Mabes knew she wanted to visually illustrate her new EP, Keeping The Noise Down, as soon as she finished writing it.
“I realized I wanted to create something abstract and thought-provoking that would be digested like one piece of art or a short movie,” the English singer-songwriter tells American Songwriter of the visual, which premieres below. “I wanted each song to represent part of me through my teenage years but all link to each other as a body of work, a ‘fly on the wall’ view into my world. I have always been obsessed with 70’s culture—both music and aesthetics—and I naturally love to express myself through fashion too. [The EP visual] ultimately just felt right, as the music is earthy and echoes earlier artists that influence me in a tasteful, nostalgic way.”
The video has four segments that correspond to the four tracks on the EP. “They each have a different feel,” Mabes explains in an exclusive interview featured below. But overall the video was inspired by the title track, which sees Mabes navigating social awkwardness at a house party that she doesn’t even want to be at in the first place.
“‘Keeping The Noise Down’ is a song about me being at a party and feeling very out of place and uncomfortable, and it felt like the perfect setting for a story to evolve,” says Mabes. “You see music videos where young people are partying and having the time of their lives—it’s almost shoved down our throats to drink, dance, and be happy! But you don’t see the self-conscious or awkward people that don’t enjoy that environment. I wanted to open that conversation, and maybe bring some comfort to those people, to let them know you don’t have to be at the party to be cool—which is a message running through the last scene as I leave.”
Keeping The Noise Down follows Mabes’ 2019 debut full-length, Wait & See. The EP shows the Billericay country/folk artist drawing on diverse influences from The Shirelles and The Smiths to John Mayer and Kasey Musgraves. Lyrically, however, she sees herself in the mold of Laura Marling. “Her record Alas I Cannot Swim started it all,” says Mabes, who caught up with us over email about her experience writing the EP, her vision for the video, and her connection to Nashville. Check out the full interview and watch the visual below.
American Songwriter: Where did the idea for a visual accompaniment to the full EP come from?
Mabes: Once I had decided on the EP and the four songs on it, I realized I wanted to create something abstract and thought-provoking that would be digested like one piece of art or a short movie. I wanted each song to represent part of me through my teenage years but all link to each other as a body of work, a ‘fly on the wall’ view into my world. I have always been obsessed with 70’s culture—both music and aesthetics—and I naturally love to express myself through fashion too. It ultimately just felt right, as the music is earthy and echoes earlier artists that influence me in a tasteful, nostalgic way.
Who were your collaborators on the tracks and the video?
Jonny Latimer and I wrote “Keeping The Noise Down” roughly 30 minutes after we had just become acquainted at his North London Studio (which sits coyly amidst warehouses and garages—you’ll never find it!). He asked me if I had any ideas, and I opened up my lyric book and read out the first idea at the top of the page “Keeping The Noise Down.” Two hours later the demo was recorded and I waved goodbye on the way back to the train station not quite realizing how important the track would be to me! I remember when we wrote the line about “Sam’s got the coke out” and I wasn’t sure how real and gritty I could get with my lyrics. He had been working with Lily Allen the week before who I am a HUGE fan of, and he turned to me and said “Lily would say it”… and that was that!
“Stuck In The Rain” came about in a shed in West London with Dan McDougal who is an insanely talented writer and musician (he plays drums for Liam Gallagher!) and this song came together very easily. We were in the zone. I remember writing the verses over a soup from GAILS—I was feeling a bit ‘champion of the world’ that day, and wanted to capture that feeling in a song for the times when I don’t feel so strong. A little reminder that tough times don’t last, only tough people last (I got that from a TikTok video).
I worked with world-class (and acclaimed!) songwriter Jamie Scott on “Slow Drowning” a few years ago and I had been desperate to release it. It’s the most obvious country-leaning song of the whole EP, but it fit so well with the other songs and it explores teenage love—I was a teenager when I wrote it! It’s also one of my favorites to sing live.
“Might As Well” came around on a very, very bad day. I was feeling so low I thought about calling off the writing session—I thought, ‘There’s no way I can write a song with other people when I’m feeling like this.’ But as the session was with a close friend—the artist and producer named Quarry, and his friend Laura Welsh—I put on my big girl pants and did it. I laid it all out to them and in true songwriter spirit we wrote a song about it.
Nick Webber has been a massive part of honing in on my sound, and the genius in his co-production has enabled the 4 tracks to become a body of work, and for me to make a statement with my evolving sound.
