Australian audiences best know British starlet Gabrielle Aplin for her smash cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s classic ‘The Power Of Love’, which belatedly smashed the top five in Australia last year.
But she’s certainly more than a one trick pony, as her new album ‘Light Up The Dark’, released today, proves.
Hot on the heels of her Bestival performance in the UK last weekend, we chat to Gabrielle about her dedicated Japanese fanbase, the inspiration behind her new album and whether or not she was tempted to repeat history and include a cover version on it.
But we begin by talking about ‘the cover’; her UK No.1 smash, ‘The Power Of Love’. Used in a Christmas TV commercial for British retailer John Lewis at the end of 2012, it wasn’t until March last year that it finally started breaking in Australia, all thanks to a TV sync deal with Channel 7’s ‘Resurrection’. Gabrielle tells us that she loves how music can so perfectly complement the visual.
“I just love syncing music to film in any way,” she begins. “So when ‘Resurrection’ used it for their adverts, it just kind of reiterated how amazing music and film are together and how they can enhance each other. It’s just something I really love doing.
“I did that song for a really beautiful animated advert about a snowman and his snow girlfriend and it was all lovely. And then it was used again for this thing where dead people were returning. It was completely different, but still worked. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but it’s amazing that it could do that.”
Gabrielle also couldn’t understand that, with the power of the internet these days, a song that was released at the beginning of the British winter at the end of 2012 could see similar success towards the end of the Australian summer some 17 months later.
“I actually said this when I came over to tour Australia… To us, you guys are in summer all the time. Even when I’ve come over in your winter, it feels like summer for me. So I released that and it was winter here, a Christmas single, then I came to Australia at the end of your summer at that point and I just had it in my head that it was a Christmas song. So I just thought it wasn’t going to go well in Australia because it wasn’t snowing there.”
How wrong she was. ‘The Power Of Love’ quickly found favour amongst Australian audiences and peaked at No.5 on the ARIA singles chart on April 13 last year. It paved the way for the success of subsequent single ‘Please Don’t Say You Love Me’ (also top five) and resulted in the ‘English Rain’ project taking off; the album finding itself in homes across the world.
“I got to come to Australia a lot of times and I got to spend a lot of time in Asia, which is something that I’d always wanted to do regardless of music,” she tells us. “It was amazing that I was able to join the two of them.
“I guess coming back to the point about the internet is that it’s just amazing what you can do. These days, you don’t have to build up your fanbase locally by playing local gigs and stuff. You can post something online and then someone in Japan might like it. Really really cool.”
And speaking of Japan, it was the album’s success there that perhaps surprised her most.
“I’d never been there before and I didn’t think that my music would work well there,” she admits. “When I first got told that I was going on a promo trip to Japan and I was offered to play the Summer Sonic Festival there, I just thought, ‘yeah, whatever’.
“So they sent me out and it was amazing. We had people waiting for me at the airport, people at the hotel and it was a bit weird. They were moshing to ‘Panic Cord’ and I think it was just the fact that I was trying to get my head around a new culture and wondering why my music had done any good there. It was mental.
“They love artists. They love things. They love having a ‘thing’ that’s identifiable to an artist. I really noticed that. The other day, for example, the music video for my new single went up and I then did a TV show and I reposted it online, but had my makeup done with these glittery freckles. And then within about ten minutes of putting up this video, I had about eight or nine Japanese girls send me pictures of their faces covered in glitter in the exact same way.
“So that’s their new thing now. It’s really amazing that they properly go for it and it’s incredibly sweet. Everything about them… there’s no ego and they just really support artists. It’s nice to go there and feel like that.”
Gabrielle’s new album ‘Light Up The Dark’ is released across the world today. Featuring a dozen new songs (18 on the deluxe edition), she tells us that from a creative perspective, fans can expect a much more cohesive body of work.
“For the first album, I’d written a load of songs, most of which my fans had already heard,” she explains. “Then I’d written some more and decided to go into a studio once I’d chosen the 13 for the album and record them with a producer.
“I worked with Mike Spencer on that and he was really helpful with me, because I’d written some of the songs when I was 15. Some of them I’d written when I was 20 and was about to release the album. So it was as though they didn’t fit and I had to make them fit via production and I didn’t want to not do my songs justice.
