Since her debut single 83, Mvlholland has been crafting gorgeous gems of alt-pop, and her latest single Foreign Obstacles is no exception.
Moving between New York, Los Angeles, London, Bali, and Australia, Grace Mulholland aka. Mvlholland has been writing music since the age of 11. Her family’s house in Bali was frequently visited by some of the most iconic names in music, from Divinyl’s frontwoman Chrissy Amphlett to Bono, inspiring her to pursue a career in music.
Since moving to Australia, Grace taught herself how to sing, write songs, and play multiple instruments, developing a songwriting style that is distinctly hers. Yesterday, Mvlholland released her fourth single, Foreign Obstacles, paired with a music video that is nothing short of cinematic. I caught up with Grace to talk about love, loss, psychics, and everything in between.
HAPPY: First of all, congrats on the new single. It’s absolutely incredible.
MVLHOLLAND: Thank you!
HAPPY: I love the way that you write about specific aspects of love that everyone kind of experiences, but no one really talks about because it’s hard to articulate. Can you tell us a bit about the story behind Foreign Obstacles?
MVLHOLLAND: Yeah! Yeah, I can. So I wrote it with my really good friend and my main collaborator, Lachlan Bostock (Mansionair), and we’ve written 83 and But I Like It before so this was our third session. And every song that we’d written had gotten pushed to release, so we were like, ‘no pressure, whatever,’ but it kind of felt like there was pressure. We wanted to make it fun, and something fresh, and something new, so we decided to make an entire song out of my vocals. So every sound you hear in the song is my vocal… the bass, I don’t even know what it is, but there’s like videos of me in the studio going like this *dust-off claps* doing the weirdest shit.
I was falling in love at the time… I’m not with him anymore, but at the time I had just gotten together with this guy who I was with for a little while, and when we were doing stuff, I would kind of think, ‘Wow, this is like something that I know I’m going to forget, but it’s going to make our relationship what it is.’ So I remember one night I was really upset about something. It obviously wasn’t that important because I can’t remember it, but he came and picked me up and I just sat in his car and I was crying and I was apologising for crying and he was like, ‘This is what this is. This is what we are. I love that you can do this with me and I want to be able to do it with you.’ And I was like, ‘It’s so beautiful.’
And I remember writing that and that’s when I said, ‘I’m just going to sing a bunch of different things that I’ve written.’ I just took moments of how I’d loved and how I’d felt loved, you know, like that feeling when you’re first with someone and then they’re not there and you spend your first week away or your first two weeks, where I came to Sydney to write and we’d spend pretty much every day together for three months and it just felt so weird.
And it’s really not a healthy feeling. It felt so strange not having him with me at parties and rooms and meetings. He definitely wasn’t meant to come with me to meetings, but like I wanted him there with me and I didn’t know how to express that. So I think the song was sort of just me trying to show just how much you can love someone, like in a way, you know what I mean?
HAPPY: Yeah I definitely get that. So with such personal thoughts as lyrics, how do you go about turning your internal monologue into a music video after the track’s finished?
MVLHOLLAND: So the music video, I only made it in January, so we only did it about six, seven weeks ago. It kind of came very quickly, and me and this guy, we ended about seven months before that, so I had a lot of time to reflect and decompress and to get over it. And essentially by the time we filmed that, I was over it and we talked about releasing the song last year and I was like, ‘There’s no was I’m going to be able to listen to this for the next three months straight and advertise it and talk about it and actually be able to give it my all because it feels so fresh.’ But every scene that you see was something that I did and something that felt important and something that stuck to me. Even seven months after our break up, I still had it fresh in my mind. And I’m so lucky because Catie Allen and Jay Button, who I did the video with, it was just us three pretty much, and the talent – his name’s Sol.
I had a FaceTime call with Katie and every idea that she had, I had thought of and every idea that I had, she thought of. So it was the easiest and most organic music video I think I’ve done. It was so, so simple. It looks like there was a lot put into it, but it kind of just happened.
