As I pen questions to interview Grace Knight, there’s a bitter storm whipping itself across Wallis Lake. It’s only apt then, that Stormy Weather should be playing in the background, as I reminisce on the career of one of my favourite female Jazz singers and former lead singer of Indie pop group, Eurogliders …
I’m taken back to a fond memory of seeing Grace ‘leave the building’ following a performance on The Midday Show with Ray Martin. It was the late ’80s, and Grace’s solo career was soaring. I’d snuck out from Channel Nine’s Publicity Department to watch her perform Stormy Weather live in-studio … I was smitten and recall being amazed at how Grace had metamorphosed from an edgy Pop singer into a sensuous Jazz singer in the space of a few short years.
With Grace’s performance over, and en route back to the Publicity Department (hoping I hadn’t been missed), I was stopped dead in my tracks by a vision depicting the ultimate in sophistication … there was Grace Knight ‘leaving the building’ – literally – driving from the network in a black SLK Mercedes sports car (a convertible, of course) … her hair swept back into a slick French twist, one arm elegantly steering as she farewelled the security guards from behind a pair of cats eye sunglasses …
But I digress … Grace Knight is headlining at the 2012 Wingham Akoostik Festival, which is taking place on 20-21 October. FOCUS caught up with Grace to talk about her life, the festival and her love of Jazz …
Grace, do you still own the Merc and if so, is it for sale?
Your description makes me sound very cool, so I’m sorry to shatter the illusion, but I’ve never owned a Mercedes. I went out with the guy who owned the convertible Mercedes and who insisted I drive it, rather than my matt grey Fiat. I think he thought it gave me more gravitas and the impression that I was wealthy way beyond the truth of the matter.
I did love coordinating my look to drive that car, hair up and cats eye sunglasses. But it was one of the heaviest, most cumbersome cars I have ever driven. I would just about rupture my stomach muscles trying to reverse park; heaving that tank into position was not an easy task. I was very happy when we split up, and I returned to my trusty, rusty matt grey Fiat.
I’m currently reading your memoir, Pink Suit for a Blue Day, in which you slay your demons … a) how hard was it to write the book?
The process of writing Pink Suit for a Blue Day was an absolute pleasure. It was a challenge I took on without any real understanding of the size of the task. After reading a synopsis I’d submitted, the publishers asked if I could write the book in two months. Given the story already existed in my head, I wrongly assumed it would be a walk in the park turning my thoughts into a book.
It took twelve to fifteen hours a day, every day for two months and two days to turn the pile of spaghetti in my head into a book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it gave me a huge feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. As you’re aware, the book addresses abuse that was inflicted on me as a child and my journey to get out from under the legacy of that abuse.
Having nurtured and fed a legacy of childhood abuse for years, I came to realise I was actually the worst perpetrator of that abuse, by limiting myself and by perceiving myself as worthless, damaged goods. It took most of my adult life to change that perception. I felt obliged to write my story, as I knew through years of research and self-analysis there is a significant percentage of the population, both male and female, who are fighting the very same demons. Some are able to get over it, others aren’t, some will never talk about it and be severely limited by it, and others will dull their memories with substances.
I felt like I slayed my dragon and without being prescriptive, I wanted to let people know that it was possible. When I was writing this book, I decided that I would deem the project a success or failure based on whether it helped one person; if one person got something positive from it, then it was worth the effort.
… and b) getting on the PR trail to answer questions from complete strangers about personal aspects of your life, including the raw account of your childhood, which was marked by alcoholism, poverty and abuse?
It was much harder than I imagined talking about what I’d written. I’ve done thousands of interviews over the years but for the most part, they’ve been pretty lightweight in terms of subject matter … talking about an upcoming show or a new CD or some such. This was very confronting – especially if the interview was live to air.
If you’re doing something for a newspaper or magazine, you can mull your answers over, but on live radio or TV, it can end up like a rabbit stuck in the headlights. As uncomfortable as it was on occasion, when I focused my attention on the people that would benefit from my story, they became more important than my discomfort at personal questions.
Do you think that you became a performer in part to seek out love from an audience, which might have been missing from your childhood?
I think a psychologist could have a field day with this one. I don’t think there’s much doubt that many people that end up as entertainers do it to compensate for something they didn’t get somewhere else, and I certainly wouldn’t be the exception to the rule. I love performing in front of an audience, and I love the energy that flows towards me and nourishes me – and maybe when I was younger I craved that as a substitute for something I’d missed out on. I built a character I could hide behind on stage: a confident, brash powerhouse who could take on the world. The reality was much different; for many years, I felt like a talentless fraud on stage that would eventually be exposed and dismissed. If you don’t like yourself, all the love and adulation in the world won’t help; it ultimately just leaves you feeling more empty after the cheering subsides.
Tell us about your recently released sixth solo album, Keep Cool Fool, which you describe as “a collection of songs which describe the heart in love”.
The whole album was sort of inspired by the TV series, Mad Men. I just loved the clothes and the décor. I was born in the 50s, so I have early memories of that era … the hair styles and the bright red lipstick and pointy bras. I thought the whole series was very cool, so I started looking at the music from that era and found a really great collection of songs.
As it turned out, all the songs on the CD describe some aspect of the heart in love: lust, jealousy, longing, despair … you name it, just about anything you can feel when dealing with the topic of love turns up in one of these tunes.
What will you be performing at the 2012 Akoostik Festival?
I will be performing songs from my new CD, Keep Cool Fool, which has been out for a couple of months. After twenty years of working with a piano based sound, I’ve completely changed tack and released a guitar based album that has blown a breath of fresh air through my repertoire.
As well as the new stuff, I’ll be doing a cross section of tunes from most of my solo albums over the last twenty years.
Interview by Karen Farrell.
This story was published in issue 68 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus