Smartists: Gracie and Rachel

(published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls)

What do doe-eyed vixens, melodically-driven indie pop and Brooklyn, New York have in common? Gracie and Rachel, of course. This up and coming piano/voice and violin duo are stealing hearts from coast to coast with their original music and inspiring outlook on the act of creating art. Their (fabulous!) debut album “Go” is set to release August 26, and the least I can do is shine the Smart Girl in the Arts spotlight on this deserving pair.

Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles were both born and raised in Berkeley, California. They met their junior year at Berkeley High School after each was asked to play music for the dance program. The pair became fast friends and continued to play music together afterwards, discovering that their differing musical approaches were complementary.

“I started playing violin when I was 6 and was raised in a very classical environment. My parents are musicians and really stressed jazz and classical in the house. From the age of six until eighteen I was going through many programs and studying at the San Francisco Conservatory, often studying away from home during the summer. It was very rigorous.” Rachel said.

Gracie’s musicality, on the other hand, grew less out of structure and more our of a love of free improvisation.


“My dad is heavily involved in theater, so I grew up in the theater and around a range of avant garde styles music. I started taking classical piano lessons when I was six, but was more excited about the idea of inventing [my own] stuff…I started singing and songwriting around [thirteen]…As a preteen I had feelings about life and wanted to put them into song,” Gracie said.

Once it all comes out in the wash, the girls dovetail beautifully.

Rachel explains, “Gracie was around people who were very unique and pushing boundaries. Conversely, I grew up in a more formulaic environment. She gives me freedom and an outlet for personal expression, and I give her more structure.”

After the girls graduated high school and were accepted into different music schools, (Gracie went to Berklee School of Music in Boston, while Rachel went to Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University), they were unsure if their collaboration would survive. But, the pair weathered the distance like champs, flying out to each other to play gigs and writing over the phone and internet.

“We managed to rehearse over Skype and often we’d call each other and play into our phones to avoid delay on our computers. After graduation we were like ‘let’s choose a city with a music scene to live in together.’ We settled on Brooklyn and we’ve been there about a year and a half,” Gracie said.

As a songwriting team, the two are comfortable with each other and accustomed to keeping the other in mind throughout the whole process.

“We’ll bring each other little doo-dads or musical ideas and [that will become the theme.] It expands from there. We’ll play something for each other and the reaction is so key…if Rachel doesn’t react then I’ll throw that idea out. But if she reacts right away and gets her violin out then we’ll finish a song in a day. We’ll know where we both want it to go,” Gracie said, adding, “We don’t really talk about it—there’s just an intuition there.”

Rachel chimes in, “[It helps] that we live together, we’re roommates and friends…we’re pretty involved in each other’s lives. When you live with someone it develops different aspects of creating together. It helps develop that intuition.”

Since reuniting and moving into their shared apartment in Brooklyn, the girls have been immersed in this creative process at all hours of the day, churning out songs, recordings, music videos, and press photos at a staggering pace.

“This past year has been so …inspiring. We’ve been recording, mixing and mastering our debut album set to come out on August 26th on POPMNRC records….We’ve had this album in the back of our minds since we were about seventeen and finally seeing it all come to fruition is very exciting!,” they said, finishing each other’s sentences.

A promotional picture for

How do these busy Smart Girls stay in tune with their authentic selves through the excitement and growing hype about their music?

“When you’re younger you get distracted by comparing yourself to others or what others tell you to do. But, go with what you’re passionate about. Go with that. Don’t go one way because you’re told that is the ‘right’ way to go. If you feel inclined towards something else, trust and explore that,” Rachel said.

“And [don’t be afraid of] showing vulnerabilities and being raw. I don’t think you can be a good storyteller or musician if you don’t have sensitivity to the environment and people [around you],” Gracie added.

What’s next for these real girls with real talent? They hope to tour and make more albums, and possibly even produce a visual art component to go along with their music.

“We love performing and sharing our story,” they said, “and we love when people love what we do as much as we do!”

Want to show Gracie and Rachel some love? You can support the duo by watching for upcoming shows and music videos, and keeping tabs on the August 26th release of their album  “Go”, on their website,Twitter, and Facebook.

(Photos by Sam Margevicius)

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