As the afternoon was beginning to come to a close and a coffee was brewed, jumping on a chilled out phone call to Gabrielle Aplin felt like chatting to an old friend. She was parked up in a service station after a long week of press and this writer was cosied up in bed, two very different situations, but something that led to a wonderful conversation.
We dived into everything you could think of but one thing kept popping up in other interviews and conversations – that Gabrielle Aplin’s music was misunderstood. It’s an interesting thing to think about given her long-lasting career, but one that allowed for a wonderful answer.
“My fans get it. What was really nice was that the Sunday Times had reviewed my album, and I heard a man had read that review, and bought a ticket to see me play that evening. It’s amazing, but strange. I don’t know what it is. But maybe it’s a bit misogyny, a bit of people trying to be cool. I think as soon as a John Lewis advert goes successful, and it’s a cover, and a woman twinkling around a piano, it’s not cool for lads to like that. I have a lot of men come up to me, they’re like, ‘I don’t usually listen to women, but you’re my favourite’.”
“If you actually really were a proper fan, you would know that I write amazing dance music, or I have a lot of experience writing and featuring on house tracks. You know, I’m a trained musician. And most importantly, I just love writing songs. So I try not to lean on telling you this because you’ve asked it as a question, but it’s not really something that’s on my mind.”
Gabrielle Aplin could be back in Somerset writing about the world going by or she could be performing in London, no matter the situation, it will help many navigate their mind, love of music and so much more.
Regardless of if any listener is tuning into her music for the first time or has been a fan for many years, it’s obvious that Gabrielle and many other artists were affected by the pandemic and how the creative process had changed. It was something that this writer was keen to understand, especially from a mental health point of view.
“So when I moved back to Somerset, where I’m from, just before the second, or the third lockdown, I’d been in London, and then Brighton for five years before that, and I think I loved it so much. But I felt like I was still very close in the industry and the music industry all the time. And I think it’s, it’s very hard not to compare yourself to not worry about numbers, you’re seeing A&R and booking agents walk around all the time and bumping into people you feel it, you never really leave that industry when you go home.”
“I feel like when I moved to literally a field, and I don’t see anybody, let alone music industry, there’s no music industry there, you know, it’s removed from it, you’re not even thinking about numbers, you’re not thinking about what’s trendy, there’s no trends. It’s just people doing their thing. And that I was being I was making music, with no influence in any way, just doing what I wanted to do. I think it’s so much better for it.”
She further explains: “In that sense, I just wrote because I had nothing else to do. I didn’t need to make an album I didn’t know I was making, I was just writing songs about how I felt that day. It meant that the writing process was very introverted, very isolated. But then, when I started working with Mike, it was very important to us that as an antidote to that was experiencing human connection digitally and consuming music and film and everything digitally. We couldn’t go to studios, it was very important as the antidote for isolated writing. And that time was us making an album that genuinely had a physicality. So like anything, all musicians getting together in a room making live recordings to then add to and then any, anything that wasn’t played by a human or was like a synthetic sound would be rerun through some mad speaker because we wanted it to have physical space.”
Speaking of mental health, no matter what kind of creative person you are, there’s always a different outlet for each individual that talks about. But when someone has been in the music industry as long as Gabrielle Aplin has, it’s important to dive into topics such as this.
From becoming known as the girl from the John Lewis advert to massing over a billion streams, it can be a lot for many, whether it’s about learning you limits and about what affects you or if it is understanding what makes you feel better, it’s something that allows everyone to get to grips with their mental health. This talented artist is no different.
“The sad thing is that you kind of have to hit your limit to realise what your limit is. I suppose that happens in all areas of life. Honestly, the best thing for me was just getting out of the industry, being surrounded by normal people who really value the things. But honestly I think the best thing was just having an escape was something else to do as well. I started volunteering at a farm. It’s my favourite thing and is therapy to me. I go every Wednesday, I look after animals. That’s what I do. We make apple juice by selling it at the farm shop every year. It’s the best thing in the whole wide world. And I love how seasonal the work is. And there’s always something different.”
“My favourite thing is to go and hang out with animals. I think maybe I love animals because there’s this weird, like respect and this relationship you can develop over time through trust, and specifically nonverbal communication. And now, I have ADHD, like I said, so that’s really, really important to me to be able to express that and use that and hang out with someone I don’t have to talk to. I find it difficult, you know, so it’s, yeah, that really helps that consistency of having that kind of escape. I guess, having a hobby, my hobby is going and cleaning out animals carefully.”
Continuing, she mentions: “Whenever you Google things about mental health, the first thing is exercise and then get out in nature. It genuinely, really, really, really helps. Just trying to see the good things and also trying to make it so there’s no there isn’t like a divide between me and fans. The most important thing that’s really helped, is having a team that understands what’s important to me, and what I need. People need different things to get going, and I need to rest. I need to be able to have consistency. With ADHD as well, the lack of routines is very difficult for me. So we’ve learned that we make routines wherever we can. I’m very lucky to have a manager that cares, I’m very lucky to have my art taken seriously. They genuinely listened to me and brought a lot of peace.”
After this part of the conversation, it became clear how important mental health and ADHD were to Gabrielle. Not only from the fact she only found out in 2017 that she had ADHD, but having conditions, disabilities and general things wrong with us aren’t spoken about enough.
Whether it’s this writer having Epilepsy or Gabrielle understanding why the way she is because of ADHD, it’s something that can define us, but doesn’t change who we are. There was something brilliant that came out of this conversation that has to be included right now.
“I think for me, especially creatively, it’s a superpower. I truly believe it has definitely hindered my life in so many ways because I’m quite forgetful. I leave things to the last minute. But also I wouldn’t be creative in the way that I am without it. It’s just more social things that I find difficult, you know, but I definitely see it as my superpower. I want to recognize that it can change people’s lives and can really hinder people, in many ways. But I think as someone who’s creative and has a creative career, it’s yeah, it’s my superpower.”
It’s a perfect sentiment to describe how many creatives feel when understanding their disability or condition. One that allows people to be more open about the realities of what life is like with it.
It could be Gabrielle mentioning that she’s not ashamed to discuss it or it could be just trying to make sure every place is a safe space for everyone to know it’s okay to feel understood in a society that is slowly, but surely accepting people with conditions/disabilities.
“What’s amazing is that people are being a bit more open, things are becoming more diverse. People with ADHD and other conditions are being a bit more open about it, and having ADHD helps me feel like I’m not ashamed to say that people are quite honest about who they are, and what makes them who they are. I think it makes it a friendly place, you know? Yeah, that’s how I feel about it.”
One thing to admire about this talented artist is that she’s become someone that understands the importance of life. The importance of life while focusing on her music. It’s the simple things in life many take for granted. Things such as a cup of coffee in the morning, going for a walk with your partner, or any other number of things.
Those simple things in life are what made Gabrielle move back to Somerset, to help remind her, and the masses reading this, that life is so much more than the worries of work. They help her mental health, her music to be the way she wants it to and to live life in the best way possible. If that doesn’t sound like a dream come true, then this writer doesn’t know what to tell you.
One thing to finish this interview off is a small quote from Gabrielle as our conversation diverted into being grateful for those small things. It’s a quote that is a humble reminder on how precious life truly is.
“I’ve achieved some great things. I’m not really fazed by anything. I just feel so lucky. I feel like my life really is about the little things. I have my health. My parents are together. My parents are alive and healthy. I have my animals. I’ve got my life. I’m able to write some songs. I’m so lucky!”
‘Phosphorescent’ is out now.
Words: Josh Abraham