Looking Forward with Gabrielle Aplin
Jade Poulters | 16/12/2020
As I sit with Gabrielle over zoom, the online set up now the norm, it’s a painful reminder that even though we are in slightly better times than we were March to July, the world is still very much suffering. We began the interview reminiscing on what was a January similar to the ones before, with the industry touring as normal, and the prospect of a global standstill at that time quite ridiculous. Little did we know, what was in store over the coming months. "I was on tour just before lockdown. I got a few dates in, but I didn’t get to do all the kind of things I had planned. We didn’t get to do any of Europe or any of the other international stuff we had planned but it could have been way worse.” Gabrielle explains that although she felt like it was a situation that at the time that hadn’t “engulfed” our lives yet, it was a situation you just had to “go with”.
Although Gabrielle watched her whole touring schedule disappear overnight “I still got to do the normal things that you’d do when you release an album”. But with her third album being released pre COVID-19 we talk how the impact of the industry shutting down effected it’s release. “My life hasn’t always been based around touring and promo all over the place, so I’ve been very virtual in a way and that’s how I like to work. I don’t do too well moving. All the stuff that really mattered to me like being able to present the music and really getting the message across and the whole substance of the album including meeting fans and presenting it to them was still possible. My career, has always been very international but because of the internet in that sense I wouldn’t be in three random countries at once anyway. It’s very internet based for me, so I’ve been in an alright position compared to some artists. Most artists rely on touring, so I just remember how lucky I am. My life didn’t have to change that much unlike a touring band. But it did feel really different as well releasing an album independently.”
Gabrielle shot to fame as a household name after her cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘The Power Of Love’ was used for the 2012 John Lewis Christmas Advert. She then released her first album ‘English Rain’ which peaked at number 2 in the charts. Since then Gabrielle has been no stranger to success, with her third album being released independently on her own label in January 2020. “I could kind of do whatever I wanted. The rule book had gone out the window, if there ever was a rule book. My deal came to an end nicely and I had this platform but it took me a couple of years to decide what to do. I still wanted to make a pop album, I love pop music and I wanted to push myself. I worked in L.A and Norway and I pushed myself to work with loads of new people and different people from all over the place. I spent a few years collecting songs and experimenting and as opposed to going into a place saying today I’m going to write a song."
“I find travelling quite difficult, to get settled anywhere so when I went to Norway, there was this uncomfortable space that is actually really really good to be in some times, it allows your thoughts to be a bit louder. It was really good, it was painful but in a good way, I was able to create from that space and I found that really therapeutic and a really nice way to write. It was a break in some way spaced between the two albums.”
Having produced her second album from the comfort of a friends basement flat in London, Gabrielle explained how writing outside of her comfort zone helped create something different to the work she’d released before “I really did want to push myself. Putting myself in different situations and scenarios and writing from that space was interesting. I decided it was exposure therapy, and each time I did it I found it more exciting and less scary.”
Another topic we found ourselves tackling, was the uncertainty lock down has bought to our lives and effected the routines we are accustomed to. I was relieved to chat about our similar habits of working in our pyjamas and allowing ourselves the time to embrace that. “I think having a routine is really important, as it’s something at the moment we can control. Even as having something as small as a skin care routine is really important. That bookmarks my day. It was so important to me when I was touring to have a couple of oils, it sounds silly, but it was less about my skin and more about me having something that had lavender in and no matter where I was I could do that everyday. That was my anchor but even now I’m not travelling it’s still really important as it book marks my day. Even if you have to force yourself to get dressed, you’ve achieved something.”
Having set up her own label “Never Fade Records” Gabrielle removed herself from the majors with the initial aim to have a space where she could release her own music without contraints, saying “before I was even signed I wanted to be able to put out my own songs and have a label.”
“I decided to start funding artists and projects. I set up our night in London to have a headline act and loads of new artists as an opportunity for our artists to come to London and play for the industry, fans and crowds with some more established artists. It’s really great opportunity and a wonderful community who come down no matter the line up to be quiet and listen to their songs.”
