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Cuffing season has arrived, but Mabel isn’t trying to be a part of it. In fact, her newly released mixtape Ivy To Roses is a direct rebuttal. Instead of bending over backwards to please others, the 21-year-old has crafted a soundtrack that empowers women to focus more on themselves.
As we speak on the phone from across the pond, I sense that this is not the same Mabel that I met for lunch at New York’s Souen Soho six months prior. She tells me that she’s wearing what she describes as a “perfect” pair of vintage Levi’s jeans that she recently found. Lately, they’ve felt like a lucky charm for songwriting. “They’re normal 501s, but they fit so good and I’m living in them at the moment,” she says. “Every song that’s been written in the last month has been in these jeans.”
Leading up to the release of this new project, Mabel has managed to stay grounded amidst shooting stardom. Her single “Finders Keepers” featuring Kojo Funds is holding down the No. 19 spot on the UK Top 40 Singles and has been on a steady climb for the past eight weeks. Even now, Mabel is still pretty blown away by the magnitude of the song’s success. “It was kind of just like it was slowly doing things,” she says. “It’s been a big record for me since it came out, but I feel like it kind of happened overnight, the change from it.”
Despite the fact that there’s new attention on Mabel, her daily routine hasn’t changed one bit—she’s still going to the studio to work on music every day and when she’s not there, she’s been performing at shows. Mabel’s commitment to maintaining a strong work ethic is a reflection of how she sustains growth as an artist. Growth has always been a huge priority for her in terms of both her professional and personal life. Mabel recognizes the value of overcoming obstacles, viewing them all as important life experiences to learn from.
Ivy to Roses nods to the strength that is gained from going through some of those dark and difficult periods of struggle at your own pace, a series of chapters from Mabel’s own life story. It also shows Mabel more confident than she’s ever been in herself. And for once, she doesn’t have to demand to be heard because she’s attracted a huge following of fans that are willing to listen to every single word.
Learn more about the foundation of the new mixtape and the next phase of Mabel’s journey in our interview below.
The last time that we spoke you were about to drop the Bedroom EP. What’s been going on in your life since then?
I guess things have kind of changed a lot because of “Finders Keepers.” In the UK it’s kind of having a moment which I’m so so happy about. It’s really moving here with like 10 million streams and it changed a lot of things. It’s crazy going out and hearing it all the time. I’m super happy things are moving forward. What that record means to me now is what all the records in the future are going to do because I feel like it’s opened up so many doors for me.
I’m so happy that so many people are being introduced to me by that song. I went on my first headlining tour, sold out one of my favorite venues in London called Heaven and played there the other night. It’s been amazing, I literally can’t believe it and especially because the song came out in March and the whole EP came out in April. It’s crazy for it now to be 21 on the charts over here. Good things, happy days.
Where did the title Ivy to Roses come from? What does it mean to you?
There are songs called “Ivy” and “Rose” on the mixtape—I didn’t mean for it to be a shrubbery theme like ‘I got really into gardening over the past couples of months!’ though. [Laughs] The whole thing is about growth which is why there are the titles “Ivy” and “Roses.” Other than that, a little weird story for you is that I came home after being away and ivy started growing inside my bedroom. It was really, really, really strange. It was coming in through the wall not even through the window. I kept cutting it down and it would keep growing back—it grows so fast.
So I was thinking about my own growth and things that we were talking about over the past six months and how that ivy was growing in a place where it definitely shouldn’t have been growing, thriving in a place where it shouldn’t have been possible for it to thrive. That’s kind of what my story has felt like. I think I was in quite a difficult place this time last year—I wasn’t selling out shit! [Laughs] I have no regrets about the things that happened a year ago, but I was in a very different situation to where I am now. I feel like I turned a lot of those bad situations into good things so that’s what the whole project is about.
I also want to mention how you look like a total boss on the cover of the mixtape. It’s very much like, “Sit down and listen to what I have to say.”
Thank you so much! I’m really happy with the cover, I think it says a lot. I’ve learned a lot about life through both family and intimate relationships in the last year. I feel like the difference in me is old Mabel meets new Mabel. There are songs like “Low Key” which has a bit of a “Know Me Better” vibe and then there’s newer stuff like “Weapon” where I found my confidence. That is the difference between the old Mabel and new Mabel.
