Interview Live Reviews Music

An Interview with Mabel and a Review of her Bristol gig

You’re touring with your recently released Bedroom EP and my flatmates and I can’t stop playing the track Finders Keepers. Are you happy with how it all turned out?

Yeah it’s been amazing; I wasn’t expecting it. It’s been a slow build up, that song actually came out in March but is in the chart now which is crazy. That’s is exactly what I had in mind when writing the song, something me and my friends were listened to before going out, that’s the vibe.

Is it nice to tour and see such a big following before you have even released an album?

For sure, I’m touring the EP as well as new songs from a mix-tape I am dropping next week! It’s really fun to see how people are reacting to the EP songs and test new songs.

Would you say releasing your EP and mix-tape is a chance to experiment before you drop the album?

Yeah, I think I am the kind of artist who, although it’s nice to have smashes, is definitely more of an EP and album based artist. I want a longer project to tell a story rather than just single after single. So just putting out my first small project felt really good and inspired me to do another one that is bigger and better, like the mix-tape. I’m already working on an album so they’re all just pieces of a puzzle. I think people want to be a part of the evolution and journey of what I am doing so why not just drop a collection of music and let people hear it.

What is your favourite song to perform?

Now it is probably Finders Keepers because of the reaction, no matter where I perform it, it always makes people happy and makes them move. That’s the best part of performing, when the energy is high and you’re all feeding of each other. It always manages to create that vibe.

Although you are used to performing, how do you deal with nerves onstage?

I still get nervous, I don’t think it would be good if I didn’t because nerves show that you care and I care a lot. I want them the crowd to have a good experience and I’m conscious that they’ve paid money to see me. It depends what I’m doing, at festivals, it’s slightly different as the audience is there to see lots of different people. At headline shows I always have super high expectations of myself but they’re always the best gigs because people already like your music so you know when you are going out on stage there’s no-one there who wants me to mess up. But the more I perform, the less nervous I am. It used to be my least favourite thing about what I do but now it’s my favourite.

You recently did a Live Lounge with Stormzy, does having industry support inspire and help you?

I think it’s good to have friends that are doing what you’re doing. Not only can we talk and share our mutual experiences, because it’s quite a specific thing that we do, but we can also bounce off each other, so they’ll do a track with me and then I’ll do a track with them. And the best way to form those relationships is just naturally. The Live Lounge was an amazing experience.

Who would your dream collaboration be with?

I’d love to work with Drake.

Yeah, put it out into the universe and it’ll happen –law of attraction! The singer Raye is another upcoming female artist of similar age to you and it’s awesome to see you guys are friends. Is it important for you to have a familiar base of friends around you whilst your schedule is so crazy?

Yeah definitely, I try to bring my friends, family and boyfriend with me whenever I can. Raye and Steph (Stefflon Don) have also been doing festivals this summer so it’s great having friends who also do what I do. There’s no competitiveness there at all, we’re all so different so it’s only other people who think we’re competing. It’s such a male construct as well; we only pit women against women to compete, not men. Because for them or the media it’s better if we are competing rather than being on the same side, if we are close I think people get scared. They find it intimidating. But we decided from super early on that we were just going to be really good friends.

That’s especially good for young girls who are listening to your music and looking up to you.

Definitely, we’re always told in films and in general that women are often against each other but it’s the most liberating thing when you just let that go and I can do me and they do them.

Something I need to ask, in your song ‘Bedroom’ there’s the lyric ‘So I broke your guitar up against your television’. Did that actually happen?

Yep, I did actually break it. If I’m in an argument I’ll be like hold on let me get that down, I’m always writing stuff down. For ages I’d think maybe I shouldn’t use those lyrics or this line but then I realised it’s a really vulnerable song. The whole EP is about power play. By me writing and releasing music it was my way of taking back control, if it’s a shit situation and I write a song about it then I’m getting something positive out of it.

So you lived in Sweden, did that have any influence on your music at all?

Definitely I think where we are really affects what it is we are creating and there’s a massive music scene in Sweden. There are people like Max Martin, who wrote Toxic for Britney Spears. I love Robyn, her music has influenced me a lot, and she’s an amazing songwriter. In Sweden they farm out pop. That’s not really what I’m doing, as I’m more organic and I can’t really farm out songs as they do there. I’m very much about what I’m feeling, whereas they’re very methodical about how they write a smash hit. But I learnt a lot from that, from being around those people. I learnt a lot about classic song structure and it gave me the tools to go into the studio and even if I’m not feeling it I can still write a song and I might not use it but someone else could.

Touching on what we were saying earlier, the EP is so personal, almost like a diary.

Yeah it’s interesting because it is like a diary; yet you’re just sharing it with millions of people. The EP has been streamed 50 million times and that’s sick but at the same time crazy because all these people know all this stuff about me. When people recognise me, they think they know me and they do in a way, all the things I write about are real and are things that have happened. Someone came up to me and started talking about my ex-boyfriend from Bedroom (EP) the other day and was like he’s an asshole *laughs*.

Is your current boyfriend creative?

Yeah he has a brand and an online platform for young artists. I think I’d find it hard to not be with someone creative.

You went to music school, do you think that it was a good entry into the industry or would you have pursued music regardless?

