TRACE discusses her unconventional start in music, mental health, and her new cover
Orange County-native Trace Le is an open book when it comes to music, giving her listeners a front row seat to whatever emotion she’s feeling. Not only does this make her music relatable, but also deeply connected to her loyal audience.
As the daughter of Carol Kim (known as the Vietnamese Queen of Soul), TRACE has been closely conversant with music her whole life. However, she didn’t follow in her Mother’s footsteps by conventional means. In fact, making a living off of music never even made it on her radar. Magazine aspirations and a staunch resistance to giving music a shot slowly turned into curiosity, and shortly after, that curiosity developed into a Kickstarter, which ultimately provided her with enough money to dip her toe in. She hired a producer and fashioned her bathroom into a makeshift studio. Her first EP “Low” was a hit, catching the eyes of top music publications and eventually catching the once wave of SoundCloud. The rest is history; TRACE is now positioned as an indie pop super-talent. Did she know deep down she would always gravitate towards a music career? I’ll let her answer that below.
She’s been keeping busy during the pandemic, releasing a string of superb singles and putting the finishing touches on her movie script (yes, I said movie script). The Queen of Emo-Pop is also giving Deviate readers an exclusive listen of her new cover: Death Cab For Cutie’s “The New Year”. Tap the cover art below for a private link, otherwise tune to Spotify at 9pm PST!
I was lucky enough to grab an hour with TRACE. We covered a pretty wide variety of topics, but I was left with this: she’s hilarious, humble, and extremely dedicated to her mission. I can’t wait to see what she has in store for 2021 and beyond.
Check out the entire dialogue below
Deviate: Hi TRACE. Thanks for taking the time! It’s great to have you.
TRACE: Hi Vince! It’s great to be here.
Deviate: First off…How was your week? What’s in an average week for TRACE?
TRACE: Oh, it was fine. It’s interesting because some days I’m super busy and some days I’m like “wow I did nothing today,” but sometimes you have to do nothing y’know? A typical idyllic day would start with some sort of movement…either a long walk or hike. Then I do most of my writing during the daytime because I can’t really write at night. I’m either learning new stuff on the guitar, re-listening to mixes, polishing up songs… things like that. Then I’ll make a lunch, probably Facetime a friend, and then I’m careful not to sit on the couch and watch Netflix too early.
Deviate: Overall, have you enjoyed this quarantine period or absolutely not. I’ve heard different things from some artists.
TRACE: I’d say as long as I have some semblance of physical and emotional health…I can create. However, during this covid period its been kinda rough. There are times where I’ve wanted to quit music and plot a whole new career. I’ve been down a rabbit hole where I’ve been on Zillow looking at houses and interior design…I don’t know?! The silver lining is that I do enjoy the autonomy and independence right now… it’s definitely been a year of self care.
Deviate: Definitely agree. It’s also given people more time back in their day. Is that good for artists?
TRACE: I’d air on the side of yes. My personality welcomes the fact that I can be here in my home. Relationships are the key to life and you need people by your side etc etc, BUT I have a ball just hangin’ by myself. I try my best to keep busy…. If I’m not writing a song I’m probably writing a poem or working on a script. So I have things to do and if there is a time to create art…it’s now. There’s far less comparison and competition in music right now… for a while it got a little too loud. And now we all miss it! I cannot wait for play shows again.
Deviate: I’m kinda interested in this script you’re referring to…
Trace: Yeeaaaah. I’ve been writing it for about 7 months now, and it’s based on both my life and my Mom’s life. She’s actually a famous Vietnamese singer (coined the Vietnamese Queen of Soul) and I wanted to write something like a Vietnamese version of Selena lol. I’m kinda expanding that into the ultimate Asian-American experience, but then a producer friend of mine told me it should be about my life….which led me to be like “ugh who wants to hear about me”. However, the more I wrote the more I realized there was a lot of personal trauma and identity issues coming up. It’s more of an auto-fiction piece about my Mom and I and the music industry, the American Dream, and just a mother-daughter relationship. I’ll admit the ending is sort of up in the air because….well… its my life?
