Ever since she was a child, Aimée Gillingwater has always had a strong affinity for the enticing world of music. She was enamoured with Disney favourites like Hannah Montana, and while most of us all probably had a go at belting out ‘The Best Of Both Worlds’, but it turned out that Gillingwater had quite the vocal chops. As time passed, Hannah Montana made way for AC/DC and Amy Winehouse (a natural transition, of course), and Gillingwater began to find her sound; a genre-fluid combo of jazz, R&B, soul, and sometimes, trip-hop.
Throughout her teenage years, music became a coping mechanism for the singer, who found herself playing the piano on her lunch break to compensate for her lack of friends. Now at 24 years old, Gillingwater looks back on those times as a blessing in disguise, and unsurprisingly, too, considering she’s now performing in venues across London. Meanwhile, her musical talents have also taken her overseas, appearing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. And with a debut EP to come next year, this is clearly just the start for the rising talent.
Here, we sit down with Gillingwater to talk all things Hannah Montana, her love of performance, and musical evolution…
Hey Aimée! Thank you for taking time out of the studio for a chat. Could you talk to us a little bit about your upbringing? Have you always grown up in London?
Gillingwater: I was born and raised in London, but I’m actually half Kiwi. My dad’s from New Zealand, so I used to go there as a kid. Less so as I’ve gotten older, but otherwise, I’ve been born and raised in London my entire life – in West London specifically. I’m the oldest of three kids. I’ve got two younger brothers. I’m the only girl, so I’ve always had to be a bit like “stick it to the man”.
At what point did you realise you wanted to do something creative, specifically music?
Gillingwater: Ever since I was really, really young. Honestly, one of my earliest memories is just knowing that I really wanted to do music. I used to sing all of the Disney stuff when I was small. It started so young that I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to do it if that makes sense. There was no grand epiphany. It was just like singing was something I did naturally from the age of three or four. I loved watching musicians. My parents aren’t musical, but they both appreciate music a lot, so I was very lucky to be exposed to a lot of music.
What kind of music were you surrounded by growing up?
Gillingwater: My mum used to play Dido all the time. That was a big thing in my household. My dad listened to a lot of rock, so I was raised on Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. The first album I ever bought from HMV was High Voltage by AC/DC, which is so rogue compared to what I listen to and the music I make. And lot of Amy Winehouse. My parents got to see Amy Winehouse before she was famous at some random work dinner, so they were big fans of her because they experienced her in such an intimate setting. It was a real mix.
Do you remember the first album you ever bought or listened to?
Gillingwater: The first album I bought was AC/DC, but the first album I think I truly appreciated is probably Led Zeppelin’s Mothership. So I started off very rock and roll, and that was what I first loved. Unless you count the Disney stuff. But the first album, honestly, was Led Zeppelin because it’s just so intricate. I love how complex their music is, and it really hits quite differently for me.
You mentioned singing from a young age, but we’ve seen that you play quite a few instruments, too?
Gillingwater: Yeah, I started on the old classic, the recorder. After that, I moved on to the flute. And then, when I was about 12, I went into secondary school, and I didn’t have a lot of friends, which was kind of a blessing in disguise. On my lunch breaks, I would just spend time playing the piano, which I learnt on my own. Then I started learning guitar. I’m not super talented at either one of them, but I play enough that I can enjoy them, and I can write music to them. My voice is my main instrument, but I do enjoy the others.
For someone who’s never heard your music, how would you describe it to them?
Gillingwater: Good question. It varies as there are two different styles it goes through. It’s either very jazzy, R&B and soul-like, or it can go into trip-hop in some areas. So, it changes a lot. Different songs have a lot of different flair. I have some tracks that are really bossa nova, and then some tracks which are super trip-hop. There are a lot of different layers and variations.
Would you say that’s a conscious decision to not be boxed in or just something that flowed out of you?
Gillingwater: I would love to have been able to box myself into a genre and just choose that, but I just love them all a bit too much. I have to at least try and make something in each one of those corners before I stick with one.
We saw that you recently had a show in London, and you’ve been performing frequently throughout the year. What’s that feeling like when you’re up on stage?
Gillingwater: Performing is crazy, but I remember the anxiety when I first started. Well, not even anxiety, just nerves, which I think are really healthy. I think most musicians have a good string of nerves before. I couldn’t eat, sleep or do anything the first day I performed, now it’s the biggest joy, and it’s more natural for me. I get such enjoyment that you don’t get in other ways, even compared to recording music. Performing just lets you hear it in other ways. When you play live to people, each performance is so different because you’ve got to read the audience, and that’s one of the only times you get a true reaction from people. I think that’s really special, and I don’t think I could ever give that up.
We also read that you were really into skating when you were younger. What about that was appealing to you?
Gillingwater: Yeah, I used to be. Less so these days. When I was a teenager, I used to struggle with school a lot. I was a kid with ADHD, and I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I just had so much energy. My brothers had skateboards, and they never really used them. Then I picked it up, and I was like, “Oh my god, this is amazing.”
I grew up figure skating, but to go ice skating, you have to book a slot and pay £10 even if you have your own skates. But with skateboarding, you literally step on the board outside your house, and you go. I could be gone all day and just do that. So I fell in love with the freedom of it. I didn’t have to restrict myself in any way. I could go and do it anywhere. Then, I made some great friends, and it just became a big part of my life for a long time.
What would you say is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Gillingwater: From my mum, who told me, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.” That’s funny to me because my music’s all about love, and my name, the way it’s spelt in French, translates to “my beloved”. So, I’ve always been very fascinated by love and tortured by it. That advice has always been the best thing for me.
What song/artist would you say is your guilty pleasure?
Gillingwater: I don’t even think this is a guilty pleasure, but I feel like a lot of people would associate it as one – Miley Cyrus. I grew up with that Hannah Montana world, and I loved her. Her music was great, especially for a young girl. That was my generation of childhood pop. I think the generation above me had Britney Spears. But, for me, I just loved Miley Cyrus. The first music video I ever made was to ‘The Climb’. I was about 10 years old, using the green screen on Photobooth and doing all the movements and stuff.
What are you working on right now, and what can we look forward to from you in the next few months?
Gillingwater: I’m working on my debut EP, which is fun. There’ll be a single that comes out sooner rather than later. Early next year is when the EP is going to come out. I did one EP, but I scrapped it because I’m a perfectionist, and I started again. I’m really excited for it to come out, as It’s been a long time coming. So look out for a lot more music in the next six months.
We will! See you at one of your gigs, Aimée.