I went to James Arden and his incredible team with my ideas for a nostalgic house party, and he made it a reality. I’m so happy with how it’s turned out! Massive thank you to everyone involved.
Is there a personal story that inspired the video as a whole?
“Keeping The Noise Down” is a song about me being at a party and feeling very out of place and uncomfortable, and it felt like the perfect setting for a story to evolve. You see music videos where young people are partying and having the time of their lives—it’s almost shoved down our throats to drink, dance, and be happy! But you don’t see the self-conscious or awkward people that don’t enjoy that environment. I wanted to open that conversation, and maybe bring some comfort to those people, to let them know you don’t have to be at the party to be cool—which is a message running through the last scene as I leave.
Each portion of the video exhibits a different style and mood. Can you elaborate on the creative direction and execution of each segment?
They each have a different feel. “Keeping The Noise Down” starts the story and brings the viewer into my world, that awkwardness and uneasiness at being in a social situation you’re not quite sure about. We did some really cool effects where I had to sing the song in slow motion so that when the video was sped up, everyone around me is moving really fast but it looks like I’m singing at normal speed. It was actually quite hard to sing in slow-mo!
Then with “Stuck In The Rain” we wanted to bring this psychedelic vibe as if it’s me now speaking to 17-year-old me hiding in the bedroom at the party. This was so fun to do and the visual on the TV was shot by an amazing photographer called Felicity Griffiths who used the kaleidoscope effects which I LOVE!
The third part for “Slow Drowning” showcases my love for country/folk-leaning music and performing. There is something quite grown-up about this track (despite me writing it as a teenager). It speaks about the complexities of relationships as you get older; people letting you down, and love fading away. It felt like the right song to link the insecure teenager to grown-up Mabes. This is the only song on the video EP that focuses on the performance.
“Might As Well” brings us back out to the party, well, the end of the party. It’s morning and time to get out of there, but not before playing around with some of the extras! This song is the reflection. It explores the social pressures of fitting in and wanting to be like other people, in order to ‘belong’ or be ‘accepted’. It’s pretty depressing keeping up false appearances, especially on social media, something which I’ve experienced in my younger years. I hope the tone of this track can make people question why we as humans do this. “Might as well try to be someone else, it’s hard as hell wishing I was someone else.”
Can you elaborate your connection to Nashville? How long were you in Nashville when you recorded and wrote?
I got the opportunity to travel to Nashville for a writing trip, where I collaborated with artists and writers from both the US and UK. It was my first experience of a writing camp. I’d never been in that kind of environment where I was surrounded by so many other songwriters and we had to write with different people every day. Having just written songs in my bedroom all these years on my own, it was amazing to see into the world of full-time songwriters in Nashville.
I’d also never visited anywhere that would have such a long-lasting affect on me. Everyone was like me—a country/folk music lover—it genuinely was like one big country music family and everywhere you went. People were musical and friendly. It honestly felt like home.
Whilst I was there, I witnessed a love story between two of the writers I was working with. This gave me the idea for the song “America” which I’d started to write there and then took back to the UK to finish. This became the fourth single of my Wait & See album and so far my biggest hit!
I had Nashville charging through my veins for months after. I can’t wait to go back—such a good place for the soul.
Were there any artists (musicians or otherwise) that influenced your sound and the visual?
That intro on “Keeping The Noise Down”—it’s a nod to vinyl and my ‘60s/’70s influences such as The Shirelles and Jefferson Airplane. And the reoccurring boxy drums—Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” got me there. Can you hear the bongos in the intro of “Stuck In The Rain”? That’s a reference to Dido’s “Thank You.” The drag note in “Might As Well”—that’s a Smiths reference. And “Slow Drowning” is influenced by so many country greats—Dolly Parton, John Mayer, Kacey Musgraves to name a few. But my lyrics will always be the most important thing to me, just like Laura Marling. Her record Alas I Cannot Swim started it all.
The last track off the EP—“Might As Well”—and performance in the video seem so timely with the cyber-bullying you faced recently around your old single “America.” Can you tell us a little more about that experience and how you handled it?
If I’m being truthful, it was scary at first. It’s the first time I’ve had so much social media attention at one time and it was quite overwhelming. But then I thought, ‘I’m putting myself and my music out there to be judged. Music is art. Art is interpretational. Interpretation is personal. And everyone is entitled to personal opinion.’ I’ve had some lovely messages through all the madness, and some new fans and followers too. Not everyone has to like me or my music, I only care about the people that do! I don’t think my experience was that harsh and I have been able to laugh at it all with my amazing team!
Keeping The Noise Down is out now.