“I don’t think I spoke to my label for a year, there was no pressure to write a hit…” - hmv.com talks to Gabrielle Aplin
Though she’d quietly been working away for a couple of years, to most people Gabrielle Aplin arrived very suddenly at the end of 2012 when her cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘The Power Of Love’ featured on the John Lewis Christmas advert. Her debut record English Rain followed quietly, it sold well, shifting over 100,000 copies and set her up as one of the UK’s premier singer-songwriters.
Now, on LP number two, things are a little different. Aplin’s new album Light Up The Dark was recorded with Luke Potashnick, guitarist with blues rock band The Temperance Movement, quietly and confidently over the course of 2014. It’s a big jump from her debut, the acoustic ditties have given way to a much bigger, more confident sound.
To find out about the making of the album, we sat down with Aplin to talk about her new found freedom in songwriting and why she’s got big plans for her live show...
When did you start on Light Up The Dark?
“I started in January last year, I went to New Orleans for Christmas and New Year and that was where I did the first bits. It was finished within the year, I wrote it with a guy called Luke Patashnik and he’s in a band and he needed to go on tour so we needed to get it finished before he went off. It’s been ready for a little while.”
How did making it compare to recording your first LP?
“The nice thing about this album was being able to get on with it and not being thrown around into different writing sessions. I had a lot of freedom and I wanted to work with Luke. He’s got this amazing studio in his basement and we worked down there, it was really cool, we’d write and bring things in, occasionally he’d bring a friend in and we’d always work together. It didn’t feel pressurised, it was more like hanging out for the day. We wrote a song a day and recorded it, it was like that for a year.”
Did that mean you had a lot of songs? How did you pick which ones made the record?
“Oh yeah, it must have been 300 songs, my manager’s got a playlist of them all somewhere. I knew which ones I wanted, it was hard, but there were only three or four that I was really sad to leave off, so it wasn’t too hard.”
How did that compare to making your first album?
“I did it the other way round. I had all the songs and then went in with Mike Spencer to record them, I did the John Lewis advert and that meant I had to get the album turned around quickly. So some songs were written when I was 15 or 16 and some were written right before the recordings. There was a lot of compromise to make all my songs fit as one piece, to make these songs that were four years apart fit together, I didn’t have to do that this time, it was nice not to have everything being glued together.”
Did your label leave alone to get on with it?
“I don’t think I spoke to the label for a year, it was lovely, there was no pressure to write a hit, I didn’t think about radio, I was allowed to go and be an artist for a year and to go away and do what I wanted to do.”
Did you have a goal with this album? How did you want to move on from English Rain?
“With my first album I felt like I had to be a female singer-songwriter and be able to do everything on acoustic guitar, I was a bit scared to shy away from that. This time I wanted to embrace big anthemic sounds and cool little synths and weird ways of recording. I was less scared to experiment and I felt really free.”
How did the way you wrote songs change?
“I also realised you don’t have to write about yourself and that really opened up a lot of doors for me. I was writing about my friends, places I’ve been, experiences I’ve had touring, I had so many more things to write about. I felt safe and free to experiment. I feel like I’ve developed and the reason it sounds so different is because of the process.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“It’s a mix. The album’s not got a running theme. I do have topics I want to write about, a story I want to tell, I make notes on my phone all the time, but there’s plenty of coming up with words on the spot too.”
Where did the title come from? Was it always going to be called Light Up The Dark?
“No. I was really happy when I wrote the song and so pleased with it and when we finished Luke said to me ‘That’s the album title’ and I said ‘No, definitely not. There are loads of records called that’. But it was getting closer to the end and with every day passing I knew it had to be the title.”
What are your plans to take the record out live?
“I’ve got a completely different band. With my first album I was obsessed with making it sound like the record and we had to use a machine to sound like the orchestra we’d used, so that meant we couldn’t change the setlist and I couldn’t vibe off the crowd. I went to loads of gigs while I was making the record and I want to make everything live, there’s eight of us now. It’s going to be so much fun. We’re doing smaller venues in the autumn and then we’ve got a bigger tour in January. I’ve stolen Hudson Taylor (who feature on a number of tracks on Light Up The Dark) for my shows, they’re coming out with me, so is our violinist, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Which gigs inspired you for your show?
“I saw Elbow and Arcade Fire and I was blown away. That’s what I want. They looked like they were having so much fun and making this huge sound. I’m obsessed with looking back at old footage too, seeing guys like Crosby, Stills and Nash, they taking it seriously, but they’re free and having fun.”
Gabrielle Aplin’s new album Light Up The Dark is out now.