There was a time when you couldn’t get away from Gabriella Cilmi’s single, Sweet About Me – not only was it a major radio (and chart) hit in 2008 but it was also subsequently synched on television and commercials en-route to ad nauseum. Cut to five years later and Cilmi is back with her third record, The Sting, which boasts a mature sound and fantastic hooks.
On 22 October the Antipodean starlet plays a show at The Hospital Club, where she will showcase her new material. Here she tells Londonist about moving to London as a teenager, how Kent-based ghosts may have assisted the work on her debut album and what her favourite London spots are.
G’day, Gabriella! Having moved to London from Australia in your teens, what’s your earliest memory of London?
Arriving at a very posh hotel – The Milestone. It was close to Christmas and was one of the only rooms available that Island records could find. I had a coffee and food-stained tracksuits. I had just gotten off a 24 hour flight! It was the kind of hotel royalty would stay in…
That’s pretty good going! And do you remember where you played your first gig here?
It was at The Enterprise in Camden. It was acoustic, candlelit and intimate. The monitors were crackly and I was nervous out of my mind – even singing to only a handful of people.
You recorded your first album with Xenomania in Kent…
For about three years I spent my school holidays recording in Alice Liddell’s house- the girl who Lewis Carroll based Alice in Wonderland on. It was a massive – and in my opinion haunted – mansion. Maybe the ghosts helped pen Sweet About Me…
The new LP has been quite a long time in the making. Why was that?
Well, I broke up with my label and management who I had been with ever since I was 13. It was the first time I had real creative freedom and I wanted to savour the taste of it and have time to discover what the record should sound like.
Where did you record it?
At Eastcote Studios in Kensal Rise, where my producer, Eliot James, is based. He records things with such a beautiful, crisp sound and really captures the ethereal, trip hop influenced blues sound I wanted to throw in the test tube. I also recorded with my band mates in Crouch End, Muswell Hill and Stoke Newington… so all over London!
What, to you, was the main difference between your work on this album and the previous two?
This album was born at a time when I was probably at the lowest point in my life but as a result I think the material is more honest and the lyrics are more confessional. On my first record the song Terrifying included a lyric with the line “I believe there’s a God / making my time / baking my bread…” [laughs] I don’t cover baking on The Sting.
Speaking of – you’ve named the record after the first proper single from it, The Sting. Is that your favourite track on the album, then?
Don’t Look Back and Not Sorry are my favourites – well, at least today! I wrote Don’t Look Back with Eliot James and it was an important step, as after a day of recording and writing I decided I wanted him to produce the whole record. I was walking through the corridor and heard my brother playing chords when the melody for Not Sorry popped into my head. It was good timing. The Sting felt like the right title for the album, as the aftermath of all those breakups- the label, management and the boyfriend felt like a bee sting. It hurt but, you know, you get over it [laughs].
Which songs from your previous two records have endured as songs that you still love playing live?
I love playing a stripped down version of Love Me Cos You Want To, which was co-written by Ellie Goulding, and – of course – we throw Sweet About Me into the mix.
Do you enjoy gigging more than recording or vice versa?
It depends on my mood. I can’t wait to play live at the moment because it’s like boxing for me… it relieves a lot of tension!
Do you get to catch live music in London much yourself?
Recently I’ve been to see Leonard Cohen at the O2. It was amazing to see the genius himself perform. He managed to make a gig in an arena feel intimate. I also went to see a Trestle Records night at the Rosemary Branch in East London. It was like a Leonard Cohen gig without the lyrics, full of beautiful instrumental music – everything from beatboxing to a man playing a saw!
Are there any London spots which you particularly love spending time at?
I love Hampstead Heath picnics in the summer and WOW-Simply, which is a Japanese restaurant in Crouch End! Try the crazy roll if you happen to eat there!
Finally, what can we expect from your Hospital Club show?
My amazingly talented live band. We bring things back to basics – quite raw and in your face. Ethereal guitars and solid fat drums.