Hailing from Orlando, Florida, 22-year-old Gatlin Thornton, who goes by the stage name Gatlin, decided to pursue songwriting full-time after spending a few years at university in Nashville. Having sung in church choir for several years, Gatlin initially experimented with Christian contemporary and country music before comfortably settling into her current sound. The singer, who is also a member of the three-piece indie band Sadie Hawkins, debuted in 2020 with her EP Sugarcoated, in which she blends mellow, comforting alt-folk sounds with the addicting aura of pop. She spent much of lockdown working on her new four-track EP titled To Remind Me of Home, set for release on June 25. While the new project seems like a natural progression following her past releases, it embraces a richer, more mature sound and hints at Gatlin’s growth over the past few years. Filled with dreamy, upbeat heartbreak anthems, including ‘Whenever He Asks’ and ‘What If I Love You’, the EP also introduces Gatlin’s most vulnerable track to date, ‘Hospital’, an honest account of a hospital visit in the midst of a dark mental health period.
We caught up with Gatlin for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her understanding of home, her experience as a band member and solo artist, creating her new EP during a pandemic, and more.
I was hoping we could talk about your background a little. What are some of your favourite things about your birthplace, Orlando?
I had a crazy childhood, I was outdoors all the time. I actually grew up in a suburb of Orlando and my whole family lived 10 minutes from us, so I was really close with all my cousins and we’d drive dirt bikes and play in the mud… I got to have a really adventurous and imaginative spirit because I was always playing. That shaped a lot of who I am. As I got into middle and high school, I had a harder time living there, but my childhood was amazing.
Do you feel like Orlando is home for you, or has your idea of “home” changed over time?
Oh, it’s definitely changed. I guess my family feels like home, but man, those four years of high school I was jonesing to get out of Orlando. I definitely wished away a lot of those years. Nashville felt like home for a while – I was there for four years after leaving Orlando. Now I’m in LA, having moved here in January, so I feel like home is a little misplaced. I guess I don’t have an actual ‘city home’ right now, so I’m having to find home in people. And I feel like I’m at that age now where your friends become family.
You studied at Belmont University for a few years before quitting to pursue music full time. What did you study?
I studied Songwriting. It was amazing, but I think I’m just really bad at multitasking and being in classrooms. I was home-schooled during my high school years since I just couldn’t sit in a classroom anymore, so I did two years of uni and it was wonderful, I loved my professors, but at a certain point I couldn’t do it anymore.
I mean, stopping university to pursue music – that’s brave but quite scary. How did you feel when taking that step?
Well, they have a joke at Belmont: if you drop out, it means you’re doing something right. That’s kind of every musician’s goal there. It was a little scary not knowing whether it was going to work out, but I had people supporting that decision. My parents supported it, some professors of mine supported it, I also met my manager at Belmont and she was really encouraging. So, I think it just felt right for me.
You’re also part of an indie band called Sadie Hawkins. Did you join the band first and then pursue your solo career, or was it an adjacent project?
It happened alongside my solo project – I had all this extra time after dropping out. I’d been writing with the other band members, Tristan Bushman and Daniel Ethridge, since before I moved to Nashville, and they’re definitely like older brothers to me. They decided to start a band because they had written all these songs together and wanted a girl, so I was like, “Sure, I’ll join!” All three of us have individual artist projects, you know, we wanted to follow the boygenius model. We were able to make music whenever we had down time, for fun, without pressure. There’s no stress, no fighting, no conflicts, it’s perfect!
The experience of being in a band and working on your solo career must be quite different. Are there specific things you love about each project?
Gosh, yeah, it’s very different. As much as I love what I do, it does come with a level of self-doubt, anxiety, worrying about money, all that stuff. I think that’s normal for solo artists. I can deal with that cause there’s so many highs; it’s exactly what I want to be making and I’m very proud of it. But Sadie Hawkins allows me to be creative in a specific way, it’s another part of music that I love, the Americana rock stuff. It’s not what I am by myself, but it’s what the three of us are together. It’s a very good balance to have.
Let’s talk about the release of your upcoming EP. Its title, To Remind Me of Home, is a line from one of the tracks called ‘Hospital’. How did you settle on that specific line for the title?
I had an ongoing list in my notes and I really wanted it to be a lyric from one of the songs. I thought a lot about the period in which I wrote these songs. During the pandemic, I think everyone was craving a feeling of home, and I felt misplaced out here in LA without a real home. This idea of home was just a theme that was coming up a lot in my life. Also, I had just gotten this tattoo, it’s an orange, symbolic for Florida, and the lyric is talking about oranges reminding me of home. I think it all just fit.
