Nashville-based pop artist GAYLE grew up loving music. She grew up outside of Dallas and started singing at the age of 7 after learning about jazz vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald in school. Over the next few years, she learned how to play guitar and writing her own songs. At the age of 10, her mom started helping her make frequent trips to Nashville, where she would play in bars around town and work with local songwriters to hone her songwriting skills, falling in love with collaboration in the process. After making back-and-forth trips over the span of about 2 years, GAYLE and her family made the move to Nashville and she starting participating in up to 5 songwriting sessions a week. At 14, she got the opportunity to perform for legendary pop songwriter and publisher Kara Dioguardi and was ultimately signed to Arthouse Music Publishing. “Kara always pushes me to be the most honest I can possibly be,” GAYLE says. “It’s completely changed my writing, and taught me to really show my vulnerability rather than trying to hide it.” In 2020 she released her debut single “dumbass”, co-written with Jesse Thomas and Grant Averill, which marked a major artistic breakthrough for GAYLE. “I’d gone through a phase where I was focusing all my writing on a boy or something else external, so that I didn’t have to write about myself or my own emotions,” she says. “But then one day I saw this quote that said, ‘Your fear of looking stupid is holding you back,’ and I realized I needed to stop worrying about putting myself out there.”
She soon released her follow-up singles “z” (an up-close-and-personal commentary on Generation Z), “happy for you” (a heavy-hearted exploration of a toxic relationship), and “orange peel” (a dreamy piece of R&B-pop that flaunts her fierce wordplay on lines like “I can make a man go, like a motherfucking mango”) and quickly caught the attention of Atlantic Records, who signed GAYLE in May 2020, right around her 16th birthday. “Atlantic was Aretha’s label so it was my dream to sign with them,” she says. “It’s the best birthday present I could’ve ever asked for.” Most recently, GAYLE released her debut single on Atlantic, “abcdefu”. “I wrote ‘abcdefu’ when I was trying really hard to be nice and considerate to my ex”, says GAYLE. “Then I heard through some mutual friends that my ex wasn’t saying the nicest things about me, and all bets were off.” The official “abcdefu” music video shows GAYLE further expressing her pent-up anger with a visit to her ex’s house. She takes her friends along for the ride, baking an “FU” cake in her ex’s honor before leaving him a recording documenting their adventure. With plans to release more music, GAYLE is currently working on her debut project and aims to release music that connects with her listeners. “After ‘dumbass’ came out, I had a lot of people telling me how brave I am,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’m talking about something that almost everyone has gone through at some point—is that really that brave?’ With all my songs I’m just writing about my own experience, with the hope that it’ll give people space to feel more comfortable with their own emotions. I just want everyone to do what makes them happy, and be more confident in who they really are.” You can connect with GAYLE via the following links. Photo credit: Luke Rogers.
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You were raised in Dallas and started singing at the age of 7 after learning about jazz vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald in school and said that you loved the idea that you could just sing things on the spot and make everything a little less quiet. What can you tell me about that time for you and discovering your love for music, singing, and writing your own songs?
I think, especially with writing songs, it takes a minute to break down the process in your brain. Even for me…I mean I was 7 when I started thinking about music and realized that this was something that anybody could do. Anybody could just, like, start singing. It wasn’t, like, these people that were chosen from the gods (laughs)! I remember that it hit me one day, where I was like “Oh my god! People write songs. They don’t just exist. Somebody had to make this up!”. And then it also took realizing that just because you write a song, it doesn’t mean it’s going to go on the radio. That’s not how it works. You write a song and then, like…I literally used to go to my backyard and sing, hoping that a record executive would be driving by and hear this 8 year old singing and be like “Oh my god! This is it!”. That’s literally how I thought you got discovered (laughs)! So it took a minute to realize that you sing and go to vocals lessons and then write songs and slowly get better at it and then you can play instruments. I used to think you just knew how to play instruments. Like, you just knew! Then I was like “Oh! You learn this. Ok.” Once I kind of learned the process of learning and getting better at things, that’s when I think it just started working for me, and being able to do music. It was just knowing that you have to do specific things, you know?
When you first started writing songs, you have said that you always had a notebook that you wrote in obsessively and talked about emotions that you had never experienced. How would you describe your early songwriting process and how it has evolved over the years as you’ve experienced more of those emotions and life experience firsthand?
Honestly, it’s really funny. I used to watch Disney Channel shows and write about the relationships. If they’d be going through a break-up or falling in love, I’d see these scenes and be like “Oh! I bet this is how it feels! “. I think that being able to write from your own personal experience, with things that are happening to you, that you’re just able to relate to yourself and to the song more as an artist, because this thing literally happened to you. But that’s honestly my own personal opinion. There are a lot of amazing artists that are able to pull out stories and create something and put the emotion of kind of a similar experience of specific things that didn’t happen. I think it’s also a good art of sometimes finding a good in between of the two.
