Music of her mind 

Gaelle mixes soul and electronica on her moody debut

What does one make of Gaelle Addison - an Atlanta-based singer/songwriter/producer whose superbly crafted debut album, Transient, is so unique, so genre-blurring it baffles the music industry? Record stores shelve her in the dance section (probably because she's signed to dance label Naked Music), but the New Jersey-born songstress is not so easily categorized. Her sound hovers between alternative soul and soft electronica. It's jazzier and more understated than traditional, hard-thumping dance, with lots of moody chords, ethereal crescendos and airy melodies. There are also elements of blues and soul moving throughout Transient's mix of house and drum and bass rhythms.

"The industry doesn't know what to do with me," Gaelle shrugs, leaning over a plate of truffle pâté at the colorful Midtown bistro Aprés Diem. Dressed in jeans, T-shirt, sneakers, a simple black jacket and a pair of glittery lime chandelier earrings, Gaelle is pleasant, funny, and much less mystifying and somber than she seems on CD.

But she's somewhat cynical when speaking about the music industry - and for good reason. Her first scrape with showbiz came via the massive U.K. dance hit "King of My Castle." She recorded it for local producer Chris Brann's Wamdue Project while a business management student at Clark Atlanta University. The original song didn't make much of a splash when released in 1998, but it was later remixed by techno producer Roy Malone and became a favorite on the British club scene, selling more than 2 million copies overseas.

Gaelle wasn't able to capitalize on that success, however, because the label hired a "buxom Argentinian lady" to pretend to be the song's vocalist. "They put her in the video and on tour and she was lip-synching and everything," says Gaelle. "That happens so much in the dance world, like in the case of Martha Wash and C&C Music Factory. If the label doesn't believe what you look like is what people want to see, then they'll put out what they believe you should look like."

Needless to say, the young singer was heartbroken. She severed ties with Brann, enlisted ASCAP to track down her royalties, and formed a musical bond with keyboard player Eric Stamile. They clicked despite their contrasting upbringings: Stamile is Italian and a diehard Duran Duran and Skinny Puppy fan, while Gaelle idolized Patti LaBelle as a child and listened to hip-hop, house and Haitian music.

Using the remainder of her tuition money, Gaelle bought a bunch of studio equipment, launched a production company called Speakeasy Music and dropped out of school. She and Stamile taught themselves how to produce records, and by 2000 they were doing dance mixes for New York-based Naked Music. Naked loved the duo's work so much that they were more than happy to sign Gaelle to an artist deal in 2000.

Yet it took nearly four years to complete the album, because in order to pay the bills, Gaelle and Stamile worked on side projects. They co-produced Cee-Lo's Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections and remixed tracks for Esthero ("O.G. Bitch") and Jagged Edge ("Let's Get Married"). Not to mention, they're compulsive perfectionists.

Gaelle maintains that while the making of Transient was creatively elaborate, the technical requirements involved in reproducing those sounds live are even more complex, which is why you've probably never seen her perform around town. But that's all about to change this year as Gaelle kicks off a summer of live shows with this week's Grammy Block Party at the Atlanta Dogwood Festival.

"Atlanta has always made me feel like I had the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be in music," says Gaelle. "This is where I really came into my own. Now I want people to be more aware of my presence here as a local artist because I am a local. I'm the weird local at the end of the block, the strange lady with all the birdhouses. But I'm here."

music@creativeloafing.com

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