by Michael McCarthy
Gigi Rowe is a pop star in the making. Based out of Miami, she makes fun songs that blend modern pop beats with early ’80’s pop vibes. Her bouncy and mighty danceable songs make me think of Madonna’s first album and Cyndi Lauper’s album She’s So Unusual. Come to think of it, Gigi is so unusual and I don’t think she’d mind me saying that. While most rising pop stars have a boring backstory, Gigi has a made up story that’s both fun and intriguing, as you’re about to find out. Her debut comes in the form of an EP called Hello Gigi Rowe and it’s out Friday, so check her out now and get psyched for it. And if you like to dance, her song “Run The Night” is on Just Dance 2017 alongside all the megastars. Try it if you dare!
MM: I know you’re based out of Miami. Is that where you were born and grew up?
GR: Well, I actually wasn’t born in Miami. I was originally born in New Jersey, but your question is an interesting question because I feel like I have two parallel stories happening. Because I’m creating a whole world for Gigi Rowe where the story of Gigi Rowe is gonna be told. The reason why I say that is that I feel like I’m a young woman, young artist, coming into my own from New Jersey and there’s the story of Gigi Rowe the glamorous runaway who is from somewhere between Miami and Mars with a story all her own that I’m kind of coming into. My inspirations for Gigi Rowe are sort of where I see myself going. I kind of wanted to give you a sense of both. I’m happy to talk about anything and everything, but I just wanted to set up that context. Just, in a nutshell, the idea of Gigi Rowe is that this character [is] this glamorous runaway is I actually don’t know where I come from. The story is that Gigi Rowe’s father is a man from the future and her mother was a vintage Hollywood movie starlet. And they collided in time and space and and naturally she was left on the steps of a Parisian orphanage at birth. Parisian, of course. Wrapped in a blanket embroidered with the letters GIGI. By the way, I’m actually on my way to Paris tonight.
MM: Are you? That’s awesome.
GR: Yes, on my way to Paris to connect with the team that does Just Dance. My song is in Just Dance and so, anyway, I’m jumping all over the place but naturally Gigi Rowe is this character inspired by cartoons and superhero stories and the vision that I have is that later on in her life there is a disappearance. She does a performance. It could be in Las Vegas. It could be in South Beach. And suddenly, outside the stage door, you just see her red satin trench coat and vintage cigarette tin or something and there’s a disappearance of the glamorous runaway. And the idea is nobody knows what happened to Gigi Rowe. And she’s extraterrestrial because her father is a man from the future. So, all of this I’m just sort of putting out there because that’s the story that I’m excited to start telling through my music, through my live performances, through videos. And I always say that, as myself, at all times, I’m a little real and a little made up all at once. So, that’s kind of just to try to paint the picture for you. My early experiences – my actual story – I was born in New Jersey, had a wonderful family, bridge and tunnel girl in and out of New York City. Singing since I was in the crib.
MM: Did you take vocal lessons when you were a kid?
GR: I did. I started taking vocal lessons with someone locally when I was 12. And then very quickly found my way into New York City – New York City was about an hour away from where I grew up – so I would take vocal lessons. I wound up actually working with Don Lawrence, who I’ve been reading about a lot in the press because he worked with Lady Gaga for many, many years. I studied with him and I ended up turning to backstage magazine and pouring over the open mic opportunities. I guess I was just about in my early teen years was given a guitar. My Dad bought me a guitar. And I started writing songs. I was very inspired by that ’90’s female singer/songwriter era and that was sort of my introduction to wanting to become a songwriter. And so I did that and started performing at open mics, coffee shops, clubs, anywhere, everywhere, and that was kind of my beginning of my journey as a songwriter and a recording artist.
MM: So, you play the guitar then?
MM: Do you play any other instruments?
GR: I just play guitar.
MM: Your Soundcloud profile states that, as you were saying, you’re looking at yourself as a glamorous runaway. What exactly do you mean by that?