You made your first trip to Nashville at the age of 10 and have said you were determined to take your songwriting to the next level. What can you tell me about the people you met at that time, whom you have said were willing to write with a 10 year old and falling in love with collaboration? In what ways did Nashville teach you how to tell a story and look at things from a different perspective?
First of all, there were a lot of people who weren’t willing to write with me and were like “Let’s just wait until you’re 14. Or let’s wait until you’re 15.” Or they would cancel the day of and be like “You know what? I don’t think I can do this.” That was really hard and I think it made me really grateful for the people who were willing to write with me. A lot of it was even just writing the structure of a song. There’s a verse, there’s a pre, there’s a chorus, there’s a post, if you want there to be, there’s a second verse, a pre, a chorus. And then knowing all of the rules so you don’t have to listen to them. And just hearing somebody else’s perspective on something, like “What if we change the melodies here?” and I’m like “Oh my god! You can do that? What?” (laughs)! And even just learning what other people think is a catchy melody, because you can’t hear a song that you’ve written for the first time. If you come in with this idea and somebody is able to be like “I think this is catchy” or “I don’t think this is catchy” or “I think this concept is relatable” or “I think this is too broad”, and just being able to see other people’s perspectives and hear them and being able to collaborate two opinions and put it into a song. It was a really interesting process that definitely took me a really long time to figure out and get used to. But I’m completely and madly in love with it!
You moved with your family to Nashville at, I believe it was 14, having been making monthly trips there to write and play shows for the four years prior. What was it like for you to make those trips there and gain so much experience and what can you tell me about making the move to Nashville?
I actually made the move when I was 12. I actually met Kara when I was 14. I was in Nashville for about a year and a half, almost 2 years. That’s when we were going back and forth and we moved, I believe it was a little bit before my 12th birthday. It was the best present ever! I consistently had to do things. I started doing music around 7 in Texas and it started out with having a toy guitar. Once I learned how to play that toy guitar, I got a real guitar. And once I was able to do a 15 minute set on my own, I was able to play out, and then I was able to do a 30 minute set and then an hour long set, and then I started to write my own songs. I just kept proving myself, that I wanted to do music, and so then I got the privilege of my mother driving me to Nashville. And then I was homeschooled, so I had to do school if I wanted to do music. That was not an option. I was very lucky that my mom got a car with wifi so I could be on my computer doing school for, like, 10 hours straight. I’d get, like, 2 weeks worth of school done and then go to Nashville. It kind of started off with 3 day trips and then it went to a week, and it was really just going to bars in Nashville and writers rounds. Anyplace where there was just music and meeting as many people as I could and writing with them and jamming with people and going to open mics and all of these places that I possibly could and learn anything I could about music. I just absolutely loved it! I learned so much and just fell in love with the art and craft of songwriting and collaboration and singing your songs out. We just kept going back and forth so much that I learned, if you nagged about one specific thing, eventually my mother will cave (laughs)! It persisted. It took two years. It was like “What do you want for your birthday?”. “To move to Nashville.” If you just stay consistent with it and don’t budge, I finally got some results (laughs)! I also haven’t been able to budge about anything ever again! That was the one thing I got!
You had the opportunity, once you moved to Nashville, to attend an event at Trimble House opened by legendary pop songwriter and publisher Kara Dioguardi and were able to perform for her, which ultimately led to you being signed to Arthouse Music Publishing. What was that experience like for you and what can you tell me about meeting Kara and having her be a mentor for you? What have you learned from her?
