Aussie popstar Gabriella Cilmi is coming off the back of one hell of a year. Her debut single ‘Sweet About Me’ was one of the biggest hits on the planet last year, her debut album ‘Lessons To Be Learned’ went on to sell more than a million copies globally, she bagged six ARIA Awards and in October turned 18.
But not one to stay idle, she’s surrounded herself with a swag of top name producers and has immersed herself in the world of disco in order to create a brand new album with a brand new sound.
auspOp had a natter with Ms Cilmi to find out about the pressures involved in creating the perfect ‘Ten’.
“I guess people are probably going expect something (similar) from me after they heard my last record, but I just wanted to try something different, because I’m obsessed with all different kinds of music. One of my bandmates gave me this Donna Summer record, ‘I Remember Yesterday’ and that kind of changed my life from there.
“I was listening to people like Giorgio Moroder, who did all the Flashdance stuff and I thought I’d go in this new direction. Still keeping the soul in it, I guess, but it’s certainly a bit more pop. I guess I just wanted to make a record that people could dance to and that would make a crowd go crazy.”
Growing up in Dandenong, in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Gabriella was discovered at the tender age of 13 by former Mushroom Records boss Michael Parisi. From there, she was signed to global giant Island Records in the UK and throughout the last 18 months, she’s become a star across the planet.
But through all the success, all the accolades, there are a couple of memorable moments that stand out for her.
“Playing at the MCG (for the Sound Relief concert) in between Jet and Kings Of Leon, playing main stage at Glastonbury and meeting Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin, I have to say. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life. We were backstage at the O2 Arena, everyone was getting their meals just before we were going to go on stage. I just had to go up and talk to him, so I bit my tongue, went up and all I could think to say was “are you going to eat the salmon or are you just having the meat pie…?” I had a whole speech that I could say to him, I couldn’t say a thing. It’s not cool,” she squirms.
That’s not to say she gets nervous often. She tells us that the prospect of performing in front of an audience of a million people doesn’t really faze her too much, because they “kind of become one”, but there’s one teeny tiny gig approaching in her home town that has her a little on edge.
She’s booked to perform the national anthem at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix later this month.
“Oh my god, I’m so nervous – 50 million people. It goes out to 50 million people. I think I’m more nervous because it’s at home in Melbourne. Whereas I think if I was in the UK, I wouldn’t be feeling as nervous. It’s just because I know that all my friends and family are watching. It’s a weird thing.”
It’s a pressure Gab’s experienced previously – following up her successful debut ‘Lessions To Be Learned’ with the notoriously difficult sophomore album.
“Yeah, everyone goes crazy when they’re writing their second record. I kinda felt a pressure, but then again, I kinda had to ignore it because I didn’t want it to get the better of me. I took each day as it came. I had a freak out moment here and there, I thought at times I was going to write a New Orleans piano record, but then I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
I did try loads of different things before I got the sound that I wanted.”
It’s a sound we love. ‘Ten’ is jam-packed with an array of glittering disco-pop tracks that we reckon may even turn a certain impossible princess green with envy. But it’s not just Gab’s skills that have been utilised in the creation of her new beast. She’s been surrounded by some of the hottest producers on planet pop.
Xenomania, The Bird And The Bee’s Greg Kurstin and even the legendary Dallas Austin have all lent their talents to the new album.
“Greg Kurstin is the best. He’s just amazing to work with. He’s so intuitive when he works with someone. He knows how you want things to sound and he can really paint the picture in your brain. And I worked with him on one of my favourite tracks on the record ‘Superman’, but it’s more smoother and sexier sounding and I love it so much.”
Gabriella says that working with Dallas Austin was a completely different experience, and one that almost took the ‘Ten’ project in a totally unique musical direction.
“I love Dallas Austin. I was so nervous working with him. Actually when we arrived, I thought ‘Are we ever going to write anything?’ Because the first two days we basically just hung out around the studio. We wouldn’t start until really late at night and then when we’d eventually start, we’d work until five in the morning. That was like old school. That’s how they would work,” she says.
“He was really funny. He’d be like ‘What kind of song do you want to write today?’ and being in Atlanta, there’s this big hip hop scene, so I was ‘Oh maybe like a hip-hop country song.’ So we’re sat there and I’m yodelling and he was playing acoustic. And we ended up coming up with this song with a yodel in it. And he somehow makes my yodel sound cool.”
So we shouldn’t be discounting the possibility of a Gabriella Cilmi ‘Folk Sessions EP’ sometime in the future.
“Probably, knowing me. I mean, I’m a big bluesy/rootsy fan, so you never know. ‘On A Mission’ acoustic style,” she laughs.
But for the time being, we’re completely absorbed in the world of ‘disco’ Cilmi. The album’s first single ‘On A Mission’ has been swimming around the Aussie top 20 in recent weeks and has entered the UK top ten this week at No.9. Some have suggested the song’s bassline sounds rather similar to Joe Jackson’s 1982 hit ‘Steppin Out’.
“Well, it’s got a similar line to it – it’s not the same, but I’m sure that somewhere in their heads when they were writing the bassline, Joe Jackson must have popped up somewhere in there.
People are always saying things sound like something.
For me it’s like fashion – you’re always travelling back in time and getting inspiration from things.”
Inspiration for the album’s rumoured second single ‘Hearts Don’t Lie’, also came from days gone by.
“‘Hearts Don’t Lie’ is my favourite song on the record and I hope it’s the second single. I love that sound – and people like Betty Davis, who was probably most famous for marrying Miles Davis and dating Jimi Hendrix, she had the most amazing bassline riffs. I love her, she was just so fierce. She kind of inspired the sound.”
French DJ Fred Falke has also had a hand in the creation of the new LP, remixing Gabriella’s biggest hit ‘Sweet About Me’ for inclusion as the album’s bonus track.
“He works in the studio where I recorded ‘Sweet About Me’ now and he’s done a different version of it. At first I thought to myself that it sounded a bit weird, because you just don’t associate the track with boogying on the dancefloor, I guess, but it sounds really cool. He did a really cool job.”
‘Ten’ is a corker of a pop record. And though we must admit to being a little luke-warm on the opening single ‘On A Mission’, ‘Hearts Don’t Lie’ is pure pop bliss. Disco beats, pulsing rhythms and a soaring chorus combine to create one of the first great pop tracks of 2010. ‘Superhot’ is to Gabriella what ‘Light Years’ was to Kylie – pure disco heaven. ‘Love Me Cos’ (co-written by up and coming UK star Ellie Goulding) is more spine-tingling pop stuff and ‘Let Me Know’ impresses with it’s ‘60s/reggae groove and gospel chorus.
Though it’s hard to play favourites when the whole thing sounds so good. And while perhaps not quite the perfect ‘Ten’ when it comes to pop records, Gabriella’s ‘Ten’ comes pretty damned close.
Gab’s single ‘On A Mission’ is available digitally and physically now.
The album ‘Ten’ is released this Friday.
She performs the national anthem at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday March 28.