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The guitar playing isn’t the first thing you’ll notice about English Rain.
There are no solos, no anthemic riffs, no overt shows of technical prowess. Listen more closely, and you’ll hear a range of alternative tunings, driving strummed rhythm parts and delicately picked melodic accompaniment. Likewise live, it’s clear that Aplin is an accomplished player, doing everything to support the song and nothing to overpower it. How did she begin with six strings?
“I got my first guitar when I was 11,” she smiles. “It was an electric and I can remember just wanting to be Avril Lavigne! But I got annoyed with having to plug it in and play with amps and pedals and stuff. Then I got given a cheap acoustic, a Tanglewood, and I thought it was awesome because I could play it anywhere! That was my first ‘proper’ guitar, I guess, and I picked it up again when I was about 14, and since then I’ve just been playing and playing.”
And piano - which was first: piano or guitar?
“Piano. I’ve grown up with a piano in the house and that’s where I started to be able to learn things by ear. Guitar kind of happened, and I was using it just for writing at first. Then I was writing so much that I began to realise that I knew how to play, and that’s when I started getting nerdy about it. Recently, I’ve been writing a lot on guitar, but I’ve just moved into a house with a piano in it, so that may change. I haven’t had one in the house for about two years, so it’s very exciting.”
Did you have guitar lessons?
“No, I completely taught myself, and I’m grateful for that in a way. Sometimes I look at my guitarist Tom, and he’s ridiculous: I mean, amazing. And he never had lessons either, he’s got his own way of playing and I can tell that it’s special. Same thing if I’m listening to John Mayer or Eric Clapton. For me, if I’d had lessons, I probably wouldn’t play in the way that I do.”
Who are your biggest guitar influences?
“Joni Mitchell, especially for me because of the open tunings. She was one of those singer-songwriters who didn’t sound too obvious. I love John Martyn and I found that with Nick Drake – especially Nick Drake – he had this way of playing that was just so ‘him’ and even if you learned the exact parts, exactly the same, you can never get the same feel. You can tell it’s him even before he starts singing, and that’s something that’s amazing and special to have. It made me really want to home in on things that were ‘my thing’, to make my own sound and my own way of playing.”
You mention open tunings...
“I love open D, G and E, and also just tuning everything down a tone, or even to C – just a big, open sound. I think Joni Mitchell used to do that. I wanted to experiment so that it didn’t sound like I was just playing a load of chords on the acoustic guitar, especially when I was playing on my own, as it could sound a bit thin and I wanted something a bit deeper and warmer. Tuning down and using different tunings definitely did that for me.”
Electric guitars – we’ve seen you playing some...
“I’ve been dabbling a little bit. Tom has a Gretsch that is just an absolute dream. I’ve been having a go on that, and that’s something I want to carry on doing. I’m just experimenting because I’ve never really gigged electrics before and I don’t really know much about what I’d use, so I’m playing lots of things and experimenting at the moment.”
What’s your view of the singer-songwriter ‘scene’? It seems like a good time for people who sing and play: would you agree?
“Absolutely. There are loads of artists and it’s not just ‘singer-songwriter’ music. There are lots of pop artists writing their own songs; I love Ben Howard, I think Ed Sheeran is a great example. People are writing about real situations that people can relate to. Maybe people are more attainable. You feel like they’re singing about your life when it’s a good singer-songwriter; they’re writing about real things. I also think that people just want something fresh and easy to listen to. There’s so much going on in music, so it’s nice when something is organic and there are a lot of people trying to do that now. I think it’s great!”
Album number two must be heavily in discussion. Can you reveal anything that we can expect?
“I want to release another album next year, and maybe some other little cool things like an EP. I want to spend a lot of next year writing. Nothing’s really planned yet, I just want to spend a lot of the year being creative.
“I got involved a bit with the orchestral side of things, strings, the anthemic-ness of things with English Rain, so I kind of want to do something a bit more raw and maybe experiment with a different kind of production. I don’t want to change anything too drastically, but whatever naturally comes.”
There are probably people reading this who’d love to do something similar to you. apart from needing a lot of talent, what advice would you give them?
“I didn’t really realise I was doing it at the time, but I made the most of the new resources that were available to me, especially the internet. It’s just using all of those resources to your best advantage – Facebook, Twitter, all that. Putting your music online is really important, too: for free! I don’t think you should sell your first EP for £5 or whatever. You shouldn’t even care about money – just about getting it out there and making the most of all your opportunities. If you get offered a local gig, do it, wherever or whatever it is. Don’t expect too much too soon: you have to work your way up.”