Interview: Mabel: “When I moved to London I felt more free”

Mabel: “When I moved to London I felt more free”

Determined not to be defined by her heritage, Mabel is globetrotting her way to stardom.

Mabel McVey’s life so far has been a pilgrimage, a journey across Europe in search for two things: R&B and a community who embrace it. Born in London before moving to Spain and then Sweden, despite the globetrotting, Mabel’s teen years were typically awkward. “I felt really misplaced in my year,” she says of her school days in Sweden. “I really loved Lauryn Hill, Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, and felt in some way ashamed to admit that to my classmates, which is crazy.” As hard as it is to imagine a place where it was uncool to like Beyoncé, this was Mabel’s reality. Although she confesses a very genuine respect and a certain amount of influence from the almost scientific craft of writing a pop smash in Sweden, she never really felt at home. 

Mabel was looking for something else. She was simply searching for a place where she could “make sick R&B and nobody thought that was weird”, and this search eventually led her back to London. “When I moved here I felt more free, there are just so many people doing so many different things” she chirps, talking enthusiastically about finding a community of like-minded people. Some of the first of these people though came not from R&B but from grime, namely; Skepta and the BBK collective. 

Just an ordinary teenager, looking for her place in the world? Well, not quite, because Mabel isn’t exactly ordinary. If you recognise the surname that’s because Mabel’s the daughter of Massive Attack and Portishead producer Cameron McVey. Oh, and her mum is one Neneh Cherry. 

“It’s impossible to not somehow take influence from them,” she says, but she also mentions insecurities that came with being the daughter of such prolific figures. Her music was kept private for a long time, played not even to her friends, but upon arrival in London Mabel decided to throw caution to the wind. “I thought if I could find managers and get a record deal by myself, that would get rid of my insecurities that they [her parents] are the route of my talents […] and that I’ll always be their daughter”, Mabel says, admitting that she did consider recording under a different name but that she was too proud of her parents’ accomplishments and too resolute in her goals to get to a place where “one day people just won’t care who my parents are”.

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‘Thinking Of You’

She’s right to think this way. Completely devoid of any tampering or helping hands from her family, Mabel’s shimmering, soulful R&B found her supporting Years & Years at Wembley for her fifth gig ever. She’s had nods from the BBC Sound Of poll, and has collaborated with the likes of SBTRKT and even found herself part of the Tate Modern’s latest makeover. Promising a complete album with the kind of interludes and B-sides that made up her influences (namely, ‘The Miseducation of Lauyrn Hill’), there’s no question that she has so much more to offer.

Taken from the August 2016 issue of DIY, out now. Subscribe to DIY below.

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