Gracie Abrams & Aaron Dessner Explain Their Sibling-Like Creative Partnership

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The first time Gracie Abrams met Aaron Dessner, at his famed Long Pond studio near Hudson, N.Y., the pair wrote over 10 songs. “We hit it off,” recalls Dessner, 47, of their first session in spring 2021. That’s a bit of an understatement, considering what followed: Dessner went on to produce and co-write Abrams’ acclaimed debut album, Good Riddance, released in February and brimming with honest reflections sung in her delicate voice that float over intriguing chord progressions and indie-rock riffs. In June, following the album’s vinyl release, Abrams topped Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart.

In early September, following appearances by both on Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour (Abrams as an opener, Dessner as a guest), the duo played three sold-out, intimate acoustic shows in New York, Nashville and Los Angeles, where they performed songs of Abrams’ both old and new. The gigs bookended a recording pit stop at Long Pond. “We made a lot of music, and it feels really different than what we’ve done before… like the best stuff we’ve made,” Dessner reveals.


Abrams, 24, is one of the newest artists to become a Long Pond regular, joining an eye-­popping group of talent that includes Swift, Ed Sheeran and, of course, Dessner’s band, The National — all of whom have been incredibly active in recent years, continuing Dessner’s streak as one of the most in-demand, and busiest, collaborators in music today. As such, and with Abrams a likely best new artist contender, could Dessner finally score a long-awaited nod for producer of the year, non-classical?

“I don’t know another person that could do what Aaron does,” Abrams says. “There’s a kind of sensitivity that doesn’t necessarily exist in most artist-to-producer relationships that I am aware of.”

What was it about Long Pond that felt immediately inspiring or comfortable?

Gracie Abrams: Everything. I felt really open as a result of the space feeling open, and it’s entirely a testament to Aaron’s entire personality. The place feels very inviting [for] sharing all your secrets and deepest, most private feelings without any hesitation.

When Gracie’s debut arrived, Aaron wrote on Instagram that it almost feels like you two are siblings. What’s the best example of that?

Abrams: I mean, maybe brutal truth all the time. I tell Aaron everything as soon as it happens to me, so I burden him with my life story in a way that I feel like only people who you’re related to by blood should have to take on.

Aaron Dessner: And I get to live vicariously through Gracie, which is really nice. (Laughs.) When you write songs and make music with someone — and when you make so much music as we have — it’s an intimate, vulnerable experience, so you get to know each other really well. And it’s also the thing that makes music most meaningful, I think, the friendships that you collect along the way. Because when I look back — I’m quite a bit older than Gracie, although we don’t feel so far apart — there are these friendships that I still have from different points along the way, and those are the mile markers. Because [as a musician] you don’t have a very normal life and you’re traveling all the time and kind of running on fumes and it’s so amazing but it’s also hazardous, being unstructured and not having your support system or your family close by a lot of the time. The only way I know how to do this is to grow close to people and learn from them. I always feel like I’m learning as much as anyone might learn from me.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from each other?

Abrams: My identity now has been massively shaped by what I’ve learned in this relationship with Aaron the past couple years, not just musically — which it has entirely helped guide me in terms of self-trust — but just how to be a very decent person. Especially in the context of the music industry. I grew up in L.A. and started recording here first and it felt very different than when I went to Long Pond for the first time, and it really broadened my imagination for the kind of life that I could have if I’m lucky enough to do the thing that I love, versus what I assumed to be the blueprint that always secretly made me feel a little depressed.

Dessner: To be honest, I’ve never written songs in the room with anyone [before]. I would always make music alone or with my brother [Bryce]. Most of the time, I write the music first and then someone writes to it. That has been how The National worked and how I worked with [Swift] and other people. And Gracie came and we wrote together in the room, and it’s a scary thing because you don’t have the chance to be figuring out your brilliant idea. And I found I was even more comfortable doing it like that, where I would basically sketch [an idea] and Gracie could guide me or bounce off it in real time and write words and melodies. And then over time we got really good at it, and that’s what I ended up doing a lot with Ed Sheeran. I don’t know that I would have been able to do it had I not had that confidence from this.