It’s really important as a new artist to have that and I think it’s also important to play to rooms of people who don’t care. It’s a good method of confidence building and to know and realise why you’re doing it and no matter who’s listening that you are doing it for the right reasons I suppose. It’s also good to feel appreciated as a new artist and I want those artists to have those opportunities. It was great when I stopped working with Warner that I had this own entity that I was able to release my own music on. And that’s what I’ve been doing through AWAL in a deal which allows me to support myself and the other artists I work with.”
When asked what her advice would be to those in the industry, especially at this difficult time Gabrielle eagerly says “Making lots of online friends and reaching out to people. I’m working with more people internationally now more than ever and with the computer. If you have Zoom, reach out to people and keep some sense of community. Especially if you’re in lockdown or isolating. There’s a lot of stuff online, you can be constantly learning and keeping connection with people. It’s easy to feel less isolated with people around you. It’s important to find that in whatever we can.
As we mention the idea of being alone and separated in these times, our conversation turns to mental health. Having being diagnosed with ADHD Gabrielle knows the all too unpleasant feeling of being isolated by her mental illnessand the stigma and stereotypes surrounding ADHD.“I think historically, although it’s changing a bit now, ADHD has been seen as a thing that naughty young boys have that they grow out of with a bit of behavioural therapy. Like they also think adults don’t have it.” With ADHD being notoriously difficult to diagnose among women as there is no frame diagnosis outlines for women, Gabrielle knows from experience that living with the disability without support can be extremely difficult.
“Not knowing what something is and how to deal with it is tough. I was really lucky as I was able to go and pay privately for someone to look into a diagnosis and I don’t think I would have been able to do that if I didn’t have that privilege. I think a lot of it is education and awareness as well. Like people are still calling it ADD. It’s ADHD and its different and it’s an umbrella term I guess. Also understanding the differences, like women tend to have different symptoms than men, and the stereotype of being really hyper and unable to sit still, naughty and disruptive. It’s not that all the time, so there’s a lot of misdiagnosis and people just given antidepressants and told to go, that didn’t work for me. I actually watched something from the Edinburgh fringe on BBC for a series where those have disabilities or neurological conditions or anything that makes them a little bit different. This girl had ADHD and the way she told her story I was like, oh wow, that’s me. My therapist referred me to this great doctor and psychiatrist who diagnosed me.”
“Everything then became normal. At the time I was very scared of medication especially for ADHD. I tried Ritalin the next day, it was amazing. Like it wasn’t that I felt a high version of myself or anything, but I just felt normal. I could just get up and do my day of work and it actually wasn’t strenuous. I found it hard to do things or to concentrate, then I got depressed and in this pattern of self loathing. You treat the depression but that isn’t the cause.” As I listen I understand the heart wrenching process that comes after years of feeling abnormal. Even after being diagnosed you can feel cursed with a burden the weight of the world. Gabrielle’s outlook is ever the positive one.
“I feel like there’s a positive, like being super aware. Like I can sit there and watch anything Wes Anderson on mute and be like wow. It allows me to work in ways that people without ADHD couldn’t work. For instance, I’m really heightened by sound and sensitive to colour and visuals. I think I feel my ADHD can be a gift but I didn’t realise that until I knew what it was.”
“I also think a lot of the anxiety comes from what the thing is, especially when you’re an anxious person. Like when your arm hurts and you know you’ve pulled a muscle then you know what’s wrong, and you’re able to go ok I can understand. When you know what it is you can deal with the pain it’s causing a lot of the time”
As we reach the end of the interview Gabrielle explains “I think these things are just part of our identity. It’s just who I am and it doesn’t always have to be an issue just because socially it’s described as an issue or an illness that has to be ignored. It’s just something that exists. I think there are these binary’s in life that are manmade binary’s that we have to fit into and fit exactly in those boxes and anything that spills out is an issue. We’ve been told these things are issues when they actually aren’t, we are just more complex than traditional society wants us to be and anything that is abnormal is a problem. I don’t think it is, we’ve made it one. Essentially it all comes down to just needing to look after our brains a bit better.”