“When Cummings met Cummings.”

Grace: “Bloody hell your name is Cummings too!”

Bill Cummings “Are we are related”?

Grace: “I don’t know you don’t sound Irish to me!”

Bill: “I did one of those Ancestry tests and it came back I was mostly Irish, Sligo…”

Grace: “I mean it figures right. You’re the first Cummings I’ve spoken to!”

So starts a conversation between my surname twin Grace Cummings and I. Grace is an Australian artist with a hell of a voice and a biblical second album Storm Queen.

A near-lifelong musician, Cummings got her start as a drummer in a series of high school bands whose repertoire largely consisted of AC/DC and Jimi Hendrix covers. As she began writing songs of her own, she mined inspiration from artists like seminal Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly, Bob Dylan, and Spiritualized, as well as from the traditional Irish folk music her father often played at home.

Soon after striking out as a solo artist in the late 2010s, Cummings landed a deal with Flightless Records (a Melbourne-based record label founded by former King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard drummer Eric Moore) after they saw her play and signed her near enough on the spot. “I played a gig in Melbourne and Eric and Joey from Giz came along and after my set, Eric said do you have an album? We’d like to put it out!” She recalls “and I didn’t but I did and I got some stuff together and gave it to them the next day…”

Storm Queen is a record with its own peaks and valleys as vast and as varied as the Australian landscape, governed by an unruly climate, and towered over by Cummings’ devastating vocals, as heard on stage opening for the likes of Weyes Blood, Evan Dando and more.

“For this album, they were mostly written last year, maybe half of them were written in a couple of weeks before I recorded the album. The oldest song that’s written on it is ‘Up in Flames’ which I wrote in 2019 when the Notre Dame burnt down, which reminds me, that was the day it was written on. It was supposed to be on ‘Refuge Cove’, so I held on to it. But mostly I get sick and bored of songs if I hold on to them for too long. I’ve got to have something in it if I’m going to play it and perform.”

The scorched narrative and insistent strum of ‘Up in Flames‘ has a video recorded on her own roof due to her inability to tour during lockdown and the feeling that the song needed to be performed live to get over its urgent message. It is about witnessing the Notre Dame burn down in 2019 and “…about things literally and metaphorically being up in flames.. I also wrote it after some of the most horrific bush fires Australia had seen, it was pretty dire over here for the summer of 2019, it always is really in the summertime over here.” She reveals “One thing that was the impetus to write the song was going to swim at the beach and going down the cliff to the sand and they were all black and each wave the water was filled with these black charred gum leaves. The eucalyptus tree is Australian, and to see it all wash up all black and burnt from fires far away from where I was, was very sinister. That could be a metaphor for things in your own life that are a little trickier to grasp hold of. “

The stunning lead single ‘Heaven’ is a magisterial cry to the heavens in anguish indescribable frustration. With tips to the likes of the dramatic direct-to-the-heart poeticism of Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave, the enormity of the moment brings out religious imagery in the lyrics.

“It was a song that didn’t take a long time to write at all, it came out of nowhere as I was playing it, it kind of all came out”.

Cummings explains “I had Ave Maria in my head and I don’t know why, maybe I was going insane from the lockdown, maybe it was listening to Pavarotti and stuff, it just came quite quickly. I suppose it was all the things in my head at the time and what was swimming around in there when I was alone in the lockdown. I came up with these big concepts like heaven and God that gives you a kind of granduer; you are using these religious words not because you’re religious but using them for the weight of them. It’s the weight of the moment, you could use a swear word but it’s something else instead”.

The last few years of the pandemic did affect how the record was produced.

“I was forced to make a more minimal album because of the pandemic and not being able to get together with people and rehearse with people “She remembers, “It was very much mostly me except for a few songs like heaven which we played live together in a room. Jessie Williams who recorded half of the album plays on a lot of that half of the album. He plays guitar and organ and banjo, Kat a Maia plays fiddle throughout the album. My two most special on the record are Harry Cooper who plays the saxophone on the album and Miles Brown who plays the Theremin on the last song of the album (‘Fly a Kite’), which I think is just the most magic and coolest instrument I can think of on the album. It’s wild watching someone do that it’s just playing the air, it’s amazing, I’d like to write heaps more cool songs on the Theremin.”

