The last time I met with the baroque pop duo Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles (aka Gracie and Rachel) was in 2014, in the backyard of Coates’ parent’s house in Berkeley, California – which happened to be near where I was living as an au pair (while also writing about music). I had just learned about Gracie and Rachel’s soulful collaboration through the local community, and was thrilled to cover the initial self-release of their debut, for Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.
Years went by, and I happily kept tabs on the duo, learning they had moved to New York City and bought a loft together, re-released their eponymously re-titled debut with a label, toured with feminist folk giant Ani DiFranco and eventually signed to her label, Righteous Babe Records.
It’s from this vantage point that Gracie and Rachel wrote, recorded and produced their newest project, Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong, which drops today with Righteous Babe. The sophomore record showcases a refined and emboldened Gracie and Rachel, who are going strong and trusting themselves after starting fresh.
Overall, Hello Weakness, You Give Me Strength celebrates rejuvenation and growth, particularly in the fact that the pair are able to gratefully move past the songs on their debut and on to something new. After all, many of those tracks were conceived during their days as students at Berkeley High School, and when all was said and done, they spent nearly a decade recording and then re-recording the album.
“We put Go out on our own and we got the attention of some great management people and they said we want you to come on board, but we want you take down this record. Let’s put it out in a more official way. That was really hard for us,” says Coates. “Even though it was done with bigger production and evolved in some ways and there were a couple new songs on there… it felt very drawn out.”
Hence, being free to make something new imbues Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong with a sense of lightness and rebirth. You can hear this essence on the echoey, pared-back song “Ideas,” which focuses intensely on releasing self-doubt and cultivating good ideas. As Coates sings the line “Get it out of your mind,” it takes on these double meanings.
At the same time, it was the re-release of Gracie and Rachel that allowed them to move forward and grow in a new direction in terms of representation—and Gracie and Rachel are thankful for that, particularly because it caught the attention of DiFranco, who was supportive of the development process for the duo’s sophomore effort. “She’s just really trusting, patient. You’ll know when she doesn’t like something because she won’t respond – then you keep working on stuff,” says Coates.
Armed with DiFranco’s vote of confidence, the pair got bold in the way they approached making this new album. In contrast to their debut, which was written in bits and pieces over the years the pair was living apart for college, Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong was made while in year-long isolation together in their Williamsburg loft, where they’ll play a record release show on September 22. They made a conscious effort to stretch themselves, particularly with violinist Ruggles taking on a bigger producer role with the use of electronic drum pads and triggering samples.
“It kind of felt like the songs weren’t mine or weren’t Rachel’s – they were ours, [or] they weren’t even ours, they were like somebody else’s and we were just trying to serve them and that was a really new feeling,” says Coates. “The songs were like these things we had to make, and we were trying to make them better, trying to detach our egos as much as we could, and of course it’s not always that perfect or easy.”
While the intensity of the recording process brought a heightened authenticity and polish to the sophomore record, Gracie and Rachel say it also asked them to grow in their relationships to each other and the world.
“Communication is a big theme for this body of work, both internally and with the people around you, and for us in our situation,” says Coates. “Rachel and I live together and work together. We deal with a lot of different communication barriers and breakthroughs. We’re very opposite in how we express ourselves… so, we have these opposite ways of dealing with things and we’ve kind of learned from the other person.”
In the end, embracing difference and growth as a band—and a society— has always been the crux of what makes Gracie and Rachel’s introspective, dynamic and self-loving indie pop so memorable. Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong just adapts that philosophy to where Gracie and Rachel are now—and their advice has good application for our present world.
“This record is about embracing weaknesses as something that gives you strength instead of pushing it away,” says Coates. “It’s a really difficult time, but I think what we can focus on is how we are going to come out of this stronger.”
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