UCR INTERVIEW: Grace Pettis of Nobody’s Girl

Nobody’s Girl: BettySoo, Rebecca Loebe, Grace Pettis

Americana/folk-pop supergroup, Nobody’s Girl features acclaimed singer-songwriters
BettySoo, Rebecca Loebe, and Grace Pettis. Each member of the band has a budding solo career of their own. They joined together and released an EP in 2018. They returned to the studio in September 2019 and recorded their first full length album. After waiting patiently through a worldwide pandemic their self-titled LP is due to be released on July 30.

I had the opportunity to visit with Grace Pettis about the upcoming album, her solo career, and a whole lot more. Enjoy!

Interviewed By: Kevin Rolfe

UCR: Hi Grace! I’ve enjoyed getting to know the music and, I was really happy with the album. I’m sure you guys are excited to get it out there. 

Grace Pettis: Thank you! Yeah, it’s the joke that it’s like the longest album release of all time because we started promoting singles and stuff back in March of 2020. And then it was like, well, maybe we should rethink this. So we had to kind of backpedal, so we did release, like a couple videos and a couple singles to just give people something. It was supposed to come out like a year ago. So we’re really excited that it’s finally coming out, we can finally play together again, it’s pretty great. 

UCR: So just tell me a little bit…, this sounds like the first part of a job interview “Tell me a little bit about yourself”. Which was always my least favorite question. But just how did you start making your way into music and then how did this band form? It seems like you guys were all doing your own thing and then somehow the superpowers met and joined forces. Is that how it went down? 

Grace Pettis:  Yeah, that’s about, right. We’ve all been playing music for, well I’ve been doing it over 10 years, some of us have been doing it over 15 years. We’ve just been out there Troubadoring and writing songs and playing a lot of the same kind of festivals and rooms and house concerts. I think especially because we’re all based in Austin. When we started out, we were practically neighbors, we lived really close to each other. It’s a really small, tight-knit community of musicians in Austin in general, but especially within our genre, and as women in that genre, we all know each other, we hang out. And we met it at Kerrville Folk Festival in different years, and we’ve known each other we had known each other for a decade.

Nobody’s Girl BettySoo, Rebecca Loebe, Grace Pettis

So yeah, I mean, we’ve shared campfires and bottles of wine and we were friends before we ever thought to try and write together, or to sing together. And really, it kind of happened by accident, I mean sort of. Rebecca had an idea to do like a tour that was the three of us. Just co-billing you know, on tour like in the round, round-robin style. And so we were kind of prepping for that, and it was supposed to be like two weekends. We were gonna get together and maybe work up a cover.

So we got together and we worked up Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car”, which we had kind of practiced independent of each other. We figured out what the harmonies were going to be but we practiced independent of each other and then got together in a room and sang together for the first time in three part. And the day that we filmed it on like iPhones, we hired the camera crew, but they used iPhones, and then we just put that up there, and it kind of went like mini folk viral. So it got a little bit of attention in our world in our tribe, and that kind of spurred us on a little bit like think maybe this could be cool.

So then we got the opportunity to write out in Fischer, Texas at a studio of some people that I know out there, Pat and Tracy. They own Lucky Hound which is the little boutique label that we ended up signing with. But we were out there in the hill country just for a writing retreat for like, one day. And because we thought, let’s just try, let’s just see if we can write a song together. Maybe we could play it at the end of the show. And it would be like a grand finale or sell it as a single or something. So we got together. We’re like, we’re all songwriters, let’s give it a go.

So we got together and we spent like hours and hours writing a song that we loved and then we just like we were on this high. So we just kept going, and we wrote like two more songs that day. And then the next day, we wrote a couple more and like, and so we basically descended. There’s like this guest house, and it’s sort of on a second floor, and we were holed up in there writing furiously and having the best time like drinking wine just laughing. Then we came down and we had these songs, and we played them for the owners of the studio. And very soon after that, they were like, hey, we want to give you a record deal.

UCR: Oh my gosh. That’s awesome!

Grace Pettis: We’d never played a show, we’d never been in a car together, we’d didn’t have a band name. But we were friends already. So we felt confident that we at least liked each other already which, that goes a long way. And that we knew we could write together. And so you know, what else were we doing really? I mean, we were doing a lot is the answer to that. But somebody offers you a record deal you’re like, okay.

