It’s hard to believe that 16-year-old pop singer/songwriter Gabi Ammirato is still working through her high school classes down in music capital Nashville, Tennessee – the up and coming artist utilizing vocal strengths beyond her years to create ballads that go a little deeper than your typical pop number. It’s not only her vocal skills, but her distinct musical influences that allow her to stand out, looking to music legends like Frank Sinatra. In fact, Ammirato recalls singing “Moon River” in her first vocal competition.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Gabi to discuss her latest record, a collection titled Dramatic. She gave us an idea of what to expect from the effort, describing each song through her performance of the tune. She said, “My songs all have very personal meanings and messages so many lend themselves to just me, my voice and the song – songs like ‘Missing Piece/Peace’ and ‘Flash Before Your Eyes’. On the other hand I have a couple of super fun songs where the Taylor Swift type show is best. I grew up on Taylor Swift and just adore her. She is the complete entertainer and I think that ‘Dramatic’ and ‘Boys Don’t Know’ are perfect for that style. Finally there are those songs where I envision the fans joining in and being a big part of them and those are ‘Life’s A Ride’ and ‘Stay True’. For the closer, I love the fun and funky ‘Best Friend’.”
Click to http://gabiammirato.com/ to check out Dramatic and learn more about Gabi’s other efforts, such as her nonprofit Access 2 the Arts, which works to provide less privileged children with the opportunity to experience the arts. It’s part of her community service platform for the Miss America Outstanding Teen program (she also helps within the “Stay True: Be You” program where she uses her song “Stay True” to help children understand the importance staying true to who they are at their core when they face difficulties growing up). Great stuff. Now, keep reading. There’s still much to get into in all the answers to the XXQs below.
XXQs: Gabi Ammirato
PensEyeView.com (PEV): How would you describe your sound and what makes you stand out from others in your genre?
Gabi Ammirato (GA): My sound is a little bit eclectic and varies quite a bit. I am definitely in the pop genre but I have elements of country and folk because I like to use the tones and qualities of my voice to bring a ballad alive. What makes me different from others is I use my voice to pull you into the song and the story or message it is delivering.
PEV: What kind of music were you into growing up? Do you remember your first concert?
GA: I listened to all kinds of music. I listened to a lot of country growing up because my mom listened to that and she controlled the radio. I also listened to older artists my mom liked like Bruce Springsteen, Pat Benatar and The Eagles. Because I was a dancer from a very young age, I was exposed to hundreds of eras of music over the years. I remember a lot of Frank Sinatra and the old time crooners my Poppa “D” loved. In fact, the first song I sang in a vocal competition was “Moon River”. I am described as “an old soul” so I related to those songs and their messages. I definitely remember my first concert; it was The Cheetah Girls. My mom took me with a few of my friends to see them. Jordan Pruitt opened for them and I remember thinking that’s going to be me some day.
PEV: What was it like trying to break into the music scene when you first started? What was your first show like?
GA: I am living the experience of trying to break into the music scene now so it is all new. I think it is important to remember it takes a lot of hard work to break through. Everyone thinks you just put up a YouTube video and you get discovered. I am finding that Social Media does let you reach a lot of people but they are bombarded with a lot of stuff too so it is not that easy to get their attention. People’s attention spans are really short too, always onto what’s next. It takes time to make great music that is meaningful so you have to resist just rushing along to just try to put something new out there. I plan to follow the advice my song, “Stay True” gives: to stick to who I am at my core and do the hard work to break through as myself and enjoy all the beauty that comes with that.
I remember the first show I did – I was scared to death. I was gesturing to my mom to come and save me and she ignored me. She told me later that she knew if she responded and let me give into the nerves I might never walk on another stage again. Thank God she had that insight because I love to sing and perform and can’t imagine my life without it.
PEV: What can fans expect from a live Gabi Ammirato show?
GA: Fans can expect to be entertained in a number of different ways. Right now I relate a lot to how Sam Smith does his shows where you are up close and personal with him and his songs. My songs all have very personal meanings and messages so many lend themselves to just me, my voice and the song – songs like “Missing Piece/Peace” and “Flash Before Your Eyes”. On the other hand I have a couple of super fun songs where the Taylor Swift type show is best. I grew up on Taylor Swift and just adore her. She is the complete entertainer and I think that “Dramatic” and “Boys Don’t Know” are perfect for that style. Finally there are those songs where I envision the fans joining in and being a big part of them and those are “Life’s A Ride” and “Stay True”. For the closer, I love the fun and funky “Best Friend” and I hope my brother Josh who inspired the song, joins me. So lots of facets to the show.
PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage to perform?
