Buzz talks to Anglo-Swedish avant-pop upstart Mabel about motivation, industry machinations and her musical heritage.
Is it true that you kept it a secret from your family [mother Neneh Cherry and father Cameron McVey] when you were writing music initially; was it the fear of failure in case you didn’t make it a success yourself?
I was just young and just figuring things out, I’d never thought about it being for anybody other than myself. I wouldn’t use the word ‘secret’, I would just say that I was just using it to journal things like how to process situations. There was no reason for me to play it anybody or I hadn’t thought about it as being a career or anything like that, I was just using it as a tool.
So what motivated you to write this music in the first place?
I don’t know, I think that I’ve always had things that I wanted to express and what I wanted to say. It was the main form of expression around me at the time of growing up, so it ended up being in the music, and as there was instruments there, I just took to it.
I guess you have a statement that you want to make with your music?
There are several things that I obviously like to touch upon, I like to do it because it makes me happy, it makes me feel good but also that’s how I want other people to feel as well. I want to make other people feel good, I want to make them dance. So there isn’t any one big statement – it’s how I am feeling at the moment and it differing from song to song.
What has prepared you best for being a singer/songwriter, apart from your family musical connection?
I’ve just always done it, so the fact that I have a career doing it, I feel really lucky and happy about that. I never thought that I had to prepare myself for anything, it was always just natural and something that I just did which, in turn, turned into my career.
Always inevitable from an early age that you were going to go into music, then?
Erm… I definitely always wanted it in my life but I don’t know if I was 100% going to be a singer, I just knew that I enjoyed doing it. If you are lucky enough to turn what you love into your career, then that’s a success.
Have you got an album out soon?
Yeah, I’m working on it and it’s, er, coming [laughs]! It’s very difficult to say as I’ve been saying this for a while – “it’s coming, it’s coming” – but it is, and I know what I want to say with it the album. A lot of the records are there but it is a process that can’t really be rushed – albums are just different to other projects.
Will it contain completely new material or will some of the old stuff be on there?
Well it’s quite difficult to say now! [laughs]
Have you ever thought about re-releasing some of your earlier material such as Know Me Better, My Boy My Town and Thinking of You – or is that a question you can’t answer yet either?
No, no. I love those records as they’re a part of this journey and I am very happy that they were released – but they’re very different to the music that I release now, and the artist I am now. I’m happy that people have heard those records but they’ve had their moment.
Have you any standout moments of your career so far?
I went on tour earlier this year and did a really fun show at Kentish Town. [2017 single] Finders Keepers going top 10 was really cool – that was my first ever hit record and that felt really special and gave me a taste of a new fresh ambition. I’ve always been ambitious but after that record I was like “Oh my god, I just want more of this feeling, and 100 times over!” [laughs]
Are you more at home just singing at a gig or do you prefer singing in a studio?
It’s 50/50 – you need to get out of the studio sometimes, because you get to a point where if you’re just writing, writing, writing every day you don’t have things to write about. So that’s when it’s good to get on the road and experience things. Also people don’t pay for every song to sound exactly like the record, so it’s nice to give them some new life and listen to them in a different way.
But then I can’t just be on the road all the time as people don’t want to hear all the old records, so you have to get back into the studio – you have to balance it. It’s difficult to say what I like more of now – I’m about to go on tour, and I’m ready to get back on the road!
Confidence must be important in your chosen career…
I guess I am confident, I don’t know [laughs]; I like to feel confident now just because when you do things a lot, you start to question yourself less. But I still get nervous, I still care about what I do. I’m not just like “I’m going to smash this show”, that’s not me at all.
Even though you can do something a hundred times, I still want each show to be different, I want to do every show from where I come at it from a different angle. So if you come to every show on my tour, you could have a different experience every time.
What makes you different than the rest of the musicians around you in the charts right now?
I don’t know, and I wouldn’t want to put it that way as I think that everybody around me from my group or whatever is so special, we are all doing things differently… but I’d say my shows are high energy, it’s all about the music. I’ve got amazing backing vocalists, we sing everything like three-part harmonies, 1990s r’n’b style.
Do fans have preconceived ideas about you before meeting you?
Nothing deep that I want to talk about… but people always say “oh, you’re so normal” and I say “yeah, why wouldn’t I be!” [laughs] I’m sure there are more misconceptions but to be honest, I don’t give any time for people that have dumb shit to say about me. I don’t read bad comments or read people’s mean direct messages, and if I ever have, I don’t take them seriously. Nothing deep.
Mabel, Great Hall, Cardiff University Students Union, Sat 8 Dec. Tickets: £16. Info: 029 2078 1458 / www.cardiffstudents.com
words CARL MARSH