Gabrielle Aplin: “To me now, it's just something that’s there. I just navigate life and make decisions and put into place things that accommodate for the fact that I have a neurodivergent condition, and that’s fine. I’m really grateful for it”
Jade Poulters | 10/01/23
Gabrielle Aplin logs into our Zoom chat two years after she last featured in HATC Magazine. “That was my first big outing after lockdown” she tells me “that photoshoot we did in Camden, was my first time back in London after it all went down.” At that point the singer-songwriter had just released and toured her third album Dear Happy, her first independent release after leaving Parlophone the year before. Back then we spoke about her journey starting her own label, her new life away from London and her recent ADHD diagnosis.
Sitting down on either side of a screen it doesn’t seem like much has changed – we’re in a zoom interview for one, Gabrielle is still sticking it out as an independent artist and is still living out in the sticks. But in those past two years she has worked tirelessly on a new collection of tracks, that she started sprinkling out throughout the second half of last year. ‘Call Me’ which was released back in June marked the starting point of this new era and saw Aplin newly revitalised and evolving in confidence as an artist as well as a push back to a more organic form of music making, inspired by her new back to basics lifestyle.
“So, I’m still in Somerset, I’ve started working down on a farm as a volunteer one day a week. It’s the best thing in the world and I really prioritise it right now. It started quite strangely; I wanted a lamb for a bunch of press shoots, and I found the farm while looking for the lamb and the owners were really nice and let us shoot down there too. I thought that they would be with me all day, you know making sure I was holding them correctly and whatever, but they just put me in a barn with three lambs and some bottles of milk and said, ‘let us know when you’re done’. So, I spent the day with these lambs, and they just asked me to pay them in volunteer time, so I did, going once a week and I just haven’t stopped.
I end up doing all sorts of jobs, from building things from recycled materials for the schoolhouse they have there where they teach city kids about life on the farm. But they are still a working farm, so lots of looking after the animals, collecting the fruit and veg that is grown and selling it in their market. It was just bailing season too, so I got to go on the tractor in the evening. At the minute it’s a lot of upkeep jobs, which is nice because I get to hang out with the Alpacas. I don’t even mind mucking out the horses – no one else will do it so I do – I mean, I would much rather deal with animal poo than human poo.”
Stripping life back to its most natural form and starting again has been a huge theme throughout Aplins music since she left big city living. Second single ‘Don’t Know What I Want’ and ‘Never Be The Same’ both tackle the topics of personal growth and change, the rediscovery of self once everything you thought made you who you are, has been stripped away. I asked if this metamorphous had been influenced by her move?
“The pandemic really brought to the front for me the realisation that I had no reason to be where I was. Life feels so normal here, I love that. When you live in the southeast and work in music or any other creative industry, because they are so centred around that area, you feel like you are in it all the time. To remove myself from it has been really rewarding. I’m so lucky that something I enjoyed as a passion and a hobby became my job, but I made it my life entirely, everything was about how this was my job, and it became not fun anymore.
I love that here I don’t walk into people I work with when I’m in the supermarket. I’m able to go to work, come home and have everything separated. That has impacted my writing and the stuff I create in a really wholesome way, where a creative decision is now priority based on how it makes me feel as an artist, not on commercial viability or radio suitability. I think I’m doing better work having been allowed that space. My team have also mirrored that, you know, they have allowed me to separate and don’t hassle me to hear things before they are ready in order to influence or change them. I feel very trusted as an artist, which in turn has helped me trust myself and my creative decisions and gut instincts more. I think that needs to be afforded to more artists because otherwise you end up just making the same shit as everyone else.”
After teasing fans with a third single ‘Don’t Say’ and a fourth prepped as an early Christmas present, Aplins fourth studio album Phosphorescent is set to be released in the New Year. The album took shape over those months isolated in Somerset, an experience she looks back on with intense fondness, and one that has fundamentally changed her song writing style moving forward.
