Country Next: Grace Leer
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with Grace Leer.
Grace Leer; Photo by Alex Ferrari
Grace Leer is quickly establishing herself as one of the newest country powerhouse singers with a knack for songwriting. A California native turned Nashville transplant Leer found her passion for music early on. As an adolescent with a natural talent for sports, she grew up juggling both music and soccer.
After high school, Leer attended the University of California Berkeley on scholarship, where she played D1 soccer. After earning her degree, she officially expired her cleats and took up the microphone full-time, forming the Grace Leer Band. Her musical prowess led to her receiving a call to audition for Season 18 of American Idol. After finishing in the Top 11 on the show, she returned to Nashville and landed a record deal with 19 Recordings, Inc.
Now Leer is proving to fans that she has no intention of slowing down with the release of new music. Most recently, she dropped her heartbreak track called “After 1,” the follow-up to her collaboration with fellow country singer Logan Mize, “Nothing with You,” and uber-catchy true story, “Brought A Girl.”
Leer, who provided direct support on Mize’s Spring 2022 It’s About Time Tour, caught up with Country Now to talk about her journey on American Idol, current music, and what’s to come.
Read on to find out more about Grace Leer in this exclusive Q&A below.
How did you begin a career in country music?
I grew up in Danville, California, in the East Bay. It’s funny. I’m not from the South. I didn’t grow up with dirt roads or cornfields. But, I was born in 1991, and I grew up with the late ‘90s and early 2000s country music. I listened to The Chicks, Jo Dee Messina, and Shania Twain. That’s where those roots started with those female ‘90s country power voices. I became obsessed with that. Also, being from California, there were a lot of other musical influences for me. Pop music, rock ‘n’ roll, really anything. But, I have been singing my whole life. I started attending country concerts in high school here in the Bay area. I remember going to Shoreline Amphitheatre and seeing Tim McGraw with my friends. I remember being like, ‘I want to be doing that one day.’ So, I think, at a young age, I knew I wanted to have a career in music. Then I went to college. I played soccer at UC Berkeley. I lived a very down-to-earth, normal life. After college, I started a country band in San Francisco and went from there.
At what point did you decide to switch from playing professional soccer to playing music professionally?
I feel like soccer and singing were my two passions my whole life. I started singing at age six and started playing soccer a year later. I have been playing competitive soccer since the age of 10. Around that same time, I was performing for Radio Disney events and working with a producer. I was full-on doing both things that I loved so much. I think I always knew music was going to be my number one thing. For me, there’s nothing like being on stage. There’s nothing like writing a song or singing and connecting to music. I always saw music as a lifelong thing. I always knew soccer had a timeline. I think they were just different types of passions for me and different types of love. I’m a goal-setting person. I knew I wanted to go to college, get a degree, and be captain of the soccer team. I was captaining my senior year. I played four and a half years of collegiate soccer at the D1 level. I learned a lot and grew a lot. I take a lot of that experience into the music industry. I find myself comparing sports and music all of the time. I’m grateful for that experience because I knew it would help me. But, I knew I would have to hang up my cleats when I graduated. I was so excited to go after music 100%.
You also competed on Season 18 of American Idol. Your audition was so emotional. What did you take from that experience?
I was in Nashville for about two years before auditioning for American Idol. I moved to Nashville in 2017 and was ready to play music. But, I did have to get a sales job. I was working 9-5 to have the security of a steady paycheck. Then American Idol came along. I said, ‘Why not?’ I always knew the reason why I moved to Nashville was to get a full-time career in music. So, when American Idol came around, I auditioned. I was so nervous to audition. And Kyle, he is in the video with me. He played guitar with me for the audition. He and I are the ones who got the band together. I remember driving to the audition and not wanting to do it because, you know, it’s one of those things that is so scary and uncomfortable, but sometimes those things are the best things for you. Those are the things that change your life. So, I was glad that he pushed me into doing it because I wanted to turn the car around. I thought, ‘I can go back to Nashville. We can still play music in the band and keep doing what we’re doing.’ But, he was like, ‘No, Grace. You got this. Let’s do it!” That was part of the reason why I was so emotional in the video for that audition because I was just so vulnerable. It’s so scary to stand up in front of those judges who are role models. So, you’re like, ‘Wow. Either they’re going to love me or not at all.’ It’s those feelings. But that changed my life. You know, overnight, you gain so much exposure and all of these fans, which is great. But then, all of a sudden, you’re under a microscope, and it’s the start of this career, and you get this fast pass to the front.
What was your experience like on the show?
