Grace Savage: singer, songwriter and beatbox champion

Beatbox champion, actor and singer-songwriter Grace Savage has been on my radar for a while now. A Devon-born gal, she’s been laying down roots in London with a self-released debut EP, headline show and high praise from the press. In 2015, Grace and fellow beatboxer Bellatrix made history as the first female team to win the UK Beatbox Championships. Keen to learn more about her music and work, I caught up with Grace for a coffee in one of my favourite Soho hangouts…

You’ve got an amazing skill set – singing, beatboxing and acting. Where did it all begin for you?

I don’t come from a musical family, so didn’t grow up surrounded by music at all. My love of music started when I became a teenager. Hip hop had a huge influence on me: Missy Elliot, Lauryn Hill, Ludacris, Eminem, all that stuff. I used to go to drum n bass raves in Devon – that was our thing! Rahzel was the first ever beatboxer I saw at The Lemon Grove in Exeter.

I started getting into beatboxing because there were a lot of other beatboxers around in Crediton. I started learning these weird mouth sounds as a hobby, not thinking it would ever be a career, because back then it wasn’t a viable thing to be a professional beatboxer. Now, there’s loads of people doing it!

I was terrified of singing for a very long time. I think that’s partly why I got into beatboxing, because I secretly always wanted to be a singer but never had the confidence. I got spotted by a producer when I moved to London in a talent competition. She invited me to her studio and asked if I sang. I was like, well, on my own in my bedroom, I’ve never sung in front of anyone before. I did a cover of Amy Winehouse’s F*ck Me Pumps on the guitar and she was like, ‘Oh, you can sing!’ It was the first time anyone had ever said it to me. We started writing songs together. It took me years to get the confidence, but now I can very comfortably call myself a songwriter, singer and beatboxer on an equal level.

Photo: Thomas Hole

How long have you been releasing music under your own name?

I brought out my first EP last year. I was writing music with this producer and we had two album’s worth of songs, but it all went wrong. It came down to rights – I didn’t feel comfortable with what she wanted, she thought I was being cheeky and wanting too much. Who knows? Lawyers got involved, we spent ages negotiating contracts and it got to the point where I went, do you know what? It’s not worth it. I’d rather start completely again from scratch. And I did. It was really scary – I almost wanted to walk away from music.

Last year, you self-released your debut EP, followed by a UK tour and headline London show. How was that as an experience?

Some of the shows were better than others. My first headline show had just under 100 people, which felt pretty amazing. In contrast, I did a gig in Leicester which had about six people there. But you never know who’s in the audience and there was a guy there who does graphics, and he’s ended up doing all my lyric videos for free! It’s always worth it.

In terms of the release itself, how did that feel?

It was all completely new to me and I learnt a lot. I released it through AWAL. It is hard – there are hundreds of artists out there making incredible music who just don’t have the money, the backing or the contacts they need to get heard. You start to realise it’s all just a game, it’s so competitive. For me, getting that first EP out there was all about positioning myself as an artist, not just a beatboxer.

What would you say has been your favourite experience as a musician to date?

I got a really jammy gig a couple of years ago where I toured the world with a ballet dancer called Sylvie Guillem. She’s like Beyonce in the ballet world, selling out 2000-4000 capacity venues. She was turning 50 that year and was incredible – so engaging and amazing to watch. The piece was choreographed by Akram Khan. There was a violinist, an Indian percussionist and me basically making animal sounds and a little bit of beatboxing. Jungle sounds with lots of delay, kind of filmic. I got to travel the world and stay in these amazing hotels for a whole year. I’d put that down as one of the best things I’ve done.

You’re a female beatbox champion and one of the only professional female beatboxers in the UK. What’s that like? Are there any challenges that you’ve had to face?

It’s funny – that’s the one question I’ve been asked more than any other and I never really know how to come up with a response for it. I usually just say it’s been fine, because it kind of has. But also I’m never really willing to acknowledge that it has been hard. There is sexism and misogyny, but it comes from the YouTube comments and musical festival line ups… I don’t know how much I’m getting paid compared to a male beatboxer doing the same job.

At the same time, I’ve been given lots of opportunities because I am a woman. It’s my USP. The only time I can really equate it as being difficult was when I did the UK championships with Bellatrix (as BURD) and made history – we were the first female team to enter and win, it was the biggest thing in my career. But these guys that we battled against were like ‘You were sh*t, you didn’t deserve to win, you must have paid the judges…’ – it really upset me.

We came back the second year and won again, and you’d think that proves that we are better, that we’ve done an amazing thing. But there’s still a little voice in your head, a weird sense of shame that you feel like you’ve taken it away from the guys, or that maybe we only won because we were girls, maybe it was a pity win. We weren’t doing hardcore, technical beatboxing, which unfortunately a lot of people in the beatbox world think equates to good beatboxing. Instead, we were doing musical stuff, creating songs and routines. There is a bit of subjectivity. But the fact I’ve got this voice in my head not allowing myself to truly enjoy that achievement… that is where we internalise the sexism.

Is there anyone who’s particularly inspired you?

I’ve been obsessed with P!nk since I was about 13 years old. I love her voice and I love what she’s about. She’s hardcore, but still making this really fun pop music. Lauryn Hill – I’ve always loved her. Spice Girls. A new artists called Banks, really like her. I couldn’t pinpoint one particular person, I sort of take inspiration from everywhere. Beatboxing-wise, there’s a guy called Reeps One who’s pretty-boundary pushing in terms of turning it into an artform rather than a gimmick, which I think it gets seen as quite a lot of the time. He’s a clever guy.

Photo: Carl Fox

What advice would you give to other young people in music?

Be prepared for a lot of rejection. Believe in yourself. Be nice. People will only employ you if you get recommended by someone else, for being a good person to work with. Write music that’s true to you and not because you think it’ll make you loads of money, because you’re probably not going to make loads of money. Apply for everything, every single opportunity that you find. There’s a website called The Unsigned Guide that costs £5 a month that sends you updates of opportunities to apply for. It’s the best £5 I’ve spent as a DIY artist.

Find your art, and know the business – read as much as you can about the business side of things. Most managers or teams don’t get on board now until you’ve already done a lot of the ground work yourself. Know your stuff, don’t let people take advantage of you. Learn by doing and making mistakes.

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Feature image: Jade Anouka

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