11 Questions with… Kim Ware of The Good Graces

Drummer turned guitarist Kim Ware has been making emotionally powerful indie folk rock since 2009’s Bring on the Tambourines! Her last full length, 2019’s Prose and Consciousness merged her sense of melody with layered songwriting that pulled the listener into a rich world of Southern culture, meditations on life and efforts to improve ourselves. Kim’s music often raises questions about how we make real lasting relations in our communities. Stand out tracks like ‘Three’, ‘His Name was the Color that I Loved’ and ‘Wants + Needs’ brought Ware’s mature songwriting together with music that allows listeners to feel the experience even if it is for all too brief a moment. Kim has continued to release new music such as 2021’s ‘capital R (single)‘ and 2020’s powerful ‘Stopped Making Plans‘ and ‘Things Will Be Better in the Morning.’ These songs demonstrate her commitment to intelligent musical discourse. It was a real pleasure to correspond with Kim about her music.

1. What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest song, ‘Stopped Making Plans’?

This song had some pretty weird origins that were both very intentional but also very accidental at the same time! I say that because it came to be thanks to an assignment for a songwriting group I’m part of.

We meet on Mondays; it was a Sunday afternoon and I thought, “I don’t have a new song to share tomorrow.” The prompt was “foreign languages” so I simply started by thinking about countries I’d like to visit. My mind went to Germany first; my husband is from there but I’ve never visited. I was thinking about how my friend Andy had also booked a trip to Italy in late 2019 but of course it didn’t happen.

Anyway, I sort of organized those thoughts to be more about plans falling through, and missing loved ones. In the case of the Italy mention, rather than focusing on Andy’s trip I very intentionally thought about Michele Gazich. He plays violin for Mary Gauthier, and though I don’t know him well I’ve met him at Song School in Colorado, and we’re friends on Facebook. Back around last February / March, before Covid had severely impacted the US but was taking its toll on Italy, where he lives, he was posting about what was going on. It was so frightening. That, plus my working for a major digital publisher at the time (which happens to be health-focused), led me to take all this pretty seriously from the very beginning.

It’s been such a mental and emotional drain. I kept thinking it might be something I’d write about but it all just seemed too big. Suddenly, approaching it this way (very indirectly at first) just worked. Once I realized what I wanted the song to capture (the trials of last year, with a focus on plans being cancelled), it came together pretty quickly.

I also feel the need to say before writing it I had just finished reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” for graduate school. In it, he focuses a good bit on hope, and imagining a future, and how important it is to our existence. That seemed to be top of mind – that the roughest part of all this, for me (a natural planner) was adapting to not making plans.

2. In the past you have had strong collaborations, did the coronavirus/Covid-19 situation change how you wrote and worked on the song?

Very much. In November 2019, the Good Graces played our release show for “Prose and Consciousness.” That was such a wonderful experience, like everything just came together for that show. Little did we know we’d only be able to play a couple more together. I would have loved to have included the folks who played that show with me on this song, but logistically that’s a lot harder to coordinate now. I also moved last summer, from Atlanta (where they are all based) to North Carolina, to be closer to elderly family members. The combination of Covid plus just being in a place where I don’t know as many musicians meant I felt very, very isolated. That’s definitely changed how I work on music now. I wrote the song alone, and then recorded my guitar and vocal tracks at home. I sent those to engineer/producer Jerry Kee, and he added everything else. We’re working on a full album this way. Though it’s not what I would have imagined had you asked me last year how I’d make my next album, it’s working really well.

3. ‘Stopped Making Plans’ is a song that explores the impact of the pandemic, police violence and other social issues, did you set out to address these particular ideas when starting to work on that song?

Not at all! As I mentioned up top, it didn’t start out being about that at all. But, it quickly turned into that. I just wanted to be very honest. Those are the things that took so much of my mental energy and empathy last year. So once I started going there, I couldn’t really avoid them.

4. Many of your songs have addressed the strength or weakness of social bonds – is that a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics and the feel of your music? If that is correct, do you intend to write about social bonds and connections or did the song evolve in that direction over time?

That’s so interesting, and really insightful. I put a lot of thought into relationships, I suppose. And not just a-b relationships, but like my place, my role in a given community. How we all “relate”. And connections – that’s definitely something I’ve been very focused on exploring, for years now. All that said though, I don’t think I ever intentionally write about them. I’m very much an in-the-moment songwriter. Something comes to me, and I try to follow it. Sometimes I can shape it into something that makes some sense, but as often it falls by the wayside, I guess to make room for something else. I’m studying to get my master’s in counseling, and social bonds and connections is a big focus there. So I imagine that will continue to come up, either directly or indirectly, in my music.