It was great. Then Covid-19 happened, and we were already in Los Angeles, getting ready to film the live shows. The ‘stay at home’ order happened when I was in the Top 20. So I decided not to go back to Nashville when they sent us home. I said, ‘I will go to my mom’s house in Danville, so I am closer to L.A.’ All of us were like, ‘We don’t know how long this will last’ We had no idea. So, I went to my mom’s. Then, about a week later, they told us we would be filming ourselves from home to keep the show going. We didn’t know how that would work, but they sent us equipment. They sent us iPhones to film and different things to record. I became everything – the artist, singer, director, technician, and sound person. I had to wear all these hats, be on the show and be myself. It was overwhelming. But, I am someone who, again, going back to playing college soccer, it’s like, control what is controllable, right now. Our country is sick, and the world is sick, and it’s not good. But at least I get to perform. I get to do what I love. So, I took it as it came. It was interesting. I think we all had to change our mindset and be grateful that we got to have fun and quarantine while making music and filming a national TV show from our backyards. So, It was crazy, but all in all, it was a great experience.
How did you navigate your music career after coming off of American Idol?
I remember getting eliminated and thinking, ‘Okay. That was awesome. I made it into the Top 10. How amazing, I’m so grateful.’ I quit my sales job. I called my boss when I didn’t make the Top 7. I said, ‘Hey. I got eliminated, and I also quit.’ He was very supportive. He was like, ‘We knew that was coming. We’re proud of you.’ I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I felt this feeling of like, ‘Alright. It’s finally time to stop trying to balance this 9-5 work style and music. Let’s get everything to music now.’ I was going to move back to Nashville and keep going, but then I got a call from Red Light Management a couple of days after getting eliminated. I remember not knowing much about the difference between management, labels, and publishing. It was all very new to me. So, I took the call with Red Light. I was impressed with what they had to support me and help me develop as an artist. I quickly realized that I had this exposure and experience, but I wasn’t ready in terms of songs. That was the first thing I had to learn. They loved my voice and energy. But, they knew I was excited to get music out, and we didn’t have that music yet. So they said, ‘We’re going to get you into the writing room.’ So over the past two or three years, I’ve been developing as a songwriter. In February, I released my debut single.
What inspired your song, “Brought A Girl”?
I wrote ‘Brought A Girl’ with Sam Ellis and Joybeth Taylor. It’s a true story about this party I was throwing for my friends, where I was excited to see this guy. We were on and off at the time, and I had everything planned. I was dressed up, got his favorite beer, and had my favorite wine. Everything was set up perfectly. I heard that he was coming to the party. So, I was excited. But, then, he walked in the door, and I noticed he had brought a girl. I remember feeling like it sucked. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I have gone through all of this effort.’ We weren’t together. So, it was okay that he brought someone. But it was more of that feeling of like, ‘Dang it. I had these expectations, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be.’ So the rest of the party was awkward and difficult. I was upset and continued to drink a little more to lessen the blow. I remember going home after the party and feeling down. I had a write the next day with my co-writers, whom I had never written with before. When I walked into the room – so on the right, you can have a cup of coffee and get to know each other. We had never met. I told them, ‘Guys. I need to vent about something that happened yesterday.’ I told them the story, and Sam said, ‘Why don’t we write, ‘He brought a girl?’ So we wrote the story, and Joybeth came up with this cool melody on her guitar. We told the story of exactly how it went down. I wanted it to be upbeat. I didn’t want it to be this sad, poor me song. I didn’t want it to come off like I was blaming the guy or the girl. It was just an unfortunate situation. I remember writing it and thinking, ‘Okay. That was a fun song.’ I remember sending it to my team, Autumn, who does A&R, called me and said, ‘Oh my gosh! One, that song is so great. And, two, are you okay?’ I was like, ‘Yes! I am okay.’ It was all good because I got a song out of it. I was writing a ton around that time, but I think that song stood out because it was fully me. It was as authentic as it gets in terms of a true story. When it came time to choose that first single, we all thought of ‘Brought A Girl.’ We thought it was funny, cheeky, and a story that everybody could relate with. So, it was clear that it would be the first single.
How about the music video for ‘Brought A Girl.’ Can you tell me about that?
When they asked me, ‘What do you want to do for a music video,’ I knew I wanted to bring it back to life – to where it all started. So, we ended up filming the music video at that same house where I threw the party, and the guy I wrote the song about plays the guy in the music video. We’re now good friends, and it was a while later after it all happened. I asked him if he would want to play the role in the music video, and he said, ‘Sure.’ So that’s what we did.
What was his reaction to hearing that song for the first time?
I had written it and had let some time go by. Again, it was nothing to blame him about, or even me. It’s all good. We stayed good friends. I am now in a new relationship, and so is he. But I remember getting lunch with him one day. I said, ‘Hey. I wrote this song about you and about something that happened.’ He said, ‘Yeah. I heard through some of my friends that you wrote this song about what happened at the party.’ I said, ‘Yeah. Do you want to hear it before I play it at Whiskey Jam?’ He said, ‘No. I want to hear it at Whiskey Jam for the first time.’ I was like, ‘Okay.’ So, he came to Whiskey Jam and heard the song. He had two Miller Lites in his hand and was cracking up. So, his reaction was all good.
