The lineup for Gabrielle Aplin’s concert at the Velvet Underground wrapped around the block, while a second line of fans clambered for last-minute tickets to her sold-out performance. Last Wednesday’s show was the first stop on Aplin’s 2018 North American tour, also featuring John Splithoff and Hudson Taylor.
Aplin first gained popularity by posting videos to YouTube in the early 2010s. Since then, she has topped the charts at home in the UK with multiple hit singles and has toured internationally. Most recently, Aplin released her AVALON EP. A third album is in the works, which she hopes to release later this year.
The Varsity caught up with Aplin before her show for a quick Q&A.
The Varsity: How do you like Toronto?
Gabrielle Aplin: I love Toronto. I feel like I need to do more Canada as well. I only ever come to Toronto, and it’s only ever been when I’ve been going to the States. I would love to come back and just do Canada in isolation… The people are so cool. I’m from Brighton, and it’s really kind of independent and cool and quite a multicultural quirky place, and really creative. I feel like there are a lot of similarities between the two places.
TV: You sold out here!
GA: Yeah, this is the second time I’ve played here. The last time I played here, it was my first time here and my first show here. I was really nervous, actually, and the crowd was amazing. Usually I get really nervous, but I’m pretty excited for tonight.
TV: I saw that Hudson Taylor is touring with you. I thought that was very exciting because I remember back when you guys were in the YouTube days, and it was the whole group of you just jamming together. How does having that background, with an entire group of friends of musicians, affect your songwriting?
GA: I don’t know if it would have impacted my songwriting because that is kind of an insular thing, though I feel like it’s made us all great musicians and it’s made us learn how to play with people on the fly, and that’s what is really fun. I think it’s just really nice to have a musical community as well, groups of artists doing things together.
It’s something that happened for a bit in the ’60s and ’70s, and it kind of went away in the ’80s and ’90s most recently. And now, it’s kind of happening again — these clumps of musicians bringing each other up.
TV: Something I find very interesting about your songs is that you always capture the grey in relationships — like in “Please Don’t Say You Love Me” or even “Hurt.” It is a very different kind of relationship that you cover, and I think people can connect to that. What inspires your songs like that?
GA: Yeah! I’m just really nosy. I go into my friends’ relationships and write about them because I’m pretty solid and comfortable. I never really have anything crazy going on, so I really draw from my friends.
TV: I read in a past interview where you talked about how you like the other parts of your business, not just the music part. I have noticed that your music videos have gotten increasingly high in production quality. Could you talk more about your vision for your music videos?
GA: I love all the things that come along with a project. In a campaign, I think it is really important to have music but also the artwork for the music. When you look at it you have to know what the artwork is for it to be cohesive. I love it. I really get involved in my artwork — even my press photos and my press releases. Especially with the videos, they never got more expensive. They’ve actually gotten cheaper.
I guess I got more comfortable with experimenting and trying to put a different spin on things as opposed to just literally making a narrative that goes with the song. I try and do something fun. I love to play with colour and fashion and eras as well.
TV: Can you name a time or anything specific that inspired this change? The second “Home” video is very different from the first, and “Miss You” is very different from that.
GA: The first “Home” video, I was kind of making it on my own. Me and my friends, we did it for 50 quid. It was, ‘What can we do for £50?’ That is amazing. It doesn’t look like it was done for £50.
I think those funding limitations can actually push your boundaries to create an idea. Even “Miss You,” for example. I really like Wes Anderson, his less recent films, his analogue camera tricks, things he uses to create these weird distortions. I love doing that and using analogue things like prisms to put in front of my lenses to create something dreamy. I really like it being really DIY.
TV: It doesn’t look DIY at all!
GA: It’s really DIY; it’s just a really high res camera!
TV: You were a YouTube star and you broke into the mainstream. Do you find that things are a bit different, being someone who came from YouTube?
GA: No, not necessarily. I think I didn’t make it my only thing. Maybe. As much as I love it as a platform, I didn’t want to be a YouTube artist, I wanted to be a commercial artist. So as well as YouTube, I was using MySpace when it was still happening, just the tail end.
In the UK, we have BBC Introducing and they are amazing, so I used BBC resources for younger artists. They’ll get you playing at big festivals like Glastonbury on their stage, they will get you on their radio station — it was definitely a collaboration of all those things really. I don’t feel like [YouTube] pigeonholed me, and it allowed me to have success outside of it. I never lost opportunities.
TV: What do you think you did differently from people who did get stuck on YouTube?
GA: If that is what they want to be, then great! That’s amazing. I think for me, I never intended to be a YouTube artist. I put some videos up, before there were loads of YouTube artists that I was aware of, just thinking that I was going to share some videos because I didn’t have a way to record them just audio-wise. Otherwise, I would have tried to make them look a bit more professional; I didn’t try to be famous on YouTube.
TV: Following off the tangent of YouTube, now you have Instagram, Twitter — how has audience engagement changed for you?
GA: I think it has gotten a lot more quick, actually. The internet is just so fast. I think Twitter is amazing; it’s instant reaction and connection, and I think it is really important to say thank you to the people that are listening to and buying your music. I feel like Facebook has kind of tailed off a little bit. It’s become harder for artists to reach out to fans on Facebook because there are things like, you have to pay to reach your fans, even though they follow you. It’s made it less genuine in that sense.
TV: One last question. As a woman in music, have you found that more difficult?
GA: I like to think I’ve never been not given an opportunity just because I am female, but I don’t know if that is because it’s been hidden from me or not. I always have a great time. I work with lots of older men who I’ve gotten on with, who don’t talk to me like I’m a young girl — they talk to me like I’m the same as them, and that is great. I know that isn’t the case for everybody.
I would say I’ve worked with at least 40 or 50 writers and producers, and two of them have been female, in my whole time I’ve been doing this. So I definitely think there is a disproportion between male and female producers or writers, but I don’t think that’s because there are less of them; I just don’t think that they’re getting the opportunities that men are, maybe.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.