South African songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Manu Grace is one of the most striking acts to emerge from the South African alternative music scene. Her sound can be described as ‘Sensitive Pop’ — unguarded and groovy; appealing to both heart and feet alike. Raised in a creative family, Manu grew up with plenty of room for her imagination to thrive. For as long as she can remember, music has been her primary interest have always had a piano in the house, Manu begged and begged for lessons until her hands were finally deemed big enough. She later picked up guitar and bass, using her precious screen-time to print guitar tabs off the Internet.
At 15, she wrote her first full composition the day her baby brother came home from the hospital. “It was a sweet tribute to the new little pipsqueak”. From there, songwriting became second nature and although she was shy in regular life, she had an innate drive to get on stage at any possible opportunity. “It’s weird how you can be so drawn to something with such a deep sense of knowing”.
No Room for Error. This EP reflects Manu’s inner and outer world over the course of an eventful couple of months of love, loss and visa runs. It trails her travels chronologically and the project reads like a story. No
Room for Error is a bold unlocking of freedom and femininity — unabashed about desire; vulnerable and fierce. “I approached the process with a sense of freedom and fearlessness — no idea was ever too wild, and I really love working like that.”
For those that have never heard your music, how would you describe your sound?
That one is hard, hmm I don’t know? For a long time, I was allergic to the word pop but I think alternative pop is a good way to put it – there’s a lot of storytelling and maybe it’s too honest. I don’t know, I like to call it sensitive pop if that is even a thing ahaha.
You say you grew up in a creative family, so since you’re a musician, what do the rest of your family do?
My fathers an architect by profession but he’s an incredible poet and writer, my moms a novelist and screen writer, my brother is a film maker so we each kind of picked our niche! However, I do think that sometimes we can get a little over-involved in each others projects, like at the start of lockdown my older brother, myself and our two little brothers – we were all in our moms house, stuck at home and he’s a cinematographer so we shot a music video in the house with the children, the chickens and the dogs, so that’ll come out soon if we don’t change our minds ahaha.
What did you learn from being in a band – the Aztec sapphires”
It was a very short- lived experience but very fun. This was my first time playing with anyone, I did classical piano and my version of music was always me writing my own songs then playing base guitar by myself so they deffo taught me lot, especially in terms of performing.
No room for error what is it about?
I started on it last year may, I work with two collaborators – Russ and Robin and they were in cape town in may – whenever we’re in the same city we just cram. Then rob moved to berlin and Russ moved to London and we started working on a few tracks, I went to Italy to au pair in order to afford to be able to go to Berlin and record with them, with the intention of bringing the songs that we had already been working on. So we worked on it in Berlin, I spent every waking moment in the studio for like 10 whole days and it was really really fun, then i had to come back to cape town because of visa stuff, then I went back to London to finish all the vocal recordings. The intention was to move to London, i initially only came back thinking id be here for two, three weeks but thanks to lockdown I’ve been here ever since ahahaha
How does it compare to your debut ep June?
It feels a lot bolder, if i can say that. I just feel that over the course of making it I was growing a lot as a human and i think it shows. it’s also a lot less careful if that makes sense, I really love it, I don’t know if i can say that but I am really proud of it. It just feels really authentic. It feels more confident because I sound more confident
Do you have any expectations for your new ep, especially with how successful the last one was?
I just want to create music.
If you weren’t doing music, what would you be doing?
I think about that all the time. I have no idea because I feel like I have limited myself so much that there is no backup plan so this HAS to be my thing. But I don’t know, I mean I have done lots of things, I studied English at UCT and I have done teaching – teaching piano but I am realising now that whenever I have needed money, I have always gone for odd jobs that you can’t really turn into a career.
I saw that you used to be a shy person, over time have you gotten over this and gained more confidence?
I’ve always been quiet shy socially, but weirdly the performance thing has always come naturally and to this day I am still perplexed by it. It’s a very strange phenomenon
What valuable lessons have learned from Ross and Robin (of Beatenberg)
With them, it’s really fun because we’re really good friends and I just feel so safe with them and I don’t know, with this project especially, I was encouraged to have no inhibitions and I felt free to do what I wanted to do creatively. The whole process was really freeing and fun. I miss them!!!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Obviosuly the dream is for my music to go as far as it possibly can, I just want it to be heard, if i can sustain myself all my life from just doing music then that’s it. That’s literally just it.
Listen to her top tracks here;