Gabrielle Aplin is the very epitome of the 21st century pop star.
She first gained the public’s attention through her use of social media. Back in 2011, while still a teenager, she had already racked up more than 5m views for her songs on YouTube and was asking her army of online fans to help pick the songs to go on her early EPs.
But for many, it was that other quintessentially modern mode of breaking a new artist that brought her to their notice – her cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s classic The Power of Love was picked up for the John Lewis Christmas advert in 2012. The song duly rocketed to number one.
Debut album English Rain soon followed, making it to number two in the album charts and selling more than 100,000 copies in the UK. There was also significant success in Australia and Japan.
After that, you might think Aplin would be feeling the pressure about its follow-up – the ‘difficult’ second album.
Not so, it would seem.
‘I’m sure for the people around me, the label and the people who worry about money and numbers, it was difficult, but I just get on with it regardless. I didn’t speak to my label for a year. I just recorded it in my friend’s basement.
‘I’m really lucky where I can go into a room and express myself and that’s my job.’
As Gabrielle warms to her theme, the words come tumbling out: ‘That’s what I think about it, I try not to think about it being “difficult”, I don’t want to be writing music by numbers, and being A&Red by radio and doing what technically is successful.
‘I don’t want to be the second person to do something – I want to start a trend. And I just do it if it feels right, I don’t think how difficult it could be because it shouldn’t be difficult as I’m a musician and I make music, and I can do it.
I get that it’s an industry and the man in the office has to make some money, but at the same time we shouldn’t be grinding ourselves down with itGabrielle Aplin
‘I really don’t see why it should be difficult. I really enjoyed making my second album.’
That friend whose basement she used is Luke Potashnick. Potashnick was, at the time, guitarist with blues rockers The Temperance Movement, who acted as Aplin’s backing band on the album, along with folk-rock duo Hudson Taylor, which includes her boyfriend, Alfie Hudson-Taylor.
And it seems the approach paid off. Light Up The Dark hit the top 10 on its release last September and garnered positive reviews for broadening Aplin’s folk-pop sound, taking in touches of soul and Americana.
‘It was really great because I had all of my friends on that album. It was just loads and loads of people – it was great to be surrounded by all these people and making music, which is kind of what I’ve done between my two campaigns, putting on gigs for fun, doing random shows and jamming.
‘I don’t really go out and get drunk and do all those things, I have friends come round, drink some wine, and then play music for hours.
‘It was exactly the same when we were making the album,’ she laughs. ‘Except we were recording it.’
Her label, Parlophone did put her in sessions with some ‘big name’ writers, but even that sounds like it was stress-free.
‘It was very relaxed, but I did push myself. Working with Luke, I’d bring in an idea that was typical to me, and he’d have a guitar riff or a drum idea that I would never have thought of, and I was working with Adam Argyle, who’s spent a lot of time in Nashville.
‘I did write with some amazing big songwriters, but when the label puts you with a big songwriter, they go: “Gaby’s going to write the hit today”.
‘When it was organised by Luke and myself, and those writers were mutual friends, it was different, I wrote a few songs with Sacha Skarbek, who wrote You’re Beautiful for James Blunt and Wrecking Ball for Miley Cyrus, but it didn’t feel like we were in a session writing pop songs to shift them off to radio as soon as possible.’
Two of those songs, Shallow Love and Together, made it on to the album.
Gabrielle’s approach is in marked contrast to that of another pop star, who also found fame through the internet before her bubble burst.
Sandi Thom, who had a number one with I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker in 2006, hit the headlines late last year when she put a film of herself online ranting about her latest song not being picked up by Radio 2, despite her writing it to accommodate what she thought they wanted. The online ridicule was swift and cruel.
Aplin sympathises – to some extent: ‘It’s very sad, but at the same time I’ve had my songs rejected from playlists before and you know, you just go okay, they don’t want to play it, that’s fine, and you get on with it.
‘There are people who want to hear it – I have my fans online, and I have proof that they are there.
‘She has that as well, but she’s been going for a long time, and she’s trying to get another break so I get how that can be so frustrating. ‘I do feel sorry for her, but you shouldn’t be writing for Radio 2, or Radio 1 or whoever, that’s when things go wrong.
‘Things go right when you just do it, and you do it for you. Crowbarring it in to fit a demographic, that’s when things go wrong. But I do feel a lot of sympathy for her.’
For someone so apparently laid back, you get the impression of a very strong will not far beneath the surface. She also has her own record label, Never Fade, which has already seen some success with Saint Raymond, who has since been signed up by Asylum Records.
Her new signing is Hannah Grace, who sang backing vocals on Light Up, and is joining her on tour.
‘She’s an incredible Welsh singer. I say this wholeheartedly,’ Aplin enthuses.
‘She’s got the best voice I’ve ever heard in my life, reminiscent of Etta James, a really great soul singer, and she scats, but she also has this amazing soul/rock thing going on, it’s a really interesting sound, and we’re working on getting her next release together.
‘I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew. I want to fund project for artists, and it’s not that difficult. I want to be the good guy: “You want to create this? Okay, I’ll make it happen”.
‘It should be an enjoyable process, I get that it’s an industry and the man in the office has to make some money, but at the same time we shouldn’t be grinding ourselves down with it.
‘Ultimately music was invented as a form of expression and an artform, and that shouldn’t be removed from it.’
As if that wasn’t enough, Aplin is also an occasional model – she recently moved from one powerhouse booking agency to another – from Storm to Select.
‘What attracted me to Storm in the first place was that they had a roster of women I really admired.
‘They got me some amazing press, but I realised if people wanted someone, they’d pick Emma Watson over me,’ before adding, with a note of self-deprecation: ‘And why wouldn’t you?
‘So I thought I need to go somewhere I’m my own person. Select are really on it, I love Storm and what they do, but I wanted to be a bit more proactive.
‘If any opportunities came up for brands or anything I don’t have to say yes, and they know anything they do with me has to represent me as an artist.
‘I’m not going to just stand there with my make-up on posing with a bag, I want it to be something that represents me as an artist.’
n Gabrielle Aplin is at The Pyramids in Southsea on Thursday, February 11. Doors 7pm. Tickets £18.25. Go to pyramids-live.co.uk