Gabrielle has always come across as being down to earth and warm-hearted, so it was no surprise when I spoke to her in real life, that’s exactly how she is. Easy to talk to, vivacious and full of positive energy it was a delight to run this interview. Gabrielle first became known in 1993 with her hit single ‘Dreams’, then making more waves in the year 2000 with another number one hit ‘Rise’. She now returns, having taken an 11 year hiatus from the music industry, and is making waves with her phenomenal album Under My Skin. In November she is one of the headliners at the Diva Music Festival, hence our interest in catching up with her to find out more about her music, her audiences and why performing at Diva Festival holds a place in her heart.
Interview by Amie Taylor
AT: You’ve taken an 11 year gap from the music industry, how does it feel to be back?
G: It feels amazing! It’s been a long time and my audience have been phenomenal, the fact that they’ve waited so long, very patiently, I’m doing a lot of shows where I look in to the audience and see people that have been at all my other shows in the past . I’m really chuffed at the response from my new album and it’s lovely to be able to give something back to them after all these years.
AT: And 11 years is a significant period of your life, how do you feel that you changed in that time?
G: I’m older, as we all are. My kids are older, which is quite liberating and freeing, because my youngest is 15 and my oldest is 23. Music has always been my life, but my kids were number one and so it’s nice to have that time to focus on my first love, before they came on the scene. And the fact that they’re now older, because if I left them when they were younger I was always worried that they’d change too quickly and I’d be thinking ‘what am I missing’, but now they’re pretty much who they’re going to be. And social media’s changed a lot too – if we look back 25 years there are big differences in how we make music, how we listen to music and how we attract audiences – but I’m embracing it all.
AT: And what do you feel the biggest change has been with the music industry?
G: For me it’s the social media interaction with your audience, before you’d do the press stuff, but now we have to upload videos, we can be more interactive with the fans; back in the day being interactive with the fans was bringing them onstage and answering fan mail. Now it’s tweets, you do a show, step off stage and you can get everyone’s opinion on how you were. It’s quite fun, but social media has many upsides and downsides, I think if you know how to live your life within the confines of social media then it can be fun. I’m not really on social media with my friends, I pick up the phone and give them a phone call because I’m an old bag and it’s far better to speak. But with the audience you can interact online and I think that’s amazing, I love it.
AT: So obviously you’ve changed, the world has changed – how has your music changed in that time?
G: It has changed, but not too much though. I think that people are listening to this album saying it’s classic Gabrielle. Musically I’ve changed though, because although I’m doing classic Gabrielle, I’m not afraid anymore, I just ‘do’ me. There are producers on the album, like Ian Barter who did a lot of work with Paloma Faith and Amy Winehouse, he did the music for Under My Skin and Breathe and Every Step – he’s been incredible, and has given me that very classic sound – it’s not traditional Gabrielle ‘Take a Minute’, but it’s still me; it’s been a lot of fun working with Ian. Then there are also my Swedish Producers Tim Larsson and Tobias Lundgren, and they produced the track Shine, which I’m not particularly known for that type of sound, but the response from my audience has been amazing, it’s taken a life of its own. So my sound has changed, but it’s still fundamentally me, I’ve not gone too left field.
AT: And what was the inspiration behind your new album, Under My Skin?
G: It’s a collection of songs mostly about my life, with the exception of a few. Every Step I wrote for a friend of mine who’s going through an awful relationship, and you can’t tell your friend to leave their partner, even if it’s the right thing to do; nobody does anything before their time. It’s also a positive, optimistic song saying things happen in our lives, but you have to recognise the time when that announces itself, I always think that when the stars align – you know, because you make decisions based on your strong convictions, that it is right; you can’t tell someone to leave a toxic relationship, because they won’t hear you until they’re ready to. And Every Step was Born because of that. There’s another song called Under My Skin, which is based on somebody that I know and totally adore and love, and they got under my skin – when I least expected it, which was so annoying! You know when you’re not looking to meet somebody or let someone new in to your life, but they come along, and you find you’re just loving them. Under My Skin was about that. There are so many different themes on my album, it’s about love, it’s about optimism, it’s about self empowerment; it’s an organic process and my songs have always been autobiographical, or about people close to me.
AT: You are one of the headliners at The Diva Music Festival this year –
G: Yes, I’m really excited –
AT: What drew you to perform here?
G: I love to share and I love being at these amazing places and perform in front of different people – actually not even different people, because my audience are different, they are different generations – I had an audience member who I remember seeing her from the stage during a show, and she tweeted me after and she was 14 and her name was Gabrielle, because her mum named her after me! So I have I have audiences from 14 years old right up to 75 or even 85. I love that all kinds of people come together to listen to my music. And I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else, it sounds like it’s going to be fun and I want to be part of that!
AT: Off the back of that, I saw that you also played Brighton Pride this year, and I think a lot of the LGBT+ community feel a connection to you and your music – why do you think that is?
G: With the LGBT+ community, I don’t see it as separate, but I know that we all have that fight to have our voices heard, and that’s the case for a lot of people, whether LGBT+ or females or black females. I have close friends who identify as LGBT and I’m often out and about and go to different things within the community. I’m really chuffed and honoured to be a part of these things. Perhaps the fact that I’m open and I’ve always been me and I’m not your conventional kind of person – I came out with an eye-patch and that made me different from the get-go. I love the fact that I’m quirky and a bit nuts and if I’m being embraced by the LGBT+ community who have such great taste, then I’ll take that.
I’ve always been open that you should be able to love whoever you want to love, bearing in mind that the LGBT+ community are still fighting for rights, the fact that last year was only 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality is ridiculous – and fast forward to 2018, there’s still people going through struggles. Thinking for instance about Caitlin Jenner and the fact she’s transgender and that it’s a big thing for a lot of people, and people still want to talk about it in a negative light. I’m always happy to put my name to any cause, people should be allowed to just be, if people had their way me being black and female, I shouldn’t be here. We’d be back in the 60s like Nina Simone going through the back door. We all have rights, whether it’s LGBT+ rights, civil rights, they’re human rights.
And as a mother if my child ever came out, I would be there, but there are parents that aren’t – you hear lots of coming out stories where it’s not been easy with parents, and as a mother I don’t understand how you could subject your child to that, even if you didn’t agree with it or whatever, it’s just not right, you’re meant to love your child no matter what. Not even just your child, love people – your brother, your sister, your co-worker, but I guess that’s still not the case which is why we have to sill fight for separate causes and groups within the community and celebrate when we have advancement.
Huge thanks to Gabrielle for this interview with The LGBTQ Arts Review.
Gabrielle’s new album Under My Skin is now available to buy online (Apple music and Amazon) and in shops. She tours with Rick Astley this Oct / Nov and embarks on her solo tour in March 2019.
Tickets are now on sale for Diva Music Festival, don’t miss out! Book here.