Forget everything you thought you knew about Gabrielle Aplin (unless you thought her music was quite good): her new track ‘Waking Up Slow’ is an absolute belter.
Put it alongside last year’s ‘Miss You’ EP and what we’re all witnessing here, ladies and gentlemen, is Aplin transitioning into a proper actual excellent popstar.
On first hearing ‘Waking Up Slow’ last week three things happened. The first step was to listen to the song five times in a row. Straight after that, I added the song to the ‘we’ve got obsession’ box on the Popjustice homepage, where it replaced Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Cut To The Feeling’ (I KNOW RIGHT).
And then, finally, I demanded (ie accepted the kind offer of) some time on the phone to discuss what precisely is going on here. When the time came she was sitting in a car with her three dogs Zippo, Morpheus and Rhonda, which she said was something to do with having no phone reception in her Brighton home but I think secretly she just likes sitting in cars with three dogs.
THIS IS THE CHAT
So your new single’s really good and your last EP was really good too. In short: things are getting good!
I’m glad you think so!
Not to totally write off the first five years of your career, obviously.
Well, everyone’s allowed their opinion.
Hm. To an extent. 1 What led to you changing your sound?
These are songs I’ve been writing for a while, but I felt like I’d been reining in my production. I still write the songs the same way, with a piano or a guitar, and it’s all a very classic approach to songwriting. The thing is, I was trying too hard to be cool. I have a really amazing fanbase who are so loyal, and some of them have been with me since the last days of MySpace. I just felt like if I didn’t have an acoustic guitar or piano on everything I released, they’d hate me. Or that they’d be disappointed. Or that they’d call me a sell-out. But I had an epiphany at the end of last year.
What was the epiphany? ‘Fuck the fans’?
It was that, hang on a minute, I actually was selling out by trying to be cool. So I just decided to stop trying. I stopped being scared of pop. I love a pop song! I was just scared it might frighten people a bit, but I enjoy wriitng these songs so much, and I find them so easy to write, that I’ve just stopped thinking about it. So I didn’t try to change, I just stopped trying not to.
Are you now writing different songs because you know they’ll be sonically different?
With ‘Miss You’, that EP was written and produced with the same guy I did my first album with. And when you look at things I’ve released and you look at the timeline it might seem like a sudden change, but to me, well I write songs every day and for me it’s been a gradual thing, despite what the timeline of releases might look like.
One of the interesting things about ‘Waking Up Slow’ 2 is that it keeps getting even better with every single thing that happens in it, from the intro through to the end of the first chorus. Like, if you were to chart each element on a graph you’d basically be drawing a staircase.
I haven’t actually really played it to many people outside my management, so it’s nice and comforting to hear a compliment, especially because it came out of one of the worst sessions I’ve ever had.
So I did it with LostBoy, this guy called Pete. I had a random day with him. I said to him, ‘can I bring my dog?’ He had his studio in his loft at that point, and when we got there my dog started sneezing uncontrollably. We went out for lunch and it happened again. We walked past a vet and Lostboy was like, ‘ha ha there’s a vet for your coughing dog’, then we turned the corner and she just fell to the floor and started having a fit. We went back to the vet, who took the dog and told me to come back in six hours. Six hours! So I was just sat round at LostBoy’s house, this guy I’d never met before, for six hours drinking tea. It was so awkward. It was actually the worst day ever. Anyway I had all these melodies with no words, then a few months ago he moved into his new studio and we finished the song.
How’s the dog now?
She was diagnosed with epilepsy, but she’s fine now. Anyway, even though that day was a shambles it was the first time I’d been randomly put in a room with someone and it had worked.
When has it not worked?
