Returning with her first new album in over a decade, she’s ready to reclaim her place at pop’s top table
To think of Gabrielle is to be reminded of some of the biggest pop smashes of the 90s and early 00s. Born in Hackney as Louise Gabrielle Bobb, she announced herself to the music world in emphatic fashion when her 1993 single Dreams entered the chart at No 2, the highest debut chart position that a female solo act had achieved in the UK at that point. Further singles such as Sunshine, Rise and Out Of Reach helped establish her as a British artist with international appeal.
Even though some of those hits are now over two decades old, Gabrielle’s new album proves that she has plenty left to offer. Under My Skin, her first record in 11 years, is one of the surprises of 2018. Managing to be reminiscent of her glory days while also sounding completely at home in the post-Adele world, the album is a welcome reminder of Gabrielle’s enduring appeal. It’s about time we caught up with the London songwriter…
How does it feel to have a new album out?
“It feels fantastic, you know it’s one thing to be writing songs for yourself and loving them but you never know how they’re going to be received, but I’m really pleased that everyone has been so lovely about it and I’m really excited.”
To us Under My Skin sounds like classic Gabrielle with a modern twist…
“I’m happy about that because I don’t ever see myself as modern. I never came out with the freshest most upbeat sound, until they started doing remixes of Dreams back in the day. So for people to say it’s me but more modern, I’ll take that!”
When did you start writing the songs and thinking it could be an album?
“I’m always writing and I’ve got so many songs, but in terms of writing towards Under My Skin that didn’t actually happen until February last year. My producers Tim Larsson and Tobias Lundgren were over and I went into a studio with them and one of the first songs we did was Shine. They came to me and said, ‘We know you don’t really sing other people’s songs but we’ve got this hook and what do you think?’ I was ready to be all defensive but when they started singing this hook from the chorus I liked the concept. It was then okay for me to write a verse, but it had to be about me. That’s what I do, write about things in my life that I’ve been through and Shine was born.
“By the time I’d laid down my vocals after writing the rest of the lyrics, it was a case of, ‘Oh my god, I can actually imagine singing this in front of an audience.’ By the time Shine was done that was the beginning of my journey towards writing the songs which would become Under My Skin.”
Did that feeling of being ready to release something new come as a surprise?
“I tell everyone about the Michael Bolton show because I was supporting him and then when it all ended and I came off the road I realised that I wanted more, I wanted new songs for my audience and I guess that’s another reason why last year was the turning point. I also started to connect with different producers and became more and more certain that I had the right sound for me and that these were the right people.”
What can you tell us about working with those different producers?
“I hadn’t met Steve Chrisanthou before but I was aware of his work with Corinne Bailey Rae and I loved the sound. Jamie Nelson from BMG said, ‘You know what Gab, I’ve got a feeling that you should meet Steve,’ so I went to meet him in Yorkshire. He was lovely and he had so much music and he’d start to play stuff. We immediately had to set up a mic and record me from the moment the pieces of instrumentation started because I freestyle. I would just start singing anything over the music so as to not lose the moment. That’s how everybody captured the stuff for this album.”
Is that something you’ve always done?
“Yes but the mistake we made in the past was that I’d start freestyling and someone would be like ‘Gabs, what did you just do?’ But, because it’s a feeling in the moment, I can’t usually get it back and so it’s a case of making sure you press record from the first moment…
Interview: Duncan Haskell