GR: Well, the term glamorous runaway I came up with over the past couple of years because it’s really about those two words. I love those two words together because they’re contradictory and I think that there’s a certain scrappy quality to the word runaway and I think that there’s a certain scrappiness that’s in me and who I am therefore any character I’m creating will have that. I think that’s where the Jersey girl comes out. And the glamor part of it is the sense of romanticism of what I see and feel from movies. The red lipstick, the golden age of Hollywood, retro Las Vegas, something that’s almost just out of reach, but I’m always reaching for it anyway. The way of Chanel Perfume, sort of an idea, and I feel like sometimes, just in life in general, I’m living life but imagining how it could be if I was sort of living it in the way that I wanted to. What would it look like if it were on the big screen? What would the scene look like? Because I’ve driven all over the U.S. – I drive a red mustang that I absolutely love.
MM: I was wondering if the Mustang has a name?
GR: That is an excellent question. I believe my Mustang is going to be called Liv Wilder. Because I was inspired to create my own world, sort of a left of center pop aesthetic. When I envisioned the name Gigi Rowe I was coming up with different ideas for a name, Liv Wilder being one of them. And I loved the name Liv Wilder when I came up with it. And I Googled Liv Wilder and Liv Wilder is like a triple X rated porn star.
MM: Oh, OK.
GR: [Laughs] So, I was like, I don’t think that’s really gonna work. Somebody already got to that name first. But then I recently was chatting with the editor in chief of Spindle Magazine and I was chatting to her about the whole Liv Wilder thing and she just looked at me and she was like, “Oh my God. If your Mustang doesn’t have a name, your Mustang needs to be called Liv Wilder.”
MM: You first started getting attention when your song “Run The Night” was featured in the auditions clip for Just Dance. Is that how your song came to be in the game or did you have to submit it separately?
GR: The way my song was featured in Just Dance is actually through my producer. His name is ill Factor and he’s based in Miami and he had a number of placements with Ubisoft in different video games or trailers for their games and he was the one that presented “Run The Night” and the idea of me being a part of the game. So, it was through ill Factor that I connected with the executives at Ubisoft and right away they just were very inspired by the story I was telling them – some of my ideas for Gigi Rowe – this mythical creature – and they heard my voice and heard the song and then they greenlit the project. So, that’s how I became involved and I found out that I was definitely involved this past January. It was just sort of a surreal moment because when you’re creative and you’re ambitious you’re always looking to push the boundaries and find that next song, that next look, that next idea and I always spend my days chasing the magic. And in that moment when you feel like it finally comes together, where you’re making the music that you want to be creating and working with incredible people, and then get this opportunity where there’s the potential for millions of people around the world to hear the song, and not only that but engage with it in a way that they’re dancing to the song, and it becomes a part of their life in many different ways, I feel like I levitated a little bit. [Laughs]
MM: Did you have any input about the dance people do to the song?
GR: Well, I actually wound up being involved in the process and it happened very organically. At the time, I was based in London and because the team that creates Just Dance is in Paris the executives were like, “Hey, come over to Paris. It would be really great to connect with you there and just keep building the relationship.” I went over to Paris in March and wound up having dinner with Didier Lord. He’s the global head of music for Ubisoft. He created the division and he’s been with the company for over 20 years and he introduced me to this woman whose name is Veronique Aubry and she is the artistic director for Just Dance and she’s one of the coolest people I’ve met. This cool bleached blonde Parisian punk with that effortless sense of style. The moment she walked in I was completely enchanted by her. Didier and Veronique I’m actually having dinner with this Thursday and anytime that I connect with them it feels like the starts align and it’s magic. At any rate, we hit it off immediately. She sat down at this dinner [and] she was showing me the inspirations and the costumes for, essentially, my avatar. In the Just Dance world they call it a coach. But it was so cool because it was just perfect, the stars aligned. She and I had never met before and she’d seen photographs of me and suddenly she was showing me images of this avatar in these American Apparel disco spanky pants and a pink wig and a jacket that was very similar to the jacket I was wearing that night. At the time I was wearing these American Apparel disco pants in every color. I was going to the wig store all the time and had these different looks. I would wear these six inch spiked heels, face paint, wig, just to go get coffee in the morning. And then fast forward a couple years later and I’m sitting in Paris at a nightclub where The Rolling Stones used to hang out. It’s chic Parisian punk and she’s showing me the inspiration for the Gigi Rowe video game avatar. And it’s exactly what I would wear in the early days of Gigi Rowe.