Whilst things may be reopening a bit in the UK, the pandemic still rages on in Australia “Just in Victoria where I am we are still seeing 50,000 cases a day which is massive we are out of the lockdown but its so funny nobody wants to do anything, it’s like a dead town, it’s like a self-inflicted lockdown. I don’t particularly want to go into a busy restaurant and get COVID right now, it’s really hard for me as a musician and everyone else who works in the industry and plays shows. We just came back from Brisbane playing with King Gizzard up there. We played four shows up there then we got the call that we get so often saying shows are cancelled and we have to go home. It’s the ups and downs of it that are quite trying, but it has made me build a kind of resilience that I hope when things kick off again will make me a bit tougher.

With Storm Queen, Cummings distilled her vision down to its most elemental essence. “In the past, there were times when I’ve let other people’s opinions affect me too much,” she says. “But with this record, I learned that I’m allowed to influence myself instead of taking in anyone else’s ideas. I learned to completely trust what I see and hear in my head, and I stuck with that and just focused on creating what I love the most: something real and raw and ugly and beautiful.”

Having attended drama school, she’s also spent much of the past decade performing in the Australian theatre, and recently played the lead role in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Joanna Murray-Smith’s Berlin. Noting her eternal fondness for Shakespeare—“If anyone wants me to play Hamlet, I’ll do it”—Cummings has found her lyrical sensibilities indelibly informed by certain literary influences. “To me, poems and stories are sometimes more of an inspiration than music, because they don’t give you a melody; you have to just imagine your own,” she says.

With most songs captured within the first few takes and featuring unexpected flourishes by Cummings’ peers in Melbourne, the album showcases a vast and volatile emotional landscape, with Cummings relying on emotion and imagery rather than the traditional linear brand of songwriting, take the rich ‘Raglan‘ an epic homage to the street where Cummings’ rides her bike to visit her friends. “I tried to steer away from any kind of narrative writing like ‘Tangled up in blue’ or something because I’m not that good at it. What I love about other peoples work is not knowing what it’s about, and that it seems like it’s just for you and your ears. Whilst I can write something deeply personal to me nobody needs to know why, and it can hopefully connect or translate to somebody else. I think a lot of the time I don’t know, sometimes I form my opinions as the songs are coming out of my mouth, because you can just say something because you think it was the appropriate thing at the time. But you haven’t really analyzed it until you have to talk about it, then you are like ‘yeah fuck that’s what it means’ or maybe not.”

Spiritualized and J Spaceman is perhaps a surprising influence for a folk-influenced artist but Cummings admires their direct emotional brevity “I fucking love Spiritualized! I think they’re magnificent one of the things I love about them and J Spaceman so much is the simplicity of the melody he can sound like he’s writing an old-timey sound with his structure or melodies and they build up and up and up, they’re just huge and they’re grand.” She enthuses “J Spaceman is another person who uses the word god without a specific belief in it because it represents this unnamable divinity that he experiences in the world. It’s like so big you can’t describe it so let’s call it god you can’t get bigger than that, you still recognize the gravity of it the profundity of it, or the ideas.”

With a hell of an incredible voice that possesses more grit than a crumbling mountain’s edge in one breath then a powerful beauty on tracks like the swaying ‘Always New Days Away’ the brooding and shronking title track or the swooping ‘Dream‘, I wondered if Cummings had taken singing lessons to produce such an incredible sound? “It’s just what comes out of my mouth, to be honest. I’ve never tried to sing in a way that isn’t what I sound like” She explains “It’s just there. I’ve been able to have a lot more fun with singing and realising I can do a lot more than I think I can the more I sing, I kind of think painting or writing or acting or singing or any of these kinds of artistic things; where are you if you can’t go for it? If you hold yourself back.” I wonder if she has ever pushed her voice too far? “I’m not an idiot (laughs) but you just got to go for it, don’t you? I think that you’ve got to do both. There are laments that are quite considered but if you are performing if you feel a certain way just go with it, the next night could be different. But if you do it that way that’s a real thing and that’s important. It’s exciting when it’s not safe, isn’t it? But if I was pushing my voice I’d have a lot of trouble doing a tour I reckon.”

Grace Cummings plays a London headline show on 9th March + SXSW

Storm Queen is out now.

Image by Ian Laidlaw

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.