“The Song in My Heart,” with Gabrielle Turner
Amanda: Welcome to the SPU Voices Podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert, and today we sat down with Gabrielle Turner. She graduated Seattle Pacific University in 2017 with a degree in music, but she was just beginning to find her voice. Building on her general music degree, she immediately began working on her vocal strength and building up her courage as a soloist. Now she is Seattle Sound Music Award’s Best Female Vocalist. Gabrielle, thank you so much for joining us.
Gabby: Thank you for having me.
Amanda: Well, first of all, can I call you Gabby?
Amanda: I think you go by Gabby in real life.
Gabby: Yeah, absolutely.
Amanda: I will confess to our listeners that we actually met when you were a small child at church many years ago. So, so fun to have you come to SPU and then go on to do amazing things. All right, so you were a music major at SPU, but not for vocal performance. Why not, and when did you decide to be a recording artist?
Gabby: I honestly was very timid when it came to sharing my voice. I’ve always loved music just from when I was young, but I just had trouble showing that to people in person. So it would be something I kind of hid, kept to myself as something that was my little outlet. But I decided to become a recording artist officially my fifth year at SPU. I decided at that point I really want to take this seriously, and when I pursued my music degree here, because I was still really shy, I didn’t want to have to sing in front of people for my degree. (laughs)
Amanda: (laughs) Well, let’s back up, because I can just feel our listeners asking the question. If you didn’t know yet you were going to be a vocal performance major, what were you going to do with your music degree?
Gabby: That’s a great question. Honestly, I wasn’t sure. I had just always this knowing about myself that I wanted to do something in music, but I didn’t know where it would take me, whether that was just writing for other people or if I would do maybe background singing. Just something in music was what I wanted to do, and I wanted to have a background understanding of how music worked before I actually started to try to involve myself in any creative projects.
Amanda: Yeah. I think one thing that nonmusical people don’t understand is how much theory and math and so many things are underlying in the making of music.
Gabby: Yeah, and I’m unfortunately not great at math, so it was very hard to go through music theory. My professors can attest. (laughs)
Amanda: (laughs) I’m sure you won’t be the first music major that would say that. So here you were studying music. You wanted music in your life, which actually brings up a point that I love, that not everyone knows what they want to do with the rest of their life when they’re in college, and that’s okay. Study something you love. Get that degree. You’ll figure it out.
Amanda: I feel like you are really … I mean, yes, you were studying music and you’re now pursuing music, but in a very different way.
Gabby: Yeah. Yeah, it’s kind of unbelievable how it all happened. (laughs)
Amanda: Well, let’s talk about it happening. When did you decide, “Okay, I’m going to do this. I’m going to be a soloist.”
Gabby: Probably in 2016. It was kind of like my senior project. I wanted to have something tangible that I could show my family, show my loved ones, like, “I did this thing while studying music, while pursuing this thing that you all believe in me for,” and come out with it, show them I’m using all of the knowledge that I gained in school and this is the product. It wasn’t an easy process. I had to get over a lot of insecurities within myself to even feel comfortable looking for someone to help produce for me, standing my ground when I didn’t want something. Being true to myself in general was really hard in that process. I think it took a while to take shape, but I think I needed those few years of time to really get a feel for who I am as a person and what I want my voice to sound like and what I want my message to be. Yeah, I think those years were crucial for me.
“I needed those few years of time to really get a feel for who I am as a person and what I want my voice to sound like and what I want my message to be.”
Amanda: Your first EP was not as a solo artist. Can you talk about the project that you recorded with your best friend?
Gabby: Yes. I love that project so much. It is called “Message for a Player.” Our names together is Nia Maria. That is our band name. But my best friend and I have known each other since we were I want to say 11 years old, and it has been our dream to, at one point, do music together, and it finally happened during the pandemic when we ended up living together. It flowed so naturally and we were so excited to finally do it, and it was something that we knew would help us both find our voices together and separately. We wrote the whole thing together. We arranged everything together. It was incredible. Incredible.
Amanda: And music is always a team, right?
Amanda: Even if you are the solo artist and the only one whose name is on the album, it’s still a team effort. You have your producers, like you said, arrangers and musicians. There’s no way to do music by yourself if you’re going to do it professionally.
Gabby: Yeah. Yeah. I had to learn that when I first started this, because I was thinking, “If I start this, I want to know how to do everything. I want to do it all myself. I don’t want to have to ask anybody for help,” because I’m not good at asking people for help. It was really humbling, really humbling, and it reminded me that it’s okay to ask for help because I don’t know how to do everything and it’s okay that I don’t know how to do everything.
Amanda: Right? And you’re trying to lean into your best skill.
Amanda: And you want other people on your team that are leaning into their best skill.
Amanda: Versus you’re doing something maybe you know how to do, but that’s not your talent.
Gabby: Yeah, yeah.
Amanda: That’s not your skill, right? There’s something so beautiful about bringing artists together, and I think sometimes people don’t realize the person behind the computer is an artist as well.
Gabby: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I guess going back to all the math that you talked about earlier, there’s a lot of math. There’s lots of time. You really don’t think that it’s that hard when you’re just clicking buttons, moving things up and down. It just looks like they’re just fiddling with things, but it factors into everything, what you hear, what you don’t hear, what little things may be tucked away, so to speak. It is an art in itself.
Amanda: Yes, yes, absolutely. And speaking of all the different pieces of the process, you write your own songs.
