Maybe you’ve seeking the ideal soundscape for the year of self-isolation during that solo 2AM drive around your not entirely empty city? We’ve got the jams for you: Ali Gatie. The 23-year-old has gone from dreaming about songwriting in the confines of his mom’s closet to studio time and gold records. A Toronto native, he’s immersed himself in his own version of R&B edge and inescapable honesty, and just cropped up in LA for an editorial with yours truly. As for his late night solo cruises? With no hesitation, Gatie states that the soundtrack to his late night drives is, no doubt, Drake’s classic “Marvin’s Room.”
On the day we speak, Gatie has just released the music video for “Welcome Back” with fellow Canadian, Alessia Cara, which has since garnered over two million views. Gatie states that initially the song was just meant to be a solo track that started out in the beginning stages of isolation. “It started as a love song about welcoming someone back,” he shares. “Halfway through the song I realized that it felt that I was singing to myself. I was welcoming back this different version of myself. When I presented the song to Alessia Cara seven or eight months later, she related to that similar concept.”
The Yemen-born artist who came to Mississauga, with neighbors Toronto, guided by the sounds of 50 Cent echoing from his iPod Nano. He later realized that acoustic love songs were where he developed his connection to ballads. “I realized that it always came down to me simping to Bruno Mars,” Gatie recounts. “Those songs at the time didn’t mean much for me, because I was 13 or 14 and I didn’t have a girlfriend. But for some reason they resonated with me because I loved poetry and the art of writing. I started listening to all these romantic acoustic ballads, meanwhile my friends listened to straight hip-hop. So I’d pretend to be a straight hip-hop fan, then I’d go home and listen to Ed Sheeran in my bed, and cry myself to sleep. I was living a double life.”
He had all the 2020 schedules aligned with his first world tour dates and playing the same Coachella day as Frank Ocean. Now he says, that will only make the moment he reunites with his audience, which has only gotten stronger and larger during the pandemic, a more intimate, more intensified experience.
Gatie conveys that he never got to fully experience the life of touring artist pre-pandemic, “I was so mentally prepared to become a touring artist, all my shows were sold out. I’m not used to that because I’m such a homebody. When I was on tour for that short amount of time, I noticed I was tired and lazy but then you go home and you realize, ‘I’d rather be on tour, meeting fans, and complaining about being tired and jetlagged, than not even meeting the fans.’”
Gatie’s writing sessions are immensely intricate and confessional, starting off as voice notes in iMessage bubbles and transforming into tangible listens. The vulnerability of recording as a voice memo and even jotting down half-way ideas in the Notes app become healing quests and unconscious hit-makers. One of Gatie’s most trance-inducing songs was never intended to make it outside of the realm of his iPhone.
Still, success is not a readymade bookend for Gatie’s story. He candidly expresses the tribulations and the hardships that led him to finally having the ears of those willing to listen to what he has to say. For Gatie, there is more to life than numbers, view counts, and even the stamping validation of ‘success’. He earnestly states that he is just happy that people are finally willing to listen and he hopes he can hold onto them for as long as they will allow. Those initial stages of struggle provided the experiences to look into himself which would soon become a pinnacle of his audiences’ own introspective quests.
“When I wrote ‘Moonlight’, I was a struggling artist,” he says. “I was sharing a bedroom with my mom, I was going through it. I was just a kid with a dream and a passion that this would all work. I think it got 10,000 plays the first day and I remember thinking, “I made it! I made it!” It’s since racked up 23 million views.
Gatie has facilitated a relationship with his audience, where they feel seen both as listeners and people with opinions, rather than these scripts of adoring numbers. He’s found light in connecting with heartfelt TikToks and messages sent by the thousands along his way, and he smiles while thinking about the army of listeners who make short clips dancing around to “What If I Told You That I Love You” with their ceiling-lined neon lights emitting from the background. One value he holds true to his heart is that connection with his fans that he places at the top of his own list.
“You can’t plant a seed and never water it and get mad that it never grew,” he reflects. “When you build a community, you need to be part of that community. I keep so connected with them because that is how I came up, I never had a shout out. I never had a co-sign. No one ever really helped me, I didn’t have connections, my parents didn’t know anyone. I was just a small, immigrant kid. I just always had the perseverance to make everyone who listened a fan.”
Even in uncertain times, Gatie looks to the future with admirable calm and appreciation. “The ideal 2020 is to end the year with happiness, gratitude, and remain humble. Even if my album, which I’m planning to release this year, goes No. 1 or No. 1000, just remember that I have people around the world that wake up and listen to my music.”