Gracie Abrams photographed on September 1, 2023 at Long Pond Studio near Hudson, NY.
Aaron Dessner photographed on September 1, 2023 at Long Pond Studio near Hudson, NY.

Aaron, why do you think Gracie could be in the running for best new artist?

Dessner: Gracie is making incredibly compelling, emotionally direct songs that really resonate with her fan base. [She has] become an artist that’s clearly impacting a lot of people. And I think the record is one of the best of the year, and she’s one of the artists that should be in that discussion. I also think with all of this stuff, it’s subjective. It’s a total honor to be in any conversation about the Grammys and to win a Grammy, and of course it sounds like I have to say that, but a lot of my favorite artists have never been in that conversation. So I kind of take it with a grain of salt. I have a lot of respect for it, but at the same time if you don’t get nominated… it doesn’t diminish what you’re doing.

And Gracie, why should Aaron get a producer of the year nod?

Abrams: I don’t know another person that could do what Aaron does could make album of the year after album of the year. I can identify instantly whether or not Aaron has touched a song because you can feel it, and I can’t compare that to anything. It’s not something that I’ve found anywhere else. And I think also it’s so evident, like the songs that people fall in love with on all the albums that Aaron has made are the ones that really work. The ones that the die-hard fans want to hear and scream at the top of their lungs.

How do these sets you’ve been performing together compare to the stadium shows you both played as part of Swift’s Eras Tour?

Dessner: As much as I am close friends with and know Taylor well, you can’t believe that she pulls it off. It’s like, the best thing that has ever happened to live music in a way. And seeing Gracie play those shows [as an opening act] and seeing people in the stadium singing the songs, it’s a crazy moment in her career. It reminded me of, in a way, in 2007-8, R.E.M., on their final tour, invited The National to open for them, and that was this real moment for us because one of our favorite bands, a giant American rock band, was saying, “Come, we love you.” This is on a much bigger scale than that was, but it feels related, it feels like that really fueled us, and I can feel that in Gracie now, like there’s this confidence, and it’s exciting.

Abrams: There’s something about the scale of what Taylor has done that is unlike anything I’ve ever felt or known in my entire life, and I agree that it is the best thing that has ever happened to live music. Just to be in a place where that many people are equally moved and emotional and down to express it as loudly as possible, it’s really unbelievable. That feeling, though — being in a stadium, at least a Taylor Swift stadium, and these intimate rooms — is very connected, which sounds wild maybe. One of the many millions of things I learned this summer is, she does actually make it feel like you’re on another planet and like it’s just you and her in the room. And I’ve been lucky enough to see the show so many times and I’ve watched it from every possible place in the stadium, and that’s true every time.

From left: Gracie Abrams and Aaron Dessner photographed by Wesley Mann on September 1, 2023 at Long Pond Studio near Hudson, NY.

From left: Aaron Dessner and Gracie Abrams photographed by Wesley Mann on September 1, 2023 at Long Pond Studio near Hudson, NY.

Aaron, have you and Taylor’s longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff ever joked that you two could be competing for producer of the year for the foreseeable future?

Dessner: He has produced so many records and been in that really intensely for a long time, whereas I’ve been really doing all my esoteric art music with my brother and making music with The National and touring a lot. But I feel like there’s a lot of camaraderie between Jack and I, having worked on a lot of the same records now, and I think anyone that gets nominated is lucky. Some people have more notoriety for whatever reason, and I think part of the thing is like, how much do people know what you do? So, the answer is, I think we’ll think it’s funny.

For an artist or producer who wants to build what you two have, what advice would you give?

Abrams: I hope I’ve gotten less annoying about it, but [Aaron] very much encouraged following your gut, which is maybe cliché advice or feels empty, but I think I was so lucky to have had the person saying that to my face be someone whose work I have admired forever and someone who I trust. But having not heard that or believed it, a lot of the music wouldn’t exist, or I would be in a very different place in general right now.

Dessner: There are a lot of producers who franchise themselves and collect as many artists as they can, and you can see that, and I feel like the work becomes diminished or something. You also have to live and experience things. I like the way community slowly grows… I feel like people find each other for a reason.

This story will appear in the Oct. 7, 2023, issue of Billboard.

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