‘Good Riddance’ writers stun audiences

Gracie Abrams and Aaron Dessner dazzled audiences at the GRAMMY Museum.

Gracie Abrams, known for passionate and emotive personal songs, worked with producer and songwriter Aaron Dessner on her incredibly popular debut album, which was released on Feb. 24. (Flickr)

Gracie Abrams and Aaron Dessner spoke to the creation of their album “Good Riddance” and opened up about the instrumental events that helped shape their careers to an excited 200-person audience at the Clive Davis Theater Wednesday night. Chris Willman, a senior music writer and chief music critic at Variety, moderated the GRAMMY Museum Spotlight event.

The event hosted a conversation between Abrams, Dessner and Willman to discuss the creation of their album. After the interview, Abrams and Dessner put on a short performance of their discography.

Once the music started, the duo lost themselves in their lyrics. The show’s acoustic nature added to the songs’ fire, highlighting some of the more angelic notes and guitar chords.

While many of the songs off of “Good Riddance” are sad, Abrams sung them with a passion unique to a live performance. Her fans filled the audience, ribbon-tied hair and flowery skirts adorning the theater. It was a unique experience to spend such close-knit and casual time with Abrams and Dessner, who don’t often perform on a small stage.

“Good Riddance” was 23-year-old Abrams’ debut album, though she had previously released two EPs — “Minor” and “This Is What It Feels Like.” Her raw and emotional music, detailing universal experiences like first love, heartbreak and continuous missteps, resonates with young fans.

Abrams recently performed as an opening act at Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, an accomplishment that greatly expanded her notability. She discussed how this life-changing opportunity has impacted her career.

“Oh, that was the best experience of my life,” Abrams said Wednesday. “I’m very used to spaces that feel quite like this where there’s an intimacy. We can see each other and make eye contact and have real conversations. And then, all of a sudden, you’re in a stadium and you feel like a grain of sand.”

Compared to Abrams’ more recent dive into the music industry, Dessner has had a long career as a musician. The GRAMMY award-winning producer and songwriter is a founding member of rock band The National and creator of four albums that hit the Top 5 of the Billboard 200.

Abrams and Dessner’s collaborative performance allowed for a night of extensive fan interaction and transparency at the Clive Davis Theater. (Jessica Messina / Daily Trojan)

Branching out in his musical expertise, Dessner worked as Swift’s chief songwriting partner for her last three albums. He discussed how working with Abrams clicked easily.

“You’re always nervous when someone comes for the first time, and you jump off the cliff together of collaborating,” Dessner said. “It’s a vulnerable moment, because … you don’t even know how you’re going to work together. With [Abrams], it was just instantaneous.”

Though the duo only recently became musical partners, Dessner and Abrams effortlessly churned out music at Long Pond Recording Studio Fall of 2021.

“I’d seen [Abrams] do an interview where she talked about laying on the floor in the studio, sort of pouring out her life and songs,” Willman said.

In between their morning coffee, tireless pacing and the occasional lay on the floor, they wrote three or four songs in a day at the studio.

“I will often open my journal and go back and reference specific thoughts, but with the music that [Dessner] comes up with in 0.2 seconds, it triggers a feeling or a memory like an actual trigger in real life,” Abrams said.

Abrams and Dessner meet eye-to-eye the most on the purpose and impact of their creations. In an algorithm-driven space, the fragility and emotion behind their music builds a rapport with their audience. Displays of such vulnerability are transformative to the messages they hope to convey, they said.

“It’d be nice to make a perfect pop song,” Desser said. “But it’s not my goal in life. What I would like to do is make music that I can really feel and that can take many forms.”

Releasing such emotionally compelling music isn’t only important in how Abrams and Dessner connect with each other — it’s also a means of cathartic personal reflection.

“Looking at the music that I’ve put out, it’s almost like the most immediate version of me observing all the ways that I have changed as a person, and I pray I continue to change constantly,” Abrams said.

Like many artists, Abrams and Dessner interact with the world through a poetic lens. Instead of viewing collaboration as a subtraction of individual ideas, they discussed it as the most transformative aspect of music. Even with the pressure of social media to create algorithm-driven art, the two manage to conserve a safe space for their art.

“We all have access to the internet and everyone’s opinions are all over the place all the time, but I do think it’s funny because with writing, it’s like the writing of it all is where my heart is in music,” Abrams said.

After an open conversation about their careers, Abrams and Dessner collaborated onstage for a short performance. The intimate space was unlike the recent stadium shows Abrams performed, allowing for a surplus of fan interaction and transparency.

Before they left the stage, Abrams and Dessner hinted at a future collaboration. While “Good Riddance” continues to find itself on fans’ playlists, it is only the stepping-off point for the art that is to come.

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