Gillian Grassie

Gillian Grassie

Genova, Berlin, DEU
SoloPop

This harpist-singer-songwriter has sold out shows from Philadelphias Tin Angel to The Matador in Siberia. Grassie delivers literary lyrics with a soulful soprano over a blend of jazz-inflected folk/pop that's smart, accessible, and innovative, captivating audiences across 14 countries... so far.

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Biography

When Grammy-winner Marc Cohn first saw this harpist singer-songwriter perform, he called himself, "an instant Gillian Grassie fan," observing, its rare to hear a young singer with such control and understated soulfulness, and even more rare to hear a harp provide such a deep percussive groove. I was immediately captivated by her sound. Traveling the world with her harp on her back and her heart on her sleeve, she's won over critics and audiences in 14 countries... so far. Recent performances have ranged from a private gala for HRH Prince Albert of Monaco to an opening slot for Amanda Palmer. A Philadelphia native, Grassie currently hangs her hat in Berlin, Germany.

Her unusual approach the harp, expressive vocals, and sophisticated but relatable songwriting have earned her grants from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation and the U.S. State Department, a slew of awards, and the fervent support of her fans, who collectively funded Grassie's 2013 release, The Hinterhaus, with a successful kickstarter campaign that allowed her to partner with producer Todd Sickafoose (Anas Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, Erin McKeown) and an all-star line-up of guest musicians, including Grammy-winner Janis Ian (also a backer of the project).

In her youth, Grassie studied classical bel canto vocal technique and sang with choirs in such prestigious venues as Heinz Hall, Symphony Hall, and The National Cathedral. Her interpretations of traditional Scottish harp music earned first place prizes in five competitions and an invitation to perform at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival, where she debuted at the tender age of fourteen. Since then, she has independently released three recordings, conducted master classes for the American Harp Society in Chicago, led songwriting workshops for The School Vor De Kunsten in The Netherlands, and has had her music featured on radio, film, and television.

Extensive touring has seen her perform across North America, South America, Europe, and Asia over the past four years, including two tours with the ESL Folk Project at the invitation of the US State Department. Grassie graduated cum laude from Bryn Mawr College with a degree in Comparative Literature, and her songs are often inspired by literary works, pulling inspiration from authors and poets like Philip Larkin, Robert Frost, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Luis Borges, William Faulkner, and Francis James Child as much as from her musical influences, which range from Joni Mitchell and Patty Griffin, to Bjrk, to Billie Holiday, Fats Waller and Nat King Cole. Ultimately, it is her engaging stage presence and ability to strike the delicate balance between innovative and accessible that wins over her audiences hook, line, and sinker. One fan described her as an awesome combination of Pippi Longstocking, folk musician, drinking buddy, and the Mata Hari. Trust me, you never saw anything like this.

Lyrics

Silken String

Written By: Gillian Grassie

There was a man
he was a tall man
but he never stood up tall
and he hid thick books
behind the cash register at work
to make the time pass better

And the bells clattered when I opened the door
and he picked up his head as I walked in the store
I could see the sweat falling down his face in the heat
like beads on a silken string

I was waiting for a ride
so we chose to pass the time
sharing words and coffee
and as he told me his story
I could feel something funny
like my reason was deserting me

Oh I'm in love with a man from the North country
he's got hair like a bear, it grows wild and free
I can feel myself slipping like a kid with new skis
like beads on a silken string

Nobody knows where the time it goes
so I hope you'll follow me
nobody knows when love will show
inconveniently

my friend drove up
in a black Ford truck
and said, "C'mon - I'm sorry,"
so I turned and said, "Goodbye, sir,"
and, "Thank you for your time, sir,"
he said, "I'll be seeing you later."

Oh I'm in love with a man from the North Country
he's got hair like a bear, it grows wild and free
I can feel myself slipping like a bird on the breeze
like beads on a silken string

Borrowed or Begged

Written By: Gillian Grassie

oh I got these blackened traveler's feet
and I got this broken train-stop sleep
I got miles unfurled in front of me
before I reach my own country

I can't count the places I laid my head
seems most of them were borrowed or begged
and it may have cost half of all I own
but I know the difference between a house and home

oh I dreamed that I was fast asleep
with a pup on either side of me
and a gray cat stretched out at my feet
in a lover's bed in North Philly

Chorus

So I'm riding in this foreign car
sucking fruit I don't know the name of
and this I would give you my love
something sweet and strange upon your tongue

Chorus

Sweet Metallic

Written By: Gillian Grassie

Fear tastes like rust sucked inside your mouth
a sweet metallic you can't spit out
you know, we just can't plan for these kind of things
but what were we expecting?
we can't stay, can't leave
can't force the peace
we can't make our gods do anything

men stand like tall white stones
lined in a thousand tidy rows
see, we dwell in a house of cedar
no fear here, no love either
but there's a woman sitting there
on a hard kitchen chair
scared to death of the knock on her doorway
"don't let him be gone, I can't do this alone,
we got three kids, got a family."

