Search The Line of Best Fit
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Fabiana Palladino March 2024 Brennan Bucannan 04

Right on time

02 April 2024, 09:00
Words by Alan Pedder
Original Photography by Brennan Bucannan

Hair by Sophie Sugarman | Makeup by Sophia Cox

A decade in the making, Fabiana Palladino’s full-length debut is a tribute to selfhood through the medium of silky, confident pop. She tells Alan Pedder about trusting the process.

For years Fabiana Palladino has been the perennial comeback kid. Now she's here to stay with her most complete and direct work yet.

Only an eponymous title could suit her long-awaited debut album, a largely self-written and self-produced odyssey through the chambers of the heart of timeless pop. A decade on from her first ‘official’ single “For You” – long since deleted, along with a homemade recording from three years before – Fabiana Palladino is the product of diehard patience, careful growth and dedicated work.

Speaking to Best Fit from her current home in southwest London, Palladino is almost unrecognisable from the sharply angled, half-shadowed, high-fashion image of the album sleeve. She’s dressed casually, hair down and makeup-free. Just two weeks out from her album release, she confesses to having felt a bit like a hamster on a wheel lately and real rest has been hard to come by. Not that she means to complain. Now 36, she’s been building up to this moment for her entire adult life, and she’s determined to enjoy it.

Talking to Palladino feels refreshing at a time where so many publicity campaigns are predicated on some attention-grabbing trauma or other life-altering event. For someone who’s been in the business so long, she seems unusually well-adjusted. It’s true that the album was largely written after a heartbreak, but that’s not what makes it worth your time. Palladino’s songs are unfailingly stylish, referential (to a point) and abundantly melodic, elevated by her flair for modernistic production that’s sensitive to, rather than at odds with, her retro impulses. Taking the bitter with the sweet, Fabiana Palladino simply flows.


Though she’s stopped short of creating a pseudonym, Palladino sees her album-self as a persona of sorts. There’s an element of sultry, late-night, pre-war era glamour to it, projecting strength in solitariness and self-empowerment. These are qualities Palladino says that she’s always felt connected to, from listening to Janet Jackson and the Spice Girls as a child to navigating her way through the music industry minefield as a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer.

Until recently, Palladino had held on to an image of herself as a bashful, quiet kid. Watching old camcorder footage with her sister during the Covid lockdowns told another story. “It was kind of a shock to see that I was totally an attention seeker, a real show off” she says, laughing. “I really did not know that about myself. I asked my parents about it and they told me, ‘Yeah, you were pretty full-on and loved being the centre of attention.’ I thought that was so interesting, like ‘Oh, so that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing now.’”

Palladino’s parents met in the early 1980s when they were both hired to play with Jools Holland, during his first post-Squeeze solo period. Her father, Pino, is a songwriter, producer and in-demand session musician (that’s him playing bass on Beyoncé and Miley’s “II Most Wanted”). Her mother, Maz, was working as a backing singer at the time, as well as performing in “a quite outrageous duo” called The Fabulous Wealthy Tarts. “She’s super creative, and quite a big personality,” says Palladino. “She’s from Liverpool and grew up sort of working class, went to stage school and left home when she was around 16 to try and make it in London. She performed in musicals before falling into cabaret but became more or less a full-time mum after I was born.”

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With her father so often away recording or on tour, Palladino says, as the oldest child, she sometimes fell into the role of replacement parent and still feels very protective of her sister Giancarla and brother Rocco. Though they’d sometimes fly out to Los Angeles, New York or wherever their dad was, often their only contact with him would be via telephone and fax machine. “We’d get our mum to send faxes to whatever hotel he was in, and it just cracks me up to imagine these people on reception getting all these chaotic drawings and messages we’d written. It was difficult at times, though, for sure.”

Of all the iconic artists her dad has played with – Elton John, The Who, Nine Inch Nails, the list goes on – Palladino says the only time she remembers being impressed as a child was when he worked with ‘90s girl band Eternal (“I was really into them!” she says, laughing). Looking back, she remembers meeting people like Simon & Garfunkel and being “totally blasé about it.” “Now I think ‘Oh my god, that’s so crazy.’”

As someone with a parent whose name on Wikipedia is blue, Palladino has acknowledged her privilege in previous interviews while rightly pointing out that no one could say that she hasn’t put in the work. Palladino’s first instrument was the family piano, and she’d thought she might learn violin at school but opted for drumming lessons after her mum persuaded her that it would be more fun. As it turns out, she had a natural talent for rhythm and still writes a lot of her drum parts herself even if she brings in others to record them.


