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Interview: Thea Gilmore

9 min read

Balancing a successful music career, motherhood and championing for value of the work of creators in the entertainment industry, Thea Gilmore is a very busy woman – and one that is also fresh from touring the UK which included a recent performance in the ethereal surroundings of North London’s gorgeous, Union Chapel. On top of all of that, and almost 2 dozen albums into a career that have spanned the last two decades, Gilmore is gearing up for the release of her brand new self-titled record which comes out this week.

We caught up with Thea recently to talk about this latest collection of songs and her work in the industry as a spokeswoman who is actively putting the spotlight on the many challenges faced by musicians today. Here’s what she has to tell us…

Brendon Veevers: Hi Thea. How are you and where does this interview find you?

Thea Gilmore: Currently sitting in a coffee shop in my home town.. often my place to catch up on socials, writing and admin. It gets me out of the house, otherwise I could very easily turn into a bit of a hermit during non-touring times!!

BV: Now, we caught you at the gorgeous Union Chapel recently and the show was beautiful. How was the show for you and how was it performing in such a beautiful space like Union Chapel?

TG: The show was amazing for me. It’s the first time out with a full band since 2017’s The Counterweight tour and it was a real reminder of how much I love being part of a band. Union Chapel is always such a special venue to perform. One of those rare spaces where the audience and performer are equally as passionate about the venue, so you feel like you’re part of something really special.. helped of course by the otherworldly feeling because, effectively, you’re in church!

BV: You are preparing for the release of our new self-titled album on November 17. What can you tell us about this record in terms of themes, direction, style?

TG: I guess the overarching ‘themes’ of the record are love and hope. Not necessarily romantic love, more love as a force, sometimes for good, sometimes otherwise. The all consuming power of it at times, how it makes you do stupid things, sometimes brave. And hope, because where would we be without it? In what often feels like a hopeless world, these are the things I cling on to for dear life.

BV: Of the songs from your new album, what song stands out for you the most and why?

TG: The Bright Service is the tune that pulls the record together.. it is a mind wander through every part of the album, part spoken, part sung and meant to feel like a lullaby to end the album. This album will definitely ruffle a few feathers among people who think they know what I am. Those that have placed me firmly in the ‘she’s a folky’ camp.. There will be people who absolutely hate it.  But it is the sound of me having musical fun, spreading my wings, exploring new ideas and themes. And I don’t think you should consign your favourite artist to making the same record over and over again..

BV: Taking the songs from your new record out of the equation, what would you say has been your most personal or most treasured penning and why?

TG: That’s kind of like trying to choose a favourite child. It’s almost impossible because each song has served a purpose at the time it was written.

BV: You have been very outspoken about the challenge musicians face and the fact that the reality of being a musician is very different to what people’s beliefs are. In a recent Facebook post you laid all of this out and have had so much support for being so open about this, but it is an obvious problem in the arts. Has there ever been a time when you almost hung the microphone up for good?

TG: I really just wanted to draw attention to the divide between what people assume a musician’s life looks like and the reality of it, which is a struggle and genuinely getting harder.

There are many critics who would say that we’re lucky just to make music and the thing is, I don’t disagree with that at all. I feel insanely lucky every day I get to wake up and call this a job, but I do feel that while there is so much money being made from music and the arts, some of that should be filtering down to the actual creator. Enough that we can live properly.

Art is incredibly important to us, to our identity, to our sense of community and togetherness. It shouldn’t be something that people assume costs nothing because in todays culture of attention equalling value, if it costs nothing, people assume it is worth nothing.

So we begin to devalue the arts at every turn, beginning with education which leads to losing those subjects that encourage and celebrate critical thinking and creative problem solving.. which is a huge loss to all of us.

BV: What do you think the solutions are to this crisis in the music industry and the fact that a musician’s artistry and worth are not getting a fair deal?

TG: I’m not sure I have a solution.. If I could click my fingers and change one thing, I think it would be to make art and arts education accessible to everyone beginning with what is taught in school. We are seeing such erosion of music, art, drama and even the broader liberal arts subjects in school in favour of STEM subjects, which are obviously hugely important too, but they all feed each other.