It’s honestly the craziest story to me and blows my mind! Basically, it was one of those days where I was actually doing a lot. I had, like, two writes and two gigs that day, which I normally don’t do. Normally, I at least have a write and a performance. It was one of those days where I think I accidentally double booked myself, so I was doing a lot. My mom came in and was like “Oh my god! I signed you up for this thing with Kara Dioguardi!” and I was like “Oh my god! I have no idea when I’m going to fit this into my day, but, like, sure! Ok!”. I was actually writing with my best friend Sarah Davis at the time. I write a lot of my songs with her. I go to this house and 40 people go and 20 get to sing. So you write your name down and they put it in a hat. So we’re sitting, and I think at this point about 10 people had gone, and I’m starting to get nervous and not sure if she was going to pick me. Then she draws my name out of the hat, and she says my name, and was like “Oh shit! Thank god, but oh shit!” (laughs)! I remember that I didn’t know whether to do a country song or a pop song, because I was writing both at the time. I was a pop artist but also a country writer and was a bit like “I don’t know. There are a lot of country people here, so maybe I should do a country song?”. But then I was like no, no, no. I’m a pop artist and I want to represent myself as a pop artist and am going to do a pop song. So then I sing and I gave THE WORST performance of my life. I was sick, back when it was socially acceptable to go out and do things when you were sick. You can’t do that now. I was flat and hadn’t fully written the song yet, so I was mumbling a little bit, but she gave some good feedback. I don’t even particularly remember what she said now, it was so long ago. But she then, a couple of days later, reached out to my contact information and I gave her my mom’s number and sent her 3 guitar demos as voice memos. They weren’t even demoed out. It was me in my voice memos with the three most ridiculous songs. They were just like nothing I would never think is good now, ever! But apparently she saw something. And then we had a meeting and she told me to bring my favorite co-writers, so I brought Sarah Davis with me, who is my fave human being and fave collaborator. She set us up with a write, and I remember it was one of our first track writes. Basically, a lot of times in Nashville, you’re just sitting in a room with a guitar and I think it’s a great way to start out. But it was a track write where this producer was making me track to the song we were writing at the same time. What (laughs)? Then you sing into a microphone afterwards and you can do, like, harmonies and doubles. Huh (laughs)?! We did it, and I remember being terrified that it was a shitty song. I was like “Oh my god! What if this is horrible?”. But she ended up liking it and offered me a publishing deal 3 days later. Honestly, it’s been such an amazing experience having her as a mentor. I really love people who are blunt and just say it as it is, and that’s something that she really does. She is really able to take songs to a deeper level and be able to really push your perspective as an artist and makes sure that everything comes from a true, vulnerable place. I am such a better, more open collaborator because of her. I’m still growing as a writer and am constantly wanting to be better and she’s constantly there pushing me to be better. I’m just so grateful for her and all of the things that she has taught me over the years.
What can you tell me about your first single that you released entitled “dumbass”, which you have said was a breakthrough for you in that you had decided at that time that you needed to put yourself out there rather than just writing about external things?
Yeah. So, I wrote that song when I was 14 and it was one of my first LA trips ever. I had gone to LA before that, but not as a signed writer. I was just about to turn 15. I think I went at the end of May and then June was happening and my birthday is, like, June 10th, so I was there for a couple of weeks and was so excited because I was going to have my 15th birthday in LA. I remember that with the songs I was writing before, Kara was like “Dig deeper! I don’t want to know about how somebody else is feeling about you. I need to know how you’re feeling about you!” and “I don’t want to know how this boy thinks of you. I want to know what you think of this!”. So I remember I was in a write and I came in with this quote and Kara saw it said it was really beautiful and it was “your fear of looking stupid is holding you back”. I HATE feeling stupid. It’s the most debilitating feeling for me. It’s so frustrating and I can’t function as a human being when I’m feeling stupid and somebody’s like really rubbing it in. It really just gets me and I don’t know why and it really bothers me. I think I was feeling that way a lot at the time and was worried that everything I did, people were going to find stupid and was like “Ah, fuck!”. So I kind of walked in and she was, like…I remember Jesse Thomas was like “What if we do something that was like clothes off and closed off?”. And I was like “Oooh!”. I don’t know why, but my brain literally…I do this thing where I close off my feelings if I take my clothes off so I don’t have to open up to my boyfriend. She was like “OK. Alright.” That was the first thing that was ever stated in the song. And she was like “Maybe that could be the second verse territory?” and I was like “No! It’s the first verse! (laughs)”. I was just thinking of Kara and thinking “You know what? I’m going to do it! I’m going to talk about myself!”. I was just at a point in time where I had these friends when I was younger and they just made fun of everything I did behind my back, and even sometimes in front of my face. Everything I did, they would find cringy or make fun of and I remember I would ask them all of the time “Is this cringy? Is this not cool?”. I would just keep searching for the validation and kept hearing their voice inside my head, if I would do something they’d think was stupid. I finally was able to write about it and I just remember leaving that write and literally crying. It just felt so nice to actually get out and I was actually able to talk about how I felt and put it into words. It was a really beautiful experience, just writing that song and being able to put my emotions into words. I think it was a good first release. I’m excited to release other stuff too but I think it was a great way to start out the GAYLE story of “I am scared of looking stupid and that can control almost every waking moment of mine, sometimes. That can be really difficult to deal with.”
In August, you signed with Atlantic Records and released your single “abcdefu”. What was it like for you to sign with Atlantic Records? What prompted that decision for you and what can you tell me about your debut single with them?