I definitely would have done music either way. But it taught me things about my creative process, like we had to write pretty much every day. Also co-writing, I hadn’t done that before. There was a lot of sight-reading, which I can do now but wouldn’t use it in the studio. I really wanted to do sight read because my Granddad was a jazz musician, he died before I was born but he was so talented he would write all his music down even without an instrument. He had the perfect pitch so could just do it at a table, come up with he melody and write it down. I think I was really determined to learn how to do it as no-one else in my family could and it’s like being able to speak a language with my Granddad.

I guess that also helped forge your own path as both your parents are musicians. Was there any pressure to shape your own musical identity?

I think lots of people think it was super easy because of my parents but it was also harder because it took ages for people to take me seriously. My mum was such an icon in the 80s and 90s, so I felt that pressure and it made me want to prove myself even more. What I do is so different to what both my parents did but people always ask if their music has affected mine and it would have been impossible for it not to have. I grew up around them and obviously my career choice was influenced by that but we keep it very separate.

Who are you currently listening to whilst you’re driving long hours on the tour?

So there’s this girl called H.E.R who I like and Daniel Caesar’s really cool. Lots of afro beats always. There’s this guy called Tekno he’s from Nigeria. Stormzy’s album is still so good, still so fresh. We were listening to that on the bus today. SZA’s album was really good and I’m always listening to Kehlani. I need to listen to Gigg’s album when it drops.

Do you only write in the studio or are you always scribbling potential lyrics down?

I’m writing all the time, my lyrics are things I’ve been through and also my friends experiences. I like to put myself in other people’s positions. I have to be writing all the time because the pace of the music industry is so different now; you have to do everything super fast. When I put the EP out, half the mix-tape was already done and then I was working on the album. I’m experiencing so much just on this first headline tour, it’s really emotional like every single night when I go on stage and see that there are people there I cry a little bit.

What do you like to do outside music, or what do you think you’d be doing if it wasn’t for music?

This is so hard, we were talking about it the other day, and obviously everyone I am on tour with is super creative. I think I was so determined to do music because I didn’t know what else I would do. I struggled with anxiety in the past and during that time the things that helped me get out of it was writing music and exercising a lot, I was doing Bikram hot yoga every morning. So for a while I was like maybe I’ll be a yoga teacher and then realised I’m just mental and not zen enough. Growing up society and teachers made me feel that things about me were wrong, like being anxious was wrong. I’m so lucky because my parents are creative as well so they understand that those things come with being musical. Mum always said how I felt was really positive as it means I’m open and can feel lots of different emotions, although that can be stressful because I take on other peoples energies and pain. But I couldn’t do what I do if I wasn’t anxious or sensitive. I love talking about it because growing up I was made to feel like it was really wrong so I just hope other people will want to open up about it as well. My friend Adwoa she has this thing called Girls Talk and she does great, positive things for mental health and she’s been through it. She is one of the people who inspired me to talk about it. Then there’s Lauryn Hill who went through real pain but is open about that in her music. I know now that you can turn your emotions into positive things.

Exactly, sometimes things can be hard but you and your music wouldn’t be the same without feeling all the emotions that you do, so that’s awesome. Thank you for your time!

Here’s the review of her gig in Bristol:

Before Mabel took to the stage at Bristol’s Thekla venue, it was 19 year old singer Mahalia that laid down vocals reminiscent of Erykah Badu and provided a warm, inviting stage presence. Closing her set with the honest and jazzy track ‘Sober’ left the crowd all up in their feelings and eager for Mabel. You would expect nerves on an artist’s first headline tour but Mabel enters in a lust-worthy purple, velvet Adidas jumpsuit (reminiscent of the 90s style you definitely could have seen her pop icon mother, Neneh Cherry, wearing) and soon you hold no doubt that she is in command of the stage.

The EP’s title track ‘Bedroom’ needs no introduction; when the melody kicks in the crowd instantly begins grooving to its electro-pop beat. Her fans way of matching her lyric-for-lyric pays homage to her ability as a songwriter to write relatable and instantly memorable tracks. She sashays around the stage with unapologetic confidence and encourages the same from crowd, shouting ‘Move Bristol!’ and in doing so creates the kind of party atmosphere you only get from good music and free expression. This energy is juxtaposed with the showcasing of a slower, piano based track ‘Ivy’ from her new mix-tape. It was an interesting choice to pair this reveal beside her other beat heavy bangers, yet it presented an opportunity to appreciate Mabel’s stunning vocals stripped back. It feels that with each new project her range is becoming more and more exposed and appreciated.

Yet, some tracks from 2015 such as ‘My Boy My Town’ and ‘Know Me Better’ are also performed. They still remain favourites for many but her progression is evident as many faces look around in bemusement as she walks of the stage before performing her most anticipated and current chart hit ‘Finders Keepers’. Screams of ‘one more track’ from the crowd coaxed Mabel back out onto centre stage to perform the hit which is filled with infectious West-African rhythm and in the absence of the rapper Kojo Funds the crowd are encouraged to join Mabel. This perfectly concluded a night which had been about Mabel providing her fans with the older tracks they’d been longing to hear and presenting her own journey as a songstress, which appears ever evolving so watch this space.




Bedroom EP and Ivy to Roses (Mixtape) out now.


Camille Stanley