Some people are blessed to know what they want to do early on in life, that being true for Grace Kathleen Elizabeth Shaw. Years before she started fusing hip-hop, EDM, and candy-coated pop under the moniker Mallrat, the 21-year-old Australian had her career path mapped out. And except for a brief period of teenage angst and self-doubt, she’s never wavered.
“When I was really little I wanted to be a singer,” Shaw says, on the line from a Washington, D.C., tour stop. “But I lost the confidence to pursue that when I got to around high-school age. The problem was that I couldn’t see it being a real job. And it always seemed to be something that happened to people in other countries—people that weren’t like me. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I started to understand how it worked.”
A major revelation was that, thanks to the magic of computers and songwriting software, you no longer need a studio to make music. In her mid-teens, Shaw began writing and recording bedroom songs by herself. That led to a debut EP, Uninvited, where tracks like “Tokyo Drift” blended hazy synths with digitally generated beats and a delivery that was part breezy bemusement and part all-consuming boredom. Hands up if you’re sadly able to relate to these lines from “Inside Voices”: “Everyone talks nicely, but I don’t think they like me/’Cause when they go out they never invite me.”
Positive reviews gave Shaw the confidence to move forward with a sophomore effort, In the Sky, that elevated her pop chops. On the record Mallrat turns something as simple as shopping for groceries into a celebration of being alive. The next time it all seems too much, make everything instantly okay with the winsome electro-folk jam “Better”.
“With Uninvited I’d never really written songs before, so I was just singing over beats that I’d found on SoundCloud,” she relates. “For In the Sky I started to coproduce and build the songs from scratch rather than starting with the instrumental parts already there. And the more I continued to write lyrics, the more than I started to understand what I wanted to do as a writer. It’s all about trying to nail a feeling. And the strongest feelings are the ones that are a little bit confusing.”
Shaw’s third record as Mallrat—the just-released Driving Music—is far removed from the days when she described her work as “bubble rap”. Musically, the record swings from the minimalist grey-skies meditation “Drive Me Round” to the joyful keyboard-centric confection “Charlie”. And despite lyrics like “My dad, he worked out west and he worked so hard/My mum she smells like cigarettes, and they broke each other’s hearts,” Shaw is generally of the opinion that the sun shines more often than not.
“Everything is a bit of an amalgamation of different memories and stories,” she says. “I don’t know if I was as sad making the record as I was trying to figure things out. There was a lot of looking at situations, realizing they could be dark, but then also trying to find a sense of optimism.”
Not surprisingly, Shaw knows exactly where she wants her career to go from here, with writing for others as important as writing for herself. Tellingly, she’s talking Post Malone and Rihanna, rather than someone hoping for a few thousand hits on SoundCloud. Some people know earlier than others what they want.
Mallrat plays the Fox Cabaret on Thursday (October 3).