So, it was cool and then she invited me to the actual shoot. So, I wound up returning to Paris a week later and that was April. It was magic. I was in heaven again. The idea of levitating. I think I was just levitating all over Paris. The weather was perfect. Because Paris, for me, when I talk about that sort of glamorous runaway, I’m like Paris is the origin of Gigi Rowe and Gigi is a French name. In my own heritage, my mom’s parents were from Belgium. So, I grew up with my grandparents speaking French all the time around me. My Mom is French. I’ve spent time there. I love it. I feel very connected to it. The fact that I’m flying there tonight hasn’t sunken in. I think it will sink in when I actually arrive tomorrow in Paris.
[At] Ubisoft there’s a lot of national pride because it’s very successful, one of the top video game companies in the world and its origins are in France. It’s five French brothers that created the company. So, everyone knows Ubisoft. They’re so proud of it. They love it. And it’s amazing that I got invited to the shoot because the other executive even said nobody gets invited to these shoots. No one from outside the Just Dance team is ever a part of these and they’ve never had an artist be there while his or her song is being shot. So, it was a first at a lot of levels. And it was just an incredible experience. And I felt very connected to the process. And felt like it was a perfect storm in a way.
MM: Paris is my favorite place on earth. I’ve been there four times and I wish I could move there.
GR: I know. I’ve been telling everyone, I’m like, bye, I’m going to Paris, I might never come back. [Both laugh] I’m just gonna fall in love on the bank of the River Seine and I’m gonna get an apartment and I’m just gonna live out my days in Paris. I’m gonna sing. I’m gonna walk around the streets and it’s gonna be like a French movie.
MM: Sometimes when I’m frustrated with things here in Massachusetts I find myself thinking that I’d be happier being a homeless person in Paris.
GR: You know, I woke up with the same thought. It’s great if you can afford a certain life in Paris but I was like, I’m totally good being homeless. I might not come back.
MM: How did you hook up with ill Factor?
GR: We met through the woman who’s the head of creative for Kobalt and her name is Leslie Ahrens. And they’re an incredible publishing company. I was originally connected with the senior vice president of their office in Nashville. She was a real believer in me and my music and what I wanted to do with Gigi Rowe and introduced me to the GM of the company in Los Angeles [and] introduced me to the team in London and then I happened to be home for the holidays and asked her if there’s a Miami presence. Honestly, to me, I was intimidated by Miami growing up. I just think it’s got such a swag and it’s such a sexy city because of its vibe and intensity and its energy. I was intimidated by the city. But the idea of being creative there felt so just fresh and exciting to me. And it turns out that Kobalt has a brand new office [there] to help with the Latin American and Cuban and Spanish-speaking music. [It’s] predominately Spanish music that comes out of Miami. So, I got the chance. It was the same week as Christmas almost two years ago when I went and I met with Leslie and right away she loved what I was doing and set me up with writers and producers and ill Factor was one of them. And the fact that he set up a session with me the same week as Christmas I was super impressed by. And we just really connected creatively right away. As I said before, I’m coming from that singer/songwriter world [but] over time I just became more and more inspired by pop and electronic music. I was looking to collaborate with producers who could create these tracks and beats and soundscapes and that vibe really inspired me and ill Factor, his tracks, I just loved them immediately.
MM: You did a remix contest with “Run The Night.” How did you ever choose the winner of that? There are 99 of them on Soundcloud.
