Interview: Gizelle Smith

Gizelle Smith

Del Osei-Owusu interviews Gizelle Smith…

Hello Gizelle, how are you?
I’m pretty ok, thanks. All the better for it finally looking like British Summertime!

Congratulations on the release of your new album. How does it feel?
Thank you! A lifetime of things have happened since we finished recording, and yet it feels like I blinked and missed it all. I’m very blessed to have made another album with some of my favourite people and excited for everyone to hear it! The day had a slight anti-climatic quality to it this time – rather like a birthday, ha. Not being able to hang with friends and have a release party/gig was a real shame and probably contributed to that; I feel like there was so much to celebrate and wanted to share. But it always feels great to release an album and I had a lovely day with my daughter in the park… she parties hard for a 6 month old!

How did it come about?
Initially, in the same way most albums come about: you have an album out, so it’s time to start writing another. We already had one or two spare instrumentals from the Ruthless Day recording sessions we wanted to finish, and took rough drafts of new songs to flesh-out in a couple of jam sessions with my musicians. I had all the song ideas/lyrics and rudimentary vocal lines written so it was set to be pretty straightforward. Finding out on the last day of recording the instrumentals that my father died was the most horrible catalyst for a whole rewrite of the lyrical and emotional direction of the album. It ended up being written from a very observational perspective and although one or two of the songs are personal, they are more matter-of-fact than sentimental. My grief blessed me with a new confidence to reveal more of what I have to offer as a songwriter and that also comes through in my varied vocal performance.

I think Steffen, my producer felt inspired too: he’d moved to New York, started a new composing company – ElevenTripleTwo… it all contributed to some fresh, new approaches to the production so the final product beautifully displaced our initial concept.

What are your favourite tracks from it?
There are no stand-out favourites actually. King Of The Mountain is up there simply because I wasn’t ripped apart by Kate Bush fans, so it must be decent, ha. Actually, I do really love what we did – it’s pretty close to perfection for me. The soundscape, the relationship of the vocals to the instrumental elements, the trajectory of how the song develops, the outro… I also love Three Tiny Seeds, because although it’s a metaphor for a spiritual awakening, it has transpired to be very descriptive of my journey into motherhood. Riot Cars is the song where I really had to let go of any ego and document the horrors of police brutality in a very sensitive way. I hope it will inspire people to continue to educate themselves in understanding racism, to continue to dig into and appreciate black history, and to read anti-racist literature so that they can feel confident and equipped to stand up to the injustice of race discrimination. Even when these horrific events are not trending topics, systemic racism, institutional racism and outright racism continues, but so too does the fight for justice and socioeconomic reform. Slavery and its cruelty didn’t end at its abolishment. Once you understand how, you will understand why things are as they are and why there must be radical change. I regularly update links to resources in the bio of my social media pages.

What were the challenges and triumphs you faced in recording it?
Umm… The working relationship between Steffen and I?! Haha. We’ve worked together for many years and we always clashed heads at some point because we both have very strong ideas and very different work methods, but in the end, we are triumphant!

Long hours in the studio has its challenges, especially when the musicians you are working with are not ‘part of the project’ but essentially session players. They are also some of my dearest friends. You can’t expect them to be as invested as you are, so you have to work as efficiently as possible, whilst making sure they are well looked after and in good spirits.

The obvious challenge was dealing with my father’s death. Not only did I rewrite the songs, I still had to show up to record, and when I landed in Brooklyn, my grief had manifested itself as regular panic attacks so it was a triumph to get any vocals down at all. I think he’ll be proud.

You are a singer songwriter from Manchester, how did it all begin for you?
As a baby, my mother took me to see my father whenever he was over from Detroit on tour. I had live music and great musicians in my life from the start.

What did you listen to growing up?
Gosh that’s a wide question. I have so many listening ‘eras’, starting as I mentioned, from being a baby surrounded by Motown. I’ve had a moment with all genres. My mother also played a lot of country, soul and ABBA and blaxploitation and musical soundtracks. As a teenager, I discovered Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and other 60s/70s songwriters. Then I was a rock and grunge head. I discovered psychedelic rock. I discovered MC5, The Stooges and Death. Michael and Whitney were obviously always in there and then I started delving into the world of classical music…

You made the Fresh Faves with your stunning take on Kate Bush’s song King Of The Mountain, a team favourite. What inspired you to choose this as your lead single?
Ahhh thank you! The surprise factor. I thought it would at the very least make people sit up and listen because I know it’s nothing that anyone expected. As much as I love funk and soul, I am detaching from the restrictions of such tightly defined genres. I want to further my songwriting and explore a more complex pallet. I think KOTM is musically the perfect track to showcase this change of direction

Your sound is steeped in funky beats: what classic grooves are guaranteed to get you dancing?
Again such a wide question! These are hard for me because I’m such an over thinker and there are thousands! Hot Music – Soho is a classic, simmering groove.

Your voice is incredible, how do you like to warm up?
Thank you so much. I don’t. My vocal health habits range from non-existent to irresponsible and I’m not proud of that. I have stopped smoking now though, so that’s a positive start. Interestingly enough, stopping has caused my voice to change so let’s see what new noises come out!

Covid had a major impact on the creative industry, how did you keep yourself motivated?
Musically, it was very hard. Both my partner and I are musicians so it was a double blow. The general disregard for the Arts and preferential treatment of other professions during this time has been very disheartening. I practised my bass playing and found a bit of solace doing an online creative writing course. Other than that, it has been dreary to say the least but to be honest, I was preoccupied with the wonderful gift of growing a new human so I can’t say I wasn’t productive!

2021 was a year to reflect, what did you learn about yourself?
I learnt that my state of mind comes first and that means – other than my child’s needs – putting everyone else’s needs to the back of the queue. I also learnt that I still have a lot of work to do in terms of finding happiness within, rather than from my surroundings and consumables but at the same time, I need my friends and their golden energy near by.

What artists are getting you excited at the moment?
So many. I made a 10-hour long Spotify playlist called “REVEALING: Across The Genres of Cool”, and a huge proportion of tracks are by brilliant artists I’m only just discovering. I’m usually pretty late to these parties. Off the top of my head: Big Joanie, Brittany Howard, The Gripsweats, Lijadu Sisters. Arjuna Oakes. Salami Rose Joe Louis, Kassa Overall…

What are you looking forward to next?
Watching as my daughter continues to grow into the incredible person she already is and taking her on the road with me, writing a tonne of new music and moving back to London. 

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Gizelle Smith

Del Osei-Owusu

Del is a songwriter, producer, keyboard player arranger and musical nerd from South London, Del comes from a gospel music background but listens to anything, everything and nothing. Read More

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