Page last updated at 08:23 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Talking shop: Gabriella Cilmi

Gabriella Cilmi

Aussie pop star Gabriella Cilmi is only 18 but she's already on her second album.

The youngster is best known for the catchy Sweet About Me, which was the most-played song on UK radio in 2009.

It also helped her to win six Aria awards in her home country, including best female and single of the year.

Now, Cilmi (pronounced chill-me) hopes to capitalise on that success with a follow-up album, Ten, preceded by a glittery, foot-stomping disco single, On A Mission.

She spoke to the BBC about her new sound, and getting tongue-tied around dreadlocked funk legend George Clinton.

Hello Gabriella, how are you?

I'm doing good, how are you?

Gabriella Cilmi press shot
The singer played Glastonbury's Pyramid stage last year

Not too bad, thank you. I understand this is your 14th interview today?

Yeah, I've been talking about myself all day now.

Don't you go slightly crazy - like staring at yourself in the mirror for too long?

Oh no, there's no mirrors in here. There's no light at all. No windows.

What?! Have the record company tied you up in a dungeon and demanded you conduct interviews until you keel over?

[Laughs] No, the room's more like a lounge on the sixth floor of the Universal Records building in London. They've just brought me some salmon sashimi - and there's even a popcorn maker in here!

Phew, that's a relief. Now, what can you tell us about this single, On A Mission?

It's kind of like I Will Survive for the 21st Century. It's a song for the ladies in stilettos.

The bassline is, ahem, "reminiscent" of Joe Jackson's Steppin' Out.

There was definitely some inspiration behind it, but the whole song is a tribute to the early 80s disco sound - Flashdance, Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, and movies like Some Kind Of Wonderful and the Breakfast Club.

Surely you're too young to remember any of those?

Well, my mum and my dad grew up in the 80s, so I got all their hand-me-down clothes and their hand-me-down CDs and their hand-me-down movies.

Gabriella Cilmi video still
A cartoon Cilmi appears in the video for her latest single

When you're on a mission do you take the stealthy Tom Cruise approach or do you rush in with your fists flailing like Jean Claude Van Damme?

I like to creep up on people, I'm very sly. I'd love to be invisible.

In the video, there's a cartoon Gabriella. How did that come about?

That was so exciting! On the day of the video, there was this guy drawing me and it became this little cartoon sequence.

I'd love to have a guest spot on The Simpsons. I'd be Bart's girlfriend.

Would the animators have heard about you in America?

I don't know how Sweet About Me did in the charts, but when I went to the States I heard it playing quite a lot in shopping centres and places like that. I'd hear it in the weirdest places. I heard it when I was in the loo once!

It was played everywhere. Do you worry the success of that song will overshadow your other records?

I know, it was around for a long time. But, you know, I'm really proud of the song, and it has got my name out there. I've got plenty of time.

How did you approach making the new record? Did you consciously try to move away from the sound of Sweet About Me?

I wanted to do something different for the new album, so it's a big, over-the-top production.

We've just been mixing a song called Let Me Know, and we've got a big choir in and boosted them up in the chorus.

I hear you met funk legend George Clinton while you were recording. What was that like?

Well, I was working with Dallas Austin - who's collaborated with everyone from TLC to Gwen Stefani and Pink - so that was really crazy. And George Clinton just walked in. I could see his colourful hair and he was like, "heeeey, lady!"

They were just sitting there talking about who got James Brown's suits when he died and about Prince, as if they were mates with him. It was pretty incredible.

Gabriella Cilmi
Cilmi, who is of Italian descent, was born in Melbourne

You didn't ask him to break out the bass?

I should have! I was too intimidated. Imagine "Gabriella Cilmi featuring George Clinton!" I'll ask him next time. Now that we're mates.

Was the album recorded in the US, then?

It's funny, you travel all around the world, but I actually recorded most of it in my PJs around the corner from my London flat.

Why are you calling it Ten?

My birthday this year is on 10/10/10. Ten has always been my lucky number and it has a good energy around it.

People who hear you sing might be surprised that you're so young. When did you discover this powerful voice?

I don't know… I used to sing along to people like Tina Turner and Meatloaf. He had amazing backing singers - this one woman, Ellen Foley, I owe a lot to her. She had this massive female, rock opera voice and I used to sing along to Paradise By The Dashboard Light.

A lot of Australian acts have made it in the UK recently - Empire Of The Sun, Temper Trap, The Veronicas. Why now?

There's always been a great music scene at home. That beach culture really thrives on music. I just think people are starting to bring it abroad more, and go on tour.

The scene is just getting hotter. I'm going to put it down to the hole in the ozone layer above Australia!

You must miss the heat now that you live in London.

I went back for Christmas and New Year, and the day that I left to come back to London, it was 45 degrees. Then when I got here it was like minus 10.

Had you ever seen snow growing up in Australia?

No! The first time I saw snow was last year in England. I love watching it from my bedroom and snuggling up in bed. Too bad I don't have anyone to snuggle up to...

Gabriella Cilmi was talking to BBC News entertainment reporter, Mark Savage. On A Mission is out on 7 March.

Print Sponsor

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