So we went for it, and we put out an EP, and we recorded those songs that we wrote, we added maybe one or two more, and then we recorded them weeks after we’d written them. And we were actually revising stuff going into the studio. So it was pretty wild, we added a cover too on there and put that out as an EP. And then just that tour that we had booked that was originally supposed to be just kind of like a way to make a little extra cash, like playing with some other people became our first band tour. We expanded it, and we went all out with promoting it, and we made it a CD release toward and they could pre-order stuff before it was out. And we just kept having, sold out crowds, and like, our fans were really responding.  

UCR: So was was it like your individual fans knew you were going to be there? So was it like, come check me out in this group now kind of thing? 

Grace Pettis: Yeah, and at the time though, if you break it down, it’s probably about the same momentum as any of us have for solo stuff. But it’s like when you combine forces of three different fan groups, and they’re all together there. And we have a lot of crossover too, as well, because we’re sort of in the same genre. But the rooms felt a lot fuller, you know what I mean? And it was just a great feeling. I think there was there was this feeling that we had of like, oh, the sum can be greater than the parts and we can get really far when we work together.

More than anything is what this band has taught me. I think in the music industry, and especially among women in the industry, because there are so few opportunities, we’re kind of encouraged to compete and be really scarcity minded. And amazing things happen when you just flip that mindset and decide to be generous and to collaborate, and to be each other’s like cheerleaders and accomplices and to work hard together to do something that’s bigger than you, that’s when like the most magic happens. And so that’s the lesson that I learned from BettySoo and Rebecca, and from being in this band. It’s three times as much work, but it’s also three times as much reward and like the work is divided into thirds. So it just kind of all works out. It’s been a lot of fun. 

UCR: It sounds like it. I just finished reading Brandi Carlile’s memoir. And she talks a lot about that. Just the opportunities in Country, Americana, or American roots music. Just always kind of feeling like she had to compete with other women. She started that supergroup the Highwomen.

Grace Pettis: The Highwomen, yeah. Similar thing, yeah, just on a bigger scale! (laughing) 

UCR: Sure. I mean, just kind of the ridiculousness of it, because I don’t think men in that industry have that sense of competition. It seems like there’s this, “There’s always a place for you somewhere!” you know? 

Grace Pettis: It’s just statistics. It’s like if you look at any festival bill, or any booking agency roster or any, management roster, label roster, it’s gonna be like 98% dudes and mostly like white straight dudes. So everybody else is sort of left to fight over the scraps. But when you’re fighting over the scraps, that’s like a distraction. That keeps us from actually changing the industry and making it better for all of us.

I think it’s really important to ditch that mindset. And that’s always my advice to young artists coming up is like, make friends, go to open mics and make friends because like, one of y’all is going to get an opportunity at some point. You know, and you want to be there when that happens, and you want to be that person’s biggest fan and trade gigs and write songs together and do all that. So yeah, I think I just think it’s good advice for anybody really.

UCR: Just like in the business world. Instead of always feeling like you’re competing, if you network and work with each other, who knows who’s gonna bring you along because you’re, they trust you, they know you and they understand your talent or skills or whatever. So that’s a really good philosophy, I think. 

Grace Pettis: I think so. I think it’s a good way to live. It’s healthier. 

UCR: I think it’s cool, and I guess maybe it was from that songwriting session, but sometimes having done it on your own for so long, I would think that there’d be some skepticism. Do I want to do this? I kind of have my own identity my own thing, but I think maybe you guys just saw the unique opportunity, and I guess being signed on the spot doesn’t hurt. 

Grace Pettis: Well, it doesn’t hurt. But also, I think I should be clear and say, we were all fully invested in our solo careers as well and have been since the beginning of Nobody’s Girl, and it was something we were all clear about with each other and with our team. I think that the two things sort of like feed each other.

It’s interesting because even the sound of Nobody’s Girl is so different from our solo projects. It’s very like Pop, it’s very tight because of the harmonies and everything. It kind of has to be, because we all have to be on the same page. So it sort of scratches that itch. We get to be like this Pop band, we get to have this tight like organized thing, and then we go off our separate ways, and we do our solo things. And there’s more flexibility to do that the way that you want to do.

