Harper Grae graduated from a K-12 school in Reeltown, Alabama. Unincorporated Tallapoosa County–not close to much of anything. It’s “sorta” near Lake Martin and Dadeville and Tallassee and Waverly, but really, if you didn’t grow up there or spend a lot of time driving to Auburn, do any of those even manage to ring a bell?
Since she left, she was part of The Glee Project and she now lives in Nashville with her wife. They’re expecting – and any day now – and she took some time to reflect on a miscarriage earlier in her life in her new single “Still Your Mother.”
We talked about the new track, her story, her plans for the rest of 2021 and her addiction to Auburn athletics that often makes her wife roll her eyes.
In the spirit of Pride, would you share your own story?
I’ve just always been who I am. I’ve never had a point blank “coming out story,” which is probably why you’re like, “How did we get here?” [laughs]
But for me, growing up in a small town in Alabama and then going on to Auburn University–my senior year, I was picked to be on The Glee Project. I had already started dating a girl at the time. But what’s been more of a journey for me has been my faith and my sexuality; that has been where a lot the wrestling has been within my spirit, on my journey, and who I am today.
You might be able to relate coming from such a small town in Alabama: we are the buckle of the Bible Belt. For me, I wrestled with the question: can I be gay and Christian? Because I didn’t think that you could be. And I spent the better half of my early 20’s really figuring out the answer to that question for me; and doing so without bias. Truly, I came from such a religious background that I just wanted to know. I knew that I had fallen in love with a girl, but I didn’t know if it was okay. Because everyone said it wasn’t. But I’ve always been very suspicious of people [laughs]. “I don’t know that I trust all of these words that are coming out of people’s mouths right now.”
I went so far as to learn a dead language called Koine Greek so that I could understand the original scripture from the Bible. I just wanted to know. “Is this just gonna be something that I just have to deal with? Or is this gonna be a part of who I am?” I was on that journey very early in my life; I was about 18 when I started searching for those answers. I spent the better half of my college years researching it. I think I spent more of my college life researching homosexuality in the Bible that I did my BFA in Musical Theatre. That was more applicable to my life at the time. I was getting my degree in Musical Theatre, but I was definitely using a lot of my time researching that.
When I was in L.A. and out of the Alabama bubble–I was in such a bubble in Alabama, I didn’t know; my experience with musical theatre was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade–I just didn’t know. There was a whole other world outside of Reeltown; outside of Auburn. When I went to L.A., I definitely just began to live into the life that I had found the answers to; at the time I was seeing someone.
After a lot of research tied to my faith, I came to the realization and the understanding that, “You in fact can be gay and Christian.” I went through a lot of inner and outer turmoil, because a lot of pastors didn’t like what I found out. They didn’t have answers to the questions that I had for them. You push people to grow or you push people into a corner and they get defensive.
Did you feel like you needed to leave Alabama to truly understand how your faith and your sexuality intertwined? And now that you do, do you feel okay returning to Alabama? Or is that not a thing for you?
I don’t think I had to get out of Alabama to live into who I am. Before I had gone to L.A., I had figured out and had the understanding that what I was taught and told wasn’t necessarily true. For me, it was more of a, “I think I’ve been dealt this card to show people that there are different people and they’re not only living in L.A. They’re living in Alabama.” I was living in Reeltown! There are people that live differently than you and are different than you right next door. They’re experiencing things that are being experienced all of over the world. I don’t think I needed to get out of Alabama to be who I am; I ended up leaving L.A. and coming to Nashville because I wanted to set my roots in country music, and that’s definitely Nashville.
I get back to Alabama a lot! My grandmother, who raised me, is still down there. My whole family is down there. I don’t feel any kind of “unwelcome.” Whether I am or not, I don’t really care. Because I am going to unapologetically be myself. By living my truth, I can show others that people are just different. Ya know?
“Still Your Mother” is about a miscarriage that you had when you were much younger. Was your wife supportive of you opening up about that part of your journey?
When my wife and I began the journey of having a family of our own, I really wanted to put pen to paper and put paper to music and create a song that really spoke to what I had been dealing with the last two years. And she’s incredible. I can’t say enough about my wife; she’s not only supportive of me sharing my truth through music, she’s supportive of me being who I am. We both have pasts. Everyone has a past. It’s no good for anyone to pretend otherwise. She’s my biggest supporter.
Is this a step toward a second full length album?
Yeah! I’m still in the kitchen cooking it up. I’m going on tour this fall and my hope is to have an album or a full length EP out right before that. I have so much music that I’ve been writing through the pandemic, and we have a baby that’ll be coming any day now.
You’ll be heading out with Josh Kelley. How important is it for people in his position to take LGBTQ openers out on the road?
I’ve been out my entire career, so it’s been nice to see country music show up in the spaces that we’ve always been in. And it’s not just LGBTQ artists, it’s African American artists. Mickey Guyton, Ty Herndon and Shelly Fairchild–we’ve been just continuing to live our truth. Chely Wright. We’ve all just been ourselves. By doing that, there’s a sense of authenticity in who we are.
We just needed support from the industry. That also comes with the pressure of knowing that we’re paving the way for people behind us, and I love that so much.
This state loves sports. And your alma mater loves sports. Do you still follow Auburn sports?
Oh my gosh. I’m a huge Auburn fan. Auburn softball. Auburn gymnastics. I watch everything on SEC Network. Auburn was knocked out in softball last weekend and my wife was like, “Are we still gonna watch softball this weekend?” And I was like, “Uhhh…yeah? I need to know how everyone is looking before next season when we start playing again.” [laughs]
Yes! War. Damn.