HAPPY: Yeah nice. I find that even without the visuals, your songwriting always tells immersive narratives. Where did you develop such a strong passion for storytelling?
MVLHOLLAND: I actually did a lot of acting when I was younger. I went to acting classes like four days a week, and when I was 15, I got an acting agent in Australia, and I got one in LA and we were talking about me going to LA for pilot season and I was really, really into it. I was doing four auditions a week for like Fox movie productions and Netflix shows like The Crown and some crazy shit. And I always found I got close, but I never really fit the picture.
I think I saw acting as my career, but music as something that I loved. And so I just sort of flipped it around and I was like, ‘Why can’t I put my acting into my music?’ So I think every time I write a song, I almost picture the movie that comes along with it. Like the visual diary that it contains. And I think that comes from me never fitting into someone else’s picture. I always try to make the clearest picture I possibly can within what I write.
HAPPY: Oh wow, speaking of LA, I read that you had a pretty interesting childhood, moving between places like LA, London and Bali, and living in Australia for a while as well. Did that play a part in influencing your music?
MVLHOLLAND: I think it started my songwriting. I didn’t write when I was in Bali. I was a little surf rat, on the beach every day. But I think when you’re in Bali, you don’t really think about when you grow up. The majority of my friends I went to school with became professional surfers, so I really took the complete opposite route to them. But I think when I moved to Australia, my life got quite difficult. I don’t know… it’s hard to say that it was difficult because I still had a roof over my head, I was still being fed, I still went to school, but I got really bullied, my family fell apart, both my parents lost the career that they had been working for so long.
And music kind of just felt like my scapegoat, and I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it without sounding like I was complaining or ungrateful. But when I wrote songs about it, it felt like I could get my point across in a way that wasn’t aggressive and it wasn’t like I was attacking anyone, it was just explaining how I was feeling.
Now it’s different. Now when I’m sad, I don’t like to write music. I’ll be like, ‘I don’t want to do anything and just stay in my bed and watch movies.’ But when I was younger, every time I would go through a dark patch, or things would get a little bit difficult, I would write my best songs, and I think that just sort of encouraged me into the field of songwriting.
HAPPY: Has music always come naturally to you?
MVLHOLLAND: I love singing. But I was tone-deaf. Like, I’m not exaggerating. When I sang, it was like *sings badly*… it sounded fucking awful. But I sang so much because I loved it until I got to the point where my dad heard me and he was like, ‘Oh, that wasn’t actually half bad.’ My dad’s very, very honest. My mum is my biggest fan and she will tell me I’m incredible no matter what. She’ll deny it, but even if I sound like a piece of garbage, she’ll be like, ‘sweetie, you’re amazing.’ But dad was pretty lethal with what he told me, so when he said, ‘that wasn’t bad’, I remember it so clearly. I was in a car and I was 12… no, I was like 14 years old… no, 12 years old. *laughs*
I obviously can’t remember that clearly if I don’t know how old I was. But yeah, I think because I had so many people in my life that were musicians, I found it very accessible. I think a lot of people that become artists, they grow up and they don’t know anyone personally and then they gradually meet other artists and they gradually meet people that write music. But like, Chrissy Amphlett (of the Divinyls) taught me how to mouth I Touch Myself before I was five years old. I couldn’t sing for shit, but she taught me the lyrics.
I had so many people that had their dreams exactly where they wanted them to be, that it felt like I could reach it if I just tried hard enough. And I think that’s definitely a reason I pushed and I tried and I gave it my all. It was because my parents supported me 100%. I think it’s so important to have your parents behind you, and because I just had so many people around me that had what they wanted, it didn’t feel impossible.
HAPPY: Having influences like Chrissy around you from such a young age, when you went to develop your own career, did you find it difficult to find your trademark sounds because you had such strong mentorship?
