She made her name with YouTube covers of Paramore and Katy Perry, but these days Gabrielle Aplin’s sound is very much her own. The British singer-songwriter’s delicate brand of guitar-based folk pop acts as a refreshing tonic to overproduced chart fodder and has garnered its creator comparisons to her childhood idol, Joni Mitchell. They’re not far from the mark. Aplin’s stripped-back sound and engaging portraits of relationships gone sour hit the same sweet spots as Mitchell’s enduring balladry. Last year, her debut album English Rain reached number two on the UK album chart, while her cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “The Power of Love” hit number one exactly 28 years after the original version did the same.
Aplin’s been busy ever since. In between touring and signing artists to her independent record label, Never Fade, she’s been setting her sights on the States. Earlier this month she released the English Rain EP, featuring five tracks from the album along with new single “Salvation,” and a cover of Mitchell’s “A Case Of You,” and completed her first US tour soon after. We caught up with Aplin about internet fame, meeting heroes, and why Chris Martin called her a little bitch.
What prompted you to start putting covers up on YouTube?
My friend actually put the first one up there. I had no expectations. She put it up there just for us to watch and then it had a load of views. It didn’t really know that happened when you put stuff on YouTube. People started requesting songs so I just kept doing it, which gave me the confidence to put up my own songs that I was writing anyway and it kind of built from there. I was like, “ok, maybe I’ll record some music and release it, and maybe I’ll put a tour on sale and see if these people will leave their computers and actually go to shows,” and they did.
After getting signed you toured with major artists like John Mayer and Gotye. What was it like working with them?
For me, John is a bit of a hero. I remember watching some of his live videos and wanting to write songs. It was amazing to tour with him. He gave me lots of good advice and it was good to learn from him. I did a tour with Ed Sheeran in Australia and he’s a friend of mine so that was really cool, hanging out with a friend and going on tour.
Going from small venues in the southwest of England to those kinds of shows seems like a massive jump.
It looks like it was a big jump but it was over four years of gradual touring. The good thing about the internet is that I was able to put a tour on sale anywhere and just see what would happen because I could just use my demographics and see that there were people in Manchester that liked my songs. I put a UK tour on sale and that did well so the next time I did a bigger one and a bigger one, so my shows have grown to what they are rather than just jumping to arenas with John and Ed.
You recently met Roger Daltrey of The Who. Have you met any other heroes?
I don’t know if I’d want to meet Joni. I’d be so disappointed if she was anything but nice and I’m sure she is lovely but I’m just too terrified to ruin that. I don’t usually get starstruck or anything. I just view them as people and it doesn’t phase me, but I was very lucky to go private exhibition of Coldplay artwork after they released the Mylo Xyloto album. At the exhibition I saw my A&R guy chatting to Chris Martin. He introduced me and Chris had heard my songs and I just nearly cried. Then he called me a little bitch, but I think he was joking.
Elle Magazine called you the new Joni. Thoughts?
It’s a massive compliment really. I don’t think I am the new Joni at all, though. No one can match up to her and she’s an incredible person who really shaped music, especially for girls.
Is there any advice you’d give for girls trying to break into the industry?
There’s loads of controversy about girls being sexualised in music, but what I think people don’t know is that actually girls can have a chance to say no to these things and they have a choice and they do have artistic control. Artists like Rihanna and Miley Cyrus choose that. It’s not like they’re forced into that but lots of people think they have to dress a certain way and do a certain type of music but it’s more like do what you want and own what you do.
It’s almost the one year anniversary of English Rain’s release. What made you decide to rerelease some of the songs as an EP rather than put out a new material?
I wanted to release the album straightaway but my label wanted me to wait and hold off so I’d have more time to do it. I just wanted to put it straight out there but it was right to do it this way because I can release the EP now and do this tour as an introduction, then I can come back with my band next time, release the album in full and go straight into my next one. It gives me a reason to come back here. I just picked my favorite songs off the album and put them out as an EP.
The one new song on the EP, “Salvation,” sounds more orchestral. Is that a sound you’re going towards?
Kind of. When I was recording the album I was listening to a lot of Elbow, Coldplay and the National, so I wanted to be big and anthemic. I think “Salvation” was the sound for that album in terms of palette and big, beautiful arrangements. The Joni cover is a taste of where it may be going. I’m working with a different producer now and we ended up working on it in a house, so it’s way more organic and rootsy.
As well releasing music and touring you also founded a label, Never Fade. What have your experiences been like on the other side of the contract?
I had made that label without meaning to so I could release my music independently when I was releasing it on iTunes. When I signed I was able to keep my previous releases but I wasn’t allowed to release my own stuff again. It was generating money that I couldn’t put into myself so I decided to put it into other artists. It’s really fun. I don’t bite off more than I can chew. I had a guy called Saint Raymond signed to Atlantic after I released his first EP. I’m working with a girl called Hannah Grace at the moment and she’s really, really new but so talented and I’m just excited to see how far it can go.