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FIRST THINGS FIRST: GRACE PETTIS OF NOBODY’S GIRL

Friends forming a band is nothing new. But the way in which singers Grace Pettis, Rebecca Loebe and BettySoo became Nobody’s Girl was far from conventional.

“I like to say we reverse-engineered a band,” says Pettis with a laugh. “We did everything backward. We had signed a record deal, which was insane, because we signed the deal without a band name, without having played a show and only having written [about three songs]. But we’d been friends for a decade, so we just went for it.”

Three years after the Austin, Texas-based Americana-folk trio’s unusual union and the EP Waterline comes the first Nobody’s Girl album. The self-titled collection, released July 30 via Lucky Hound Music, features such stud Lone Star State guitarists as Charlie Sexton and David Grissom. It has nine originals written by Pettis, Loebe and BettySoo, plus two covers, one of which is a reverential rendition of Carole King’s “So Far Away.”

The kind of music Pettis makes with Loebe and BettySoo is a little different from what she liked during her early childhood, and that’s one of many significant music-related firsts from her life and career that she recently revisited.

Her first album:
Grace Pettis: “The first album that I paid for with my own allowance was Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I think I paid $15 or $20 for it the year it came out or maybe a couple of years later. I had wanted it for a long time. I was really obsessed with her. I was living in Atlanta and listening to a lot of R&B and hip-hop.”

Her first concert:
Pettis: “The Backstreet Boys was my first concert. It was in Atlanta, and it was a hookup because my babysitter knew somebody who knew somebody, so she had really good seats [and brought me along] — like suites, where there’s snacks and stuff. The problem was it was really far from actually seeing the stage, but it was very cozy up there.

“But the second concert that I went to was Bonnie Raitt in Atlanta. India.Arie was a special guest, and Robert Cray opened, and it really changed my life.”

First impressions of Rebecca and BettySoo, personally and professionally:
Pettis: “I should preface this by saying that when I met both of them, I was very young, but the age difference doesn’t feel like a lot now. … My first impression of Rebecca was just a queen bee: She was this queen bee, and all the other bees were just buzzing around her, trying to get gigs out of her or advice about college radio. And she was so sweet and generous and kind to everyone she met. She was a genuinely kind and generous person — and obviously talented. Her voice and her songwriting impressed me as well. She’s a kind writer; every song of hers has a piece of niceness in it.

“BettySoo, the first time I heard her, was when she won [the New Folk Competition in 2008] at the Kerrville Folk Festival [in Texas], and that was my first Kerrville. She was a goddess. She was onstage with her straw hat. … [Talking with her afterward] I remember thinking she was the funniest person I’d ever met.”

The first show with Rebecca and BettySoo:
Pettis: “We were an unnamed trio at the time. We weren’t even a trio — just three friends doing a tour, and the name of the tour was Sirens of South Austin. We were three songwriters who thought maybe we could make a little more [money] one time and drum up a little interest for us collectively playing in the round, campfire-style.

“Our first show on that tour was a showcase [right before] South by Southwest, a private, unofficial party at a friend’s place. This would have been 2018. We were pretty rough. Rebecca had flown in that day from Europe, so she was super jetlagged. We didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse. … We were still pretty rough during the first half of that tour. We would play shows and get up the next morning and cram in rehearsal before the next show, which was impossible because we were also driving and loading gear. But that first tour was really fun and got easier the further along we went, and the crowds got bigger the further along we went. There was this collective infectious energy about it. All of our fans were slightly different but with some crossover, so when they were in the same room, it felt really full and really great.”

The backstory on the album’s first single, “Kansas”:
Pettis: “We write all the songs together, something that we think sets us apart. We started with a chorus, which I believe I contributed. The idea was leaving your hometown and striking out on your own for the first time as a young person. We all have to get some distance between that place of origin, that family of origin, and sort of figure out who we are in the big world. And then maybe sometimes we find our way back.”

Her first thoughts when producer Michael Ramos suggested covering “So Far Away”:
Pettis:
 “Oh, I think I was immediately very intimidated. That was thought No. 1. And then thought No. 2 was, ‘Oh yeah, of course we want to do that.’ Because who doesn’t want the chance to do that? … Everybody with a heart or a brain is in love with that song. And probably the third thought I had was, ‘Oh God, if [King] ever by some miracle hears it one day, I hope she likes it.’ ”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Nobody’s Girl on tour (schedule subject to change):

Oct. 6: Rockwood Music Hall — New York

Oct. 7: Club Passim — Cambridge, Massachusetts

Oct. 8: The Linda — Albany, New York

Oct. 9: On the Square — Oxford, New York

Photo by Valerie Fremin

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