Because everything in Nobody’s Girl, and this is for better or worse, like everything and Nobody’s Girl, there are three band leaders, and there are three lead singers. It’s not like Josie and the Pussycats. We’re all the lead singer, we all write all the songs together. So on the one hand that means everything’s triple distilled, and that can result in really good work. But also we have to be on the same page about everything important and that’s time consuming. It takes a lot of work. The payoff is real, but it takes a lot of work.

So it’s kind of nice to have the solo thing as well as this outlet for a different kind of creativity that’s a little less fettered. Where we are the band, we’re in charge. And like, we just hire people in the band to like, be our backing band. This is just like a totally different thing. So I think it’s been really great for all of us, creatively to have both of those things.

I get to be Grace Pettis the Americana country rock band. And then I get to turn around the next week and be like, in a girl group basically you know? It’s a little more glamorous, and it’s like a different thing. It’s nice to wear all those hats and, and sort of get energy from both things. I love being in the band with them. I love being in the van with them and sharing the long drives and the fun of that. And then I also love being in the car by myself. I think we all feel that we were all extroverted introverts.  

UCR: I’m so glad that you guys keep the solo thing because I think that if or when this group takes off and has a great run, I think that will probably keep you guys together because you always will have that outlet. And you all understand that you want it. Because I think there are some times where a person in the band’s like, look “I just got to go do my own thing for a while”, but they started as a band. So the rest of the band is like “what the heck!” You know?

Grace Pettis: And I think we kind of hold it really loosely. We try not to like put too much expectation on ourselves and live in the moment of whatever the project is right now. And right now we’re just really excited about this record. We’re excited about getting these songs out there and touring. We’ll let the next thing be what it is. This record is different from the EP. In the EP we were trading off who was singing lead. Now we’re trading off lead lines within verses. So we’re kind of always evolving and letting the band become what it’s going to become.

 But we don’t like to say well, we’re gonna do it this way. We’d like to let it be what it’s going to be, but it’s been great. And I do think that it’s, I think that’s the thing that has kept it healthy and fun for us is to feel like we also have that autonomy. And if any of our solo projects take off as well, that also helps the band you know, and vice versa. So we kind of try to think of it that way again, like not as competition, but as like a cooperative thing that helps everyone. The solo things help all of us individually. And the group thing helps all of us and the individual things help the group. That’s the only model that we really could do it and have it feel good. 

UCR: I love this style of music, and the harmonies are just so good. That’s probably the first thing I noticed. I hear a lot of music. I always try to be open-minded and optimistic. And you know, you’re a music fan you’ve been out there, you’ve seen people just starting out and it’s obvious that they’re not quite there yet. And I never would be the one to tell somebody if I didn’t like their album. I’d probably just be like, “Good for you. You’re doing an album”. So hopefully you trust that I’m saying that I really do like it.

Because as I was listening I went through all the steps, like, “Okay, I’ve kind of tapped my foot. This is good.” And then voices were good. And then the harmonies come in and I was like, “Okay, I’m in on this band. I gotta get them to come here to Utah when touring picks back up.”

Grace Pettis: Thanks we would love that!  

UCR:  So tell me, do you have a favorite song off of this album? What are you excited for people to hear? 

Grace Pettis: That’s a tough one because there’s so many that I love. Let me think for a second before I answer, you know, one of my favorite songs on the record is actually one of the covers that we did. And it’s an Eliza Gilkyson cover called “Beauty Way”. Which is a song about the artist’s path. And it really resonated with all of us on a personal level and she’s a hero of ours. So it felt really great to sing. And it feels like a real kind of anthem for us as a band. So that one was really special.

But there’s a lot on this record that I love. Some of the singles that we put out are really great. Like, I love “Kansas” and “Tigers” is another good one. There’s a few of them. So yeah, it’s all there’s something for everybody. There’s some pop stuff, there’s some laid back stuff. There’s some introspective stuff, and there’s just some fun stuff. 

UCR: Yeah, it’s really good, you guys did a great job. So I’m excited for people to finally get to hear the whole thing. And you have a solo album out as well, yeah?

