"Over the last six months, I've really come to know my worth..."
Lily Grace is a million miles from home, which you can tell – and not just because she's stopped using the metric system. A Gold Coast native, the 17-year-old has been pursuing music in Nashville for the better part of 2023, leading up to her imminent debut EP release sometime next year. Though it hasn't been without its hurdles, Grace is practically beaming when she reflects on how far she's come – both literally and figuratively. “This whole journey has been a really big shift for me,” she says.
“It's my first time being away from home for so long, and it's my first time really focusing on music. I'm still in high school, but I'm completing it virtually while I'm over here. I've talked about Nashville being my dream for the longest time, but I'd be lying if I wasn't intimidated when I first got here. I'd be in the room with these incredible songwriters and not feel like I belonged. Over the last six months, I've really come to know my worth. I'd start walking into those rooms with my best foot forward, and now I find myself ready to stand up for myself.”
Grace's latest offering is Maybe So, a playful country-pop number with a driving rhythm, layers of bright guitars and an indelible syncopated chorus hook that culminate in a pitch-perfect showcase for what the Queensland wunderkind is capable of. She co-wrote the song with Greg Barnhill, a veteran of Nashville best known for penning Trisha Yearwood's 90s country classic Walkaway Joe. “Greg has been one of my dream collaborators for a long time,” says Grace.
“Even away from writing Walkaway Joe, the list of artists he's worked with is just amazing – The Beach Boys, Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, all these different people. He was at the top of my list when I first came to Nashville, and to be in the room with him really felt full-circle.” Barnhill is the latest in an impressive line of co-writers and collaborators within Grace's extended universe, which also includes alum such as Blake Shelton co-writer Kirsti Manna and fellow Queenslander Bella Mackenzie – a current finalist on The Voice Australia.
Join our community with our FREE weekly newsletter
When asked what she gets out of the collaborative process, Grace muses that she hopes to ultimately find the yin to her yang. “I normally consider myself a better melody writer, so I like to write with people whose strength lies in the lyrics,” she says. “The cool thing about that is combining those efforts to create something with a real energy behind it – and that's such a big thing for me when I'm making music. If the vibe is right, I won't hesitate to throw even the craziest idea out there. If you've got excitement and you've got enthusiasm, you're likely going to come out with something that's really, really special.”
Grace first began releasing music when she was 15, which would certainly be a daunting task at such a vulnerable age. Thankfully, she didn't arrive on the scene alone: Her debut single, Annie June, was a duet with multiple-time Golden Guitar winner James Blundell. “I truly can't thank James enough for everything that he has done for me,” she says of the esteemed veteran.
“He was the first real heavyweight of the Australian country music scene who really took a shine to me – not only has he become a great friend, he's almost like an uncle to me now.” It was Blundell's connection with Grace, in fact, that lead her to an entire family of contributors – the friendly neighbourinos themselves, the Flanders. “Chaise Flanders is one of my co-writers – she worked on [previous single] Follow My Road with me – and she's married to Michael Flanders, who handles all of my production with his son Caleb,” she explains.
“Their sons play on these songs too, so we've really kept it all in the family. When I made that song with James, he put me onto Michael and said he was absolutely the right guy for the job. We kept in touch, and before you knew it his whole family have become incredible friends – and they've all befriended my family, too. They're such a big part of everything I do, and I couldn't imagine doing anything without them.”
Maybe So is Grace's third single released in 2023 thus far, alongside the aforementioned Follow My Road in January and Bet On Us this past July. As work on the EP continues in the background, Grace has been content with sharing songs that have passed well-regimented tests in front of a discerning Nashville audience – particularly at the famed Bluebird Cafe, where the likes of Garth Brooks, Keith Urban and even a young Taylor Swift got their start.
“When you're up on-stage with the band, you can really get a sense of what people are reacting to,” says Grace. “More than that, they're not shy people – they'll tell you. I've had folks come bounding up after shows being like, 'Where can I find that song?' The songs I've been releasing so far this year, they're all the ones that have gotten those exact responses. I'd obviously be putting them out regardless – I love these songs, their messages and the way they were written – but to know others are putting value in them as well is something I find really cool.”