In a little pre-revolutionary war town in New Jersey, a young singer with an old soul used quarantine to craft a blues-ballad dream of a country-pop rock album. Grace Kerlin is as soulful as she is wise. She is only a senior in high school, but Kerlin has more foresight and perception than many people have before the age of 25. This wisdom is reflected in her songs and doesn’t speak of the usual angst that, say, Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift sang about at her age. Kerlin sings of relevant events, both personal and communal. Of feeling and searching, which is what makes the name of her debut, “Trying to Find”, pitch-perfect.
In 2019, Kerlin recorded and released her EP, “Young Anyway,” which is also the name of a track that made its way onto her debut. On the success of “Young Anyway,” Kerlin followed with her first full-length album. She had plenty of help piecing her thoughts together to create “Trying to Find,” particularly from her father, Michael Kerlin, her producer/manager, and New Jersey music legends Ernie White (her guitar instructor) and drummer Mark Sacco, making “Trying to Find”an impressive debut.
Kerlin cites The Chicks (previously The Dixie Chicks) as a musical influence and her father as her primary influence.“My dad [Michael Kerlin] is a huge influence on me. Not only does he help me with my music but he pushes me to work hard and be the best person I can be. When we started recording ‘Over Again,’ which was the first song we recorded on the album, I didn’t think we were going to make a whole album. We started this project during quarantine, so we had the time to sit down and work on music. We would find random songs laying around my room and decided to add them since we had the time. Eventually, we had 10 songs and decided to put them together to make ‘Trying to Find.’”
After spending an extensive amount of time with Kerlin’s music on repeat, I thought I found synchronicities between certain tracks. For example, “Leading You On,” comes from the perspective of a concerned, empathic individual who is trying to warn a naive friend about a playboy. While on the flip side, “Unresistable” could very well be from the perspective of the naive friend. So, I asked if anything in particular inspired ‘Trying to Find.”’
“Overall, I don’t think that there was one influence that helped me write the songs on the album.” Kerlin remarks on my question of inspiration. “Some of the songs were written more than three years ago and some I wrote over the summer [of 2020]. This album was an opportunity to finally share the songs I had been writing over the years.”
“Leading You On” is my personal favorite, but perhaps I’m biased because I can resonate with being the intuitive friend that’s been the one to say ‘Honey, he’s leading you on,’ while sighing helplessly because I know they’re not listening to me. Plus, the intro’s cowbell immediately made me think of the background beat of “Rock N Roll” by The Runaways, and reminding me even vaguely of the godmothers of American punk gives you points in my book.
However, Kerlin may just be taking a page from Interpol’s Paul Banks, preferring to keep song inspiration, meaning, and her muses private. All the while thinking: You were listening, right? What more do you want? And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact, I respect it. Besides, sometimes stamping a firm meaning on art can dismantle the beauty it already holds for the audience.
There is a deep contemplation in Kerlin’s work, a kind that is etched within her very expression. As they say, it’s in the eyes, and whatever it is, Kerlin has it. She is no mere youth. Kerlin’s words are evidence that she feels deeply, and with that, can tug at the heartstrings of listeners of all ages. Kerlin shares with us not only her keen sense of awareness and depth of feeling but her melting pot of musical interests. While her music is heavily influenced by country, there are also hints of other genres like R&B and Latin. The result is a storied album of ballads that echo themes of fragility, wisened relationships destined to grow cold, and the intuition that the life in which she and her peers reside is but a blip on the radar of life. Such a temporary state, Kerlin seems to understand, is hardly the tip of one’s life. Something that is almost always inconceivable to the young.
This element is particularly strong in “Lasting Love,” which seems to be searching for love in a very superficial world where true love appears lost and companionship is as disposable as a take-out box and as careless as the swipe of a finger. This is the cry of Kerlin’s old soul peering from the eyes of youth: Where has the love gone? As she says: “These kids just wanna go out and have fun and that’s not wrong but they don’t know how to treat someone.” And isn’t that just oh so true these days? Then there’s “Young Anyway,” where Kerlin’s in touch with her youth. The song addresses a young love that is understood by the narrator to be made up of fleeting fancy. That’s not meant to be dismissive of adolescent love, after all, we’ve all been through it.
COVID-19 has become an exhausting affair, but a lot of good has come out of it. Artists like Grace Kerlin are living proof that giving yourself completely to this unexpected solitude results in something quite outstanding. Such is the beauty of being a hermit, once embraced, wonderful things do happen.
What Grace Kerlin is trying to find may not be for the rest of us to know. Perhaps, as stated on her webpage, her goal was to “present a cross-section of my musical interests, including ballads, blues, country, pop, and rock.” It may just be that simple. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, because whether she knows it or not, Grace Kerlin is a force to be reckoned with. She’s got the whole world in her hands…or at least, she will.
Cover Photo courtesy of Grace Kerlin, shot by Mark Krajnak.