“Do what you love and love what you do,” musician Trace captioned an Instagram image from a late-summer premiere party for the new HBO Max comedy Rap Sh!t. “V inspired, absolutely blessed, and with regular amounts of sharpening stress.”
And it is that word rhythm that make her songs, you know, really sing. It is lyrics about heartbreak and emotional vulnerability—“my heart is loosely on the floor” and “finding truth is like fighting heavy shoulders,” respectively—that provoke two emotions: Shit this is sad but how beautiful is it, too?
Trace’s conversational-yet-unexpected stringing-together of syllables was surely a force in pushing the songwriter from business school and ad-agency dreams—she’s a former managing editor for Darling magazine—to her now-career of, as she puts it, “singing out loud in public,” which she’s been doing for seven years.
Influenced by and compared to the likes of Lana Del Rey and James Blake, Trace has a voice both lived-in and fresh, sultry and soothing, a little bit moody and a little bit sweet. She inherited her vocal chops—though they have completely different styles—from her mom, Vietnamese pop star Carol Kim, or “the Tina Turner of Vietnam,” according to LA Weekly.
As family traits go, musical prowess is one to belt loud and proud. But Trace, 35, doesn’t shy from another less (quotes are purposeful) “pretty” bit of DNA—and it’s just one more reason to admire her. “Anxiety runs in my family, so it feels very a part of me,” says Trace, who first noticed her anxiety around age 8. “I have generalized anxiety. Nothing specific, it just feels like a subtle ongoing anxiety. When I think about the future, I can get anxious. But I also love thinking about the future.”
Enter her 2018 anthem “Anxiety,” an awareness-raising partnership with NAMI California (NAMI = National Alliance on Mental Illness) that included a limited-edition “Anxiety” hat, with part of its proceeds going to the nonprofit org. “That’s the thing about anxiety,” Trace wrote in an essay that accompanied the tune’s release. “One minute you’re enjoying a snack in front of the TV, and the next you’re in the shower, bawling.” As she sings “Anxiety,” Trace comforts and commiserates, and in the end, we feel not angst, but…heard.
Q: Was “Anxiety” your first song about mental health? Is it inspired by your own emotions?
Looking back, the first single I released ever, “Heavy Shoulders,” stemmed from an anxiety I had in a season in my early twenties. I didn’t know what it was or what to call it. “Anxiety” was pretty straightforward, so when I wrote it, it was deliberate and conscious almost. I wrote the lyrics from a very personal place, personifying anxiety.
Q: How long have you been open about your own mental health issues? What are your hopes related to speaking and singing about mental health?
Ever since releasing my first EP in 2016, I’ve kind of known I wasn’t keeping my personal mental health to myself. But as listeners began to connect with me at shows or through social media, I was able to really see that they related to it through struggling with mental health as well—from anxiety to PTSD. So my hope is that people simply feel less alone through my music. I think healing can come from confession (when I write music) and a community who can rally around and for you. I think music easily does that. And I hope the conversation around mental health becomes more and more common, and less taboo, which I feel like it is already.
Q: Your Instagram bio says “emotionally sensational,” but it used to say “emotionally too available.” Details, please!
I’m very comfortable with being a sensitive person and feel a high degree of empathy toward things, and others. It was a play on the idea of being emotionally unavailable—all I really know are emotions, and it’s what I have to offer.
Q: What do you say to people on your IG feed who share their own issues?
I tell them how grateful I am to ever know something so personal, and that I truly do what I do for them.
Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to misconceptions of mental health?
That it’s a choice—or weakness.
Q: How do you manage your anxiety?
Through prayer, through people, through self-love, and always, always remembering this life is a major gift. Trying to always gain perspective and knowing that our thoughts aren’t always true.
Q: You mentioned prayer. Are you religious? Spiritual?
Prayer slows my brain down. Reminds me of what is true and present and that there is way too much to be grateful for to be truly sulking. Or to worry. I’m religious and spiritual in the sense that I believe both can complement one another. Spirituality has an openness about it that I find freedom in, where religion has a sense of foundation that builds upon the faith I hold.
Q: As for self-love… How do you actually do this on a daily basis?
Well, I maybe write a nerdy inspirational phrase or word on my mirror as a reminder. And also surround myself with people who also love themselves. Emotional intelligence and self-work is really important to me. In myself and in those directly around me.
Q: I love what you said: “Our thoughts aren’t always truth.” Can you elaborate on what type of thoughts you’re talking about?
When you believe lies that you hear from others, or that you believe about yourself. I think it’s important to know, everyone has a beautiful purpose on this earth—I believe that anyhow—and when I myself forget and start comparing myself or competing or feeling sorry for myself or get anxiety about where I need to be or whatever, I start to lose my sight on what is good and true. We live in a society where there’s a lot of trash thrown at us. I just think it’s important to not believe the lies.
Q: Ok, something lighter. I see you are a liquid liner pro! What’s your fave liner brand and what’s your technique for applying it so perfectly?
That’s a very new kind of compliment and I appreciate that. I recently started using a Benefit liner I love—it’s all about the brush for me. I think the technique is: Don’t hesitate.
Q: What else are you into? Do you play instruments? Avid reader?
I play the guitar and the piano oh so poorly. I enjoy reading but don’t do it enough.
Q: Favorite…food? Book? Color? Insta accounts to follow?
Favorite food: I love food so much. This is hard. My mom’s Vietnamese cooking, sushi, steak. I’m hungry.
Favorite book: East of Eden. A classic.
Favorite color: I’m loving a rusted orange-red right now.
Favorite IG accounts: @nowness, @sainthoax, @poetryisnotaluxury, @nytgender, and @the.holistic.psychologist
Now on her third EP, “Cry, Baby”—six tracks that Deviate Music Blog call “her best to date”—Trace’s alt-pop tunes get upwards of 33 million Spotify streams, and she’s currently working on a pilot loosely based on her life.