Gabrielle interview: "I’ve been doing the school run for the last 11 years, it’s nice to have a deviation"

14 August 2018, 16:54

Gabrielle
Picture: BMG

By Tom Eames

Gabrielle is one of the most successful singer-songwriters of her era, but it's been a while since we heard from her.

But, she's back! With a cracking new album, no less.

Under My Skin is Gabrielle's first album of new material in 11 years, and so we caught up with the legendary singer to see what she's been up to and what inspired her latest collection.

It’s very exciting to have you back. You must be so pleased with how the album sounds?

"I’m really chuffed. I’ve got to say, the response to this new album has been phenomenal. The tweets from people who have heard a couple of singles, 'Shine' and 'Show Me', have been so amazing. So I’m really excited about having a new album out.

"It’s been a long time, I know. 11 years is long, but I hope it was worth the wait. I just want people to hear it and have a big old sing-song.

Have you been writing music over the past 11 years? Or were you waiting for the right time to do a new album?

"Well, you know something? It wasn’t deliberate. I mean, I’ve always been a mum, first and foremost. So it’s a case of, I always tell everybody: 'I’ve been doing the school run for the last 11 years. It’s nice to have a deviation.'

"But no, I’ve been kind of doing stuff off and on. I’d gone on tour with Michael Bolton maybe two or three years ago. And I’ve been doing one-off shows and stuff like that. And in between, I had been writing. But I guess nothing really came together as well as it has now.

"I did a bit of country, a bit of indie. I’ve done different stuff. But maybe what was happening was, nobody wanted to hear Gabrielle do alternative. So it was [producer] Steve Chrisanthou who got me back to my roots. He's done stuff with Corinne Bailey Rae; and Ian Barter, who did a bit of early Amy Winehouse.

"But I was having fun on this album, and I’m really, really pleased. I just can’t wait for everyone else to hear it. I think that’s where we are now. I’m really chuffed it’s generated a lot of interest and a lot of positivity."

Is there an overarching theme that inspired you in writing the songs?

"My life. My life has always been the catalyst for my songwriting. I’ve chosen a couple of songs on the album that are about the lives of some of my nearest and dearest.

"Some of my closest friends have been going through relationship problems. I wrote a couple of songs as a result of that, and told them after that I don’t think they’ll be my friends anymore. No, they know!

"But it’s one of those things: I’m not good at taking advice, but I’m good at giving it. You know when you’ve got friends going through stuff? Nobody wants to hear things, and we don’t hear things. If we don’t want to listen to things, we go through our own difficulties. It doesn’t matter what our friends say or our loved ones. We will endure it until our time is right for us to kind of leave.

"So there’s on the album called 'Every Step' about a friend of mine, and they know who they are. It’s a case of, you know, you’ve been in a relationship for so long, and you’re not feeling great about yourself. Your partner doesn’t make you feel good. Why are you staying? That’s all they’ve ever known.

Gabrielle
Picture: Dan Massie

"So you have to appreciate that you can’t make someone love themselves until they’re ready to do so. So you have to let them know they’re worthy. So I wrote 'Every Step' to say: when the time is right, you’ll know when it’s time to go. None of us can tell you. You will know, because you will decide, and you will make that decision when you know.

"And then we’ve got 'Show Me'. It’s about feeling loved. It’s about feeling cautious. But at the same time, realising that you’ve got something right here, and it’s kind of scary, because you’re like, 'Oh my God'. This whole album is about relationships and love, and it’s about feeling empowered.

"I’ve got a song on the album called 'Young and Crazy'. Some people, when you deal with them, or when they come to you, it’s like they were born big. They never were young. I say to everybody, 'Live your life like you’re young and crazy'. When you’re young, sometimes you can be reckless.

"But when you’re old, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know how to have fun. And we all try to run back to our youth. I haven’t started having the urge to do all that Botox and stuff like that, but I’m sure it’s coming. I just want to be young and crazy. I think we all can. I just think you should start living life and having fun with it, and not being so serious.

"Because there are a lot of serious things that you’re going to have come across, but it doesn’t mean you have to stay in that mode permanently."

The music industry has changed a lot in quite a short space of time, did anything concern you when making the album?

"No, it’s exciting, because you have to go with the flow of things. Unless you’re someone like Ariana Grande or all those stars, if you’re not selling albums like they are – and also, a lot of their fans are streaming.

"And then saying that, no, I actually recognise that when you’re a fan, especially back in my day, before we had broadband and stuff like that – if you wanted the record, you wanted every piece of merchandise. So I think it’s easier for someone like me – and you know, I sell out shows where people come and watch me, or will go to a supermarket and buy my album. It’s my generation.

"You can have immediate interaction with your audience. Whereas before, you’d wait for fan mail. And it would be fan mail, like letter writing, back in the dark ages. It was fun, but now it’s nice that whether you’re doing a show and somebody is uploading a performance or tweeting while they’re at your concert – it’s fun. So I do embrace that, and I enjoy it.

"Outside of making my music and interacting with an audience, I’m not a big social media user. Because outside of that, I’m not interested in showcasing what I’ve had for breakfast. Although if you do see those videos or pictures, that’s my manager saying, 'We need more content!' It’s really sad.

Gabrielle
Picture: BMG

The new material also marks 25 years since your debut album. Was that by complete coincidence? Can you believe it’s been that long?

"It is. I can’t believe it. It’s so weird. I can’t believe that 'Dreams' is 25 years old. I always remember those dates really clearly, because it came out on 7th of June. It went in at the number two position, and then the number one position by my mum’s birthday, which is 21st of June. So I’ve always had those dates in my head forever.

"I can’t believe it’s gone so quickly. I’ve got a 23-year-old son who still comes to my shows, and I’m like, 'My God'. But it’s incredible. The fact that when I have people come up to me and talking about 'Dreams', people say it still sounds special. I’m really proud of that."

It must have been such a big change in your life when 'Dreams' was suddenly a hit.

"For me, 'Dreams', it’s one of those songs where I’d written it, and I’d had problems with my previous producer who kind of... there were two producers. There’s a nice one and a not-so-nice one. We put it out there. We pressed about 50,000 copies but it had the Tracy Chapman 'Fast Car' sample on it, which we couldn’t use.

"So I remember, at one stage, never thinking it would ever get anywhere, because it felt like a load of people had it, and the DJs had it, and friends of mine knew of it. But then suddenly deciding to have a release in June of ’93.

"Nobody could prepare for me the media attention surrounding the song. Nothing prepared me, but it was fun. I had to learn the ways, and keep your head above water, and keep sane. It was made. But again, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it was totally unexpected, I’ve got to be honest."

Gabrielle's new album Under My Skin is released on Friday, August 17.