Deviate: I read somewhere that you recorded your first EP in your bathroom, which was actually funded through a Kickstarter? Can you elaborate on this?
TRACE: Wow I love how much digging you’ve done…
Deviate: It’s kind of my job...
TRACE: Yeah true. Basically, I never wanted to do music or even thought about getting into it because of how much I was exposed to it through my Mom…so maybe some rebellion in there? It wasn’t until about 2015 when I started writing a few of my own songs. A friend suggested I give it a shot and I guess I was a little curious. When I first had the thought of doing an EP, I was working at a startup in San Diego. I used all my savings to move to LA, which left me with close to nothing to pay for a producer and studio time. I realized I had a pretty big creative community around me in LA so I thought I’d try a Kickstarter. I actually had a really good friend put in a large chunk of money and eventually was like “you’re going to do this full-time”. So I had enough to pay a producer who I went to school with, and we ended up doing the whole thing in my apt bathroom. We put up the sound proofing in there and everything.
Deviate: And then people started to catch on that you were going to make a career out of it. How soon after did you sign with Ultra Records?
TRACE: Yeah, I think so. Shortly after I released “Heavy Shoulders” some friends at major blogs wrote about it and I think that’s ultimately how Odesza discovered me on Soundcloud…back when that was the thing. I sort of caught it at the right time. After that, a friends boyfriend was friends with an agent at NextWave, which is under Ultra. So he signed the song “Low” which currently has the most streams and that’s when Spotify sought me out and was like “you’re on a bunch of playlists…why are you on a bunch of playlists lol”. A few months later Ultra sent me a contract. But I’m indie now 🙂
…I’m basically singing you a page from my diary…TRACE, 2020
Deviate: I’ve heard your genre be described multiple ways…”emo-pop”…”sad R&B”…and my personal favorite “mope-pop”. In your own words, how would you describe the genre you create under?
TRACE: I think we live in a day and age where there’s so much flexibility in genres. If you want to see a stressed out person just watch me try to fill out a form when I upload music. It gives you a genre dropdown and I have to consult like 4 different parties on what I should put lol. I’m still trying to comfortably say what my music is… I know I want to do more R&B, but I wouldn’t call myself R&B. If I HAD to place a label on it I guess “indie-pop” because its so broad. I don’t know…what do you think??
Deviate: Hmmmm… maybe like alt-pop? I wouldn’t call something like “Cool Woman” alt-pop though so I’m really not sure. Now you’ve got me stressed.
Trace: Right?! I am getting more comfortable in that if my voice is on the track…it’s a TRACE track. For example, I’m on a dance music album with a mysterious EDM artist that I can’t disclose to you right now…but, I’m not a dance gal and I don’t really listen to edm? I just like the song and I like the artist.. so I hope my fans follow suit. Idk maybe I’ll try a country song later… I love Kacey Musgraves!
Deviate: Why do you find playing in the “sadness” realm to be so influential to listeners?
TRACE: I think I’m learning that I’m super comfortable with sadness. It’s scary getting used to living that way, but it can be healthy. Most of the fans who reach out to me have been dealing with some sort of anxiety or depression and I was like “dang, you guys see right through me”… I thought I was this mysterious, elusive artist, but I guess not. I think it’s not only authentic, but also healthy for me to write and sing about. I know sadness and I know loss so surrounding my music with these things makes sense. I know I’m kinda free-thinking right now, but bear with me. I think the sadder music comes off easier because I llove to write in long form… I’m basically singing a page from my diary. It’s a confessional.
Deviate: I kinda want to switch gears real quick and take it back to 2018 when you signed with Ultra Records. You immediately release a handful of amazing singles….Blood n Bones, SideEye, and Anxiety, but do so in partnership with the National Alliance of Mental Health. Why was this so important for you?