So I have wanted to be with Atlantic Records since I was, like, 12. It was Aretha Franklin’s label and I really love Aretha Franklin. That was her label and was one of the main decisions for me wanting to sign with them. Also, Lizzo is an amazing artist and Cardi B. Those are some amazing Atlantic artists that I really love. I remember being surprised when they offered me a deal. I was like “Me? You like me and my music? You like it and want to be a part of it? Huh?” (laughs)! Even with the signing of the deal, there were so many little celebrations to have, because when it’s offered, you can get cookies and ice cream and be like “Oh my god! This is amazing!”. And when you get the contract, you’re like “Oh my god! I got the paperwork. This is actually happening!”, so let’s get cookies and ice cream. And then the lawyers negotiate and you have a deal you are ready to sign, and then the fact that the deal is ready to get signed, and then you sign it, and then Atlantic signs it, and you get cookies and ice cream to celebrate. There were so many opportunities to celebrate that were always a great excuse to eat dessert (laughs). It was like “Oh, it’s official?”, because I’m a minor and had to go through family court and when everyone signed it, it was like “Let’s get cookies and ice cream!”. There was definitely a lot of cookies and ice cream and balloons and crying. It was a moment that I had always wanted and have been working for really strongly for 5 years. And so to have gotten it was very full circle and I was very grateful and excited. And the work doesn’t stop now. I’m not going to get signed and be like “Great! Everything is easier for me now!”. That’s not how it works. I’m just really grateful that I have the opportunity to be with Atlantic and I really love my people over there. It’s a really exciting experience and I’m really happy that “abcedfu” is the first song to come out with Atlantic. It’s so much more than just a “fuck you”, but I think it’s a great place to start. I actually wrote this song with Sarah Davis, who was there for my first meeting with Kara. I was literally writing with her when I found out I was meeting Kara and she has been with me, basically, through every step of the way of this journey and I am so excited that we get to have our first song together. I’m just very excited overall.
What can you tell me about the music video for “abcedfu” and the idea behind it?
Basically, the idea behind the video was that friends and I break into my ex’s house when they’re out of town and trash it. I don’t even remember the specific moment I came up with the idea. I was just thinking “I should break into my ex’s house and fuck it up” and then was like “Wait. But what if I did that? With people? And then we film it? And then what if we got a dog?” (laughs). I was like “What if we got a cake and had a cake fight and then we all took a shower together?”. I don’t know why? Actually, it was really supposed to be a bath, but the bathtub was too small to fit, like, 5 people in, so we took a shower (laughs)! But my brain is weird and it just kind of went to that place and I liked it. So that’s just kind of how the music video went. I would have put Sarah in it, but unfortunately she was in LA doing writer things. Apparently she has a career outside of me, which I guess is acceptable (laughs).
You have a condition called chromesthesia, which I find fascinating, that causes you to see music in colors. What can you tell me about that experience, as well as seeing your latest single as the color red?
I do. It’s interesting, because I can not like songs just because of the color, because every time I listen to the song, I see the color. So it’s an interesting thing to be like “I like this song but I don’t like the color” and the producer is like “What?” (laughs)! “abcedfu” was red, but it really depends on the instrumentation, because the demo of that song is green. There’s another version that’s coming out at the end of the week, the chill version, that is lilac. “z” is green and “orange peel”, funny enough, is orange, and “dumbass” is a light, sky blue. It really goes into the visuals. A lot of times I can kind of decide what I want, like “Oh, this song’s orange. This is what I want.” There are times when I just don’t like the color of the song, so I just won’t use it. But it’s definitely a really interesting thing, especially when I’m making music. Somebody actually asked me an interesting question- “What comes first, the song or the color?”. Like, can I look at a color and hear a song? And I’m like “I wish!”. I wish I could look at beige and be like “I’ve got it! I’ve got the idea!”.
You have a mini tour coming up, The FU Tour, which will go to Nashville, Brooklyn, and LA to celebrate the new single. What ca people expect from the tour and what are you most looking forward to?
I’m most excited to see everybody’s face. Covid times, like a lot of things, have had to be over the internet. I’m very grateful for all of the love I have gotten, but am excited to just show off new songs and see like “Oh people in the crowd seem to like this song, so maybe I should release this one.” I make the best music that I can possible make, but at the end of the day I can’t hear it the way other people can for the first time. I can have my own personal favorites, but people can be like “That song sucks! I like this one more” (laughs). To be able to have that would be really nice. I do believe that music makes the world a better place and I do think live performance does that, because if you are in a crowd of people and you’re the performer, everyone in the audience has no idea how much they might possible disagree with each other, but every single decision they ever made in their lives made them all be together to watch this one thing and be together in unity. I truly believe that is such a beautiful thing and it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of the creation of that. So I am just really grateful to try to make the world a better place with music and to have that opportunity through live performance.
Aside from your tour coming up, what’s next for you?
Definitely new music is conning out. I’m in LA right now and am currently writing for my project, which I’m very excited about. “abcdefu” is going to be seen in a few different new lights, which I’m excited about. Hopefully, you’ll just be seeing new music and more of a Tik Tok presence and more of a reels presence. But definitely more music is what you can be expecting from me!