Student Spotlight: Singer and band member Grace Carney ’17

by Will Tackett | 4/18/16 5:01pm

Grace Carney ’17 sings with the Rockapellas and is in a band with her brothers.

Although she is perhaps most well-known around campus for singing with the Rockapellas or as this year’s Dartmouth Idol winner, Grace Carney ’17 began her musical career as a drummer. Sort of.

“When [my brothers and I] were younger we used to do these little toddler drum circle things that our parents signed us up for,” she said. “We come from a pretty musical family. We’d sing at like family gatherings and stuff like that.”

Carney has a diverse musical background. She grew up taking classical cello lessons for 12 years and played in a few orchestras. In addition, she also participated in several choirs and singing groups when she was young, such as her church choir, a chamber choir in high school, a show choir and her high school’s all female a cappella group.

Carney’s family still plays a large role in her musical life today. She is the lead singer of her band, Grace and the Carnivore, an alternative rock group based in Boston, where she grew up and where her family currently lives. Carney formed Grace and the Carnivore with her two brothers, John Carney, who plays guitar and bass, and Robert Carney, who plays drums. The band also plays live shows with bassist John Margaris and lead guitarist Alex Fatato, longtime friends of the Carney family.

The group formed early on after the siblings received instruments as presents in their early teens.

“It started one Christmas in fifth or sixth grade, where our parents got me a guitar, Grace a bass, and Robert a drum set,” John Carney said. “From that point on, we started taking band lessons.”

The band initially started playing at theater and church events. By the time John Carney was in ninth grade, they started writing their own songs and playing in the street in Provincetown, Massachusetts, eventually progressing to a drag talent show in Provincetown called “Show Girls,” which helped the band’s musical career along.

This past spring and summer, Grace and the Carnivore recorded an album entitled “Look at Me” at Hanging Horse Studio in Norwood, Massachusetts. Bradford Krieger produced the record, which was released in July of that summer.

Much of the writing for the album and other Grace and the Carnivore songs was a collaborative effort between Grace Carney and John Carney. Grace Carney said that normally she writes the lyrics and then the two of them arrange the song together.

“I tend to write the lyrics and sometimes have an idea for a melody, but not always,” Grace Carney said. “Sometimes John will have a musical idea, and we’ll sort of meld things together. We figure it out.”

The first Grace and the Carnivore songs were influenced by jazz-pop musicians like Corinne Bailey Rae, Sara Bareilles and Etta James, but then they started to listen to a lot more rock music, especially bands from Boston like Speedy Ortiz and Lady Lamb.

“We started to really intake sounds from Boston’s basement show scene, especially because we wanted to play in that setting, so we wanted to write songs that people in those settings could appreciate,” John Carney said.

Grace Carney added that it was “the music [they] were listening to the most.”

Grace and John Carney work with a range of styles when writing, resulting in a somewhat varied repertoire.

“I would call certain songs on our album maybe more like grunge-y rock type things but then others are a little bit more pop-y or jazzy. It really depends on the song,” Grace Carney said.

Fellow Rockapellas member Sarah Petroni ’18 corroborated the jazzy component of Grace Carney’s voice.

“Her vocal style is almost kind of like a vintage, jazzy sound,” Petroni said. “Her voice is very distinctive.”

Grace and the Carnivore play a lot of shows in Boston, including one tomorrow at the Red Room of the Berklee College of Music’s Café 939. For most Grace and the Carnivore shows, Grace Carney travels to Boston to perform. Recently though, Carney performed much closer — playing at Friday Night Rock in Sarner Underground this term. Grace Carney particularly enjoyed the opportunity to show her music live to friends who had previously listened to it.

“I think it was great for the whole band, it was super fun,” she said. “It’s certainly very different for me to perform for someone than to show them my music.”

John Carney remarked that Dartmouth’s audience was much more engaged than Boston audiences.

“The scene in Boston doesn’t necessarily get into [the show] all that much all the time,” he said. “So playing up here is really, really fun and different.”

Grace Carney also sings for and is the musical director of the Rockapellas. Her association with the group actually predates her matriculation at Dartmouth; it started when she visited her senior spring.

“I sat in on a class called ‘Music in the Civil Rights Era; and that’s kind of like the Rocks’ deal, so there were like five Rockapellas in the class,” Grace Carney said. “When I came back, I connected with them.”

She eventually auditioned and then chose the Rockapellas over another group.

As musical director, Grace Carney plans rehearsals, chooses songs to sing, helps teach people their parts and conducts during shows. Petroni said that Grace Carney puts a lot of thought behind her decisions.

“Grace is a very thoughtful director, she always really encourages us to think about how current events pertain to what we’re singing,” Petroni said. “She really thinks about how we can get people thinking about these issues via the music.”