YouTube: The starting stage for artists ranging from Karmin to Justin Bieber. While most may not make the airwaves, a few have broken the barriers to become recording artists in their own right. Enter Gabrielle Aplin, the singer-songwriter who stole hearts after being selected to soundtrack a department store commercial with Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “The Power of Love.” The single topped the UK charts and was soon joined by her second release, “Please Don’t Say You Love Me.” Her album, English Rain, released shortly after to positive reviews. “With my first album, I was very aware that I was a female singer-songwriter, and I felt that I had to always have my acoustic guitar and that I had to write about me and that was it. I’ve realized, I guess [after] I’ve traveled loads and I’ve played loads, I want to start playing electric. I want to start playing on these weird synths. I want to experiment with equipment. And I was able to do that, and I kind of realized that I don’t have to just write about me. I could write about a place, I could write about something that happened to my friend, you know, all this stuff. So it definitely opened up doors and that was a kind of breakthrough.”
The first single and namesake of her follow-up album, “Light Up the Dark,” is like a disco ball thrown into glass which shatters into a rainfall of diamonds. The video was largely inspired by singer Francoise Hardy. “I wanted to shoot it in black and white, but I didn’t want it to look like a black and white rock video. I wanted it to be soft lighting and [have] it look like an old French film from the 60s.” Her longtime fans, addicted to the sweet nature of her former album, lit up – in more ways than one. Some praised her for coming forward in a new light, while others prayed she returned to her old style. “I actually tried more on the first album to make it sound the way it did than I did on this album. All the songs on here, we didn’t re-record them. They are all the demos. It was very free. ‘Light Up the Dark,’ it surprised me. I sat down and that song came out and I didn’t try. I was like, ‘This is what I should be doing.’ There are a few songs in the album that are like that, but a lot of it is very folky, Laurel Canyon inspired. I listened to a lot of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Obviously Joni is a massive influence. Neil Young. I feel like loads of Canadian artists moved to California and just decided they are from [Los Angeles]. Lots of that in there. There’s definitely a mix. I hadn’t released anything for two years, and I wanted to come back with a little bit of a bang and make some noise. And I was like, that’s the song I’m coming back with.”
Aplin recorded Light Up the Dark with collaborator Luke Potashnick of The Temperance Movement (who previously toured with The Rolling Stones) at his home in Brighton. They would start the day writing a song, grab lunch, then come back and record it. One session turned into two, then three, and eventually they had enough content for an album. “It just felt like hanging out. It never really felt like we were working. It was probably what was good about it. I didn’t have any pressure. My label left me alone for a year. They just went, ‘Off, go, write an album!’ And a year later they were like, ‘Okay, what have you got?’ And I was like, ‘There, done.’”
Most of the recordings took place in his basement, but once in a while they took advantage of the rest of the house on the rare occasion they invited another artist into their creative space. “I watched the documentary on how Chilly Gonzales recorded The Reminder by Feist and did it at his house in France where he just literally set up each instrument in a different room and everyone recorded. So we had the drum kit up in the lounge, I was downstairs singing in the basement. We had a guitar amp up on the stairwell, stuff like that,” she reminisces.
“I live in The Lanes which is the trendy, weird part of town where lots of strange things happen and you’re allowed to make noise,” she explained when I asked about the environment. She describes it as a touristy, bohemian type of place. Its pier is one of the main attractions. “There’s lots of open art houses. People literally all open their front doors for a day and let people come in and see their art and buy their art. You could literally dress up as a fairy and walk around town and no one will even bat at you. Literally, no one notices. It’s weird.” But the weirdness brings in a community of like-minded creatives who work together. Her boyfriend, in the band Hudson Taylor, got signed at the same time as she did. She joins them on tour, and they tour as part of her band. According to Aplin, there’s a lot of bands starting up in her current town. “I think it’s really important to have that sort of scene going on. Like back in the 60’s, it was Joni and then it was Steven Stills and David Crosby and Graham Nash. And then they all did their solo stuff, and then got together and did their thing, and then Joan Baez and Bob Dylan back in the day. There’s always a group of people, like the whole Laurel Canyon posse. It’s great that we have that, and I think we should definitely bring it back because the music industry can get snobby, where it’s like you for yourself and you’ll kick everyone else out of your way to get to the top when you should be bringing people with you.”
story by Jordan Blakeman
photos by Roger Deckker
styled by Adelaide Turnbull