She’s the “singer-songwriter” from Essex who’s captivated the world with her unique sound, but there’s something about that title that doesn’t seem to fit folk-pop star Mabes. Maybe because it fails to account for her authentic rawness, whimsical aura and total old soul vibes — all found in a next generation artist.
Even beyond her unique sound, Mabes is a very different kind of star. While other singer-songwriters maintain a polished sheen even when they are still coming up, Mabes rejects that. Nowhere is this more evident than in her music videos and social media, which show her in everyday clothes like denim jumpsuits, flared jeans and hooded tracksuits. She boasts superstar talent, but humility still abounds.
Inspired by her parents who were big music fans, Mabes learnt how to play guitar and started writing her own songs at just 15. Describing her sound as “honest” with “a country twang influenced by pop”, she first learnt to write lyrics by listening to Laura Marling’s folk poetry and credits artists like John Mayer, The Smiths, Carol King and Kings of Leon as her inspiration.
2019 has been a massive year for Mabes, with a few million streams under her belt, a BBC Radio 1 spin of her single ‘America’ and a mini album coming soon. We caught up with her to find out about her songwriting process, her journey to self-acceptance and how she handles the pressure of the music industry.
Hey, Mabes! Is there a secret to your songwriting process?
There is no formula with my songwriting. I sometimes overhear conversations or watch a film that makes me feel a certain way. I use these feelings in the songs. Somehow it just happens!
How long do you typically spend perfecting a song?
Mort of the time, the song is done on the day. I’m a firm believer that if you’re struggling to finish the song, the song is not meant to be. There may be a few lyrics I want to tweak here and there, but generally it’s done with a vibe on the day.
Tell us about your new song ‘Bigger Picture’. Is there a story behind the track?
Well yes... my personal family life is changing and I am finding myself reflecting on my childhood and teenage years, and have realised that I was hard work for my parents — rebellious or a ‘little shit’, one might say! I am now able to understand all of the arguments and dramas when I was a teenager, as most of their rules came from a place of love and care. I couldn’t see that at the time, I thought they were “strict” and “hated me”, and I didn’t realise the weight and pressures of adulting. It’s bloody hard at times!
You have a mini album coming soon, can you tell us about it?
It’s a collection of songs I have written over the years on my acoustic guitar, since I learned to play it at 15. The idea of the album is to conclude the first chapter of songs I released.
Your first headline show is coming up at the end of October. What can we expect from the show?
The venue is a stable barn which is at the back of a pub in my hometown of Billericay in Essex. You can expect fairy lights, and an acoustic set from myself and a support. It’s going to be a special night for me and I will be playing a few new songs that are coming out in the new year! So I’m busy practicing....
BBC Radio 1 spun your track ‘America’ — how did you get your music in front of them?
My track “America” was played on the BBC Music show ‘Introducing in Essex’, so I think that’s how it made its way onto Radio 1! I was so shocked when I found out — I was over the moon!
How comfortable are you with revealing intimate parts of your life in your songs?
Writing is like therapy for me, but that means it’s always personal! But there are definitely certain songs that are very close to my heart, my new release ‘Bigger Picture’ being one.
How do you handle the pressure and expectations of the music industry?
I know this might sound crazy, but I have learned that only looking at my diary one week ahead helps me keep the stress levels at a minimum. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but in terms of gig schedules and writing sessions, I take it a week at a time! Otherwise my calendar can get seriously overwhelming.
Have you ever wanted to leave the industry? What stopped you?
I actually did leave the industry for three years. I had a crack at my artist project when I was 16, but sometimes things don’t go as you plan. I was real low and decided to get a 9-5 in London. And I really believe it’s what started a fire for me to try again, as I learned a lot about myself and what life means to me, and what makes me happy. It took those three years to figure out that there was always something missing from my life.
Are you comfortable with who you have become, as an artist and as a person, or are you still on a journey of self-acceptance?
I’ve always been a worrier when it comes to the future! I truly believe it’s all a constantly evolving journey. And I used to stress myself out about things I had no control over. But I have worked to change my mindset and realised there is no point wasting time doing that, so in that sense, I’m a lot more chilled out than I used to be! But I do still struggle with nerves before my gigs and I’m still working on that.
Is there a story you’re trying to share with the world through your music?
Yes, absolutely. It’s the story of thoughts from my mind as I’m growing as an artist and as a person. Different experiences cause different emotions, situations, feelings and everything is always changing: so I know for a fact I’ll never stop writing songs no matter what road lays ahead.
What’s next for Mabes?
More music! I have been writing more than ever this year. I can’t really put into words how excited I am for the world to hear the next chapter of my song writing. I’ve been working on my sound and I’m hoping everyone is going to love it like I do.
Mabes’ latest single ‘Bigger Picture’ is out now.