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Talkback: GG

Songwriter & Musician Gabriëlle Stok By William Stokes
Published May 2024


“When I was a kid, my dad got this iMac for his work. And he just couldn’t figure it out,” laughs Dutch producer, songwriter and multi‑instrumentalist Gabriëlle Stok, aka GG. “So it ended up in the living room. I found GarageBand on it, and I just started making songs.” Growing up a stone’s throw from the Dutch‑German border, the songwriter and guitarist made the decision to throw herself into the production industry as a teenager. Fast forward to 2024 and Stok has worked with some of pop’s most formidable acts, from Little Mix to Madonna. Her work on Masego’s album Studying Abroad: Extended Stay has earned her a Grammy nomination and her guitar skills have graced hits like Lojay and Chris Brown’s ‘Monalisa’.

“Initially, my Plan A was to be a guitarist and be in a band,” she reflects. “But this soon became Plan A. I realised I just really love it.”

At the moment I can’t stop listening to

An artist called Downtown Kayoto, who I was working with the other day, showed me a song called ‘Trompete’ by Soraia Ramos and Nenny. I’d never heard of it before. He just shared it as a reference track for some stuff. It sounded like something really new, something I hadn’t heard in a while. I think it’s Angolan, maybe? It’s got this mix of, like, Brazilian funk, Afrobeat, a bit of amapiano... And then it’s got this Latin‑style brass. It’s a really cool combination of things. All the bass lines are really good. So it’s really exciting to me. I must have listened to it like 10 times after he showed me! I just love new rhythms and interesting things like that. Something that sounds a bit different.

The project I’m most proud of

I think it’s probably ‘Monalisa’ by Lojay. It’s a really big Afrobeat song. I worked on that song when Lojay was basically unknown and didn’t have any music out. I knew Lojay from doing sessions and stuff. And he was like, “I’ve got this song called ‘Monalisa’, do you want to add some guitars to it? Because it’s still a bit empty at this point.” I was just like, “Yeah, sure, whatever.” And then, maybe a year later, it turns into one of the biggest Afrobeat songs of that year. It basically made his career, and then Chris Brown did a remix for it. It was great. I thought he was really talented, and I loved the song, but I didn’t know that was gonna happen. It’s really cool, because I hear that one a lot in clubs and bars and it’s just really nice to be even a small part of something like that. A lot of the other things I’m most proud of are still in the making! I’m hopeful they will be released this year.

The first thing I look for in a studio

The first thing I look for in the studio is, I think, the vocal chain. What mic, what preamp, what compressor. I like a [Neve] 1073 with a [Tube‑Tech] CL1B, a [Neumann] U87 or a 67, or whatever there is. Basically, anything nice! And it’s a bonus if there are also nice outboard, synths and stuff. But even if there is no pre and no compressor, then it’s like, OK: just plugging the mic straight into my [UAD] Apollo is fine, too, as long as the mic is good. That’s really the most important thing to me. The rest I can do with my laptop. If those things aren’t there, I’ll just go straight into my Apollo and run it through the LA‑2A plug‑in, and just record the plug‑in straight onto the channel. I think it’s nice, when you commit to something. It’s also one less thing to worry about later on! Because you’ve already made the decision. And afterwards, you don’t have to compress it so hard in Logic. I think it’s nice when you compress in multiple stages.

The person I would consider my mentor

Oh, there’s not just one person. I think there have been multiple people that I’ve learned little things from. When I went to the Abbey Road Institute, there was this teacher called Carlos Lellis who was just really inspiring. He was almost like a parent who you didn’t want to disappoint! It wasn’t like, “I hope I didn’t fail that test,” it was like, “I hope I didn’t fail Carlos!” He was really good when it came to engineering skills and stuff. I remember he would basically just control Pro Tools with just the keyboard — he’d rarely use the mouse. Stuff like that, more technical stuff. And besides that, there have been various mentors along the way, including my parents. They’ve always been really supportive. My dad is also a creative, he does sculpture. He once told me, when it comes to creativity, “When there’s a problem, always think of three solutions, even if one solution makes the most sense and the other two are ridiculous.” Always force yourself to think of more than one possibility. Even if you can’t think of a third thing, well, just try anything ridiculous!