MVLHOLLAND: I wouldn’t say it was hard… but it took a while. It was a lot of trial and error, a lot of writing sessions that didn’t go anywhere. It was a lot of meeting people that I literally haven’t seen since the day that I met them. But I was really, really lucky because I did a year of writing in London and I didn’t really get anything that I wanted out of it. And I was like, ‘Oh, music’s terrible. I’m moving home. I’m not doing it anymore.’ And my dad really believed in me, and he found me my manager now, Greg, who’s like my second dad.
He’s so beautiful and so caring, and I think the reason I still do music is because of Greg, because he’s so nurturing and he gives me and helps me get exactly what I need. But I was lucky enough to write with Lachlan on my third day of writing when I got home, so I knew what I wanted. It took me a while to realize that he was it, and that was like the thing that I was going for. But I think I kind of knew all along. Once I wrote 83, I was like, ‘This sounds different. And I like it, but this is good.’
I didn’t really compare myself too much, I think because I got compared a lot to my mum when I was growing up. She was a model. I look a lot like her and I tried not to do that myself because other people would do it to me. So when it came to music, no one else in my family had done it. I was the first one. My grandad sang, but he wasn’t a singer or anything. So I was sort of just like, ‘this is my arena, this is what I’m doing. This is no one else. I can pick it. I could choose it like I could make exactly what I want to make and I have no one to compare myself to.’
HAPPY: And is it true that there was a fortune teller that predicted you would be a musician long before it happened?
MVLHOLLAND: Yes! When I was five. My mum loves fortune tellers and all that kind of stuff. I think it gives her comfort. I’m the same, I Google the end of movies. I’m terrible. Like in life, if I could know my entire life and how it’s going to pan out, I would. I know that’s a problem but… my mum saw a fortune teller and she’s like, ‘Oh, your daughter, your daughter, she’s going to do something incredible with music.’
And my mum was like ‘what?’. And she was like, ‘I don’t know what it is, but she’s going to make an impact and she’s going to do something.’ And I haven’t exactly made an impact yet, but it’s giving me faith because if she was semi right, then she has to be fully right. I’m just going to listen, take it in my stride and try to make her proud.
HAPPY: Have you had any other mind-blowing experiences with psychics?
MVLHOLLAND: I honestly… let me think. My mum saw another psychic two years ago and he said that I would be really big in Japan and I think it was South Australia. It was very specific, but very random places and… And, oh, okay, this one’s good. When I was like 16, I remember telling my aunty who’s quite traditional that I was dropping out of school and I was going to be an actress and musician and that was my plan. And she’s like, ‘Okay, what’s your plan B?’
And I was like, ‘Oh’, and then I kind of started to panic because I was like ‘shit. I need a Plan B. I didn’t think this through.’ And my parents always encouraged me, ‘Just do what you want. Just go for that and then we’ll figure it out if it doesn’t work.’ And my dad looked at her and he was like, ‘she doesn’t need a fucking plan B, she can do whatever she wants to do.’ And my dad was talking to a fortune teller about a year ago and was like, ‘Oh, I just wanna ask you about my daughter.’ And the fortune teller was like, ‘Oh, the singer?’ He was like, ‘Yeah.’ And he was like, ‘She doesn’t need a plan B, tell her not to worry.’ That was really weird. I was like, ‘Woahhhh, so scary.’
HAPPY: No way.
MVLHOLLAND: Yeah, that was probably the only other really weird experience. So on the dot.
HAPPY: Oh wow. And they didn’t know anything about the whole conversation about having a plan B or anything?
MVLHOLLAND: Nope. No idea. Unless they were like, at the restaurant, but I highly doubt it *laughs*.
HAPPY: They’ve bugged every restaurant nearby, so they can listen in to every convo.
MVLHOLLAND: Maybe they’re stalking me. Maybe they do know what’s going to happen, who knows? But yeah, I thought that was very interesting.
HAPPY: Yeah, wow. Well, it was absolutely lovely chatting with you. Thank you very much for that.
MVLHOLLAND: Thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it.
Foreign Obstacles is out now, listen to it here.
Interview by Lochie Schuster