GA: Every performer has nerves before they go on because they want to be great for the fans, but as soon as I hit the stage I think “Yes, let’s go have some fun!” My mom has asked me before how I can perform in front of so many people and go from being nervous to joyful in seconds, and I explain that once you hit the stage, something changes. The energy of the crowd just draws you in and you are off having fun.
PEV: What is the best part about being on stage in front of an audience?
GA: The best part is the energy they infuse into your soul and being able to share something as personal as your music and have people love it. Nothing beats them getting your music and loving it!
PEV: What is the underlying inspiration for your music?
GA: The inspiration for each song is different but they come from my life experiences. I have been deeply inspired by two specific performers, including Taylor Swift (who wouldn’t be?). She set the example for me of keeping a journal and using your real life experiences to inspire your music. That is probably the biggest influence on the way I go about bringing my songs to life.
The other is Demi Lovato. I LOVED the Disney channel growing up (truth is it is still my guilty pleasure to watch at 16). So I grew up with Demi, Miley and Selena. What I admire about Demi is she always had this amazing voice and energy and she never gave up on herself. When she had some troubles in her life, she faced them and came back stronger. She is a role model for me and other kids who grew up watching her because of the way she has handled herself. On my Gabi Ammirato (Artist) FaceBook page, I do a little highlight piece on each song and the backstory so I hope people go check it out.
PEV: Thinking back to when you first started out, do you ever look back on your career and think about your earlier days and how you’ve arrived where you are today?
GA: I do and I am amazed at how things work out if you just keep working hard and believe. I am truly blessed to have met the people I have who have given me opportunities and collaborated with me. Each has taught me a valuable lesson and shown me a way to my future. My mom always says, especially when things don’t seem to be going my way, “God has a plan, and he is never early and never late. Be patient and the plan will be revealed.” I have a very deep faith and know that God has a plan for me and my job is to be patient, work hard and believe. Early on my mom turned down opportunities for me because she felt I was too young and vulnerable and she wanted me to have a normal childhood. She would say if you are meant to do this, God will bring it around again when the time is right. Well that did happen and great opportunities have come so I believe even more! Lots of hard work ahead but I know there is a bright future ahead for me and I look forward to discovering it!
PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about you?
GA: I think that would be that I founded and run a not for profit called Access 2 the Arts and it works to provide less advantaged children with the opportunity to experience the arts. I started it at 11 as part of my community service platform for the Miss America Outstanding Teen program. The Miss America program is huge on community service so they challenge you to decide how you want to change the world in positive ways and then put a plan in place to do it. I started out asking kids to donate their outgrown dance shoes and I sterilized them, like they do bowling shoes, and then found programs that served these children who otherwise would not get to dance.
A great mentor of mine started a tap residency program in North Philadelphia and so far about 300 children have had the chance to tap dance because of it. One little boy ran up to thank me for giving him the tap shoes because he had no idea his feet could do such amazing things. Capezio has been a great supporter and given me so many boxes of clothes and shoes that are brand new samples. Close to a 1000 kids have experienced the arts and that makes the world a better and more beautiful place. I fundraise to provide vocal scholarships too. I hope as I grow my music career I can get many artists to join in this effort because supporting the arts today creates a brighter tomorrow. Children need the skills they get from participating in the arts and the programs are being cut as we speak. Less advantaged children need and deserve them! I will get off my soapbox now….
GA: It’s funny – in “Stay True” I wrote a line; “Life is more than a few brick walls, gotta dream beyond the boundaries.” That is exactly what I do. I don’t try to go through the brick wall. I take a break, go refresh, and then dream beyond the boundaries. So I stop trying to push down a certain path and open my mind up to other paths. That usually gives me even better ideas.
PEV: How do you think the industry has changed since you first started out?
GA: I am relatively young and new to the industry so I am not sure if this has happened since I started out but one thing I am told has changed is the way new songs and artists can, or can’t, break into the business through radio today. I noticed I hear a lot of the same songs over and over, and although I love them, I would really love to see a station play the role they used to; putting new songs on the radio. Also they play mostly the artists who are already big, so the newbies have trouble getting time. My brother just started college, as did all his friends, so I have asked them to find out if they have college radio stations these days. If they do, I am asking them to get my CD in the hands of that station. Maybe that is a way to get your music out there on college campuses, if those kind of stations still exist. They could be a great way to try and bring back getting new artists out there. Of course we are all using social media but there is a lot of noise in that place because everyone is there and it can be chaotic.
PEV: What can fans expect from your latest record, Dramatic? What was the writing process like for this work?
