"I've been less of a scaredy cat lately," Grace Shaw, better known by her musical moniker Mallrat, says over the phone from Melbourne. She hasn't started bungee jumping or conducting P!NK-like stunts during her concerts - she's talking about her music. Driving Around, her third EP, ushers in a new era for the 20 year-old Australian pop artist. She's always been an honest songwriter but her this project feels even more open like she's crossed another boundary of expression.
The first single off the EP Charlie, a love song that also touches on familial relationships, is the tenderest song she's ever written. "I raised myself and that's alright," she sings as if she's standing 10-feet tall while also letting us into a part of her life that she hasn't touched on before. It's one thing to openly recount your teenage years but it's another to look back on your upbringing as a 20-something and then put it into song.
"I knew it was going to affect people and that's way more important than me being embarrassed," Shaw says when asked about whether she was scared to put out a song as honest as Charlie. As it turns out, she's been eager to release the song since she wrote it last December.
"I wanted to put it out straight away but the label didn't think it was a single so I had to constantly fight for it," she says. She was right to fight too. The song has remained on the triple j Most Played chart since its release and has notched up over 2 million streams on Spotify in just under a month.
Since the beginning, Shaw has worn her heart on her sleeve when it comes to her opinion on her own music. She's both critical and ambitious, noting that she doesn't like her debut single Suicide Blonde but is obsessed with Drive Me Round, the second track on Driving Music.
The song rides a synth-driven cloud as she delicately lays down her vocals. It's a heartwarming statement of loneliness and companionship that climaxes with a beat-change. At that point she joins her companion in a car. It's not where they're going that's important, it's that they're together.
"I've been listening to it all the time," she says, continuing the excitement on Twitter days later by raising anticipation for the beat switch.
Ambition is a dangerous thing for a musician in Australia to have but Shaw has it. This country's music industry, in particular, typically plays it cool when it comes to speaking about the strength of their work but she is a strong outlier.
"If you don't love what you're making you shouldn't be putting out. You should make it better," she says. That's not to say that everything she's put out is perfect. All of her projects are a reflection of her best at the time and she's not about to shy away from celebrating that.
In many ways, her last EP In The Sky was a breakthrough for her. It introduced a gentler, more sincere sound that now defines her as an artist. It also birthed Groceries - a song that earned her a top 10 placing in the triple j Hottest 100, garnered commercial airplay and also has more 35 million streams on Spotify.
Shaw admits when she released the EP she thought it was the best thing she'd ever written. A year later, she's handed the title the new EP. "My voice is stronger," she notes, adding, "I've noticed my own improvement."
Driving Music is the best project she's ever released. Her voice is more present than ever, not just because it's stronger but also because what she's saying is more profound. Made between LA and Melbourne, it's essentially a collection of songs about companionship - the warmth of being together and the isolation of being alone. There's a sense of innocence housed in the metaphor of driving, as expressed on Intro, but songs like Drive Me Round prove it's also liberating.
The relationship recounted on the EP is a complicated one. We're never sure whether the love is reciprocated but there's a warmth that the pair find with each other. "I know there's something missing, when you leave why don't you stay with me?" she sings on Circles. That same notion returns on the beautiful EP closer Stay which pointedly asks, "Do you want to stay with me?"
"I've got more confident in my songwriting," Shaw notes. Rightfully so too. While the last project looked to the sky for answers, Driving Music is planted in reality. It's sad and reflective at times but it also takes solace in the moment of contentment. They may be short but they're powerful like coming home to find your dog wagging its tail at the door.
Whether it's that or getting braces off, Shaw has the ability to find the emotion that's so often lost in the mundane. Great pop songwriters from Lana Del Rey to Lorde apply a close-up lens to situations. Shaw's ability to do the same suggests she's well on her way to joining that stable.