Still, despite her early promise, Palladino says she had no ambitions to be a professional musician. Leaving home at 18, she went to Goldsmiths University to study an English degree, but realised within just a couple of months that it wasn’t for her. “Although I was academic at school, I just couldn’t engage with the subject at that level,” she says. “I’d had a very vague idea of becoming a journalist, funnily enough, but my mind just didn’t work in that way.”

Around the same time, she’d started sharing some rough recordings on MySpace, mainly as way to maybe meet some fun people and play in some bands. Switching to the music course at Goldsmiths was the obvious choice. Her first upload was an untitled track about anxiety, though she wasn’t fully aware of that at the time. “It was my first experience of trying to finish lyrics but not really knowing what it was about, and it was so interesting to me how those feelings just came out,” she says. Even now, she generally prefers to write in a stream of consciousness way, singing whatever gibberish comes to mind and whichever shapes sound good in her mouth: “Phonetics are really important to me. I hate it when it feels like someone has shoehorned something into a song because it’s a great word or an important subject. I hate it when I’m singing and it doesn’t feel right.”

It wasn’t until after leaving Goldsmiths that Palladino began to see her own songwriting as something worth going further with, and good friends like Laura Groves, Jessie Ware and Sampha (who co-produced “For You”) were instrumental in the process. Groves she met through her Nautic bandmate Timmaz Zolleyn, who goes by the name Tic, who had a side hustle as a talent scout for XL and Young Records. “I didn’t know it at the time when he emailed me, but he had a lot to do with people like Adele and Jack Peñate,” she says.

As Tic predicted, they got along great, and Palladino ended up joining Nautic as part of their live band. Her first show was a Boiler Room session, though she says she had no idea at the time how big that was. She ended up working alongside Groves on her solo work as well, drumming and singing. "I feel lucky to have been able to make lots of music with Fabiana over the years,” Groves tells me over email. “She’s an amazing musician, songwriter and producer, and I’m so inspired by the amount of love, care, strength and dedication she puts into what she does.”

As for Jessie Ware, Palladino got to know her in the early 2010s, pre-Devotion, through Palladino’s brother and her then-boyfriend, who were members of Ware’s touring band at the time. “She was always super supportive, right from the start,” she says, recalling how Ware would listen to her tracks and regularly offer her career advice. She even hired Palladino to play keyboards on a year-long tour behind her second album, Glasshouse. “She’s one of those very maternal, caring people, but straight talking and very direct with it,” says Palladino. “What you hear on her podcast is exactly what she’s like in real life. She won’t bullshit people at all, and I really appreciate that.”

Trusting herself enough to go with her gut feeling, as Ware does, is something Palladino has struggled to deal with. During our chat, she describes a series of frustrating sessions with various producers who tried to ride roughshod all over her work. “I had a bunch of songs that I’d written and produced by myself, but people just couldn’t seem to see them as finished,” she says. “They’d say things like, ‘Yeah, it’s cool, but it just needs something extra.’ At first I kind of went along with it, but then I got into all these weird situations where I’d do a session with someone and they’d try to put their own stamp on it, and basically destroy everything I thought was good about the song in the first place. It really knocked my confidence, to the point where I just stopped making music for quite a long time.”

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She’s braver now, she says. Less scared of offending people if they have a different opinion about what she should be doing – even her “very opinionated” mum, who she lovingly refers to as a Kris Jenner-style ‘momager’. Ultimately, she realised, it’s her name and face that’s out there with the music: “You have to say exactly how you feel,” she says. “If I put something out that I didn’t believe in, I would definitely regret it. I would think about it forever.”

Palladino’s first steps into producing her own work happened by stealth, or at least she didn’t want to hang that label on what she was doing. Being someone who isn’t naturally very technically minded, as she puts it, she found the learning curve quite daunting. Even when something clicked into place and she felt like she was actually getting somewhere, her brain would talk her down. If she thought a track was finished and produced, she’d demote it to a demo, or to just ‘making do’. “I was so unsure of myself back then, and I really had a lot to learn,” she says. “If I’m honest, I can be quite slapdash, but you can’t really be like that when making a record. It took me a long time to figure out that preparation is the key.”