TRACE: That was a point in my career where I realized that a lot of my fans were dealing with some sort of mental illness and thank god we are in a time where people can talk openly about it. I don’t really remember if they reached out to me or someone on my team knew someone from NAMI, but I remember hopping on the call with their California team and it just clicked. I was so nervous to release “Anxiety” because I am not a spokesperson for anxiety or a trained physician and I never want to feel trite in my efforts to be relatable. So they were a huge help in not only releasing my song, but doing so in the right way. My goal was not to make a “hey guys anxiety sucks” song… I wanted to equip people with the right tools to cope with it. They are such an awesome resource.
Do you plan to do anything else with them?
TRACE: I would love to! I was supposed to do a show for them, but then the pandemic hit. We have a great relationship so I’d love to see what another collaboration would look like.
Deviate: Ok so the main reason we are here…I got insider information that you’re releasing a single at the end of this month. Do you have a song title yet?
TRACE: I do. I have a cover coming out on January 5th and no one knows about it but you and my producer currently (not anymore). It’s actually the first cover I’ve ever put out so I’m super excited about that. It’s actually a Death Cab For Cutie song, but I don’t want to tell you which song if that’s ok.
Deviate: Can you take me through the inspiration behind creating this new piece?
TRACE: To be honest, this song is for my friends lol. I’m like “this song is about us growing up so you better appreciate it”. It’s an ode to my youth and what I used to listen to back in the day (and still do). I think the song is very timely, which may give it away. It’s kinda the most emo I can get. You’ll see what I mean when I release it lol.
Deviate: We’ve touched on your music, but I’m curious as to who you listen to. 3 artists you’re currently binging and why. Go.
TRACE: On one hand I’m resorting back to a lot of old albums like Channel Orange and then like old old old The National stuff. Lets see what else…. I’m re-visiting some old James Blake too. On the other hand I’ve been getting into some folky artists like Pheobe Bridgers, Julia Jacklin, and Holly Humberstone. Women and a guitar is just fun. There’s another artist called Choker… literally sounds like Frank Ocean’s cousin. What else should I be listening to… you run a music blog?
Deviate: Let me think for a min. I listen to a lot of Golden Vessel and Cosmos Midnight. Audrey Nuna is a newer artist for me and so is Bea Miller. They all have been putting out a ton of solid music.
TRACE: Hold on I’m writing them down.
Deviate: On the topic of binging, are there any tv series you recommend? I just finished the Queens Gambit and need a new one.
TRACE: Isn’t it so good? I don’t even know how to play chess! Why’s it so good? I’m kinda into anything HBO so check out We Are Who We Are. I’m kinda blanking… this was not on your prompt, Vince. It’s killing me that I’m not giving you more options. I’ll shoot you an email later…. (she did)
Deviate: What can we as fans expect from TRACE in the coming months?
TRACE: On top of the cover, I’m currently in talks with my producer on how I want to release a 3rd EP. I have a handful of unreleased songs that I am really proud of. Hopefully, after that I’ll start working on an album. In between those I have a song coming out in Feb with an undisclosed producer duo and then that dance track that I alluded to earlier. I’m so excited for the next few months in terms of what I’m releasing though.
Deviate: Let’s say you’re no longer allowed to be TRACE and have to be an inanimate object…what’s your first choice?
TRACE: This question is so weird, but I love it. I think I would be a person’s favorite morning mug. I’m a big proponent of morning ritual and if things are rushed then you automatically have a shitty day. If I was someone’s coffee mug I would just give them positive affirmations so they would have a good day. A cheerleading coffee mug. Final answer.
Last question: Last but not least…where can people find you on socials?
TRACE: I’d say stay away from my twitter because no one follows me, but @trace on Instagram and listentotrace.com if you want to buy an XL t-shirt.
I want to give a BIG thank you to TRACE for her time and energy. She is an absolute wonder to talk to and learn from. Be sure to check out and support her new cover coming out Jan 5th and don’t forget to follow TRACE on Spotify and Instagram.
TRACE is and always will be a Deviate