My go‑to reference track or album

That’s so hard, because I make music in so many different genres that a lot of the time my own references are not as relevant. People will come in and bring a reference track, for example. Like, “OK, I want something like this.” But I do feel like I have a couple of tracks that are just solid, that I can, like, base my low end on, or my high stuff. Energy‑wise: for a pop record I really love ‘Into You’ by Ariana Grande. It’s actually quite slow, weirdly. I once tried, as an exercise, to recreate it. It was so slow! Somehow they’ve done something with the mix to like really keep the energy in and make it seem faster, pumping, moving, or whatever.

My top tip for a successful session

For myself, it’s conversation. My home studio is something between a therapy room and a creative space. So I have really calm colours. The first thing I do when people come in is make them a nice hot drink, maybe have some biscuits, and just talk. What’s on their mind? What have they’ve been up to, how are they feeling? And sometimes within five minutes, people will tell you their whole life story. And you’re just so deep into this conversation with someone who was a stranger just before, which I think is great, because, you know, you really get to know someone like no one else. Like, only therapists usually get to know someone like that, in such a short time. It’s almost like you hang out all day and a song happens!

But it’s also about just reading the room, to be honest. Because that’s not for everyone: some people just want to get straight to it. Which tends more often to be the case when I work with male artists. Of course, there are a lot of men in the industry who want to engage in that kind of way. But I do feel like a lot of times when I get a female artist in the studio, they’ll be like, “Oh, this is my first session with a woman!” And they just feel really comfortable. And it’s nice, and quite safe. So yeah, they might write about deeper stuff than they would otherwise, or more quickly, because maybe it will take a few sessions with someone else to get down to that level. But I can’t say for sure, because I’m not a guy, and I haven’t had that experience. But I feel like there are definitely a lot of female artists out there who want to work specifically with female producers, or want to at least try and do that more.

The studio session I wish I’d witnessed

I think ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ would be really fun. Maybe it’s a bit of a cliché! Just all those voices and stuff. To me it’s such a historical track, just such a moment. It would just be so cool to just be there while that happens, and witness that being made. Also, I mean, where the fuck do you start making that music? Who had that idea? Who was believing in that? And that was the result. You know when something just sounds really bad... until it sounds great, and people just need to have faith in the journey. I just really would like to witness that happening for that song.

The producer I’d most like to work with

Max Martin. How could I not? He’s just a pop icon. You look at a list of all the songs he’s done, and you might not even realise that he’s written some of your favourite songs. And with almost all the titles, the song just pops in your head immediately. I just think that’s really inspiring, how one person can be part of so much music history.

The part of music creation I enjoy the most

The essence of it. The surprising element when you start a day or a song or session, and you don’t know what you’re gonna get yet. And then by the end of the day, you might have your favourite song. I love that part. We just don’t know what’s next. And suddenly, you’ve got your new favourite song, that day. I just love how that happens. How something that didn’t exist before suddenly exists. And I feel like that mostly happens when you collaborate. I mean, if it’s just me on my own it definitely also happens, but if I collaborate with someone, it’s really something unexpected, because it’s just so hard to tell what the result is going to be. There’s just no feeling like it, when you’ve got something good.

GG: Don’t lose sight of your own goals and your own growth.

The advice I’d give myself of 10 years ago

Ten years ago, I was 17. A lot has happened in that time. I would definitely urge myself to learn to play the piano. I play the keys a little bit, but I’ve been properly trying to exercise the keys for the last four months or so. I think it’s such a handy skill to have. Beyond that, I think the main goal would be to just look at yourself and look at your own self‑improvement, rather than trying to be better than someone else. Don’t look at your friends and be like, “Oh, shit, I should be like that.” As long as you’re better than we were yesterday, then that’s a win. So don’t lose sight of your own goals and your own growth.