10 is the magic number
Having made her name with a catchy ditty, Gabriella Cilmi is out to prove she is no one-hit wonder. The superstitious singer tells Chris Wasser the thinking behind her new album's title and offers some weird advice
It's fast approaching lunch hour when Gabriella Lucia Cilmi is interrupted by the sound of her brother shouting from the kitchen. Something's wrong. While his sister's been off chatting and reminiscing about her career thus far, he's been busy trying to burn down her pretty London apartment (all for the sake of some special homemade sauce, might I add).
To be honest, I'm not quite sure who's really to blame for the pan catching fire, but that's neither here nor there. We've got an interview to get through -- and that damn smoke alarm isn't helping matters. Let's just go back to the start, shall we?
Born and raised in sunny Melbourne, 18-year-old Gabriella has come a very long way in the past five years. From performing Rolling Stones covers for the locals, to travelling the world on the back of a hugely successful debut single, it's certainly been one hell of a ride for the young singer, best known for that catchy little ditty about life, love, and turning the world upside down (the infectious Sweet About Me).
Two years after releasing her debut album, Lessons to be Learned, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Gabriella -- now permanently based in the UK -- had two options when she returned to the studio last year: cash in on the success of her soulful pop debut and release a similar follow-up, or mix things up a little. It's hardly surprising to discover which road she's decided to take.
Having received a copy of Donna Summer's I Remember Yesterday from one of her band mates, Cilmi went straight back to the drawing board in search of a new and exciting sound. The result?
Well, it's certainly different, I'll give it that. Take, for example, lead single On A Mission -- a weird slice of 80s-splashed electro-pop that kind of makes you wonder what might have happened had 'the Queen of Disco' ever collaborated with Van Halen. And then there's that video, too . . . very futuristic, Gabriella.
"Aw yeah, the video was crazy," she laughs. "I've always had a bit of a thing for Jane Fonda in Barbarella, so the whole video is based around that. I had to spend two days in these massive heels, too, so I can run in my stilettos now and do anything in them."
Good to know . . . I suppose. Care to tell me why the new album is called Ten? "Yeah, well, I'm a bit superstitious about numbers," she smiles. "Ten's always been my favourite -- my lucky number. This year, my birthday's on the tenth of the tenth of the tenth and um, I'm turning 19, so if you add 1+9=10, and I was born at 7.30 in the morning and if you add, like, 0+7+3... anyway! The list goes on."
Okay... so you've a thing about numbers then. Gotcha. Let's talk about growing up under the bright lights of the music industry. After all, having been spotted by a big-shot label executive when she was just 13, Gabriella soon found herself travelling from one major international city to the next in search of that all-important record contract. I wonder what her school friends thought of all this.
"Well, at first, I didn't tell them that I was doing it," she says. "I was just scared that it would be taken away from me -- what would I do if everyone thought I was making it up?
"So I kind of just kept it to myself and said I was going to Queensland for a holiday . . . I guess they started to notice when Sweet About Me started to play on the radio!
"It was pretty crazy," she continues, "because I remember we had organised this trip for me to go to LA, New York, and London, and play acoustic sets for different record company executives.
"The first stop was LA, and as soon as I arrived, I got so sick! I, like, got out of the plane and vomited in a pot plant!"
That's a little too much information. However, as she further explains, it was actually a nasty case of the flu that threatened to ruin everything. "And there was me thinking you just let your nerves get the better of you," I say.
"I didn't really think too much about it," she recalls. "I guess I just knew that this is what I wanted to do. I love to sing and I love to write, and I just wanted it to happen. I didn't think of anything going wrong, like, in my brain, I just thought everything would happen right."
A self-confessed "70s rock freak", it's sometimes easy to forget just how young Gabriella is. From her own taste in music, to her impressive and professional delivery behind the microphone, it really is quite astonishing to learn that that big, bluesy and often classy voice actually belongs to a girl who's just about old enough to get in the next round. Although not nearly as astonishing as a school teacher once criticising her for a lack of "musicality".
"Yeah, I was eight at the time," she remembers, "so, um, you know, I think it was pretty quick to judge. It's all cool now -- I obviously had some bit of musicality!
"She was just not very nice, and I think, you know, that's a message that I'd like to give out; if anyone ever puts you down, you know . . . they know nothing I guess!"
That's, erm, some weird advice. Finally, whatever success the new album brings, it will always be difficult to separate Gabriella from the aforementioned Sweet About Me, which, according to the Performing Rights Society for Music, was the most played song in the UK last year. I wonder if she might have hit her peak too soon -- are you sick of the track yet?
"When I was writing the second record, I wanted it to be just as good as the first", she concludes, "but, you know, I'm only 18. When you read things like, 'Gabriella being a one-hit wonder', I kind of think it's a bit stupid because I've so much time to prove people wrong." Indeed you do. Now, go help your brother out in the kitchen...
Ten is released on March 22