I have this newfound confidence. I think that’s the difference between the tunes I was making a year ago and what I’m making now.
Before this, I don’t think I ever would have been confident enough to say I’m a weapon! [Laughs] Now, I really do. I have this newfound confidence. I think that’s the difference between the tunes I was making a year ago and what I’m making now. It sounds really cheesy, but as a woman I feel like I sort of found myself.
In our last conversation, you told me that you wanted to be an artist who grows slowly and organically. Do you still feel that way now?
Yes. It’s been such a natural build for me. Nobody pushed anything. There hasn’t been loads of money coming in for what I do. Like with “Finders Keepers,” nobody really believed in that song other than me and my manager when we put it out, which is the reason why the video didn’t come out until six months later. I’ve kind of let the tunes speak for themselves, but “Ivy” is such an important song. It was a lot of self-discovery. I think knowing where you came from and where you want to go is really important.
How have you been dealing with all the new attention and positive press?
It’s a dream. My manager and I were getting so emotional because my sold-out show was the most amazing experience, and we were just talking about all the major things that have happened. For me a couple of years ago, I don’t know if I felt confident enough to sit at a table with people that I respected and feel like they respected me as well. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but now I’ve got people like Stormzy going, “Oh, you’re sick” and I really look up to him.
Now I feel like I do deserve to be in the room with people I respect. Now because of the confidence I can take those compliments more. It feels unreal, but at the same time I remember that I worked really hard to get to this point. I definitely have my insecure moments and before the show the other night I was like, “I can’t do it!” [Laughs] But I just keep proving to myself that all those things I used to be afraid of, I can do them.
Why did you decide to label this as a mixtape?
I think that albums are really important. I grew up in a house full of musicians and my mum really taught me that when you listen to an album you respect that it’s somebody’s art, and that the B-sides are just as important as the singles, and we should really listen to the album all the way through the way it was intended to be listened to. If you just pick your two favorite songs then you’ll never know, but if you keep listening to an album, one day one song might be your favorite and then in another month’s time things change. I just feel like it’s this journey for me to get there and make a project like that. When I do it, I want to do it properly with interludes and all those moments. I feel like even though things are going well for me, we’re still at the beginning of my journey and I’m still figuring stuff out.
I wrote so much music last year, hundreds of songs, and I just got to a point where I realized my path doesn’t have to be single, single, single, and then you go to the album. I’ve written so many songs that I love in this moment of time so why not just release them and let people know what I’ve been doing? The sound has changed a little bit—I remember when I first played “Finders Keepers” and people were surprised because it was different to "Know Me Better.” I think the mixtape kind of ties it together. It’s old me, new me, and a taste of where the album is going.
I wrote so much music last year, hundreds of songs, and I just got to a point where I realized my path doesn’t have to be single, single, single, and then you go to the album.
I’ve started working on the album already. I’ve been doing that for a good six months and I’m a ways into it which is so exciting because it’s even bigger and better than the mixtape. I want to have enough songs. I want people to really care when I release an album. I want it to be a big deal and now the only way to get people really interested in me is to give them as much music as possible.
Have you been doing anything else besides working in the studio on all of these projects?
This has literally just been my life! I’m going back in the studio today. We spoke about this before, but all my favorite albums were made with a really small, tight group of people. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find those people because you have to kiss 200 frogs to find the five that you really like. [Laughs]
Are you coming back to the U.S. soon?
I’d love to. We are working on that now. It’s obviously really important to me because I’ve spent a lot of time there. Because of my mom [musician Neneh Cherry] I’ve kind of lived all over so when it came to me deciding this is what I really want to do, I just picked a place. The UK is so exciting at the moment for music. So many places are just looking to us now especially for what I’m doing, R&B and hip-hop. I wanted to focus on the UK for a bit, but now I feel like I’m making a name for myself here. It’s happening and I feel like I can place my focus elsewhere pretty soon.
What else are you hoping to do by the end of this year?
I definitely want to have another record out before the end of the year. The plan was originally to have another record out by now and it’s there, it’s ready. Everything is ready, it’s a good problem to have. “Finders Keepers” is still getting so much airplay that I just want to leave it to see what it can do. It might go in the top 20 by the end of the week so we’ll see. I want that top 10, but I’m not putting too much pressure on it! [Laughs] I’m done with shows for this year, I’m literally just writing because I want to finish the album…There will be more soon.