Gabby: I do, yeah.
Amanda: Is that something you’ve been doing for a long time or is that new as well?
Gabby: Yeah, yeah, for a long time. My mom is a poet, so I got a lot of inspiration from her. I love my mom.
“My mom is a poet, so I got a lot of inspiration from her. I love my mom.”
Amanda: I love your mom too. (laughs)
Gabby: Yeah, but just seeing her, especially recently, take a lot more stock in her own creativity helped me a lot. But yeah, since I was young I’ve always liked creative writing. I liked writing stories. Songwriting kind of started happening around when I met my best friend, probably 11 or 12 years old. And throughout the years, thankfully, it’s gotten better. (laughs)
Amanda: (laughs) That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?
Amanda: Do you feel like you have a consistent message, or do you feel like you just write songs based on what’s happening at the time?
Gabby: A lot of it is what’s happening at the time. It’s either from my own experience or if a friend is going through something. If we have a collective, shared experience, I can kind of draw from anything, really. I really just want to make people feel, and whether it’s a really strong message, something about social impact or if it’s just I’m having this internal struggle with myself, I want to make the listener feel that and connect to it and it be something that they resonate with.
Amanda: You’ve mentioned your family a few times. I have to ask, because it’s almost like a joke. If you’re studying anything in the arts, it’s the joke that your parents don’t want that and they want you to study business instead.
Amanda: Which breaks my heart, because not everyone who is interested in the arts wants to study business or be in business.
Amanda: But what did your parents say when you said you wanted to be a music major?
Gabby: They were supportive, but I could tell that they had their reservations. I think it’s also because when I was a little younger, probably high school age, I was in a few programs to develop myself as an artist, and emotionally, mentally, with self-esteem things, I wasn’t ready to really take that on. So I think with that background, they were kind of like, “I’m not sure if you’re ready, but if this is what you feel like you are wanting to do, then we support you.”
Amanda: That’s great. And like you said, you came in feeling maybe not ready yet, but over the course of your time at SPU and beyond, you began to develop that voice. I love that story because so many of us have these dreams and desires that, on the outside, others, meaning well, would say, “Maybe this isn’t the right path for you.”
Amanda: And the truth is, you just have a long way to go down that path.
Amanda: Yeah, and so here you are. Tell us about your big award.
Gabby: Well, I kind of get a little bashful about it sometimes. (laughs)
Gabby: I am the Best Female Vocalist Award winner from the Seattle Sound Music Awards. It’s kind of shocking, a little bit. (laughs) I sometimes struggle with a little bit of, you know, what’s the phrase?
Amanda: Imposter syndrome?
Gabby: Yes, imposter syndrome. So I feel like sometimes I have, you know, “I can do it. I’m talented. I have this thing.” And then once I’m kind of put in the spotlight, I’m like, “I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if this is for me.” And then something like this happens and I’m like, “Are you sure?”
Amanda: (laughs) “Count the ballots again. Was that really me?”
Gabby: Yeah, “Is this me?” And I know a few people that were in the category with me, and they’re incredible, so it was really a moment of, “Wow, I can do this. I am talented.” It was a really, really great, validating moment.
“It was really a moment of, ‘Wow, I can do this. I am talented.’ It was a really, really great, validating moment.”
Amanda: Hopefully that’s spurring you on, right?
Amanda: Speaking to that shy girl inside.
Amanda: You are ready for this. Now that you have that shot in the arm and that foundation, what’s next for you?
Gabby: Well, I’m working on a solo project now, not quite done yet but it’s in its final stages. So hopefully within the next maybe three or four months, we’ll have a finished product and it’ll be out. (laughs)
Amanda: Wow, I’m excited. I’m excited for that. Where can we go to hear your music?
Gabby: Well, I am anywhere you can stream music, so Spotify, Apple Music, Soundcloud. You can buy some things on Bandcamp. Pandora if you still use Pandora. (laughs)
Amanda: Search for Gabrielle Turner and check out all she has to offer. All right, Gabby, thank you so much for joining us today. We will be following your career all the way to the Grammys, I’m quite certain, and you’ll be sitting here saying, “I’m not sure I deserve this Grammy, but here it is nonetheless.”
Amanda: Let’s end with our favorite last question. If you could have everyone in Seattle do one thing differently tomorrow that would make the world a better place, what would you have us all do?
Gabby: That is a really great question. I think if it was something that was immediate that had to be done tomorrow, just be kinder to yourself and to people around you. You don’t really understand what people are going through, whether that’s internally, if it’s something that you haven’t really uncovered yet or others and they’re still trying to figure themselves out. Just be kind. Yeah.
Amanda: Yeah, that’s such a good one. The way you said about not knowing what’s going on inside and then the storytelling and writing you do, I find that if someone has not treated me well or is rude, I tend to immediately try and come up with a story. And if I can come up with a story of why I would easily forgive that behavior, then I’m like, “I’m going to go with that,” because it’s only me that it’s changing. It doesn’t really matter if it’s true, but it’s like, why wouldn’t you choose to release all the bad feelings and be kind?
Gabby: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, for me, releasing all the bad things, it goes into the music. (laughs) So sorry to those of you who have probably wronged me in the past. It may be in a song somewhere, so …
Amanda: (laughs) Yep. Every day, it’s either a good day or a good song.
Gabby: (laughs) Yeah, exactly.
Amanda: All right, thank you so much for coming by, Gabby.
Gabby: Thank you for having me.