What am I but a single girl
armed with just five senses in a senseless world?
everybody wants their answers
but getting the question right's what really matters

you know this used to be our home
it wasn't much but it was our own
and the waters kept on rising up
and no one came to save us
we heard, Bye-Bye Blackbird
from the edge of a stern
that was pulling away
yeah we've built ourselves on unity
and a land of opportunity
and shame, shame, shame

fear tastes like rust sucked inside your mouth
a sweet metallic you can't spit out

Summer

Written By: Gillian Grassie

I saw a man walking here on the street
he had holes in his shoes
you could see his bare feet
he wore a smile on his face
there was pep in his step
I thought, "man, what's he know that I don't get yet?"

you know I feel such a misfit
when I look at the sky
'cause I'm so down and lowly
and it's so divine
you don't have to be crazy
to feel you've lost your mind
you don't have to be happy
to be doing just fine

take a ride, windows down
sharing songs with the town
they all mix with the sound of cicadas
coming back from the beach
we got sand ground in seats
and some saltwater taffy for later
when we return with our memories
and our songs

Tamlin

Written By: Gillian Grassie

I hate this Halloween party
with its posh freaks and zombies
can't find your face in the parade
I know I don't really belong
but last night you scared me on the phone
and so I came

my swollen tongue is flopping 'round
the inside of my mouth
I hear the clumsy words it's spitting out
I am a chignon come undone
I am a silken stocking run
and I am drunk

Do you ever get that feeling
of being infinite and small
like you're everything and nothing at all?

I could dress you up in white
try to lend you some kind of grace
but the shadows only gather
in the hollows of your face
something 'bout the black light
or the fog machine
maybe it's just the gin
but you look like you're shape-shifting

Do you ever get that feeling
of being infinite and small
like you're everything and nothing at all?
My love has become a burning coal
I am not sure I can hold

I'm losing you to that bitch, Queen Mab
I don't know how to save you
I'm not sure that I can
here, take my coat
you know, it's could outside
I want to go home
c'mon, let's call it a night

You turn and walk into the bathroom
brushing off your nose
when you don't come out, I follow
you're lying there on the hard tiles
I call your name and you don't answer

Do you ever get that feeling
of being infinite and small
like you're everything and nothing at all?
My love has become a burning coal
I am not sure I can hold
My love he's become a glowing coal
and he burns me
and I hold

Back To Your Flat

Written By: Gillian Grassie

Your scent is still on my dress
and my hairs are on your sweater
the ink is still wet
on how this will be remembered
Oh I never knew, no I never knew
and I never could have guessed
that when we laughed our way back to your flat
I might never come back the same

Oh and we laughed our way back to your flat
I may never come back the same

We're propped up on our elbows
belly-down upon your bed
the dicitonary is open
to the word "earnest"
yeah, your English it was pretty good
but you didn't understand

Oh and we laughed our way back to your flat
I may never come back the same...

Oh and I hope that Serendipity,
the traveler's patron saint,
is smiling sweetly on you now
as you bike home in the rain

your scent is still on my dress
and my hairs are on your sweater
tiny souvenirs
of a night to be remembered
'cause I can't be sure
that our paths will ever
chance to cross again

like when we laughed our way back to your flat
I may never come back the same...

The Hinterhaus

Written By: Gillian Grassie

There is a house behind your house
a floor beneath the floorboards
with planks of spruce sanded smooth
and cut to fit the corners
and no one would have noticed
no one could have guessed
that every time they'd come around
they'd been your courtyard guests

When was it that you forgot
who you were and were not
how to feel as you looked out
at all that suffering and pain
so exquisite, so mundane
saw the trigger of a gun
curled like a question mark

I know what it is
to be half transformed
still burdened with the evidence
of what you were before
but all of this forgetting
tell me how it's done
tell me where you keep the memory
of somebody you've loved

There is a house behind this house
curtains upon curtains
oh, but you can come anytime you like
my door is always open

Discography

2013 - The Hinterhaus
2011 - "When The Nights Get Long" (XPN Holiday Single)
2007 - Serpentine
2005 - To An Unwitting Muse (EP)

Set List

Gillian has toured extensively throughout North America, Europe & Asia in a variety of settings and formats, as a solo act, with band backing, and as a guest collaborator.

In addition to her appearances as a solo singer-songwriting act, Gillian has also given masterclasses on non-traditional uses of the harp, worked with avant garde improv modern dancers in the 2011 Blindspot Festival, collaborated with electro-acoustic composition performances, completed State Department-funded tours of Russia & South America offering American Folk Music as a cultural supplement to students learning English as a second language, and spoken at school assemblies about her experiences as an independent musician.

Sample 60 min Set List:

Pulse
Back to Your Flat
Tell Me
The Canonization of Margot Price
Marrow
Saro (trad.)
The Hinterhaus
What'll I Do? (Irving Berlin)
Sweet Manhattan
The Mark
Silken String
Borrowed or Begged
Tamlin

Encore: The Butterfly Jig

For solo shows, se