Grace Pettis: I signed a solo record deal in January 2020. So I recorded a full solo record that summer for myself for that record deal. And yeah, Rebecca put out a record of like, acoustic covers during the pandemic, so you can find that as well, and it’s pretty cool. And BettySoo has been in the studio recording with other musicians. Like she did harmonies recently with Bonnie Whitmore, and she’s on the new James McMurtry release. And there’s really like yeah, so she also works as a session player and has been in the studio and creative all year as well. So there’s stuff out there. 

UCR: What was the first concert you ever went to?

Grace Pettis: Well, I kind of wish you asked about my second concert because my second concert was a Bonnie Raitt at Chastain Park when I was like 13 and Robert Cray opened And Inda.Arie was a special guest. And it was an amazing show that changed my entire life changed the trajectory of my life. I say you know, in even talking about first and second concerts, like my dad’s a musician, so from when I was in the womb, I was at clubs and bars and listen, write music. So you know, I grew up around lots of concerts and shows like every weekend and festivals and things like that, but those were all on a much smaller scale like the folk world you know. 

So but my first big concert was a Backstreet Boys concert. It’s kind of a guilty pleasure, but I still kind of maintain that they’re talented.

UCR: They are!

Grace Pettis: They are! It just doesn’t have the cool factor in my genre or whatever to be like ” I went to a Backstreet Boys concert” but you know, I shouldn’t be embarrassed about it. It’s good solid Pop, the songs are well written, I still have a love of that kind of like thing in me. So yeah, it was a Backstreet Boys concert, and I was super excited to go. And my second concert was Bonnie Raitt and somewhere in between is all the things that I love.

UCR: So you went to Backstreet Boys, and it was cool. And then you go to Bonnie. Is that where you’re like, “Okay, I gotta do this”? 

Grace Pettis: That was really transformative for me personally. Because she’s just such a badass. She just was in such control of the band, and the vibe, and the crowd. Like, everybody’s hanging on to what she’s doing. And she wasn’t like 20 you know what I mean? She was an adult. I think she was even in her 50s at that point or something, maybe even older. And she, I don’t know, like, it’s hard, she’s like ageless.

UCR: I know it’s hard to know, how old she is now.

Grace Pettis: But I knew that she wasn’t 20 you know, and she was still sexy and still like, beautiful and amazing and talented and respected by all of the men on stage. So there was just something about that performance that just clicked a gear in my head, it was like, okay, you can do this.

There were other artists like that for me, like Lauryn Hill I’ve always been obsessed with. And for the same reason, she’s in control of her ship. And the Indigo Girls, they’re musicians, they play the instruments, they write the songs. So many of the like you know, quote, unquote, women in music, like we’re some minority, we’re like, more than half the population. But so many of the examples of, women in music that I had growing up, were in their early 20s, sometimes their teens. And it’s not to say that they weren’t talented or good singers, but they were so young, they hadn’t had time to develop as artists. They were products that we consumed as preteens and teenagers. They were all skinny, they were all really young, they were all white. So it was just a really different thing.

You can tell the difference between something that’s sort of packaged for consumption. And then like art that is made by the artist, and the artist is controlling their destiny. It’s just a different feeling’ Which isn’t to say that I didn’t love all the pop princesses because I did and I recognize their talent and I respect their hustle but it’s just a different thing to see a band in control of its own thing. 

UCR: Well, for the sake of full disclosure, I covered Backstreet Boys back in 2019. 

Grace Pettis: Did you really?!

UCR: And they still got it!

Grace Pettis: Really? They’re great. Actually, I really feel bad that I was embarrassed in the beginning. I don’t know what that was. Because it’s from being with all the cool kids in Austin for too long. I gotta get back into like, the real world. Too many damn hipsters! You know, I’m not embarrassed about any of that. Honestly, I’ve always been a person that just kind of loves what I love. Like I’m a huge Trekkie. I’ve loved lots of things that other people don’t think are cool in my life. So I’m learning as an adult to care less about what you think about it and just like what I like.

UCR: Maybe it’s Bonnie Raitt I don’t know, but do you have a concert that you would say is the best concert you’ve ever been to? Like you left thinking, “I don’t think I’m ever gonna see anything better than that?” 

