A rare chat with the Jai Paul- and Robyn-approved singer-songwriter about her retrofuturistic sound
This week, we’re celebrating women in electronic music as Robyn takes over the site as guest editor. Here, the Swedish pop icon selects an emerging artist she’s been listening to lately.
It’s been only three years since a random email from Jai Paul changed Fabiana Palladino’s life. Now, she has the whole world in front of her. Her first single, the big, brash “Mystery”, released in 2017, sounds like it should soundtrack an 80s kids’ fantasy film; its follow-up from earlier this year, “Shimmer”, ups the tempo with its jittery beats. Fabiana’s sound is deeply rooted in sci-fi references and retro sounds, but is always rooted in a plaintive, yearning vocal. Signed to Jai and AK Paul’s Paul Institute, she completes a roster of singular artists taking funk and soul and pop in different directions.
Having grown up on a diet of Kate Bush and Stevie Wonder, and with a father (Pino Palladino) who played bass for The Who, D’Angelo and Nine Inch Nails, Fabiana’s path into music was always pretty clear – whether she knew it or not. Growing up, she was surrounded by musical instruments, and picking them up and trying them out was actively encouraged, but she never wanted to be a musician. She didn’t sing seriously until she was 18 – it was only while doing her first year of an English degree that she realised music was calling her back. “It was never the plan,” she tells Dazed, when we caught up on the phone to talk about where she’s at now, and where’s going next.
How does it feel to be selected by Robyn for her guest edit of Dazed?
Fabiana Palladino: It’s amazing. I’m genuinely a fan of hers. A mutual friend of ours told me she likes my song “Mystery”, and I was like, “Wow, Robyn knows I’m alive!” I’m very flattered and it’s amazing of her to be supporting new artists.
Do you consider yourself a new artist? I feel like people have been talking about you for a while.
Fabiana Palladino: I don’t see myself as a brand new artist. I’ve been around for a few years. I released my first single in 2014. There have been long gaps between singles, though. With the early stuff, I was trying stuff out, and not totally confident with what I was doing. With the support of Paul Institute, musically, I feel a lot more confident now.
You already produce and write your own stuff. So what has being with the Paul Institute enabled you to do?
Fabiana Palladino: It’s them saying, “This is good, and you should do this.” When I was first starting out, it was just me propelling everything. I had help from a few people about. They’ve helped me feel confident to write and produce all the songs myself.
What was the first song you learned?
Fabiana Palladino: My cousins were into R&B and loved BLACKstreet. So I learned “Don’t Leave Me”.
It’s got the greatest vocoder of all time.
Fabiana Palladino: I listened to it the other day and it holds up. I don’t know why it appealed to us as ten-year-olds, but it just did. I didn’t learn to produce till after my course. I was so focused on keyboards at the time. The producing thing came when I was starting to write more. I was like, “I have ideas for how things need to sound”, and so I had a go, not really seeing myself as a producer. And I did it more and more and I realised I could it.
Talk to me about “Mystery”.
Fabiana Palladino: Around the time I met Jai Paul, I had written the main hook and I had a really rough demo of it. I played it to him the first time we were working together. Out of all the songs I played him, this was the one he was really into. Whereas I thought it felt half-formed. He took it away and came back having written the next part of it, transforming it from one thing into another. It came together really quickly and naturally from there.
“Shimmer” is completely you, right?
I started “Shimmer” before “Mystery”, when I was doing everything myself. That was the vibe I was into at the time. I wanted to do something uptempo. We came back to it after “Mystery” because it was so different. And because I had produced it myself, I wanted to show people I could do that. But it still feels like it fits into that world…
What is that world? I know it’s wanky to ask a musician to describe their sound.
Fabiana Palladino: Like, Kate Bush’s music all feels like it’s of her world and her mind. I definitely want that feeling with my stuff. Especially in terms of the sonics. I want it to feel like a world. It’s pop but it’s eclectic. There’s electronica and soul and retro sounds going on. I want it to sound fantastical.
It sometimes feels like The Never Ending Story.
Fabiana Palladino: With “Mystery”, one of Jai and my reference points was the His Dark Materials trilogy, which we both loved growing up. Different universes connecting and all that.
The Paul Institute seems like a great thing to be part of. It feels heart-warming to me that Jai Paul has build up this mythology, only to use that power to bring new young artists through.
Fabiana Palladino: That’s definitely been the intention for Jai and AK. To use their experience and what they have. ‘Cause that interest can help break new people. They genuinely want to help people make music, and that’s a wonderful thing to be part of.
What’s next for you?
Fabiana Palladino: I’m not sure about an album. I think there’s a EP in the works. I’ve got loads of songs, but I’m working on picking the right ones. The newer songs are more guitar-based. I want the new stuff to have a bit more edge to it. Fewer synths. A bit more organic. But without losing the fantasy sound.