Polina Grace is one of Canada’s brightest emerging musical artists. The 22-year-old McGill University business graduate with two years in the game is on her way to the launch of becoming a mixed musical artist with a distribution deal with Sony and the recent release of her EP called Down, which features the title track of the same name, currently available on iTunes.
Grace recently opened for Glass Tiger in Montreal and is scheduled for a Toronto performance in January 2018. She chopped it with up with The Crossfire’s Kenai Andrews to talk about her music, MMA, and more.
MMA Crossfire: Welcome to The Crossfire, Paulina. Talk to us about the experience of releasing your first EP.
Polina Grace: It’s been truly a long time coming to release my first batch of music. I did not come from a musician’s family at all. Not even close. And I had to really fight for the privilege to be able to do what I want.
I graduated from McGill University in business. That was something I did, of course, for myself but also mostly because that was my family’s kind of path for me. I’m saying all of this because it wasn’t until about midway through university that I got to really pursue my music endeavours. That being said, I also did not exactly know how to pursue it, or what to do, so it all began with little steps that I took like meeting people, performing, and the usual. From there, it just kind of snowballed into what was going to be a record.
The first producer I worked with in Vancouver was John Webster. He and I were working on a track-by-track basis and it took two years to really get to a point to like okay: I have a certain number of tracks that are unified in style and that represent who I am that I’m really proud of. Those are the tracks that made up my first EP. Before I could release it, I had to figure out what I was going to do distribution wise, I had to figure out the artwork behind it. I had to figure out promotional strategies and hype people up about it … I was just so excited to release it. From the moment that I did, its been a steady progression upwards. So far, I’ve pretty much only received positive feedback unless I’m just not hearing the negative feedback (Laughs). It’s been a really beautiful start to a journey that I hope keeps going. I know that’s a long answer to your question but I felt there wasn’t a way of answering your question without mentioning those details.
MMA Crossfire: You were a model before the music.
Polina Grace: That is correct. While I was at McGill, I got into freelance modelling, which you are your own promoter and everything. I did quite well because when I start something, I go full force until I kind of get what I want. I did modelling and acting on and off throughout my life. It wasn’t an ambition to become a model, it just kind of happened. It was a way to be artistic while making money. I thought it was great because using that I can help finance my music and can have a job I enjoy. Not a desk job, because I just can’t (Laughs). I’m still doing a little bit of that on and off because it all ties together, it’s still artistic and I’m very controlling of the image I put out there.
MMA Crossfire: Did you grow up in Montreal?
Polina Grace: I grew up in Vancouver, and was born in Russia. I currently reside in Montreal.
MMA Crossfire: I see. Why is it important to have a natural and powerful voice?
Polina Grace: Well, I personally have always been mesmerized by powerful voices and I always aspired to have one because it’s the best way to convey an emotion through music. Often without power, it’s hard to convey the full spectrum … There’s so many emotions … From sadness, to anger, to strength, to happiness. I find without a voice to hit all those notes and ranges, it’s hard at least for me to convey the full spectrum of emotion. I try to stand for strength in my music and in my day-to-day life, and I personally want my voice to coincide with that.
Polina Grace: If you have vocal strength, I find it really resonates with people. It’s empowering on a psychological level too. When you listen to a song that has that strength embodied in the vocal, the listener kind of starts to feel stronger because they kind of groove to that power. Having a powerful music voice gives you a lot of leverage for people to hear your message.
MMA Crossfire: Do you play any instruments?
Polina Grace: My main instrument is my voice. I do play little bits of piano and guitar but not well enough to rival what I can do vocally. My whole life I was inspired by the mastery of the voice, so that’s my main instrument.
MMA Crossfire: What was the thought process behind covering Gowan’s Criminal Mind?
Polina Grace: Oh, that’s a great question, I love it. Not enough people have asked me that (Laughs). That song, I truly can’t remember if I found it myself or my producer introduced me to it, but I can tell you from the moment I heard it I just thought it was a unique structure. It’s a theatrical song, and it’s similar to me.
You know how for a lot of songs, the common theme to explore is often love or breakups … those two are kind of always there. A song like Michael Jackson’s Thriller … Gowan’s Criminal Mind. It’s theatrical, completely unexpected, and you get to play a character, which to me, that draws me to the song immediately.
— Polina Grace (@RealPolinaGrace) November 7, 2017
Polina Grace: I also really like the melody, that’s another great point about it and it was interesting to do a song that was sung and interpreted and written by a man and do it in a woman’s vocal. I figured it was a unique song and both my producer and I agreed it could be super cool done in a female vocal.
We made it our own from every angle, but we added our own adlibs, like where I kind of go high … I added some parts that were not in the original track and those were improvised on the spot. I love it. I feel like I made it my own.
MMA Crossfire: You speak three languages besides English: French, Spanish and Russian. Is there a plan to release an album in those other languages?
Polina Grace: I also understand Italian, since it’s very similar to Spanish (Laughs). Is there a plan? Yes and … I don’t want to say yes and no … because ‘No’ is mostly just because of timeframe of the answer to your question. Yes, I would definitely like to release tracks. I don’t know if I’d ever do a full album in French or Spanish. I’d like to remain an anglophone artist, but I definitely would like to do tracks in Spanish and French. Russian too maybe, I don’t know why I neglected that one … the Spanish market is interesting to me and it’s a huge market. French because I’m living in Quebec so definitely a possibility in the near future to do a track in French.
MMA Crossfire: Can an artist be overly concerned about branding?