“I guess what was different this time was that I didn’t have to do that and I went in and recorded it with my friend Luke in his house in North London and realised that the demos were actually what I wanted the recordings to be. So we didn’t have to record them again.
“Instead of writing everything and recording it, I’d go in with Luke for a day and within that day we’d write a song and record it. And the next day, we’d go in and write a song and record it. So each day for about a year, we were just writing and recording songs and I guess because they were all written at the same time, we didn’t have to compromise anything.”
We remark to her that ‘Light Up The Dark’ feels more raw, more organic and earthy.
“Yes,” she agrees. “Well I think with the first one, I was obsessed with thinking that I had to play everything, so I’d go in there and I’d play the guitars and I’d play the piano and I’d put the percussion down, then I’d sing on it. I’d do everything. So I could never actually play it live with a band.
“With this one, I just literally got over myself really and we set up in the house, we had a drummer in the living room, guitar amps on the landing, I was in the basement, we all just played it live and then I added to it afterwards. So it was actually really nice to work with musicians this time.”
And while there’s ordinarily a massive amount of pressure put on artists to come up with a cracking second album, she tells us she felt none whatsoever.
“There probably should have been. Maybe my label were worried, but they didn’t tell me,” she laughs. “I didn’t have any pressure, maybe because I was in my friend’s house. He’s very cool and if the label called, he’d say, ‘look, it’s creative time guys, come on’.
“So it was all very internal and very free and because it was in his house and I was just rolling up at 11am having breakfast and then writing a song, it just felt like I was hanging out with my mate for the day. But it was also just doing exactly what I wanted to.
“Some of the songs on the album are a bit different and probably do sound like a bit of a departure, but each one I sat down and wrote really naturally and it just completely came out. By the end of each day, six hours later, a song would exist. So obviously I’d done something that I should be doing. So no pressure at all really.”
Gabrielle name-checks Feist’s 2007 long player ‘The Reminder’ as one of the musical inspirations behind the new album.
“What I loved about that album was the production,” she says. “I love hearing a pop song with real instruments and real musicians and loads of creativity. Chilly Gonzales played on and produced that record, so I checked him out and I’m a big fan of him.
“But I guess my whole album is influenced by that whole ‘70s West Coast thing. I was listening to a lot of Neil Young and Crosby, Still & Nash and Joni Mitchell. But I was also listening to the likes of Beck and The National and Arcade Fire, because I wanted something anthemic as well.
“So I love pop music, but it’s mostly ‘70s West Coast for this album. I forced myself to listen to a lot of LA/California music, I guess.”
Given the widespread success of ‘The Power Of Love’ from the first album, we ask Gabrielle whether she was tempted to throw in a cover version this time around.
“Yes. But there were probably about six or seven,” she admits. “I wanted to do a cover, but then I realised that I wanted to cover everything and I would have just ended up doing a covers album.
“I recently did a cover of ‘That’s All’ by Genesis, which is one of my favourite songs, and it got released by Radio 2 on an album. I could always come back to that for my live shows, but I didn’t want to have to be playing the same cover every night on tour, because I like to mix it up a bit.
“So my band and I have decided on four or five to do for the tour and I’ve left the album cover-free. I’d also written so many songs and we had to whittle it down to eleven or something. I wanted about 30 songs on there, so you know… I didn’t want to be bumping my songs for versions of other songs.”
So think of ‘Light Up The Dark’ as a progression of Gabrielle Aplin’s sound. A genuine, more earthy album with a mix of songs that will both delight old fans and perhaps find some new ones along the way. As to whether it’s as commercially successful as the first, that’s not something that she’s spent too much time thinking about.
“I didn’t want to look back and over analyse what I did with my first album and say, ‘well that sold some copies, so what do I do now to make this one be even bigger’? I didn’t think that at all.
“If ‘Light Up The Dark’ sold ten copies on the first day, I’d be absolutely fine with it, because I think these songs are amazing and I’m really really happy with them.”
Gabrielle Aplin’s new album ‘Light Up The Dark’ is available from all good Australian music retailers from today.