger’s introduction really had jump-started her career.
“He was very pro-artist,” Woodroofe says of the late actor. “He always thought that I should remain exactly how I am and not change for the industry; just remain true to my visions and ideas, musically especially. He would always say, ‘Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. You do what you want.’”
Woodroofe’s debut album, Always Want, was recorded in just eight days. It’s influenced by her love for Jack White, Elliot Smith, Tom Waits and Modest Mouse. If her voice sounds wizened, the lyrics belie the raw emotions of youth. “I feel very reflective of that point in my life,” she says. “Thematically it very much deals with innocence and experience; like having to deal with adult experiences at a young age and having to grow up fast and deal with it.”
Before becoming a musician, Woodroofe imagined herself becoming a filmmaker or a director. But once she picked up a guitar and learned to play the blues, she never looked back. “When I discovered blues music, I found that the female vocalists in particular really resonated with me,” she says, “their style and their emotion captured in their voices. I feel like listening to them is a key point in how I learned to express myself as well.”
Her debut has been out in Australia for over a year, but wasn’t released in the U.S. until last month. That release brings Woodroofe back to the States for SXSW and a tour. She’s already back in L.A. with new material ready for a second album. For Woodroofe, there’s always going to be more music. “I always write down what I feel —my emotions,” she says. “There hasn’t been a particular event, yet that has driven the songs. There’s a lot going through my mind at any given time.”