As GAYLE sat across from this writer eating chocolate-covered almonds on Zoom, it was hard to remember that she was just 18 years old.

Although she may seem young, the alt-pop singer has already lived a lifetime in music industry years. GAYLE, the up-and-coming singer behind the viral sensation “abcdefu,” was propelled into music at 10 with the support of her mom-ager, Brandy Barnes. After an adolescence filled with the blues stylings of Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton, her journey began in Nashville’s singer-songwriter circuit under the name Taylor Gayle. She grew a hefty fanbase at only 11 years old, debuting her first EP, Fly Away, in 2016. But GAYLE isn’t the same naive young girl singing about “Elementary Love,” and she’s not afraid to push the boundaries when it comes to sex, drugs and rock 'n’ roll. 

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Her new EP, a study of the human experience volume two, finds the 17-year-old navigating her own coming-of-age story while balancing Hollywood’s cliches. Between toxic relationships, trauma and figuring out who you are, the EP leans into the depth and emotionality of growing into adulthood. GAYLE joined AP on Zoom to discuss the project and her journey with songwriting in the face of internet fame.

I was reading through your history in the music industry, and it seems like you started pretty young. Can you talk about some of the music that shaped you?

My mom said I started singing at 7 years old, and then we moved to Nashville around 12 [to pursue music]. At the time, I was raised on Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Dolly Parton and other soulful jazz icons. I didn’t really start listening to alternative music until around 15 years old. It wasn’t until the [COVID-19] lockdown that I started to discover other styles, like Zedd and the Chainsmokers. It’s almost embarrassing to admit that it took that long, but around the same time, I watched Almost Famous, and it really stuck with me. There’s a scene that shows a club packed with people for a rock show — and it was after live performances had stopped for a long time. I saw how inspiring that energy was to people, and I knew I had to channel that intensity into my work. After that, I just started finding more powerhouse women in rock like Alanis Morissette, Blondie, Pat Benatar and Sheryl Crow

Tell me if my math is off, but you also started releasing songs in 2020. So, you were 15 or 16? What was it like producing your own singles while in high school? 

I was homeschooled through middle and high school. So, it was a little easier since I had my own hours. The only motivator I had to finish [school] was knowing that it meant I could focus on music. I was a bit luckier with COVID since we didn’t have to transition to online school, which also meant I was able to pick up extra classes and graduate early. But self-producing while [being so young] was intimidating because I didn’t always know how to communicate with other industry people. I would go into a situation knowing what I wanted, but wouldn't know how to convey it, especially with professionals that had been producing music for years. 

Is there any secret SoundCloud music? 

I used to go by Taylor Gayle, and I had a seven-song project come out when I was 12. I think I wrote all of the songs when I turned 11, so it definitely had more country inspirations. It was like a blend of pop, country and soul. I pulled that off the internet quite a bit ago, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something popped up one day. 

Your new EP doesn’t necessarily sound like “abcdefu.” Who do you think your audience is, and more so who would you like it to be? 

I came to the conclusion that I can’t particularly control who’s going to like my music and who’s going to stick around for more. Instead, I’m just focusing on expanding my sound and moving, whether it’s forward or backward. I’m just trying my best to not stay stagnant. 

You sort of spell it out in “indieedgycool,” but is that more of a tongue-in-cheek joke?

A lot of that song isn’t coming from my own perspective. It’s basically coming from the aftermath of “abc”'s success, where I was really experiencing people with big personalities and opinions on the internet. I would find people that talked about their opinion on music as if it were fact and purposely try to fight with people or be offensive. But, at the same time, I knew where they were coming from because I used to care so much about being perceived as cool, especially when I was younger. The song’s a response to these personas I’ve put on and that I see so often on the internet. Some of the lyrics don’t even make sense in reality, and that’s how I feel about some of the things I read online. It’s definitely more ironic and sarcastic.

This EP certainly leans more toward deeper, more emotional lyricism. As you grow as an artist, where do you see your music going?

My biggest goal and motivation is the freedom to do whatever I want. In three to five years, I’d really just like to make the music that I want, collaborate with the people that I like and perform live shows that I can be proud of, and hopefully have people like that, too. I want to continuously find new ways to be in music and push myself to grow as an artist sonically and creatively. I want to expand how I’m perceived as GAYLE, and maybe that means taking it outside the confines of music, but for now, music is my whole life. 

Who would be your dream collab?

My dream collab — which I was just thinking about — would be Travis Barker, Machine Gun Kelly and Avril Lavigne on one song. But that would be the most ridiculous thing ever. I think the universe would explode and the Matrix would collapse. Working with any of them would be an actual dream.

There’s a throughline in your EP about being sensitive, but you talk about how other people perceive it in a negative light. Can you talk about processing your emotions, especially in terms of songwriting?

I don’t react to things right away. I take my time to fully process something, which can lead to a lot of confusion and miscommunication. I’m very protective of the people I love, but I don’t really love myself. So, I don’t always do the best job of protecting my feelings and respecting them at the same time. I’m really prone to bottling up my feelings, and then after every little thing bubbles up, people think I’m sensitive. I’m an overthinker, which is why it’s so easy to turn to music as an outlet for all of these feelings.

What would you like people to take away from this project?

The biggest thing is understanding that I’m just somebody that likes making music. I talk about my personal experiences and about the things that are happening in my life. If you want to hear that, and if you want to be with me in these moments and project your own experiences onto my songs, I’d really love that. But at the end of the day, I’m just another person that lives my life and loves music. I’m trying my best every day. I’m not trying to be the greatest thing in the world. I’m just trying to do the things that I like, and hope maybe you could like it, too.