Rediscovering Gabrielle Aplin

10 years ago, Gabrielle Aplin’s deeply emotive version of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s iconic track ‘The Power of Love’ touched the hearts of millions when it was selected for John Lewis’ annual Christmas advert. It was a moment where the potential of the English singer-songwriter was plain for all to see and soon after the release of her debut album English Rain propelled Aplin into the mainstream in what was a spectacular breakthrough moment. In the time since, the artist has built a compelling back catalogue of powerful ballads based around the lyricists own life experience and now the artist returns with Phosphorescent, her fourth studio album. Recorded in a secluded countryside retreat during lockdown, Aplin found herself in the perfect environment to create a full length project based around self-reflection and personal growth. 

Aplin’s introspective songwriting style has seen her build a loyal and interactive fanbase that’s been with her from the very beginning. By utilising early forms of social media, the artist started out by posting covers of songs she liked on YouTube and Myspace, as well as sending recordings off to BBC Introducing. It was a totally natural way of connecting with a generation that was absorbing music in new ways. Aplin’s powerful voice and ability to reinvent popular songs saw her popularity soar, although she was initially taken aback by the reaction, as the artist states: “It wasn’t as if I had any specific plan or goal. I was just surprised at the time that people around the world enjoyed my songs and I just went with it and made the most of opportunities that came my way. And mostly I was just having fun!” 

Driven by Aplin’s passion for music, her rise came without a premeditated approach to finding success, instead originating from a determination not to force it. During those early covers the artist showcased charm and a vocal range that offered endless possibilities. It was not surprising then when Aplin was asked to send in a demo for John Lewis’ Christmas advert. Despite the intimidating task of covering ‘The Power Of Love’, a track that became infamous ever since Frankie Goes To Hollywood released it in 1984. The artist didn’t rest on her laurels and after recording the vocal on the Friday, the final piece was mixed on the Saturday and sent off on the Monday, and the rest has become a footnote in Aplin’s glistening career.“It was exciting but it wasn’t in that moment that I thought that it was life changing as such, or any idea it was going to be received as well as it was, we just didn’t know at that point.” The artist proclaims, “It wasn’t until a few weeks later that it got really exciting and a really big moment in my career.

Aplin’s artistic output in the years since has showcased an ever changing sound, despite maintaining a consistent approach to songwriting. The basis in which she builds her music upon is a sense of feeling over logic, taking an intuitive approach to writing lyrics that can quite often surprise herself once a song is finished. Early fans would have seen the artist release English Rain – which also included hit single ‘Please Don’t Say You Love Me’ – to critical acclaim, however it was largely a downbeat sonic journey that saw Aplin dig deep. More recently we’ve seen a far more uplifting style from the artist with singles ‘Never Be The Same’ and ‘Skylight’ perfectly merging a feel good sound alongside the artist’s powerful vocal ballads. In fact, both tracks offered the perfect prelude to Phosphorescent, which is the strongest representation yet of who Gabrielle Aplin really is.

With three albums previously to Aplin’s name, the artist was no stranger to the creative process behind making such an in depth project. However, with the pandemic and lockdown setting in, the circumstances behind Phosphorescent were incredibly unique and pushed the artist into newfound territory. It was the product of the solitude and strangeness that Aplin, like so many of us, experienced throughout that time. After moving to the countryside retreat of Somerset, the artist found herself anchored in a conventional schedule for the first time in forever. “I wrote nearly all the songs in my house in lockdown so I counteracted that with making the recording process very human.” She explains, “I want it to have a physicality and it was important that all elements had their own physical space. Everything was passed through air. It’s also a much more stationary album than my previous. It was written all in the same place and recorded in the same place. It had a real sense of routine.”

Surrounded by nature and wildlife in her retreat, Aplin was reinvigorated and found herself completely submerged in the project. The timing created a sense of new-found liberation which was certainly aided by a lack of external influences from the industry. However, the artist soon discovered that an urge for reconnection became a recurring motif, and Aplin began to think of all the things she’d missed out on in life. Thoughts of how she’d never been raving in Ibiza, and deciding to stay in rather than going for a drink with a friend emerged – Aplin was left determined to live life to the full once this all passed. However, such time for this project to build came from a decision to release via AWAL, and without the time constraints inhibiting her creative flow. “I really enjoyed how relaxed it felt to make an album with absolutely no rush.” Aplin states, “I think it’s important to really be in a project. I like to be completely living by the themes and pillars of the project I’m in. I liked that I worked on this album for over a year and how I saw it come to life across the seasons.”

The environment surrounding her Somerset home reaffirmed Aplin’s love for sustainability and the artist was determined to involve the topic within the album’s physical release. After finding out the studio she was working in was run on green energy, Aplin did some research and sourced environmentally friendly eco-mix vinyl for the 12” record, which uses leftover wax to create randomly coloured discs – making each copy unique. Not only that, Aplin also used her love for cyanotography when creating the album’s visual identity. “I’ve tried to do my best with my means. When I learned that the studio was partly running on renewable energy I thought that was the coolest thing and I just decided I would apply that to all aspects of the album where I could.” The artist states, “It gave me the idea of using cyanotypes for the artwork and printing them in the sun! It just means that the sun got to work on the album and I love that.”

Away from the album, Aplin has also ticked off another career goal recently – film scoring. Just last month saw the release of the Sky Original film The Amazing Maurice, which is the first animated feature film to be based on a Terry Pratchett novel which sees ‘The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents’ brought to life. The artist was asked to write two pieces of music to accompany the show, ‘Be Yourself’ and ‘Side By Side’, the latter being an addictive and uplifting song which keeps the energy at fever pitch. Gabrielle gives her view on the project, “It’s always been a dream to write music for a film and I was buzzing when asked to write and sing for The Amazing Maurice soundtrack! I love how music and film can work together and really enjoyed the whole process of writing a song for a story that is purely about being who you truly are.” 

In the weeks following the release of Phosphorescent, Aplin will celebrate by embarking upon an intimate record store tour which offers the perfect chance to connect with fans. Her latest project is incredibly relatable as the whole world experienced the same polarising period. What we hear on the album is Aplin at her most reflective, never shying away from how she truly feels. Since the artist emerged on the scene in 2013 she’s shown no signs of slowing down and if listeners were excited by ‘Never Be The Same’ and ‘Skylight’ then you’re sure to have Phosphorescent on repeat.

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Words: Jake Wright
Photography: Nat Michelle