Polina Grace: Yes. Absolutely. An artist can be too concerned and consumed about branding. Sadly, (for me or happily for others), in our modern day and age of social media and the presence of millions and millions of artists, it is very hard to get noticed, it is very hard build your audience and sometimes, very talented people – because they lack branding, or a sense of how to do their promotion – miss out on their organic audience. There’s probably people who would love their music, but they don’t know it exists. So, can you be overly concerned about branding? That’s also possible. I often find myself spending too much time worrying over – how do this or present this? Meanwhile, all I want to focus on is my craft. You have to really figure out how to differentiate yourself and maximize your exposure. The sad reality as well is that emerging artists are not necessarily competing with one another. We’re competing with the big artists who are already up there and that are marketed by the machine that has millions of dollars behind it. It’s tough, but of course, it’s not impossible.
Polina Grace: You have to figure out what you are going to do. Are you going to just build yourself organically, are you going to focus on the live show? Are you going to focus on social media or find the time to do it all? It can be very consuming. If I knew what the right recipe was for that, I would share it. All I know is you have to worry about branding but do you have to be over-consumed with it? Probably not. The live show is important – it will speak for itself. But you can’t neglect your presence online or promotion.
MMA Crossfire: What aspects of modelling helped transition over to music?
Polina Grace: Definitely confidence. I’ve always had a natural ability for movement but until you get to really exercise it a lot … like anything, it’s like a muscle. Also dealing with people, all of that. For sure, those things modelling helps with.
MMA Crossfire: What are your thoughts on the #MeToo Movement?
Polina Grace: I think it’s disheartening, provided all of these stories about these powerful men are true. It’s disheartening that happened, that so much of that harassment took place… there was a climate of such oppression for women and even some men that went unspoken about for so many years.
I guess it’s great there’s a shift of power now, but at the same time, judging by just how many stories there are on certain things… I do wonder if – not referring to maybe the biggest figures like Kevin Spacey or Harvey Weinstein – but I do wonder if people are taking advantage of the movement. You do wonder that, but I do feel like for the most part the fact that this movement is happening is a positive thing because it’s been unspoken of for so long. That influential men have definitely, often, taken advantage of a little bit of their position of power. I just believe in everything being transparent and being spoken about.
If there’s anything that I stand for, it’s that people should be able to speak up about their experiences and it’s shocking that they didn’t. That so many people didn’t talk for 10 or 20 years and all of a sudden there’s this huge avalanche. It had to happen sooner or later so the fact that it’s happening now, it’s better late than never, but it’s sad at the same time.
MMA Crossfire: I guess that brings us back to your video Down, which basically screams female empowerment. Talk about experience of making it and the MMA training you did for it.
Polina Grace: Absolutely. The concept of the video was exactly that – female empowerment. It was making a female character the main protagonist and the badass, rather than what you would often have. You have James Bond or Jason Bourne and often you see all these men … there’s a big wave right now of women coming out on top. You look at Wonder Woman and what an incredible character she is, and Atomic Blonde … we wanted to something like that with Down, but make it our own and surprise people with the fact that I’m an artist coming out with my very first video and I’m not singing in it. I’m doing something that’s completely unexpected.
Polina Grace: In line with your question about the training and the MMA aspect of it … my team and I wanted to make sure that everything that I do in the video was legitimate. I didn’t have a stunt double, everything that I was capable of doing, that’s what we made the video about. I trained at a place called Tristar which is where GSP trained as well as a number of UFC fighters. I didn’t train for that long; I honestly did less than a month because I started training when we scheduled the video and I had a couple of weeks to train. It was intensive and fun and it taught me to be a fighter. We did some kickboxing, Muay Thai … it taught me discipline as well. It got me in shape for the fighting. I had some stunt rehearsals, believe it or not I only had two (Laughs).
Polina Grace: I was like: Am I going to break my neck on set? But then again, I’m not jumping off a two-story building, I’m really only just launching a guy over my back onto two tables. I was supposed to have a protective mat on the floor because that’s how we did it in rehearsal and then when we were on set, I wanted to use the real floor. They were like, are you sure? It all worked out and was really fun. We created a video that I’m very proud of and never really thought I would be able to do until I did it.
MMA Crossfire: Are you a MMA fan?
Polina Grace: I am … I’m not a huge fan in that I watch every single UFC event, but I do watch it on and off because I have a lot of guy friends and I appreciate the sport. I just don’t have a routine of watching it. I do have my favourites though. Like I used to be a huge fan of Conor McGregor… I say used to be because I’ve cooled off a little bit (Laughs)… Ever since he went into boxing and decided to fight (Floyd) Mayweather … that one I watched, who didn’t watch that one? (Laughs)
MMA Crossfire: Yes, almost everybody watched that one. Would you walk a fighter down to the cage with your music? Which fighters would you walk down?
Polina Grace: Of course, absolutely! I have so many faces in my head, but I’m embarrassed because I don’t remember names …
MMA Crossfire: I can help you!
Polina Grace: Could you? Okay. I really liked the big guy, Mark …
MMA Crossfire: Mark Hunt? The Kiwi?
— 1 NEWS – Sport (@1NewsSportNZ) December 7, 2017
Polina Grace: Yeah, he’s cool! There’s so many others … I mean I would totally walk GSP down … Another one as far as girls go who really inspires me because she’s small and feisty is Joanna …
MMA Crossfire: Jedrzejczyk.
Polina Grace: Yeah!
MMA Crossfire: UFC 219 is coming up on Dec. 30 and it has a female championship main event: Cyborg vs. Holly Holm
Polina Grace: I love Cyborg! It’s going to be an interesting fight.
MMA Crossfire: So why don’t we get your thoughts and your predictions closer to the bout during fight week?
Polina Grace: Definitely! Thanks so much for your time Kenai.
MMA Crossfire: And you are going to be performing in Toronto in January?
Polina Grace: Yes! I will definitely keep you posted.
MMA Crossfire: Thanks for sharing Polina.
Polina Grace: Thanks Kenai!