I’ve worked with big names who’ve been amazing, but on other occasions there’s been a lot of ego, and it’s a bit like, ‘I’ve had a lot of success, therefore what I say is right’. I mean, it’s an art — we all want to have a hit on the radio, but I don’t want to have my soul destroyed. I think sometimes people forget what they got into it for, and sitting there being told my ideas are wrong because they like their ideas better, that can piss me off. There’s one funny thing I remember, though: I had a session with a really great writer a few years ago — I got on really well with him, I wish we were just going out for pints. Anyway he wanted to write a song about his favourite jeans, except as if they were a person. The first line was “you came from across the land”, and when I asked why, he said: “because my jeans were made in China”.
You parted ways with Parlophone last year — do you think in light of your new material the label are thinking ‘hm, maybe we were a bit hasty here’?
Well, I still see my old A&R, we do get on. It wasn’t a straight-up dropping — we just couldn’t make it work, I wasn’t happy, they weren’t happy, and the way it ended was actually really nice and the best way it could have happened. But I feel like I am maybe now writing all the songs that they were begging me to write while I was signed to them. But I just couldn’t do it then! It was probably an ego thing: I wanted to always have an instrument in my hand, at all times, to make a point. But now I just want to be free.
Creativity can sometimes flourish in the absence of people demanding it, right?
YES! All the best songs — the big pop tunes — are so easy to write. But it’s not easy when someone’s telling you to do it, and you don’t want to do it. It’s like, ‘don’t tell me what to fucking do, I’ll write the opposite’. So it’s easier when there’s no pressure. Mind you, I’m my own pressure now. I’m sure I’ll work with other labels in the future but I just wanted to work with something a bit DIY for now. I didn’t want to wallow in the fact that I wasn’t signed to a major label, I just wanted to get on with it, and I had the resources to do it so that’s what I am doing. I set up this entity [Never Fade Records] when I was 17 just to release my first EPs and since then it became something I was releasing other people through, too.
Is there other good stuff on the EP or is it all downhill from here?
It’s all shit! No. ‘Waking Up Slow’ wasn’t actually going to be the single — I was thinking of ‘Say Nothing’ as the single and changed my mind at the last minute. So there are two songs, at least, which could have been the first single. It’s the first time I’ve had that problem.
It’s a nice problem to have. Is it easy being a popstar?
No! I mean I wouldn’t say I’m up there with Rihanna, obviously. My life isn’t super-busy, I don’t have people following me with cameras all the time. But I do struggle in some ways.
In what ways?
When I remove myself and get existential and look at it all from the outside, I suddenly realise how weird it all is. When I’m in the studio I’m fine, the creative side of it I love. I love performing too, but also when I really think about it, it’s like, ‘why is everyone staring at me?’, and I get really freaked out. I find it difficult. And there’s the lack of routine, too. Another thing I decided, when I decided to stop trying so hard, was to stop feeling like I had to have a face full of makeup on every time I did an interview.
Cut to: sitting in a car full of dogs.
Well yes. I mean I’ve just stopped trying to be cool. I mean, I just love to crochet. I’m probably going to go home and crochet something now.
Crochet aside, what’s happening next?
I don’t know where these new songs are going to take me. You saying you like the song has made me think everyone’s going to fucking love it. Like I say, I haven’t played it to most of my mates yet — they’re all musicians and musos and jazzers. I hear the way they talk about pop artists I like and I just think, ‘hm, I’m not going to play you my new stuff then’. Actually I’m going to send it to them right now. I’ll probably be brought down to earth when they complain that it only has three chords or something.
Oh you only need three don’t you, Jesus Christ. Anything else you need to discuss today?
Yes. I know you’re a Robyn fan, and what I need is for you to get me a session with Robyn, and in exchange I’ll give you some of my publishing.
I can look into it, but if I do speak to her I’m going to have to insist that she releases her own new album before she does any sessions with the likes of you.
Yes, I’m ready for a new album. Let me know how it goes! Oh and by the way I’ve always wanted a backhanded compliment on one of my tunes from you, so thanks for that.
Opening the interview with ‘better than the old stuff’ was backhand gold, sorry about that.
Well it’s a potential headline, anyway!
‘Waking Up Slow’ is out now; the EP’s due later this month.