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Grace period

Kilkenny singer-songwriter told David Hennessy why it’s hard to believe a song he wrote about his mental health struggles saved other people’s lives, being the only Irish male other than Niall Horan and Dermot Kennedy to have a top 20 hit in Ireland last year and signing an international deal with Sony.

It has been an incredible last twelve months for Robert Grace.

While his previous singles BoomerangGolden and Wanna love had gained airplay across Irish radio, it was his single Fake Fine, released last August, that went platinum in Ireland and spent five weeks at No 1 on both the Irish Homegrown charts and the Shazam Ireland Charts.

The track spent six months in the Irish Airplay charts and has amassed 10 million plays on Spotify.

He also signed a worldwide deal with music industry giants Sony and RCA and has amassed over 16.5 million streams to date.

He now boasts a following of over 1.7 million followers on TikTok and over 71, 000 followers on Instagram.

But of course, there was a pandemic running parallel to all of it.

Robert told The Irish World: “It definitely doesn’t feel real. I suppose it still hasn’t sunk in because most of this has happened and I’ve still been in my house.

“It’s happened through Covid and everything. Everything I see is online and it’s hard to believe that it’s real, that it’s real life because it’s all on your phone or on your computer.

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“I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything.”

Fake Fine saw Robert open up about his own mental health issues. The title Fake Fine refers to not wanting to feel better with the benefit of a pill. It struck a chord and Robert got word of the song having some poignant effects on people’s lives.

“That song was a very personal song.

“A huge amount of people struggle with mental health at some point in their life.

“It meant a lot to me, because it was so personal, that it did well.

“And as well as that, I got flooded with messages from people saying how much that song helped them.

“There’s been some who have said that it’s basically saved their lives.

“That’s hard to believe. I find it hard to even believe that because that’s such a sad and amazing thing if it’s true.

“It’s hard to believe that a song can save you from something really bad happening.

“But I’ve gotten loads of messages, loads and loads of messages: Even people using it in group therapy sessions.

“That was another message I got. They played it for everyone in therapy and everyone absolutely loved and everyone related to it and it made everyone feel closer, not alone.

“I always believed that music can lift you up but it’s the fact that it’s my song that I find it hard to believe.

“Because I made it, it’s hard to imagine that something I’ve made could have that effect on somebody else.”

Robert is just as revealing and open on his current single. Self features Norwegian artist Emma Steinbakken and is about fighting the inner monologue that tries to ruin every good situation that presents itself.

“I love this song so much because it’s about me. It IS me essentially. Super personal, super raw.

“This is probably one of my favourite songs I’ve written.”

If you are reading and thinking that Robert must be really intense or morose, that is far from the truth.

Robert is quick to clarify he is not depressed but that mental health is something he has to ‘struggle’ with on a daily basis.

He says: “I know it’s probably coming across like I’m the most depressed person in all of Ireland.

“But I’m not. I’m not depressed. I’m depressing alright,” he laughs.

“It’s a daily struggle.

“That’s why these songs are so important to me.

“These are really, really personal songs and it’s the first time since I’ve started releasing music that I’ve released songs that are this personal.

“Usually they’re made up or they’re love songs which are the usual as well.

“But these songs hold a different place in my heart. They’re different. It’s like a vulnerable side that you’re not used to showing.

“I have to say that with Fake Fine, I was afraid of what people would think of me after hearing it.

“Now that’s completely gone with this song.

“I don’t really care what people think of me anymore.”

Emma Steinbakken may not be well known over but the 18-year-old has already had a number 1 single in Norway and gained a huge following across Europe thanks to several million views on YouTube.

Alongside Dermot Kennedy and Niall Horan, Robert was only the third Irish male solo act to have a top 20 hit in Ireland last year.

“That’s crazy. Yeah, that’s still really hard to even believe.

“I feel like they were lying when they when they came out and said that.

“Because those two people are worldwide, huge and to be the only other person to do that is surreal.

“That was an amazing moment.”

Another amazing moment was when he got to perform the song on the Late Late Show. Of course in normal times, that would have involved a studio audience and meeting other celebrity guests.

However, Robert doesn’t lament that these things were missing as he got to enjoy it with his family.

“It was probably one of the top moments. You know in Ireland to play on the Late Late is the peak of performing on TV.

“My song was pre-recorded because they were only allowed a certain amount of people in the studio at one time.

“And then I got to go back home and actually watch it with my family which was actually probably better: To sit at home with my mum and dad and my wife and my son and just watch it on TV.

“Again, it was surreal because like it was hard to believe that it was actually happening even though I had done it. You know what I mean?”

Robert comes from a very musical family as his father played traditional music in the band Drop the Penny and now Keltic Kats.

His brother Joe was the singer in a band called Scuba Dice who some may remember from You’re a Star some years ago.

Robert and Emma Steinbakken.

The band would exit the 2007 competition at a late stage. Incidentally, this was the same year that 21 Demands, who have since become Kodaline, and Susan O’Neill were competing on the show.

What does Robert’s success mean to his father and brother?

“They’re over the moon for me as you can imagine.

“Because my father has been playing music a long time, my brother was in a band for years.

“There’s lots of people in my family who have put a lot of their life into music. It might not have necessarily worked out exactly the way they wanted it to work or might have thought it would.

“So for me to get this deal and for things to kind of go so well is huge, not only a huge success for me, but a huge success for my family in that finally someone has broke through that barrier and got somewhere, got to that next level in music.

“Every song I do, everything I do is always passed on to them for their opinion and their feedback and I really, really value it.”

Robert’s father is with him every step of the way, his brother is as well but from a distance as he now lives in Australia.

“If my dad can come with me, he comes with me. He wants to be there as much as he can, I love him to be there.

“Any extra time I get to spend with my father, I’m gonna take it regardless of what it is.

“And it’s always great to have him there. He’s a huge part of everything that’s going on. And if my brother was here, he’d be the same. He would be with me as much as he could.

“They’re super happy, super supportive. And, yeah, it’s just been amazing.”

From Graiguenamanagh in Co. Kilkenny, Robert has been writing songs since he was in his early teens.

“I just had a huge, huge passion for music. I always got excited about it, always got lost in it.

“I got to see my father playing a lot of music. And then I got to see my brother playing a lot of music as I got older as well.

“To be fair, my mum always sang and played the piano. So did my sister. My sister played the piano and the guitar, so I got to see all of that.

“And obviously, if you see your brother and sister who are older doing something, you want to do it even if you don’t know what it is.

“From an early age, I got sucked in because I wanted to do what they were doing. Or what my father was doing.

“Then I just started writing. I think the first song I wrote was called How I Feel Inside. It was extremely bad.

“How people told me it was good I don’t know.

“Maybe they just saw some sort of potential in it.

“But that was where it started. I just loved writing songs, loved singing and just got better and better. I’m not saying I’m great at singing. When I started off, I don’t know how people listened to me and was like, ‘Jesus, you will be a great singer’.”

Robert has performed at Irish festivals such as Electric Picnic and Indiependence in the past.

After live gigs being off the agenda for so long, Robert is coming over here to play London’s Colours (formerly Hoxton Bar & Kitchen) on 6 October.

“I really can’t wait for that to be honest.

“I’ve really, really missed gigs.

“I’m just hoping that everything goes ahead. I think that’s still the concern, you don’t want to get too excited. But I’m cautiously positive that things will go well.

“I really can’t wait to come over. It will be my first proper gig, any sort of gig, in London really. It’ll be really exciting.”

Self, featuring Emma Steinbakken, is out now.

For more information, you can search for Robert Grace on social media.

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