Music interview: Gabrielle Aplin

Gabrielle Aplin
Gabrielle Aplin
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Those only familiar with Gabrielle Aplin from her delicate rendition of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood song The Power of Love that soared to Number One in 2012 after it soundtracked a Christmas TV commercial for John Lewis may be caught unawares by her latest album.

Light Up The Dark is a lively affair, suggesting there’s much more to the articulate 23-year-old singer songwriter than acoustic balladry.

Aplin says she didn’t set out to disarm people. “I just wanted to do what I naturally would do. I actually thought about this album less than my first album [English Rain].

“With The Power of Love I was grateful for it and I loved the John Lewis advert but they chose the song and they had a brief, I didn’t get to just cover it how I wanted to. It had to be slow and piano-y for the advert. That was the only worry about it, that it could hinder me in some kind of way, but it really didn’t, I was able to go on and do my own music afterwards.

“With Light Up The Dark it was completely relaxed, I recorded in my friend’s basement, we played everything. It was very relaxed and felt like I wasn’t really trying which is how it should be, I think.

“There is the worry that people would be like ‘Oh God, what’s she doing?’ But the reaction has been either great or ‘I wasn’t expecting that but I’m glad it happened’ as opposed to ‘What the hell is she doing?’

I can’t write things by numbers sat in a room with somebody I don’t know and them telling me my melody’s wrong because really nothing’s wrong, there is no right and wrong, it’s just whatever makes money to them. As soon as it becomes about money and radio my creative doors close and I can’t do it.

Gabrielle Aplin

“It’s still very me. I’m not defined by a certain sound or a certain genre. I’m defined by my voice and my songs and when you strip everything away the songs are still the same. If I sit and played the songs on my first and my second album back to back on acoustic guitar they all sound part of the same piece.”

Comparisons have been made between her new record and the leftfield Canadian pop singer Feist. Aplin admits to being “a really big fan” of Chilly Gonzalez, who produced Feist’s albums Let It Die and The Reminder.

“I watched a documentary on how he recorded her, he recorded it in his house in France and they went through the science of it – drums in one room, recording trumpets outside, the science of how you make a house into a studio. That’s kind of what we were doing so it was really interesting to learn from someone else how they do that and take inspiration from that, not in terms of the songs but how they’re recorded and the routine. I love how they’re pop songs but they have really intricate musical parts, it’s not just slam a few chords down into a computer and produce it, everything’s really well arranged and that sound is what I really wanted to get through.”

While Aplin admires established songwriters who “can write hit songs one after the other and just bang them out”, on this occasion she preferred to work with her friends and contemporaries.

“It’s kind of like musical speed dating, you go into a room with some man older than my dad who I’ve never met and then you have to tell them about your life and write about it, it’s actually a really strange experience and when you don’t know someone and you’ve been told to do that because they’ve got a track record it’s actually quite hard.

“I did write with some big songwriters for this album but it’s just about how it comes about and if I know them. I had a collaborator called Luke Potashnick, he’s in a band called The Temperance Movement and they all played on it and anyone we brought in to write on it were mutual friends.

“I had a guy called Adam Argyle come in for a few days and we wrote together. He spends a lot of time in Nashville and does a lot of country things and that was really nice to mix all of us together. Even a guy called Sasha Skarbek, he wrote Wrecking Ball and You’re Beautiful by James Blunt but then he wrote Shallow Love with me and it wasn’t like we were in a studio trying to write a hit for radio, we were just chilling out in a living room by a piano trying to write a song. When it works in that way it doesn’t matter who I’m working with. Everyone writes differently. I can’t write things by numbers sat in a room with somebody I don’t know and them telling me my melody’s wrong because really nothing’s wrong, there is no right and wrong, it’s just whatever makes money to them. As soon as it becomes about money and radio my creative doors close and I can’t do it.”

Aplin says she “feels like [she] went up a level as a songwriter” after touring the world with English Rain. “On my first album all I could really write about was myself, that’s all I knew, then when I did some travelling when I went in to write my second album I knew I was able to draw inspiration from a place I’d seen or a person I’d met or a colour or something, things that had happened to people around me, not just myself. Knowing that I could actually write about anything as opposed to just me, travelling has definitely made me a bit more worldly.”

She describes the highlight of her travels as being Japan. “It’s an amazing place, they really support artists, I love going there so much. I remember doing Summersonic, which is their big festival in Tokyo, and it’s probably the only festival in the world where I can be on the same line-up as Metallica and Linkin Park and people were moshing at my gig, that was weird.

“I played another festival there where I was the only Western artist on the line-up and there was a whole sea of Japanese people going crazy and losing their minds and I will never forget that, it was mad.”

As well as her own career, Aplin has set up her own label to develop others. “I think in this day and age you don’t really need a major label to get by,” she says. “I’m on one, so I don’t want to be a hypocrite, but it’s always good to have other outlets. I was recording and releasing my songs independently and when I got signed the royalties from those previous releases were generating couldn’t go back into my music so I thought I’d put it into other artists. I’m not really that involved, all I really want to do is fund projects for artists that I believe in. At the moment I’m working with a girl called Hannah Grace, a few years ago I released Saint Raymond’s first EP and he’s gone on to do really great things. I want to do start-up projects as opposed to signing people, just funding individual projects.”

Gabrielle Aplin plays at O2 Academy Leeds on January 30 and The Leadmill, Sheffield on February 17. For details visit http://gabrielleaplin.co.uk/

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