“Do you remember when I first met you, and I asked you if you’d ever write about my music?” Scarlett Grace asks me, gazing across Jackson Creek. “Well, it took you a while, but I guess here we are now.”
When I first met Scarlett, she was barely out of her teens and beginning to make a name for herself on the local music scene with her own brand of sound which slipped somewhere between pop and rock music. Highly visible, Scarlett became a regular collaborator with local jobbing musicians, and I quickly found her strong sense of self, as well as her lust for finding a good time to be endearing. Over the years I’ve called her “the Joan Jett to my Rodney Bingenheimer” and “the wild kid sister that I didn’t know I always wanted.” While I have always been an outsider to her circle, due to age and my inability to stay out all night, we’ve been long time pals.
So, it’s not strange for me to get a text in the middle of the night from Scarlett. Often, it’s just some random devotion to her eternal lust for actor Oliver Reed, or perhaps a jarring home-made video by some fifth-rate wannabe pop star who makes Rebecca Black look like Lady Gaga, which Scarlett always manages to not only discover, but finds it hilarious to send to me knowing I’m going to instantly hate it. But when she sent me a brand-new music video during the middle of a controversial Ontario COVID lockdown, I wasn’t emotionally ready for what I got.
While she has never shied away from strong themes in her music and videos, her new song, Empty Bottles, pushes the emotional envelope where Scarlett has opened up to her audience in a way that she never has before. A song dealing with grief, loneliness, isolation, depression and self-destruction, I had never seen Scarlett so raw nor revealing so much in a video. Empty Bottles is something very different, and very personal.
“I’ve always written from the heart lyrically,” Scarlett tells me. “Everything I write is very honest. Sometimes I think I write on the surface to keep things more relatable or universal or make it a product to attract it to a lot of people by making it more relatable. But now I’m at a point where I just don’t give a damn and I’m literally writing from the heart with no censorship or structure. It’s just completely natural.”
Although I had my own immediate response to my interpretation to what Empty Bottles was about when I watched it, I only really had a few pieces of the story behind the song. Empty Bottles is the zenith of months of loss and grief suffered in crippling isolation that is not brought upon voluntarily, but by government mandated lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout 2021, Scarlett Grace has been the most alone than she’s ever been with only her thoughts to keep her occupied.
“This song was something that had to come out, and had to be written about, because that’s how I’ve worked through things over the past ten years,” Scarlett says of Empty Bottles. “To make them into songs, and to get things out of me so I can move on. I think its terrifying. I debated for a while if I was going to release this or not. I’m always trying to do something in music, and I was having a bit of writer’s block. That happens when I’m not being completely authentic and when I’m trying to make a product over art.”
The event that sets up the backdrop of Empty Bottles was the loss of Scarlett’s mother from a long battle with cancer at the end of 2020. This is reflected directly in the lyrics of the song, and it’s something that has obviously affected Scarlett greatly.
“My mother was sick for years. I was looking after her for several years, and a lot more for the last year,” Scarlett tells. “It became my life, taking care of my Mom until she went into hospice. It was a horrible and traumatic experience. You can’t make that any lighter. You can’t say anything else about that. But I think that her passing away was something we were ready for at least. Me and my family were prepared for it. We knew when it was going to happen and that last week or so was just a waiting game.”
But Scarlett’s mom didn’t leave this world without giving her daughter one last special moment before she said goodbye. “The day that I found out my Mom died I slept in a little bit,” Scarlett continues. “I usually was up early to go see her in hospice, but I was exhausted. Well, I had a dream that my Mom rolled up to me in a car, and I got in and we drove up to a house. My grandma was there, and she had passed two years prior. My mom and my grandmother had raised me. In my dream my Mom laid down next to my grandma and in that second, I knew she was on the other side. I woke up to missed calls from my aunt and I called her, and she told me that my Mom had passed away. I told her ‘I know. She just told me.’”
So, to the casual person looking in from the outside, this could have been what Empty Bottles was written about. I’ll admit it’s what I thought. But what Scarlett reveals to me is a different narrative which inspired the song, which came from the aftermath of her mother’s death.
“As horrible as it was, for me the worst part wasn’t when my Mom passed away, but it was the aftermath of dealing with it,” she reveals. “I don’t have any more immediate family. I have no siblings and no Dad. It’s just me in Peterborough. My extended family is spread out all over the country.”
“But I had a support system,” she continues. “I had two very close friends. I had my cousin, who is the same age as me and we were very close. I also had this guy who has been in and out of my life through the last three years, but really carried me through this. They held my hands at my Mom’s funeral. They were my rocks and my support system. I needed them so much. But by January they both decided that they need to leave my life.”
“That’s when I went downhill, and that’s when I started to get into the bad habits and all the things that the song is about, because I had my support system just up and gone. I had never been so alone. It was in the midst of a pandemic and suddenly I had nobody. That’s when things went downhill.”
In the video, Scarlett films herself alone in her apartment with scattered liquor bottles holding candles, and lyrically it hints at an alcohol fueled depression. “Sure, I turned to alcohol, but I’ve been known to do that before,” Scarlett admits. “I was drinking every other night. Not getting shit faced wasted but drinking more than I should have. And I was being alone all the time.”
“I don’t know what the hell I was doing,” she continues. “I slipped into a depression like I had never known before. I had been heartbroken before over useless men, but that’s an entirely different heartbreak than losing the people who are supposed to be there for you. It created such a rage in me that I neve knew before. I had never been that angry before. I was just a really angry person for a long time.”
People with families during lockdown may never understand the isolation of those who live alone, and the feeling of boredom and apathy that sets in after weeks of nothing to look forward too. Although its crippling, Empty Bottles became the catalyst of Scarlett dealing with this bleak reality. “You don’t just wake up fixed one day,” Scarlett tells. “Life and healing is just a constant process. I definitely feel better than I did. I’ve cut back on the booze for my own health. I’m doing a lot of spiritual work and doing meditation and actively making this experience on earth better. I mean, what else are you going to do? Just wallow?
“I’m always writing. I always have a notebook and I’m always writing things down. I always have ideas. But this song just unfolded all at once. It all just came out in one night. I found myself questioning some of the lyrics because they were almost too personal, but that’s when you’re being disingenuous, so you just got to let it out. It was one of those songs that you write in twenty minutes and then it’s done. I just didn’t change it afterwards.”
Although I’ve been a fan of Scarlett and her music for years, when I heard Empty Bottles, I knew that it was something very different and special. It pushed Scarlett to expose herself in a bolder and more revealing way. I was struck by its rawness, its honesty and its power. If anything has come from the isolation, perhaps it’s been that its pushed Scarlett to an entirely new level of authenticity as a song writer.
“I didn’t start writing music to do anything other than be completely authentic to myself and my own journey and my own story,” says Scarlett. “That’s the point of writing and creating is to be completely honest. So, this is me, this is what’s going on. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll help someone else.”
Listen to Empty Bottles and discover all of Scarlett Grace’s music on Spotify.
PHOTO GALLERY BY SAMANTHA MOSS