“I never knew the harp could sound like that!” is the most common response Gillian Grassie hears from first time audience members, followed closely by “…and that voice!” But then, no one plays the harp quite like Gillian.
“an innovator par excellence.” -Ticket Magazine
Abandoning a promising early career in traditional Celtic music that included numerous awards and an Edinburgh International Harp Festival debut at the tender age of fourteen, Gillian spent her late teens obsessively listening to the bass lines, guitar voicings, piano patterns, and even banjo picking of her favorite records, in search of a new percussive approach to her instrument that could support a vocal line. Simultaneously, she dismantled her classically trained vocal technique, experimenting with new tones and mimicking the phrasing of Billie Holiday, Björk, and Joni Mitchell. With Court & Spark as her compass rose, she also began developing a lyrical style that strove to be poetic without being esoteric. She graduated high school a year early and cut her teeth on open stages in Philadelphia, often taking her large instrument through the back to avoid the ID check at the front, and paying close attention to what would silence a noisy bar.
“It’s 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.” – Grammy-winner Marc Cohn.
Two EPs and two albums later, Gillian has sold out listening rooms from Sicily to Siberia, converting harp skeptics into devout followers with songs that challenge the conventions of her instrument and connect with listeners across cultures. She has carried her harp on her back and her heart on her sleeve across Europe, Asia, and the Americas, including tours for the State Department and Fulbright Program, and has conducted workshops and masterclasses for the American Harp Society, the National Clarsach Society, and the School Vor De Kunsten.
“Harfenspielerin Gillian Grassie ist hörbar eine Entdeckung…” STERN.de
Gillian delights in bringing the harp to unconventional spaces. She is equally comfortable performing at a private gala for HRH Prince Albert of Monaco as she is opening for Amanda Palmer, serenading a TEDx audience at The New York Times Center, or playing a multi-day wedding in India. Her innovative and effortless harpistry demands attention, but it is her exceptionally expressive voice and sophisticated but accessible songwriting that reels in her listeners – hook, line, and sinker.
“La delicatezza di Norah Jones unita in certi passaggi alla grinta di Adele ma con un particolare speciale che la rende unica: quello di unire la sua voce al suono dell’arpa, la capacità di sfiorare quelle corde e creare un momento magico, quasi etereo, rendendo il tutto molto soave ma allo stesso tempo sensuale, dolce ma accattivante, capace di coinvolgere e rapire.” –YES News, Italy
This trifecta of talents has earned her a prestigious Watson Fellowship, numerous accolades, major label offers, and the devotion of her fans, who crowdfunded her moody sophomore album, The Hinterhaus, produced by Todd Sickafoose (Anaïs Mitchell, Andrew Bird, Erin McKeown).
“…an awesome combination of Pippi Longstocking, drinking buddy, and the Mata Hari. Trust me, you never saw anything like this.” -The Beta Blog
Her latest release, The Woodlands Sessions EP, has been praised as “soulfull…ravishing…dazzling…” (Philadelphia Magazine) and showcases Gillian’s voice, which beckons listeners into intimate and sometimes devastating story-songs. After making a home for herself in the art-scene of Berlin over the past few years, Gillian is recently returned to the United States and currently hangs her hat in Los Angeles.
For fans of Bon Iver, Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, Adele, and Feist.
all photos by Shervin Lainez