5. How did ‘Stopped Making Plans’ come together musically for you?

Once I figured out the direction and general melody, the vocal part came together quickly. That tends to be what happens for most of my songs. The guitar part was the challenge. I’d say my finger-picking skills are pretty novice. But I really pushed myself to give this particular guitar part a real “part,” a real presence in the song. Really I thought the recorded version would stay pretty minimal. So I worked really hard to figure out that guitar melody and actually be able to execute it. The bridge was particularly tricky! But finally I got it; it’s a lot different from my playing on most all my other songs which is typically either very strummy and rhythmic, or very very simple, repetitive picking. Anyway, as I mentioned above, once I sent it to Jerry he had a very different vision for it! At first I wasn’t sure about it, but by the end I really loved everything he brought to it (and I still have my original demo with just me – that’s posted on my Bandcamp, too – If I ever really feel like hearing or sharing that more minimal version).

6. Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

I think of songwriting a lot like dreams. I’ve always thought dreams just “mean” whatever you decide they mean, and if you asked someone else, they might have a very different interpretation. To me, dreams seem to mostly just be a way of processing whatever has happened that day. Songs are very much the same. I process through them. I’m not sure I “figure stuff out,” but – when I get it right – I manage to put something pretty complex and challenging for me to even talk about into a 3-or-4-minute piece of art. That is just the coolest thing to me! It’s the single thing I love most about songwriting.

So I guess I’m saying I get inspiration from challenges – but it’s almost never intentional. My mind just always wants to solve problems, I think. Or at least take a complex problem and break it down into something simpler, more manageable. I think it’s my need to do that that inspires me to write songs. It’s my means of processing.

7. How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from Set Your Sights (in 2017) to Prose and Consciousness (2019) to your recent music)?

I think it’s always been really personal and honest. That’s sort of the metric for me; sometimes I write for “side projects” and one of the things that makes it a Good Graces song vs. a song for one of those other projects is if it’s so honest that I’d probably be uncomfortable talking about it.

I think that’s been consistent, from my very first song back in ’07 or so. It’s evolved a lot; I guess it’s gotten a little more polished? And I’ve had a lot of different folks contribute to it over the years. They’ve all inspired and had an influence on me, the songwriting, and the final product in one way or another. I do think now I’m starting to veer just slightly from Americana and folk and maybe more towards indie and bedroom pop (which is a place I’m also pretty familiar with, I think my 2014 album “Close to the Sun” was more that sort of style). The southern influence isn’t going anywhere though, I think that’s unavoidable due to my vocals. But working with Jerry here recently, and him adding things like drum machine and keys, has made me realize a sort of different way to present the songs.

8. What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Stop Making Plans?

Jerry and I have about 16 or 17 songs we’re trying to get through this year. I think we’ve finished up 5 so far. I’d like to release a few more singles and then maybe around the fall or so start pulling everything together for an album. But that said, last year taught me to just sort of be more in the moment and not get too married to any one idea or method when it comes to releasing music. I recently launched a Patreon which I’m really enjoying – my focused is shifting just a little from “the next album” to “what am I making this week?” I will always love making albums though, and the format, it’s just that right now it feels like there’s got to be something more, or different from that, you know? One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m pretty burnt out on the traditional way of making and promoting music. It was getting so focused on likes, pageviews, followers, etc. That’s why I like doing things like Patreon. Sure, it’s great if the numbers go up. But for me what’s far more important is the connection I’m making through songs. If I’m even lucky enough to make one. That’s the greatest thing. I’m trying to focus more on little things that remind me of that connection.

Oh! I also recently launched a podcast that sort of talks about these things so I may as well plug that here! It’s called Quarantined With the Good Graces and you can find it on most all the podcast platforms. It’s an interview podcast and I’m releasing a new episode each Tuesday. At the moment, I’m focusing as much on that as I am my songs, and it feels really right to me.

9. What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your performances?

It’s almost always “7-Year Sentence (Going to Hell)”. Back in Atlanta, I’d usually have a group of friends come sing the end choruses with me. It was a highlight of our shows, and really cathartic. I tend to sing that song louder and more emotionally than a lot of my other songs, and it always feels really good.

10. What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

That we’re all struggling through this in our own way. If nothing else connects us, I think that does.

11. As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

I’ve really been trying to immerse myself in my new life – my husband and I moved into my aunt’s old farmhouse at the beginning of this year. It’s right beside my dad’s peach orchard. He passed away a couple of summers ago, but being here, right beside everything that was so much a part of him, I feel really close to him. The other day I walked around the perimeter of the orchard; it was soooo cold! But during that time, I thought, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be, and exactly what I’m supposed to be doing in this moment. I guess that’s how I’m trying to adapt. By being present and focused on thethings that are important.

I left my day job at the beginning of the year (2021), so I could focus more on school and all this life stuff with the house and my family. So, I’m still sort of trying to figure out what my new life even is. But I’m also doing some things that I wanted to do but never had time to. I took an online improv class through Second City and I absolutely loved it. And I’m currently taking a songwriting class. That’s a little more like “work” for me, which is interesting. But I’m grateful to have a little more time to spend on that now. I’m viewing this time as a transition for me; I don’t feel particularly settled yet, but I feel like that’s starting to come more into view.

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Kim Ware for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Kim’s social media or to listen to various songs that were discussed! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Kim Ware/The Good Graces.

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