Words / Jason Scott
TRACE could have easily followed in her mother’s footsteps in a very literal sense. While she does take cues from her mom Carol Kim, a legend of Vietnamese pop music who has released numerous albums over the decades and toured the globe, newcomer TRACE has already carved out her own alluring path. From her addictive 2016 debut EP, Low, to her new single “Blood and Bones,” a somber number depicting her unease with exposing her true self to people, she has a bright future beaming directly ahead of her.
Despite the shadow of her mother’s career which seems to follow her around, TRACE isn’t too concerned. She lets the music do the talking, and collectively, she’s wracked up more than 37 million streams across all her singles. That kind of reception makes total sense. The young singer-songwriter is the voice of an entire generation, and this is just the beginning.
We get to know the pop upstart and become thoroughly entranced by her delicate but commanding voice, onstage and off.
There is something so animalistic and raw about the image of blood and bones. How do they bounce off the unrequited love you were feeling?
I think when you like someone, sometimes it can feel uncontrollable. Maybe even so instinctual it feels animalistic. I wanted to give “love” an intense metaphor ⎯⎯ especially the kind that may not be mutual or understood.
Why do we, as humans, so often get caught up on romantic fantasies?
I know for me, I often fall prey to loving my ideas more than my own reality. It’s fun to make up things ⎯⎯ create your own world. There’s a creative freedom in fantasizing I would hope all people indulge in from time to time. On the other hand, I just think we can’t control where we let our minds go sometimes.
You’ve said the song is your way of “admitting that underneath the decorative and detailed surface of me, there’s a truth I’ll keep from you.” Does that stem from just not wanting to get your heart truly broken or does fear/uncertainty play into that?
I think when I wrote that I meant that I don’t think just anyone gets to receive the whole truth. Sure, it’s something I can use to distance myself from others and to protect myself in return, but it mainly stems from people, in general, thinking they deserve to know everything about someone without really working at it. It’s a difficult thing, getting to really know someone and the truths they hold.
Did you have a specific encounter which inspired this song?
Yes and no. I think it was just a moment I had at a show. To feel adored is really fun. But it hit me to think, if people really knew me at my best, I’d probably be a let down.
Generally, what has the dating scene been like for you?
My first reaction to this was THIS IS SO PERSONAL AND SEMI-EMBARRASSING. BUT, I’d say it’s been overall, uneventful. I don’t get asked out very often ⎯⎯ maybe ever. So, the scene is probably a boring one for any onlookers. Sure, I go on dates here and there (and actually enjoy them), but it’s almost becoming a tiring task. But I’m open to not be tired anymore for sure.
Does this feed into a new EP, and what role does it take on alongside your other new songs?
As I have been working on new stuff ever since my 2016 debut EP, I would say the theme has moved more and more towards “confidence,” as I am finding a stronger grasp around it with new and enlightening experiences. It’s also about calling things out for what they are ⎯⎯ about myself, about others, about things, like dating unfunny people kills my soul…
Since 2016’s Low EP, how have you sharpened your songwriting?
I think there’s more intentionality behind writing now. Before, it was like a “dream” to just float about my day and write a song if I felt like it. Now, songwriting is becoming more of a craft I’m learning to hone in on and hopefully be more disciplined with. It is, of course, still a dream to get to write, but I’m approaching it more professionally, perhaps, which in turn I hope sharpens and strengthens the things I create.
Is your music still “lonely with a beat,” would you say?
I’d say it’s more lonely than ever with a beat.
You are essentially “following in your mother’s footsteps.” Have you ever turned to her music as a way to learn and nurture your own?
I turn more towards her as a singer and performer when it comes to her influence on me. She has an immovable and persistent confidence that I admire so deeply.
Do you have a favorite song of your mother’s?
It’s an old Vietnamese folk song she used to sing to me before bed. I forget the name…
What has she taught you about storytelling?
To always ask questions if you want to know someone. People aren’t going to just tell you things every single time. That you have to create a space for people if you want a story worth hearing.
Does your cultural heritage play a role in how you approach music?
Not necessarily. I do write with an understanding that it’s a major privilege to get to do what I do for a living, because it was harder for my mom to pursue a career in music. But I approach music as a woman with just too many feelings.
CONNECT WITH TRACE: