It’s a classic British summer’s day by the seaside. That is, the rain is sloshing in the gutters and the beach is a wind-lashed no-go area. But Gabrielle Aplin’s spirits, as they usually seem to be, are set firmly to “sunny”.
The singer-songwriter recently moved to Brighton with her musician boyfriend (Alfie Hudson-Taylor is half of Irish rock/folk sibling duo Hudson Taylor). She escaped London after three years in the capital. Despite recording her hugely impressive second album in a house in happenin’ Hackney, Aplin realised she was craving a way of life that was less “extreme”.
Sitting in a junk shop-cum-cafe in the vibrant Lanes neighbourhood of her new home, the country girl from rural Wiltshire admits, “I feel more comfortable in a place like Brighton – a town, with one centre, one bus station, one train station. And there are so many arty, creative people and things are less rushed, less stressed.” Yes, she’s a self-confessed “vegan prick”, albeit one with a taste for lager (“I just love pints. I don’t know what’s happened to me!”), but she’s not in Brighton for po-faced hipster kudos. Given that musicians seem to comprise her entire friendship circle, she feels like she’s home.
“We chip in on each other’s projects,” says this major-label-signed artist who also runs her own indie, Never Fade Records. “We’re all big fans of that Neil Young, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell scene – the whole Laurel Canyon crew. I want to recreate that. It’s just really fun.”
Also amplifying the fast-talking 22-year-old’s good humour: the imminent release of Light Up the Dark. Aplin is, of course, immensely proud of her second album, but with the added satisfaction that comes of having it done exactly to her own script. She made the album in the home studio of her friend and producer Luke Potashnick, guitarist with blues-rock band The Temperance Movement. The pair spent almost 15 months in his Victorian terraced house, writing and recording and “having fun… It always felt like I was just hanging out at my mate’s place. It didn’t feel like work.”
Similarly, while she admits that her label pushed her to work with established songwriters – there were sessions with, among others, Wayne Hector, Eg White and Travis’s Fran Healy – barely any of the resulting songs ended up on the album (there’s one Hector co-wrote). “I loved all of them,” she insists, “but they just weren’t working for me. I just felt more relaxed with Luke.”
Doggedly doing things her way has paid off. With nods to Feist, St Vincent, Arcade Fire and The National, Light Up the Dark is the bigger, bolder, liberated-sounding follow-up to English Rain, the charming 2013 debut that resulted in one-and-a-half million single sales worldwide.
Her success is a very modern tale of multi-platform, multi-territory activity. To wit: a year’s worth of international touring, built on a bedrock of word-of-mouth, DIY-fostered fan-dom; impressive daytime radio play for the Top Ten single “Please Don’t Say You Love Me”; courtesy of the single “Panic Cord”, localised mania in Japan (albeit “local” in a huge music-consuming market); and heavy social-media engagement in South America.
“I have hundreds and hundreds of people from Brazil, Chile, Columbia and Argentina, every day, buying my music and telling me about it online,” she says.
That geographical long tail (indeed, as we finish the interview, she’s accosted by three Icelandic girls who’d seen her perform in Reykjavik) has a thick middle, too. Aplin benefited from the win-win that was thoughtfully covering Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “The Power Of Love” for John Lewis’s Christmas 2012 campaign. The song, a UK chart-topper, was subsequently synced on the soundtrack of an Australian zombie drama, which pushed it to No 1 Down Under. That led to a performance by Aplin on the local iteration of Dancing With the Stars.
Thereafter, a rippling out of her Australian profile resulted in a contestant singing “Please Don’t Say You Love Me” on their X Factor, followed by Aplin herself (again) being called in to perform on the reality show. An album that had entered the Aussie charts at “34 or something... suddenly started happening”.
For a young female artist who grabbed her dreams in her mid-teens by posting videos on YouTube and self-releasing three EPs, it was a pleasingly step-by-step progress, one devoid of hype or default over-sexualised marketing. Even her signing to Storm Models was done on the basis that, “they’ll only ever book me to do something that reflects me and fits my music”.
That solid global footprint, she acknowledges, more than compensated for her disappointment with the situation in the US.
She concedes that, after a bout of corporate merging and demerging, “to be fair, the label there were lumped with me. So, sadly, English Rain hasn’t even come out yet in America, which is really annoying.
“But then I put a tour on there and it sold out. I was quite smug about that,” she beams.
Ever-engaged with the nuts and bolts of her music and her image – she’s also in creative charge of her sleeve artwork and videos – you might describe Aplin as the English Taylor Swift. If only a female artist vocally “taking care of business” wasn’t viewed as such an anomaly that one American superstar speaking up about streaming revenue seems to have made her a candidate for the chairwoman-ship of the Federal Reserve. To Aplin, it’s simple common sense.
“When I was releasing EPs by myself, I was generating royalties. And when I signed I thought I’d put those royalties into other artists. And interestingly, streaming is most of the income for those artists. I think that things need to change in terms of how royalties are split. But for me and the artists I work with,” notes this multitasker who was the first to release singer-songwriter Saint Raymond, “it’s what’s funding them.”
Ultimately, says Aplin, the situation is a no-brainer: as a young artist, you have to remember who’s in charge.
“Labels fund things and have resources for you to use. But just because you sign doesn’t mean you sign yourself away so they can then tell you what to do. You need to have a plan yourself, before they do.”
Single “Sweet Nothing” and album ‘Light Up the Dark’ are released on 18 September