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Fabulous Flip Sides of Patti Smith with Gracie and Rachel

Keyboardist Gracie Coates and violinist Rachel Ruggles discuss their gentle atmospheric album “Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong” on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records
Gracie and Rachel album

GOLDMINE: Ladies, congratulations on Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong. It is so soothing in a year when we need peaceful escape and it even calmed my dog Ringo today when we had painters throughout the house. He can be a hyperactive Chihuahua. Holding him and putting your music on did the trick. So, thank you.

GRACIE COATES: Awe. You are welcome. We always felt we were dog calmers and now our destiny has come true, ha ha.

GM: Let’s start with one of your influences, Patti Smith. I first became aware of her through The Doors. On Ray Manzarek’s second solo album, The Whole Thing Started with Rock & Roll Now It’s Out of Control, in 1974, she recited a Jim Morrison poem in the middle of Ray’s song “I Wake Up Screaming.” She was listed as a poetess on the album. I anxiously awaited for her debut album the following year, Horses, which includes one of my favorite songs of hers, “Free Money.”

GC: Patti Smith has been a big influence for me since I was a bit younger. I fell in love with her book Just Kids before diving into her music. She wrote the book with such artistic prowess, about moving to New York, with an unrelenting confidence without knowing how things would turn out for her. It was really inspiring for me as a young artist and for Rachel too, I think, for us to move to New York without much of a plan, but knowing that we wanted to try to will our way. Musically, her flip side “Wild Leaves” is a great example of what we enjoy. It has a Gregorian chant style to it, with classical and marching elements, which Rachel was pointing out, listening to it again today in preparation for our Goldmine session with you. Your picking out “Wild Leaves” is a nice comparison to our sound. Rachel’s classical background adds those kinds of textures and harmonies to what we do. “Wild Leaves” also doesn’t pay attention to form, and that is something that we have really been moved by. Both sides of the single, “People Have the Power”/”Wild Leaves,” are so different but both expose Patti Smith’s brevity of sound and architecture of lyrics and how she wants to reach you. You mentioned “Free Money,” which is another song that we both enjoy. That one is passionate, pulsating, and kind of feisty. I think that has a very empowering sentiment and she has a lot of that in her music.

1975 debut album

1975 debut album

Patti Smith

Flip side: Wild Leaves

A side: People Have the Power

Debut: 1988

Arista AS1-9689

Gracie and Rachel flip side

GM: My wife Donna’s favorite Patti Smith song is “Because the Night” and her favorite film is Love Actually, which includes a scene where a male character walks outside in the cold, after hiding his love of his best friend’s newlywed wife while she watches a wedding video he shot, and Dido’s “Here With Me” is playing. Also, our daughter Brianna took me to a Florence + The Machine concert as a Father’s Day gift. When I listen to your song “Trust,” I think of Dido and Florence + The Machine.

GC: We love Florence. She has a powerful voice and takes you on a journey melodically that we are really moved by, so that feels right on, and Dido couldn’t be more on the nose as far as somebody who we really love. We have sung her music in the car while we were on tour and thought of doing a cover of one of her songs. Now we will have to do that.

GM: When you play live, you also have a drummer join you.

GC: Yes, sometimes. Right before we had to be quarantined, we were invited on two tours and on both of them, we were invited as just a duo. We weren’t thrilled about not having our drummer at first, so Rachel started taking over a lot of the drum parts on her electronic drum and we just had to figure out how to fill out the songs with harmony, with the two of us singing more. We love playing with drummers and having things feel as organic as they can, so this was a cool challenge as we learned that we would not be seeing any drummers for quite a while in 2020. A majority of our most recent touring has been opening for Ani DiFranco, who signed us to her Righteous Babe Records for this album.

GM: I enjoy the videos that you have released to go with the new songs. With “Underneath,” when you are removing layers of clothing to get “underneath,” as artistic at that is, I was reminded of The Three Stooges with their pajamas underneath their suits. Joking, aside, it is a beautiful video and looks so freeing.

RACHEL RUGGLES: Whoa, that is great. Ha ha. It was freezing and freeing.

GC: Yes it was a freeing experience and a terrifying one. It was a cold day and was shot after it had rained. We did the takes a number of times, and you are derobing a number of times and one of us would wrap the other in a coat. It was a demanding shoot as it had to be one full take through for each of us. It was quite liberating to run freely in the sand dunes.