“It was a really wonderful time, and wonderful way to make an album. I wanted to make sure it had a sense of modernity, and it was a really forward-thinking record, but the process of making it was so traditional. It came to in a way that I felt like, just didn’t happen anymore. You know, you hear all those old stories of singer songwriters disappearing into Laurel Canyon, not speaking to anyone at the label for a year and just emerging with a finished body of work, and you think ‘yeah there’s no way that happens anymore, labels won’t allow that’
I didn’t really have to write anything for ages also. A lot of other artists, at the start of lockdown, got caught a bit unlucky being at the start of a new project or about to start or in the middle of promoting one, but I was quite lucky that I had just finished my tour weeks before everything stopped. It must have been really hard for those artists to suddenly have to change how they were doing everything when I didn’t have too, but at the same time I was seeing everyone use lockdown to be creative, cracking on with stuff and I did feel a bit of pressure to keep up with that even though I didn’t have to – I had nothing I needed to create, so when that first lockdown ended I did leave it feeling like I had nothing to show for myself compared to everyone else.
It was in the Winter lockdown when I started writing again. I was in the middle of nowhere and it was quiet, and dark and foggy for months – it felt quite bleak but in a beautiful way – and because I had basically completed Netflix, I ended up sitting down and writing songs. Not because I had to, but because I had nothing else to do. You know, it wasn’t in the diary to write, I hadn’t scheduled any sessions I was just naturally writing songs. Then Mike Spencer contacted me saying he would like to make an album – and Mike does a lot of singles but not many records, but he had a few ideas and I had a few songs so it just fell together in that really traditional way of making music. No one asked me for samples before it was ready, no one was pushing me for a date, I just handed in an album after having been left alone and completely trusted to make one. I didn’t set out with any intention to make one, or to make one in this way, it just happened out of circumstance, but I’m 100% going to carry this method forward because it was amazing to just be able to immerse myself into the project for a whole year.
Dear Happy was written with a bunch of different people who didn’t know each other, in different cities all over the world and I came back from all these countries and tried to make all these different songs sound like an album. I did it that way because I was trying to push myself, but it did make a very dispersed album. That was a very strange feeling as a singer-songwriter too, because I would come from writing this song with a bunch of producers and realise, I couldn’t play it – I couldn’t just sit down and do an acoustic performance of this song right now, I must teach myself it. That was quite strange. Whereas this new record all fits together and sounds very grounded in the same feeling in a sense. I liked being able to sit down and write it on piano or guitar, and regardless of how they initially came out sounding I could still tell myself ‘I can play this album front to back, back to front there and then’. Again, that wasn’t something I planned but reflecting upon it, I realise its something incredibly important to me as an artist, as a singer songwriter, to be able to play my songs from the bare bones up.
Leaving the world of “The Big Three” behind, starting her own label and signing up to work with the distribution team at AWAL gave Aplin a taste of creative control that was denied form her for so long. This ability to completely immerse herself in the project allowed for inspiration to strike and innovation to occur in new and invigorating places, she had rarely trod before.
“From the writing to the artwork, everything about it, every decision was mine, for a whole year it was just this album and me. That’s not to say, I didn’t enjoy working with majors, I still feel like they are completely valid, but now I’ve had a taste of creative control it’s important to me that I keep it. And with this new team, it wasn’t like I had to ask and push for it, I was just given it. I was able to go into meetings after the album was done, having had time to think about what I wanted it to look like, what I wanted the artwork to be, before a huge team could do ‘brainstorming’. I got to tell them my ideas first.
You know as I’m writing this album I’m surrounded by a lot of nature, and I got to witness the whole sort of cycle of life occur. The leaves falling, the bleakness of winter, the spring coming in and lambs being born, ducks laying their eggs, I felt so connected to it. When I started working with Mike and realised his studio is ran on renewable energy those two things came together and I thought ‘well, what if the artwork can be made from natural sources? What if we can incorporate that into every single aspect of the release?’
These became the creative pillars I walked into those later meetings with, and when I brought them up to the team no one rolled their eyes at me, they went away and came back to me with ideas that fit within the budget. I got to make cyanotypes for the artwork, so the sun basically made all the images, and an eco-mix vinyl. I was able to do more than other artist to make sure that this record was made within its means and as environmentally friendly as possible because I have that control, and that team.”