Still, nothing could have prepared Palladino for the day, almost ten years ago now, when she received an email from artist/producer Jai Paul out of the blue. She was working in the box office of the Old Vic theatre at the time (“Quite a fun job as they go”), casually checking her personal inbox in between customers, and almost fell off her chair. Paul had found her music on Soundcloud, where her uploads had migrated to after the downfall of MySpace, and suggested that they meet. “I knew he was this guy from London who was making amazing music, but I hadn’t really engaged with all the internet hype and the weird mythology around him,” she says. “I’d listened to the leak of his album demos the year before, not knowing what it really was, and became kind of obsessed.”

Based on that meeting, Palladino ended up signing to Paul’s new record label, the Paul Institute, co-founded with his brother A.K. Paul. When the label launched in November 2017, she and London fireman-turned-musician Ruthven were the faces of its first two singles. Palladino’s track “Mystery”, a cosmic tale of connected universes, was something she’d started working on alone. Taking it into her first writing session with Paul, she watched “completely amazed” as he came up with a new chorus with apparently little effort. “We hadn’t even planned to try and write something together, and he’s not really that way inclined to suggest something like that, and neither was I.”

They reunited a week later, but again it was without any pressure or expectation to finish anything. They had another session, then another, and another, until eventually the song was done. In all, it had probably taken them about 2 years, she says, though much of that time the Paul brothers had spent setting up the label while Palladino was figuring out what she even wanted to with her music.

"I don't write my best songs in the depths of despair. I have to process things before I write about them."


A second single, “Shimmer”, followed in 2018, this time produced by Palladino alone. Billed as “an anthem written for anyone who feels like they’re being underestimated,” she says the song didn’t necessarily start out that way. “It just fed in sort of subconsciously. I was feeling like no one would take me seriously, and the only conclusion I could really draw was that I’m a woman. Men who were making the same or similar sounds, or who had the same approach as I did, were getting the support of the industry. Why wasn’t I?”

Not coincidentally, Palladino knew of many other women coming up against the same roadblocks. “I talked about it a lot with Laura Groves and other friends at the time, and I feel really lucky and glad that we had each other as a support network,” she says, noting that she’s perceived a shift in the industry towards a less traditional mindset since then. “Other people have different opinions on that, though,” she acknowledges. Recently she’s been inspired by RAYE’s personal triumphs over her own industry struggles. “I really respect her. I think saying what she said so publicly was massive, and then to finally be able to show everyone all the incredible ideas she had that were just being ignored must have been an amazing feeling.”

With her visibility boosted through her alliance with the Paul Institute, Palladino found herself suddenly being championed by artists like Robyn and St. Vincent (though she didn’t find out about the St. Vincent co-sign until much later). Being singled out by Robyn was an especially big deal and gave her a massive confidence boost that she was on the right track. “I grew up listening to her and always loved what she did, so it was kind of insane and so amazing of her,” she says, still a bit in disbelief. “She seems like the kind of person who wouldn’t do something like that unless she really believed in it.”

After “Shimmer”, Palladino originally planned to make an EP but ditched that idea in favour of waiting until she had enough songs she loved that would fill up an album. It’s a decision that she sometimes kicked herself for as she fretted about losing all momentum and being forgotten, but she can laugh about it now even as she’s mid press cycle and having to tell her story all over again. “It’s definitely weird,” she says, grinning. “Most people releasing their debut album probably aren’t talking about such a long period, but for me it’s basically my entire life. It’s intense, but I’m glad to finally be able to explain all this to people.”

Recent single “Stay With Me Through the Night” was originally slated for the aborted EP, and features both her dad and sister, as well as Jai Paul on cowbell, handclaps and various machines and – to her great delight – drummer Steve Ferrone who was a key player on one of Palladino’s all-time favourite albums, Chaka Khan’s What Cha Gonna Do For Me?. Of the album’s nine other tracks, most poured out of her during the first two Covid lockdowns, partly as a delayed reaction to the breakdown of her relationship the previous year. “It wasn’t a catastrophic breakup,” she explains. “It wasn’t one of those terrible ones where your whole life falls apart, but at the same time it was a long and very significant relationship in my life.”

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While she says the split was fully for the best, and that she and her ex are still friends, Palladino still felt the shock of being single in her early thirties when people around her were getting married and having babies. She moved back to the Palladino family home in southwest London, with every intention of only staying a few months. Covid, of course, had other ideas. Her parents hurried back to London from LA just as the pandemic started to kick off but returned to California when restrictions first eased, leaving their three kids to bubble together at home. It was almost a year before they would see them again, which Palladino found tough. “That definitely played into me getting on with things, because I did feel very alone,” she confides. “Even though I had my brother and sister and could see some friends, that separation from my parents felt very isolating.”