If you devalue liberal arts in schools, children grow up and move through their lives not seeing the intrinsic worth these subjects have.  Which means that most kids have never paid for music in their life.. it creates a market where music providers feel they cannot charge for their service.

So I’d increase music, art, drama education.. make kids really see and understand the impact these things have in all aspects of life, which may lead to a generation who actually see that there are lives and careers to be made in these worlds, which may in turn leads to an expectation that art should be funded somehow.

I have no idea if that would help.. but I think life would be immeasurably better for our schoolkids.

BV: You have penned so many songs across an astounding number of albums over the last 25 years. Given there are so many obstacles for musicians and the financial rewards really are not what people perceive, what keeps you in the game? What drives you to write and record the next Thea Gilmore record?

TG: The love of making new things is what keeps me doing it. It genuinely is the closest thing to magic and it keeps me breathing. Also, the idea that I’m so far from making the perfect record yet.. I have to keep trying. The day I get it right (if I ever do) will be the day I give up.. or die!

BV: From writing and producing to the instrumentation of your records, you wear every hat. Is it important for you as an artist to oversee all elements of a recordings right through to its final form?

I surrendered that control for a large part of my career. It’s only in the last 3 years that I have been able to stretch my wings and experiment with sound and style and it’s been a blast. So yes, it is important to me at this point in my career and life to really keep hold of what I’m making, I wouldn’t say it will just be me forever. But for now, I’m re-learning who I am as a writer and a musician. This new album kind of feels a bit like a debut in some ways.

BV: From the time your debut album was released at the end of the 90’s, music and how it is recorded, promoted and sold has changed significantly. What are your views on the evolution of the music industry and do you feel it has evolved in a positive way?

TG: As with all things, it’s positive and negative. I think the opportunities to self-release and self-promote are boundless now which is an incredible thing. Musicians are no longer reliant on the old ways of sending their music into the world, print media and radio which was expensive to promote properly and often gate-kept for only the acts on the biggest labels with the biggest budgets.

Now though, we have a saturated market because of how easy it is to release, which means that it’s harder to reach people. Generally the culture of attention has taken over now so if you’re not a social media marketing genius, it’s almost impossible to raise your profile enough to be seen. That can lead to a lot of average music becoming wildly popular because it’s a battle of marketing over music. The loudest voices get the most attention. I’m not sure that’s a healthy way to be putting music into the world either.

BV: You have worked with so many incredible people. Who has been a favourite few over the years?

TG: It’s hard to choose one. I found Joan Baez a real inspiration as a person. Completely grounded and with an impeccable moral compass. I find meeting people who you almost expect to be victims of their own fame and finding them kind and compassionate is a real joy. She is the real deal as a human being and it was an absolute privilege to be on her radar.

BV: You are a mother of two and your first son is well into his teens. Has either boys shown any interest in going into music or the arts and if they have or ever did, what is the single most important piece of advice you would give them?

TG: Both of them are extremely musical. My eldest is an extraordinary violin player who is experimenting with violin in metal and my youngest is heavily into rap and urban music.

They have both expressed a desire to work in music and the best and only bits of advice I’ve given them is one: have a really broad skill set, because you can’t just be good at music any more, it’s not enough.. you have to be a marketer, PR, accountant, tour manager, art director, social media expert. So gain experience in every area and two: stay as far away from their parents musically as they possibly can. I don’t want them being tainted with what people perceive my genre to be. It’s hard to become what you need to become if people make assumptions about you based on something you have no control over. I know, I’ve been fighting those assumptions for years and it’s not fun. So I try to leave them alone, try not to engage with them too much on their socials platforms and basically try to let them be their own people entirely.

Not that they will listen to any advice that I have for them of course!

BV: Back to your live shows; with Union Chapel looking to be the last of 2023, you have some dates in the calendar for the new year. Are there any more dates to be announced or any more events to promote the new record in the pipeline?

TG: I’m sure there’ll be more dates coming and hopefully some festivals.. so watch this space!!

Thea Gilmore’s brand new self-titled album is out on November 17th.