Brit won't be buried by beauty myth - Thea Gilmore forgoes Barbie doll image to make music on her own terms

Posted by on 30 July 2004

FFWD Weekly July 22, 2004 - Preview Article by Kirsten Kosloski

Thea Gilmore doesn’t believe in bad days.

She doesn’t have many regrets, either. She’s the kind of woman who could dig her way out of any situation, which makes the title of her 2003 release, Avalanche, a perfect metaphor for the English folk artist.

Gilmore is probably one of the most underrated women in music today. Only 25-years old, she has released five full-length albums, all of which have garnered critical acclaim in the international press. But even with all the good reviews, she still remains relatively unknown to most audiences. A lot of that has to do with the fact that she deliberately focused on not having an image.

Although the singer-songwriter is stunning, she refuses to let herself be packaged as some sort of Jewel clone or folksy Barbie doll. She’s gone so far as to turn down several lucrative major-label offers at the risk of being turned into a product.

Gilmore admits that her unwillingness to define herself by any one category has, in a sense, alienated her from her two target audiences – the folk and pop-rock crowds, who have had a hard time classifying her music.

"If you get played to an indie journalist, as soon as you use the F-word, they’re not into it," Gilmore says, laughing. "The folk scene in England doesn’t consider me a folk artist and yet the rock scene considers me too folk. The two environments don’t really meet anywhere in the middle. I’m very lucky in a way because I kind of skirt around the periphery of both styles of music. No one of them will embrace me with open arms, but I seem to gather audiences from everywhere."

While most of the songs on Avalanche have themes of anticipation and regret, Gilmore is eternally optimistic. She uses music as an outlet for her frustrations and as a way to avoid becoming bitter or overwhelmed by things that have happened in her life. When Gilmore’s parents were going through a divorce, the singer used the sad event as a catalyst for leaving home at age 16 to pursue a music career. In some ways, Gilmore has always used music as a way to escape.

"My home life was problematic at the time. My folks were splitting up at that point. I suppose that maybe I was ready to be out of that situation," she says. "I’ve always taken the view that taking angst – whether it be teen angst or mid-20 angst – into songs is pretty healthy. It gets rid of the anger and disillusionment you inevitably go through in life. I suppose when I write about regret, I sort of felt it on a small scale and I wonder what it must be like to experience it on a grand scale. It’s kind of an empathy towards other people’s regrets rather than my own."

One thing Gilmore doesn’t regret is taking the music industry on and setting her own rules. When her record company asked her to make a music video for the single "Mainstream" (a song about the plasticity of pop stars and stardom), she reluctantly complied, but, a self-confessed control freak, she stipulated that she would organize the whole thing. The video ended up taking place in a London record shop with Gilmore using the store’s security cameras to shoot footage of her shoplifting records. The entire video ended up costing roughly 30 pounds (the equivalent of $70 Cdn), most of which went towards feeding the extras. Although she generally doesn’t like the idea of music videos, she is happy with the way hers turned out.

"I don’t like music videos at all. I think it encourages people not to listen and associate music with images. I just don’t appreciate having to hang music on images to sell it," she says. "(My video) is not going to stand up to Beyoncé, but hey, I never really wanted it to in the first place."