RR: Somebody would trip, taking off that layer of pants and we would have to start all over again. Arrgh!

GM: Lyrically, I love the line “I leave the radio on.” Growing up, in high school, I did that too. I loved to listen to music in bed each night. You sing, “I leave it on a station where I don’t have to sing along.” Again, I think about your music where I can listen to your music in the background throughout the day, enjoy it, and I don’t get distracted.

RR: We do hope to distract you a little bit, here and there, but also leave you alone to do what you need to do.

GC: Leaving the radio on does become meditative for us. When we listen to live music on the radio, we feel connected and imagine being in the clubs. We love that spirit in the city, but also love to be shut off from it.

GM: On “Stranger,” your piano, Gracie, comes through beautifully.

GC: Thank you. I started playing piano when I was about six or seven years old. My teacher combined classical and jazz styles. I would do a Bach piece here and a Scott Joplin piece there. I would start to deconstruct the Bach pieces to be a little bit more of my own style and my teacher encouraged me to create healthy musical ideas out of those songs. I didn’t have a regimented training program like Rachel’s background, who has taught me more on theory and harmony. I started songwriting when I was fourteen, making it up as I went, being a terrible sight reader.

RR: Gracie was a one woman show, being her own songwriter and always wanted it to be rhythmic and contain low bass notes, so she still plays a lot with her left hand, pushing it along because she didn’t have a bass player and then keeping her right hand quirky and playful.

GC: Now when I play with Rachel, she says that I can calm it down because she is playing her parts. We have been doing this a long time. We met in high school in California and then we moved apart. I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston.

RR: I went to Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington. I was part of the classical program where you study violin performance.

GM: I love your violin on “Speak,” your song with the brand new video, which we will be featuring at the end of the article. The dancer in the video, Myssi Robinson, told me, “Shooting this video was really special, a return to interpretation and expression after the dark, isolating beginnings of this pandemic. The process was very organic and set within a deeply healing place with a compassionate group of creators. I hope it encourages folks to exit the boxes that are no longer serving them, and of course, to support Gracie and Rachel's unique symbiotic artistry." I am so happy that she made it out of the box at the end of the video. Now, back to your playing Rachel, I am so impressed with your pizzicato technique on “Ideas.”

GC: I love that part.

RR: I think it was just a very serendipitous moment where I just sat down next to Gracie and that’s the first thing that came out and we said, “That’s it!” Gracie is the magical poet of us both and we try to not let the music get in the way.

GC: Rachel has been writing more of the melody lines and she would mumble things, where the future words were so specifically placed in a sentence and I would fill in a word to each of her melodies, but at the end of the day we feel equal as neither of us will sign off on lyrics that we don’t like or a sound that we don’t love. It is collaborative.

GM: As the album ends with the song “Around,” the lyrics stand out, “Forgive me Mama, for I have sinned. I feel the earth shake. I feel my heart break. Now that you’re not around. I need you.” This is powerfully emotional.

RR: I think that song is bigger than a singular experience of not having your mother around. We have become each other’s mothers in a way. We need to be on our own, but we also feel that we can be mothered in various ways.

GM: The instruments sound so full on the album.

RR: In addition to violin, I play a bit of viola, cello, and keyboards.

GC: Rachel will also use pedals with her violin, which will give it a lower sound, where listeners might assume it is a viola.

RR: I like playing the acoustic violin, amplified. I have given electric violins a shot, but I missed the weight distribution and the absence of the woodiness of the instrument and how that resonates. I am a traditionalist, in that way.

GC: I play an electric piano keyboard. We have a mute pedal that we use in our loft. We don’t share a wall on one side and our neighbors have been wonderfully supportive of our music. We used to have a drummer who lived downstairs and sometimes he would only ask us to be quiet for twenty minutes when he needed to record something. So it is a wonderful artistic community and we appreciate your support, too. We love how you are so thoughtful and intentional with your pieces and we are excited to be a part of it. Thank you for having us in your series.

Watch the new Speak video - music by Gracie and Rachel, featuring dancer Myssi Robinson

Kyle Marshall – Choreographer:

Myssi Robinson – Dancer:

Evan Chapman of Four Ten Media – Director: and

Photo by Tonje Thilesen, courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Photo by Tonje Thilesen, courtesy of Shore Fire Media

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