Describing someone as an ‘Essex girl’ has often been met with negative connotations. The preconceived notions of unintelligent or materialistic women coming from this area is about to be outdated for good, as singer-songwriter Mabes is a role model breaking the stereotype. Born in Essex, Mabes crafts sharp songs about heartache and grievances, her semi-biographical lyrics are an ode to herself and those around her, bringing to life her glamorous American Country singer dreams.
We spoke to Mabes about her music, influences and plans for the year ahead.
You grew up in Essex, bearing in mind how close it is to London, how has this influenced your sound?
I grew up going to gigs, as it’s only a half an hour train journey into London, which is really fortunate. My parents have always been into underground Indie bands, so i’ve always had a love for real pure music, made from live sounds and instruments. That definitely played a part in making me learn how to play an instrument myself. When I was younger, I learnt the piano for a couple of years, but then my Mum introduced me to Laura Marlings work, and I went to see her perform in Hackney, the way she played the guitar was so mesmerising and that’s when I knew I had to play the guitar. I went to a local charity shop, picked up a guitar for I think £40, I had a couple of lessons and then taught myself from there. I fell so in love with the guitar that I can’t remember how to play much on the piano anymore. The guitar is my sound, so the raw influence from gigs definitely influenced my sound, for me to shape my music in this way.
The videos for ‘Keeping The Noise Down’ and ‘Caught Up’, show you take a heavy influence from the era of the 60’s and 70’s, where do you think this comes from?
I have always been a massive fan of Dolly Parton, the queen of country music. I’ve got a country twang running throughout all my sounds, my voice lends itself to country music. I’ve experimented writing all sorts of genres, but my voice is just so country, that’s what each song becomes.The reason why i’m so obsessed with the 60’s is because it is so bold, with clashing colours and prints, the aesthetic of everything is just so glam and striking. The likes of Dolly Parton and Bobbie Gentry back in the 60’s, basically invented the female pop-star. Before then, there weren’t many people doing the full dress-up, with the hair and the bold make-up and the amazing glittery, bold coloured catsuits. They’ve paved the way for today’s generation, I find the whole Hollywood glitz and glam era totally fascinating.
I’m an old soul, my Mum always says she thinks I was born 40 years too late, because even the way I live my life represents my fascination with the era. I would kill to have been alive then, it must have been an amazing time to be alive.
Your lyrics are often open and honest, is your music semi-biographical?
If I’m not writing about a personal experience, I’ll be writing about a friend’s experience. I think that’s the only way you can put the honest, emotive lyrics and feeling into a song – first hand experience. There is one exception to that rule, it’s a song of mine called ‘Danny’ it’s about a soldier going to war and not coming back. When I was writing it I imagined it being the 1930’s and I completely immersed myself into a character.
Laura Marling invents characters and sings from their points of view, and I wanted to try it myself as she’s someone I look up to. Most of the time I sing from personal experience which is why they are so honest and raw. There was one time in lockdown, I did a live-stream and I was having a wobbly day, when you can’t see the sun or a way out and it’s very doom and gloom. The lyrics touched me all over again when singing ‘Stuck In The Rain’ and I actually started to cry, so yes it’s very much from the heart.
What inspired your ‘Too Young To Love’ EP?
I was going through some problems with my relationship, I broke up with my boyfriend of six years, six months ago and I’ve actually recently just got back with him. The whole thing has been a complete roller coaster, whirlwind, wondering if I was too you or too inexperienced to know what love is. At the time I wasn’t sure if it was love, I was 24, I wasn’t sure if it was love or if it was just all that I’d known and I’d just become comfortable. Then I started asking myself questions, letting my mind run away with it’s own thoughts, thinking on the power of love affects and how it affects everything you do…when you’re in love everything’s amazing, when you’re falling out of love everything is bad. We’re still together, after having been six months apart, we’re happier than ever, which answers the questions I asked myself in my EP. It is love !
There is one track on their called, ‘Caught Up’, which is embodying myself in my Dad’s experience of being in a long distance relationship, in lockdown and not being able to see them. Dreaming of the day you can see that person again, so that all your worries can go away.
In short, the whole EP questions love and loss, from a young person’s point of view.
As we’re still not back to normality yet, what are your plans for this year?
I hope to keep releasing music, this pandemic is not going to stop me putting out music. It would be so easy to give in, and wait till this is all over but that’s not real-life and you have to carry on. The arts are a relief for everyone no matter if that’s reading, films or music, so I just have to keep doing what I can, keep releasing music and not even think about when i can perform live because last year, I kept getting my hopes up and they kept getting shattered. Music is therapy and I will keep putting out new songs. Throughout all the little pockets of freedom we had last year, I was able to fit in a lot of writing sessions, so even though the lockdown has slowed things down, I am still able to text ideas, but the zoom songwriting sessions aren’t for me. That creative buzz you get from the studio room, isn’t able to transfer over zoom. I do have plenty of songs I am sitting on though, even if we can’t get back into the studio.
How has the pandemic affected your production and the song-writing process on a whole?
It’s massively affected my writing, because I can’t be in the same room as other people to bounce off them. It’s been really difficult to find that vibe on my own, I am still coming up with ideas, but the reality is I can’t wait to take them to sessions, because that’s how I normally work. I can produce on my own, but not to the standard I would want to release. I work really closely with a guy called Matt Newman, he is like my brother, I take all my ideas to him.
Finally, who do you think deserves more recognition?
My mind would usually go blank at this question but at the moment it’s Smooth Radio. When me and my sister used to go and stay with my Grandma and Grandpa when I was little, we would wake up to the smell of bacon and my Grandpa would have Smooth Radio on. That chilled genre is really helping me at the moment.
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