First published on uk-fusion.com, August 2008
Gloriously Italian, born in Melbourne and uprooted to London by the time she turned 16, newcomer Gabriella Cilmi’s ‘Sweet About Me’ record has been on everybody’s lips all summer. uk-fusion grabs a pew with the young lady fresh out of Glastonbury to natter about Walkabout, wrestling and West London (amongst other things)
Well, first thing’s first – where did you get that mighty set of lungs from?
Not my mum and not my dad though he is the kind of person who bought a piano ‘cos it looked good and put it in the house. I started playing the piano until I was 9 but my piano teacher told me I had no musicality so I quit . It is stupid to say that to a 9-year-old. Then I started to sing and eventually started playing the guitar. I’d always loved music from an early age and mum played great music like Janis Joplin, Suzi Quatro and Cat Stevens, whom I absolutely love. I guess I grew up around good music.
What’s ‘Sweet About Me’ about? Is it autobiographical?
In a way it is. I have a pretty thick skin, I know what I want and I am not afraid to tell people. It’s also about making mistakes and learning from them but to have fun at the same time. When we were writing it, it always stood out. It reminds me of a rocking boat and that’s where the ‘blue blue blue’ lyric came from.
It’s the kind of song that’s crossed over to an older crowd. Is that something you’ve been aware of?
It wasn’t intentional; it must be from the music that I listen to and all my influences shaped the sound I make. I’m glad people of all ages like it.
Can you tell me more about your album Lessons To Be Learned?
It’s a lyric that comes up in ‘Sweet About Me’ and also ‘Einstein’ and it just stood out as a title for the album. I had to move from Melbourne to London and I started writing the album when I was 13. A lot of people look at a 13-year-old and say, she doesn’t know what she wants and she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I always knew I wanted to follow my gut feeling. I had to learn how to communicate with that and tell how I feel.
Regardless of your age, you are new to the industry. How much do you decide over?
I have pretty good people around me and I have a pretty tight family too. I got into music to make music – it wasn’t everything else that comes with it. When you’re recording an album, that’s all you think about. You don’t think about whether people will like it or about going on the TV but then you realise those things come with it too. That was a bit of a shock at first. I really enjoy performing and writing so that makes up for it.
Have you done anything bizarre for promotions?
I wrested someone on a radio show in a sumo suit, which was funny and pretty crazy!
When did you realise ‘Sweet About Me’ was picked for a deodorant advert?
It was over three months ago and it was weird at first when I was told my song was going to be used in an advert for a deodorant. The actual commercial isn’t that bad. When ‘Sweet About Me’ was released months ago, it was a slow release with interest picking up a long the way so it was nice to watch it grow and people became familiar with the song from hearing it on the advert so it’s been pretty cool.
How long have you been living in London? Have you set up camp here?
Over a year. I think it was March last year that I came and I am pretty comfortable here now. The first time I came here was three years ago; I spent my 13th birthday in London and someone bought me a ticket to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the musical! I’ve got into London and made friends here. There’s live music every single night in so many places, which I love.
Whereabouts in London do you live?
Have you been to Shepherd’s Bush?
Yes, I’ve been to Shepherd’s Bush!
Have you been into Walkabout?
No, no! I don’t go in there! Aussies become more Aussies when they come to London.
Why is that?
I don’t know! You walk around Fulham and you always see Aussies with no shoes on. You don’t do that at home unless you’re on a beach! I can tell an Aussie from a mile away! London is a very cool place to be at; you’ve got Europe right on the door step. There are a lot of Australians here so it kinda feels like home in a way.
Are you still carrying on with your studies?
Unfortunately, yes. I have to email my work to the teachers and I’m pretty far behind at the moment!
What comparison are you most proud of?
It’s nice to be compared to someone as talented as Amy Winehouse. I’ve had Nina Simone and Blondie (because some of my music has been compared to her) so I’m proud of those two.
Is it true you find bass players quite “hot”?
I like Jared Followill of Kings of Leon. Well, I used to but my bass player isn’t! I like Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers but he’s not really hot. Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy doesn’t do it for me either.
Are you bothered about cricket and the Ashes next year?
It’s cool to watch it and it’s more exciting to watch it here than in Australia. I like playing cricket more; it’s fun.
Who’s watching your back?
I’ve got my mum and I have family who’ll come and whack me over the head if I do something stupid. A lot of people will say 16 is too young to be in the music business but I look at it from the point of view that I have so much more time to make more music – maybe country music!