“My blood comes from / A scab I picked too early / And my sweat comes from / Global warming in February / My tears flow freely for / The life I could have had / I should have had,” Grace Givertz sings on the title track of her five song EP “The Light” that came out last October.
Givertz—who performs at PA’s Lounge in Somerville tonight (with a friend, Maggie Rosenberg, playing guitar for her) and then has a couple underground shows on Jan. 19 and Feb. 3—describes herself on her Bandcamp page as “a Boston based indie folk singer songwriter. With a large voice packed into a tiny body.” To be precise: 4 feet, 10 and ¾ inches tall, she tells me.
The 20-year-old’s voice is distinctive—gritty, boisterous, soulful, sunny—as she plays guitar, banjo, ukulele, harmonica and foot tambourine.
“The Light” is an album of songs that are sweet and salty, witty and resolute in the face of heartbreaks. As the chorus of the title song goes: “Maybe the light / At the end of the tunnel is just a train / I gotta face head on /See if I come out standing.”
“The Light,” she says, “is definitely about kicking life in the butt when it’s kicked you in the butt.”
“My family has been extremely supportive my entire life,” Givertz says. “I feel that’s why I’ve gotten to this point where I’m not even phased by getting hit by a bus.”
Yes, she says, she really got hit by a bus. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Givertz moved to Boston in August 2015 to attend Berklee College of Music. She’d come here under the impression that she had a scholarship, but, she says, not long after arriving she learned that “my scholarship didn’t exist.” The school told her, “So you have to pay full tuition or leave.”
I met her that September, when she performed as the closing act of the “Pity Party,” a funny-serious depress-tival that I organized with the Somerville Arts Council in Union Square. Her mom sat in the front row crying as Givertz stood on the stage performing a heartbreaking cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” for a rapt audience of hundreds of people.
So Givertz returned to her hometown of Jupiter, Florida, at the start of that October. She grew up there with her mother and father and an older sister. (Another older sister lives in England, where Givertz’s father is from.)
“I came home from Berklee and my Dad lost his job” that November, Givertz says. “Everything went downhill from there.”
She says the family ended up losing their house and becoming homeless in May and June of 2016. “Things got too expensive and we didn’t have any income. I was working three jobs. I was 18 years old. I couldn’t carry that,” Givertz says. “In all reality it wasn’t my responsibility. Part of me knew that.”
“We lost our house on a Thursday / It was just like any other Thursday / Because we’d lost our house / One too many times before,” Givertz sings in the final song on the EP, “Father’s Daughter.”
The chorus is variations on: “And I know that times are tough / And he’s just down on his luck / But I guess we’ll have to wait / Until tomorrow.”
“I’ve always had people in my life who are like, ‘Why don’t’ you hate your parents,’” Givertz says. “That song, it’s taking people through the good and the bad. … Just because there’s been hardship, you can still love them. My Dad is pretty cool.”
“I say, I’m still proud / to be my father’s daughter / Without him, I don’t know / How I could have ended up / Any stronger,” Givertz ends “Father’s Daughter.” “I love his whole heart / But with our time apart / I hope he learns to be / His daughter’s father.”
“I just wouldn’t want my parents to be made out as bad people because of the cards life dealt them,” Givertz says. “I want people to know he’s still good even if this is how it is, even if he couldn’t hold a job down or keep a roof over our heads. He was still a good person.”
“I actually wrote ‘Father’s Daughter’ in a hotel room,” Givertz tells me. They’d been living there “through my parents’ church. They were helping and people were helping, but at some point you need to help yourself. Which is what I needed to do. Which is why I came back to Boston.”
Givertz had kept coming back to Boston to visit. She re-auditioned at Berklee “and they didn’t give me a scholarship,” she says. “It ended up not working out. Which I think it the long run is better.”
But Boston was on her mind, drawing her back, because of the relationships she’d sparked during the few months she was here in 2015. “I think a lot of it was I had this in now. All these people I met in the month I went to Berklee. … a false hope that the Berklee community would still be there.”
These connections didn’t all hold up, Givertz says. But she found other friends and kept playing and writing songs.
Her songs tend to be partly autobiographical. “In the midst of writing them, I made them a lot more condensed. I made them a more dramatized thing for the song,” Givertz says.
The album includes breakup songs filled with longing as well as defiance. In “Not Your Girl,” she sings, “If we had met in another life / I wonder if I would be the one / That you’re holding tonight / Was it easier when things were pure / And intentions were in sight / I wanna believe that I’ve / Always been right about you / Because I don’t think I could / Ever forget about you.”
Givertz says, “Those are different experiences that happened to me and experiences that I know very well.
In Boston, she held down day jobs as customer service supervisor at a grocery store and a florist. She left the latter job because it was all adding up to too many hours.
Which brings us back to the bus. “I quit that florist job and 30 minutes later got hit by a bus,” Givertz says. “I was biking home. The Kenmore area by Fenway Park. And I went to merge and there’s this split between Comm. Ave. and Beacon … and the bus ‘didn’t see me.’ I was under the front bumper of the bus. I didn’t get run over with a wheel or anything.”
Since then, she says, “I’ve been gigging consistently. But I haven’t retained full motion in my shoulder.” Doctors “couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. It just kept getting worse and worse.” One diagnosis was rotator cuff tendonitis.
After months of physical therapy, she wasn’t seeing improvement, so the therapist sent her to get a second opinion. That doctor diagnosed the problem as a damaged AC (acromioclavicular) joint in between the collarbone and shoulder blade, Givertz says. A Cortisone shot made it feel better for a while.
“It’s pushed and it can’t go back into place. So they have to shave off part of my collarbone.” Surgery is scheduled for Jan. 24, she says.
“I’m in so much pain,” Givertz says. “I cannot play my instruments anymore. I can’t pick them up anymore. That’s not okay.”
Her songs deal with these troubles, but they sound bright.
“There’s no point in living a crappy life because you’ve been giving a crappy situation to deal with,” Givertz says. “That was instilled in me by my parents because we’ve had so many crappy things dealt to us and they haven’t batted an eye.”
She adds, “They luckily are living in a house now. And my Dad has a job. It’s getting better. But it definitely shapes you.”
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