Grace Pettis: Well, I do love Bonnie Raitt, and actually, our band name Nobody’s Girl comes from a Bonnie Raitt song. So we all love Bonnie Raitt. There have been a lot of transformative concerts for me. Probably the one that I was like, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen was when I first moved to Austin, I was like 18.

I was volunteering out in the hill country, at a studio run by a guy named Billy Crockett. And the studio is called Blue Rock Studio. Billy was a friend of my dad’s. So he kind of connected me with him. Billy and his wife ran this house concert series that was really professionally done with amazing, high def like cameras and great sound and everything. And they very generously let me volunteer as an 18 year old selling CDs and helping out with hospitality and stuff, so that I could go for free to all these concerts. And so some of the best concerts I’ve seen were there.

One of the first ones was in October, I remember because it was my birthday month. I saw Ruthie Foster play and she’s like she’s not that tall. She’s kind of small. But she’s powerful and just something about her spirit is such a confident, joyful, beautiful, strong spirit, and it just fills up the room.

She just walks in, and she’s a presence, you know what I mean? And she sings and it’s just like, you can hear it in the back of the room. She doesn’t need a mic. And when she sings, sometimes when she belted out, she’ll back up, like a million miles from the mic, and just like, let it rip. And you don’t need any amplification. You can hear it in the back and you just feel it in your pores and your bones. It’s just like, this kind of soul-quenching thing. It’s just, it’s amazing. And it’s just such an incredible instrument. When she opens her mouth and sings, just like she opens her mouth and just like, lets her guts out. It’s amazing.

And I’d never heard anybody sing like that live, and definitely not that up close. And I grew up around singers, I grew up around musicians, but I’d never seen that. It just knocked me out. It was like, yeah, I was totally sold for it you know. And I think being around music, and just kind of knowing how the sausage is made like, those moments can be rare now. Where it’s that out of body and you’re really just feeling it. And you’re not thinking about what you’re feeling but you’re just in that moment. And that was like a moment for me was hearing Ruthie Foster for the first time. 

UCR: That sounds incredible, especially in that setting of all places.Just so unique, and very impactful.  

Grace Pettis: If you have a chance to see her life. It’s such a different experience. I love her records. The records are great. But there’s just something about seeing her live. It’s just such a, it’s such a thing.

UCR:  I believe it. Wow, that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing that. Last question… I know you’ve played a ton of shows. But show you played where you felt like “this is the best I’ve ever felt on stage.”? May not even be the best you performed but just something about that night that just stands out so far in your career?

Grace Pettis: I mean, I think for all of us, singer-songwriters operating on the kind of scale that I’ve been operating the past 10 years, which is sort of small clubs, there are these clubs all around America that that feel like second homes. You walk in and you’re just comfortable and the look of that mat that’s on the floor underneath the microphone and the way it sounds and it’s familiar and there’s a lot of places like that for me. I could give you a really long list. I almost feel bad to start because I know I would leave people out.

But off the top of my head you know, like the Bugle Boy in La Grange, or the Red Clay Theater in Duluth. I mean, there’s just, there are so many rooms like that, really all over the country Passim in Cambridge. Gosh, I mean, Saxon Pub in Austin used to be thread gills you know, but they’ve closed down. But you know, there’s countless and once I started, I probably couldn’t stop. I would just keep going, and I’d be afraid to forget people. So I’ll just leave it there. But there are places like that that feel like home like you walk in, they know you, you know them, and the room is familiar and comfortable.

That’s an amazing thing on tour because every day is different on tour. So it’s nice to be somewhere where you can kind of get your bearings. And you feel like you kind of know how it’s going to go and what it’s gonna be like. You get that beer that you love that you can only get there, whatever you know, it’s like, there are spots like that everywhere.

UCR: That’s awesome. Well, hey, thank you so much for chatting with me. Once you hit the road, if you get towards the Rocky Mountains, please stop here in Utah. 

Grace Pettis: Sounds good. Sounds like a plan. Thank you so much for your support of Nobody’s Girl and the album.  

Nobody’s Girl’s self-titled album will be released on Friday, July 30, and will be available for purchase or streamed wherever you listen to music. For more information on the band, the album, our tour dates go to wearenobodysgirl.com

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