I’d really like to delve into ‘Hospital’. I’d say this is the most sincere song you’ve released yet, the lyrics are so emotionally charged. There’s also this element of self-deprecation with the line “I find it kind of funny how much pain I’m in.” I think that’s something many people going through mental health struggles will relate to.
Yeah, I mean, so many people, including myself, have a big problem of using humour as a coping mechanism. In my therapy sessions I’ll joke about pain the whole time, and my therapist keeps telling me to stop, but it’s just so real. I feel like that’s a very natural reaction even though we really… Should stop. [laughs]
The chorus of ‘Hospital’ is such a comforting sound, with the vocals blurring the lines between melody and harmony. Your high voice is very soothing and provides comfort in an otherwise deeply sad song. Was the dreaminess of the chorus intentional?
Well, actually, my producer Nick and I went super back and forth on that. We kind of fought about it for a little bit. I wanted it stripped, I wanted to keep it incredibly sad, but he was like, this track needs this. It needs this break, it needs this to tie the other three songs together. As I listened to it more and more, I realised, “Okay, he’s right, he’s right…” So, it was intentional on his part. I was a hater for a little bit but he turned me eventually.
And the bit at the end, is that the actual voice message you sent your grandma after this particular hospital visit?
It is! It’s real. Well, I wrote the song maybe two weeks after I was discharged and my grandma was the only person I called. A year and a few months later, I asked her to send me that voicemail cause that’s exactly what the song is about. Again, I’m using humour in the voicemail, even though I’m talking about my mental illness. I’d naturally never want anyone to hear this, therefore I added it in. I really wanted to put it all out there.
I really admire that. What are you hoping people who are struggling right now will receive from the song?
I hope the song makes them feel less alone and normalises talking about these experiences, opening up to those around you. People will, in turn, open up to you. I think if ‘Hospital’ provides people with comfort and the power to speak about their struggles, that’s it. Talking about it strips some of the power from whatever you’re going through.
It’s truly a touching song, I think it’ll definitely accomplish that. I also really love ‘Whenever He Asks’ – it has this nice energising drum beat, but at the core it’s quite a dark song about emotional attachment and heartbreak. Is it difficult to keep hearing or performing songs that are associated with tough times?
There are certain songs, like ‘I Think About You All the Time’ from my first EP, that still make me really emotional. ‘Whenever He Asks’, for some reason, I do feel very removed from, especially cause I originally wrote it as a fully acoustic guitar song in January 2020, but we revisited it and I changed so much of it in June of the same year. When I was doing that, it was coming from a less emotional place, I had gotten most of that out. I was a lot more detached from it. I don’t “feel” it as much anymore, and now I just think to myself, “Gosh, I can’t believe I let myself be treated like that and I really learned my lesson from that experience.” ‘I Think About You All the Time’, though… For some reason, that song is a very emotional one to listen to and play. Maybe that’s also because it’s been out a little longer and I’ve gotten to hear other people’s stories, what it means to them and the sadness in situations like that. And obviously, ‘Hospital’ is also a really hard one to listen to.
Is it cool to hear people attach their own stories to your songs?
Oh my gosh, it’s my favourite thing. It’s my favourite thing! Cause at that point, it’s not my song anymore. That’s such a hippie thing to say, but really, it’s everyone’s song. If people hear it and link their experiences to it, then the song did its job. I sometimes get to hear about it, and that’s the best part.
The creation of your first EP Sugarcoated and your new project To Remind Me of Home must’ve been quite different. Given the pandemic, I can’t imagine it was a very easy time – what was the process like?
Honestly, the creation of the new EP was a much better process, strangely enough. We started in November 2020 when things were opening up, so for a week we got to go to a studio with everyone masked up and tested. After that, it was just me and Nick who were working on it, I came out to LA and we’d do stuff over Zoom. It was really good. In the previous EP, there were a lot of different producers and we were going one track at a time and it was stressful cause there was always a deadline. This time, it was a lot easier to make it work, I felt more creative and less stressed.
Do you have a favourite single from To Remind Me of Home?
I’m gonna have to say ‘What If I Love You’ and ‘Hospital’. I can’t pick one, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. ‘What If I Love You’ was just so much fun to write, my co-writer Michelle Buzz has become one of my best friends and whenever I write with her it’s just so easy. Writing, recording and promoting that song and making that video… It was all so much fun. I have a lot of sweet memories attached to that process. As for ‘Hospital’, it’s the rawest thing I’ve ever created about one of the darkest times of my life, so it’s really meaningful. So, the front of the EP and the back of the EP.
You’ve filmed quite a lot of music videos over the past few years. Which one was the most fun to shoot?
Oh, ‘What If I Love You’. We were in Joshua Tree and I rented this old 80s Mercedes, put the top down, drove around, and thought: This is the life!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Gatlin’s To Remind Me of Home EP is out June 25.