More recently, you released the song “After 1.” How did that song come about?
‘After 1’ was written from the perspective of how hard it is to move on after a breakup. I wrote the song with Tate Howell and Dan Fernandez. When Tate threw out the idea of ‘After 1,’ the song took off from there in this dark heartbreaking spiral of trying to move on from someone, but after 1:00 a.m. or after one drink or one memory, you’re back in it again. It means a lot to me to create music people can relate to. I think ‘After 1’ is that song for any guy or girl who has gone through a heartbreak.
You were also recently featured on a duet with Logan Mize for “Nothing With You.” How did you come up with the idea to collaborate together?
That was exciting because I have been a fan of Logan since high school. I think he released ‘Used Up’ in 2013, when I was in college. I had been listening to his music ever since. I got an email one day from my team saying, ‘Hey. Logan is about to go on a spring tour. He is looking for a female opener. He loves your music and your voice. Also, he has this song. If you are open to it, he would love for you to be featured on it.’ So, I was freaking out. I remember getting that email and feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh! This is not real.’ Immediately, I said ‘yes’ to all of it. It all happened fast. Within a week, I was on my first tour with one of my favorite artists, and I was to be featured on a song with him. It was all right around when ‘Brought A Girl’ was released. So it was so crazy, fun, and exciting. That was the first time I experienced road life. So, everything was in the right place at the right time. It couldn’t have been better.
What is it like performing that song alongside each other while on tour?
It’s so great. The song alone is incredible, but it’s so fun. Logan is usually at the piano. He’s very comfortable at the piano, playing along to the song. So, the crowd goes nuts. I feel like people get excited when my verse comes in. I think that’s what is so fun about collaborations is that you get two artists together to make a song that much better. It gets a good reaction. It’s about when you get out of a relationship. You don’t miss the big things. You don’t remember all the crazy trips you went on or the fancy date night. You miss the little things. You miss having coffee in the morning with them or doing dishes and dancing in the kitchen and doing all those little things with that person. That’s what you miss the most. So, I think it’s such a special song, and I think it was meant for Logan and I to perform together.
How did you prepare to go on the road after what we all experienced in 2020?
It’s funny. I prepare for a tour as I would prepare for soccer season or a soccer tournament. I saw those weekends a lot like tournaments where you go in and have a show on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I am very conscious of my health, food routine, and exercise. Taking care of my body is number one for me. That’s how I feel better as a singer and a performer, cutting out things to feel like I’m sleeping better and have more energy. Also, training my voice in the same way I train my body. So, I do all of the same vocal exercises and practice. We were opening the show acoustic. So, I had a guitar player with me. Then, I played a little guitar as well. So, rehearsals, practice, and taking good care of my body are the big things for me. Mentally, I was taking it all in. I knew it was going to be new for me. I knew it would be a different lifestyle than I am used to because I’m a routine person. So, that first weekend, I remember being exhausted. It was early flights, driving to the next city, and sometimes ending the show at midnight and having to drive a couple of hours down the road, so you didn’t have to do the long drive the next day when you got to your hotel at 2:00 a.m. So, it was the adrenaline and the nerves, and then the adrenaline of playing the show and coming down from that show. But the best part of the whole process is meeting the fans and people waiting to listen to your music. That’s the first time I got to experience that, and it is what it’s all about. It is so special to have that connection with people that are going to be listening to my music. We’ve been in this closed-off world of writing these songs, and to play them for strangers and have them connect to it, is what it’s all about. It was amazing.
Should fans expect an EP or album from you in the future?
Yes. Absolutely! Definitely expect a project coming your way very soon. We’re shooting for the fall, but don’t quote me on that because it might change. But we have an EP being put together right now. I want to keep putting out as much music as I can and letting people in. People can expect me to be myself. Every song that I put out is true to me. So expect more music and continue to get to know me.
Fans can keep up with Grace Leer on Instagram.
Melinda Lorge is a Nashville-based freelance writer who specializes in covering country music. Along with Country Now, her work has appeared in publications, including Rare Country, Rolling Stone Country, Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, Wide Open Country and more. After joining Rare Country in early 2016, Lorge was presented with the opportunity to lead coverage on late-night television programs, including “The Voice” and “American Idol,” which helped her to sharpen her writing skills even more. Lorge earned her degree at Middle Tennessee State University, following the completion of five internships within the country music industry. She has an undeniable love for music and entertainment. When she isn’t living and breathing country music, she can be found enjoying time outdoors with family and friends.