The last time we spoke to Aplin, we touched on how she had recently been diagnosed with ADHD, having felt like something was off for a very long time. Getting diagnosed later in life is something this writer, and thousands of other women in the UK can relate to. A staggering 50-75% of women with ADHD go undiagnosed with boys and men three times more likely to be treated for the condition than women and girls. In fact it can take up until becoming the mother of a child with ADHD for a woman to realise she may have it too. She was willing to speak very openly to us about that process and how she has been finding life post diagnosis.
“I’m sure there are so many people out there who suspect they have ADHD but have never sought out diagnosis. I think it’s great that there is so much more information out there now that people are becoming more aware of it, and while I’m sure some people are happy to crack on with life without a diagnosis, I do think it is important to put a label on it, so to speak, because it makes you understand things so much better. I think it can help you maybe when you’re disappointed in yourself or can’t understand why you behave a certain way or do a certain thing - it doesn’t offer you an excuse for your behaviour but it offers you an explanation and an idea as to why things have happened and can help you let go of any shame that you’re holding onto.
To me now, its just something that’s there. I just navigate life and make decisions and put into place things that accommodate for the fact that I have a neurodivergent condition, and that’s fine. I’m really grateful for it, I try to look at all the positives of the condition, and despite the fact it’s really hindered me in some ways, creatively I am the way I am because I have ADHD. People with ADHD see patterns in places neurotypical people can’t and that is something that creatively I really value the ability to do. The tendency to hyperfocus has also really helped me be involved in a project for as long as I have been with this album. It’s allowed me to really focus on it and, become obsessed with it in away. I’ve been able to harness and use it in a productive way.
Obviously, it has hindered me in ways too. It can be hard to get going, I don’t feel like I can plan time effectively. I don’t see time as a timeline it’s just all here all at once, which makes it very difficult when planning a tour, which I’m doing right now, because I struggle to schedule things. It made it quite difficult to feel calm and prepared, because I never feel it, I just feel shame. But now I am aware of what the issue is, and I have a name and a label for it, I can re-rationalise things to myself and go ‘actually you are prepared, you feel like you aren’t, but you just have ADHD’.”
There’s no need for readers to panic though, dates have been planned for a mini album release set of shows in the new year. Including a show in this writer’s hometown, on their birthday – hint hint Gabrielle.
“It’s not the official tour for the album, just instore shows and signings that have been put on by record stores. I think the furthest north I’m going to is Liverpool, but I have put them all close together to try and make a mini tour feel out of it. I’m excited, like actually really really excited to play the songs live. The whole making of this record and planning the campaign felt so locked down so I’m looking forward to letting these songs be let free. Music and people are the two most important things to me, the songs and the people who listen to them so its going to be great to have them both together in the room.”
We end with a question, potentially trying to be deeper than it is. Aplin has spoken a lot about how she arrived at this album and the places she went both emotionally and mentally while making it, but I wondered where it has taken her since?
“Oh, this album- and I’m not just saying this- it feels like making an album for the first time again. I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do and really connected to myself as a person. You know we are in an age that’s based around mass consumption, and everything has to be super shiny and polished especially with the way things are online now and the prominence of TikTok it can feel like you will just having to hammer things out to make your record as big as possible. I’d always take a huge giant hit in that area. So, it’s been nice to just realise that I can live a normal life and I can write songs and people want to hear them and I’m completely fine with that.
If I just do exactly this how I’m doing it for the rest of my life I will be completely happy. If I can sustain it on this level and be able to sleep in my own bed most nights and have a relatively normal routine that will be great. That’s what this album has taught me, that’s what I’m taking with me, and I hope it continues to take me down this path. I’m really happy to be here, you know, I don’t really feel like I need anything else I am happy as I am. I’m aware I’m really lucky to be able to say that so if everything stays the way it is now then that’s perfect for me.”
Gabrielle Aplin’s fourth studio album Phosphorescent is available to stream from January 6th 2023 and you can pre-order physical copies now from all major music retailers. Her mini-UK release tour tickets are available to purchase now for the following dates:
Friday 6th January – Banquet, Kingston
Saturday 7th January – Union Hall, London
Sunday 8th January – Phase One, Liverpool
Monday 9th January – Crash, Leeds
Tuesday 10th January – Rough Trade, Nottingham
Wednesday 11th January – Resident, Brighton
Thursday 12th January – Rough Trade, Bristol
Words: Jade Poulters