INTERVIEW: We Chat to Singer-Songwriter Mabel
2019 has been Mabel’s year. With the phenomenal success of single ‘Don’t Call Me Up’, which spent 8 weeks in the top 10, and is already the 7th biggest-selling single of 2019 and top 10 on Spotify’s global charts (where Mabel is the highest-charting British female) we caught up with her ahead of the launch of her first album, High Expectations, and the start of a season of festival performances and upcoming tour with Khalid.
It’s the Friday before a Bank Holiday and Mabel has a busy weekend of gigging ahead of her.
“I’ve got to go to the doctors. I’ve been really unwell and I have two shows tomorrow. It’s a bit of nightmare because the antibiotics they put me on has given me a rash all over my body. It’ll get sorted but yeah, not a good start to the weekend.”
So how did the Mabel story begin? I mean the musical Mabel story!
Well I’ve been making music since I was a kid so that has always been around. I think I was just doing it for myself for a long time and then when I was about 18, I was like I’m going to put a song out on Soundcloud, then about a month later I signed my first record deal for Universal.
Your parents are music industry big hitters – Neneh Cherry and Cameron McVey – so was it a bit of a foregone conclusion that you were going to go into music?
It was quite a musical childhood, I mean there was no pressure, it was always around and it was encouraging and inspiring but it kind of just happened.
Were you always at festivals and backstage at concerts when you were growing up?
For sure and I always enjoyed it but when you’re a kid you don’t see your
environment as strange in anyway; you’re just doing whatever you’re told to do. Like now I get my own time in the studios and tour buses and everything, that’s all cool but also when I was a kid that was just my life. It was normal. I didn’t reflect on it too much. Now I think about it and it’s so nice to be around so many creative people.
You’re very creative yourself – am I right in that you write all of your own material?
Yeah, I write all the time. When I’m by myself I start little ideas and I’m
writing down everything, always looking at things that are going on in my life and what’s happening around me. I then go to the studio with people that I enjoy making music with and we turn them into songs. I love writing by myself but I’m also a fan of the co-write. I enjoy where you can take things if there’s more than one creative in the room, you think differently.
I know one of the songs on the album is called OK (Anxiety Anthem). Is anxiety something that you’ve suffered with?
Yeah, for sure. I’ve been quite open about it because I guess there is a lot of stigma around talking about it and making people feel like being emotional is weak and I don’t think that is true. I’ve taken it in my stride and made it into some cool things like songs. If you can look at anxiety as not being something that you run from, you know it’s there and you’re still gonna do what you need to do. It’s me realising that actually you
probably will be anxious, you’re always going to have good and bad days, so just be OK with the bad ones.
People have always said about suffering with anxiety but actually it’s about living with anxiety. You’ve got a really busy Summer of live performances and the big tour with Khalid. Is that a really brave thing for someone with anxiety to do?
To say yes I’m doing this, I know I’m going to be anxious but I’m just going to get on with it. It’s the best way to be. I used to have a lot of anxiety about performing, the way I’ve gotten over that is just being OK with my nerves and just doing it all the time. Saying yes to every gig.
Do you have any pre-stage rituals that you do?
No nothing weird, just have a good time with my dancers.
Your new album is coming out in July, High Expectations. Is that High Expectations of yourself or of other people…
It’s every way you can look at that name. That’s what the whole album is about. It’s the expectations I’ve had of myself which have been positive for me in many ways because it means ambition and drive and it’s definitely got me to where I am but then I look at the flipside of
that; you know the anxiety and the pressure I put on myself.
I looked at high expectations that I put on relationships; I always set the bar too high and now with what I’m doing I guess the expectations that people have of me as well.
That’s kind of what the whole journey was and I wanted to flip that as many times as I could and look at it from every possible angle. For somebody that lacked a lot of confidence growing up that has been one of the biggest confidence building experiences ever.
That’s what I want people to take from the record – if there is one message I could send it’ll be that. You know I want people to feel really good about themselves because I feel better about myself since I wrote it.
What can the listeners expect from the rest of the album; we’ve had a mixtape come out from you and we’ve had numerous singles. Are we going along the same sort of lines?
I feel like it’s uptempo, upbeat, like I said I want people to feel good so
even the songs that are deep, I think you can still move to them which is cool. I think what you’ve heard in the last year gives you a pretty good idea of where the album’s going. There is some different stuff as well like the way that Don’t Call Me Up was a sort of evolution of music. There’s some exciting stuff to come that I think is a little bit unexpected.
Don’t Call Me Up has become such a defining song for 2019, do you still get goose bumps or excited when you’re in a shop and your music comes on or if you’re in a club or a bar?
Yeah, always, it’s so cool, still. I don’t know when or if I’m going to get over that. Before things had been released, I enjoyed listening to them
with my friends and stuff. When I’ve released them, I feel like they’re other people’s in a nice way but I kind of stop listening to them when they’re out.
Are you more comfortable in the studio than you are on the stage or do you take different things from both parts of the job?
It’s different experiences, it depends where you are at. Sometimes I’m like God I have lots of feelings and emotions that I don’t really want to be around people and I want to be inside writing. Then you spend a long time in the studio, like I have for the last couple of years, I’m just ready to not talk about my feelings for a few months and just be out and about singing the songs and having fun.
The tour at the end of this year with Khalid is very exciting. Are there any collaborations that you’ve done on the album or any more collaborations coming up?
There’s a Kamille feature on my album, she’s an incredible artist and an incredible songwriter. To be honest with you, I’ve done lots of features on
tracks and I really wanted this album to be mine. The exception was the song with Kamille because we wrote the song together and when I heard her singing it, I was like Oh I need to be on this – it’s just a fun song. We could have reached out to some rapper that I don’t know and be like hey come jump on this tune and send it me from America or whatever and yeah sure, maybe at one point I’ll wanna do that, but for this album I wanted to make it with, and collaborate with people that I knew on a personal level and really love.
Is there anyone out there that is a dream collaborator?
Pharrell would be like my dream.
You’re song writing is so strong, do you write for other people as well?
Sometimes I’ll just write songs that I know aren’t necessarily for me that maybe something will happen with them but the album has really been taking up literally 100% of my time for pretty much the last two and a half years. I haven’t gone in to sessions thinking oh we’re writing for this person but I’d love to at some point.
Releasing the album right in the middle of summer means it’s gonna forever be associated with amazing summer holiday memories for a lot of listeners. Is there a song that immediately snaps you back to an amazing time in your life?
I think that first Kehlani mixtape called You Should Be Here was very defining for me. I can’t remember what year it came out, maybe 2015 but I’d just moved to London and I remember hearing and being like Yes, R&B is coming back!