GR: I know. It was difficult because there were so many incredible ones and everyone had a different take and I loved so many of them. The winner, I just absolutely love. The second I heard it I loved the intensity. I’ve been a fan of dubstep and trap music for a while and it’s a dubstep/trap remix and I feel like ST4RBUCK just totally owned it. He created a dubstep/trap remix and he went all the way with it. You feel the passion and the intensity. It really popped for me. And it sort of brought out an edge in the song that I hadn’t heard before.
MM: You do a mash up cover of The Chainsmokers (“Don’t Let Me Down”) and Calvin Harris (“This Is What You Came For” feat. Rihanna). How did you come up with that idea?
GR: That was a moment when I was in the studio with ill Factor and a Miami musician named Manny Delgado. And we were just chatting about songs that we were feeling at the moment and we ended up being a bit creative with it and taking a couple songs and pulling them together. So, it was out of that conversation that we came up with that idea. I really love how that came out. It kind of balanced it. [It wasn’t] more of the dance pop electro side of me. This really unplugged side.
MM: Is the EP going to be released on vinyl by any chance?
GR: That’s a really good question. At this point we don’t have plans for that. Sometime down the road I would love to make that happen if possible.
MM: Are you into vinyl at all?
GR: I’m into the idea of vinyl. I like the romanticizing of vinyl. The Beatles and their records and how they put hidden messages and you had to play them backwards. I’m interested in dropping those little clues as part of my Gigi Rowe story. In my own way and taking inspiration from that.
MM: Were you from the generation that bought CDs or are you from the generation that just grew up downloading music?
GR: I would say I was on the cusp of those generations. It’s been amazing to see the changes. I have used cassettes at times and recorded myself purposely on cassette because I just love the way that it sounds and feels as opposed to digital recording.
MM: That’s what I record my interviews on.
GR: [Laughs] It just feels better. It feels like there’s kind of a story in the sound when you capture it on a cassette.
MM: Do you remember what the first album you ever bought with your own money was?
GR: My Dad had bought my sister and I these Sony CD players and brought them home from New York City, which was in and of itself exciting, and he took us to a place called Jack’s Music Shop in Red Bank, New Jersey and I remember thinking I’ve gotta make this good. It’s gotta be something that’s timeless. So, I picked Billy Joel, The River of Dreams. Because dancing, growing up, I did dance classes and the teacher would always find really cool songs [sings a bit of the “The River of Dreams” chorus] it was one of the songs that was on that album. So, I picked that.
MM: Do you have any pets?
GR: We have a family dog. She’s a west highland terrier. Her name is Marshmallow and we call her Melly.
MM: Name three artists from your parents record collection who you like.
GR: [Laughs] Let’s see. I would say that my influences that I’ve cited are Madonna, Annie Lennox and Cyndi Lauper and they definitely fell into that category and I really love those three artists a lot.
MM: Name some of your favorite books, albums, movies and TV shows.
GR: At the moment I watch Madame Secretary on TV. Definitely a Tea Leoni fan. I love any Nancy Meyers film. I love rom-coms. Nancy Meyers’ Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday, What Women Want. And books – I definitely have a tendency to read romance novels. And I love picking up books that represent a time period that I’m inspired by. There’s a book that I have all about the Hollywood Brown Derby. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that restaurant that used to exist in Hollywood but it was where Judy Garland [would go] on a lunch break from filming The Wizard of Oz. That’s where she’d be having lunch in a booth with a studio executive. That’s where Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard in booth number five. And it was an iconic place. But I love a book that I have that details that time period and you flip through it and there are all these great photos and stories. I love the Cobb salad. The owner of this restaurant, his name is Robert Cobb, his office was right above the original location and his friends would all come hang out with him in the middle of the night and he would get hungry so he’d go down to the restaurant kitchen and he’d poke through the refrigerator and take out all of these items and then his friends started ordering what we now know as the Cobb Salad.
Special thanks to Gigi for taking the time to do this interview and to Renee at Girlie Action for setting it up!
Official Site: http://hellogigirowe.com/