GA: Even though I just released Dramatic, I already have ideas for future songs. I keep a journal where I jot down lyrics that come into my mind and topics that I think are song worthy. If I don’t have lyrics in mind, I jot down the life experience I want to capture and any ideas I have about how to capture it in a song, what message I want to deliver. I also jot down things I love about current songs, the way the lyrics come together, melodies, the cool way artists use their voices and how collaborations sound together. For example, I love Justin Bieber’s acoustic album. Who knew he had such an amazing voice? He doesn’t need lots of bells and whistles, he really has a great instrument in just his voice. One day I might draw on that. So lots of stuff gets put in the journal and I pull that out when the time comes to get writing.
PEV: With all your traveling, is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?
GA: Since I am just starting out, I actually have not travelled all that much. Of course I LOVE Nashville and LA too. I am really looking forward to getting to see the world while sharing my music. I have always enjoyed the arts so I have great appreciation for all the amazing cultures of the world and I am really looking forward to experiencing them all! It might sound strange to say I hope to experience the culture of the Middle East, but my brother is studying that area in college and he had the chance to study in Jordan one summer during high school. That area captured his heart and that has instilled in me a curiosity to explore why he is so passionate about it.
PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career?
GA: You know it is funny – even though my family knew I sang and they loved it I think they are surprised by the opportunities I have been given. I am pretty low key so a lot of my friends did not even realize I sang, so they were blown away when my album released. The day after it hit iTunes, I walked into homeroom and it was surreal because several kids were sitting around playing my songs on their phones. Funniest experience was at the Homecoming dance that was just over a week after my album released. I went with a friend I had met recently who only knew me by my nickname Gabi. One of my fellow dance team members walked by and said “Hi Gabrielle.” My date asked me if I went by Gabrielle instead of Gabi at school. Before I could reply the girl came back and went on to explain that the school did not know I sang until my album released so they have decided that I needed two identities like Miley Cyrus had on Hannah Montana because just like her, I was a secret pop star. I think it was an exaggeration but it was funny and a good example of how my friends have reacted to my career.
PEV: What can we find you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?
GA: In my spare time I dance, A LOT! I have danced since age 3 and am on my high school varsity dance team and their competition team as well as my Dance Company. That takes a lot of time. I also participate in the Miss America Outstanding Teen pageant system and that takes a lot of commitment because I visit schools and hospitals with my “Stay True: Be You” program where I used my song “Stay True” to help children understand the importance of loving themselves and staying true to who they are at their core when they face difficulties growing up. I LOVE this program and hope it helps to positively impact kids and help reduce the teen suicide epidemic that is going on. Kids need strategies for staying away from the dark places that one encounters growing up today.
PEV: Name one present and past artist or group that would be your dream collaboration. Why?
GA: I LOVE Shawn Mendes. I love his voice and his songs. I feel like we would be great collaborators because we come from similar places and I think our voices would be great together. Of course, Sam Smith, Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato are on my short list too. So many great artists today so I could go on and on but if I could pick only one, it would be Shawn.
The Past Artist I would love to sing with would be a tie between The Beatles and Frank Sinatra. Besides being Legends (so who wouldn’t want to collaborate with them) I think our styles and voices would be a great blend.
PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?
GA: Other than me (laughing)? I love a lot of the new acts but some of them have risen so fast that I am not sure they are still up and coming. I love Alesia Cara and had the chance to see her at Jingle Ball this year – LOVE her voice. I hope to have her path and play Jingle Ball one day soon. I also love Daya and her song “Hide Away”. Again not sure she is an up and comer given the play time that song is getting, but love her voice and the message of that song. That song seems to be based on the same concept as my song “Boys Don’t Know”. Nowadays it seems the boys only notice the girls who sort of act out and not so much the “nice girls” who have a lot to offer but are a bit more reserved and maybe even “old fashioned”. That has been my experience and it is disappointing but I am told that give it a few years and my values and outlook will be much more appreciated as they mature…a girl can only hope.
PEV: If playing music wasn’t your life (or life’s goal), what would you do for a career?
GA: I love all things creative so I would explore journalism because I love to hear people’s stories and tell them (sort of like writing songs?). I also LOVE fashion so I would love to design clothes and maybe even interior design. I also love people, so anything in the communications field would be a great opportunity.
PEV: So, what is next for Gabi Ammirato?
GA: I am going to promote Dramatic and work on getting my music out there. I hope to get a band together so I can do a lot of local shows. I have a few friends with bands who are working on learning my songs so look for that soon. I am always thinking about new songs. I will also be finishing high school and figuring out College. Belmont in Nashville is top of my list right now, so fingers crossed. Love their songwriting and music production program.
For more information, click to http://gabiammirato.com/.