Adamant that she didn’t want to make a breakup album, she didn’t rush into the songs immediately. For one thing, she felt it had been done ad nauseam. For another, the lovelorn songs she’d written in the past were never all that great. “I don't write my best songs in the depths of despair,” she says, pulling a face. “I have to process things before I write about them.”

Once she did get started, though, the songs inevitably began to form around all these new rules of engagement with loneliness and being alone. Intrigued, she began to seek out other people’s experiences of loneliness, reading around the subject and looking for examples of people trying to unpack feelings similar to her own. “What I realised, and what made me feel better, is that loneliness is really a universal thing,” she says. “Anyone can, and everyone will at some point, be faced with it. It’s a part of the human experience, and I just hadn’t really delved into that properly before.”

“It’s funny, because I’ve never been someone who needs to be around people and I can be quite solitary. I definitely need space, and I do sometimes get quite drained by social stuff. Part of this album was me finally realising and accepting that as a part of my personality, because there are definitely times when I go a bit too far with retreating and I have to really make an effort to see other humans.”

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Like all good pop craftspeople, Palladino knows how to balance the personal and universal in her music. In dealing with her own feelings of isolation, she realised that she wanted others to hear these songs and to feel less alone in their own lives. “That’s what music has always been for me,” she says. "The music I love is pop music. It's designed for people to connect with and relate to. With this album, I felt it had to be really direct. I didn't want it to feel too obscure or cryptic.”

Take a song like “I Can’t Dream Anymore”, which starts out like a closed bud of insularity but eventually blooms out into a glittering proto power ballad, as if to say you can’t put your arms around a memory but it can hold you nonetheless. Again and again, Palladino’s lyrics are touchingly sincere and shot from the hip. “There’s no perfect love when you love someone as much as I love you,” Jai Paul sings on the Motown-inspired duet “I Care”. It takes a rare pop nous to rhyme “heaven above” with “kiss from a dove” and not sound slightly ridiculous, but both artists have it in spades. “I guess I really am the type to talk about matters of the heart to anyone who will listen to me,” sings Palladino on the second verse of soulful groove “Shoulda”, in a feat of peak relatability.

With “Shoulda” featuring her brother on drums, her mum reading an excerpt of the shipping news on “I Can’t Dream Anymore”, her sister singing backup on two tracks, and her dad chipping in here and there, the album is a real family affair. Towards the end of the process, when Palladino began to doubt herself and was in need of some direction, Pino stepped in to assist. They’d worked together on the recording side plenty, but not really on the production side before. For Palladino, it was a blessing to have someone she could trust to have zero agenda beyond just wanting to help. “It felt very safe, very easy,” she says, warmly. “There were no arguments about things, although it could have happened since we are both quite headstrong. We’re very similar actually!”

Scan the credits and you might spot some other familiar names, like producer/engineer Harry Craze (Emeli Sandé, Sam Smith) helping out on a few songs, and Jamie Woon, who adds vocals to the Prince-referencing “Closer” and the hypnotic, otherworldly “In the Fire”. Asked if there’s a connection between “In the Fire” and its alien cousin “Mystery”, Palladino nods, “100%, and that was definitely intentional.” She almost didn’t put it on the album since the video game and sci-fi inspired lyrics were so different from the other songs, but in a WWJD (What would Jessie do?) moment she went with her gut. “I’ve actually been thinking about what I want to write for the next album,” she says excitedly, hinting that FP2 might lean more heavily into retrofuturism, with a “more expansive, slightly less personal” feel.

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That may be some way off, but don’t bet against Palladino sharing some of the discarded takes from the self-titled in the meantime. Throughout our chat she makes several references to them – a full-on ballad version of “Can You Look in the Mirror?” (now an upbeat Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-type bop), “an ABBA-esque” version of “Deeper”, among others. “I need to go back through them and maybe think about putting some of them out,” she says, cautiously. “I think people would be quite shocked by how different some of them are.”

There’s plenty to enjoy in the meantime, and Palladino is excited about taking her album-self persona on the road throughout the spring. She recently played her first headline shows for the record, in London and Paris, and found it less nerve-wracking than expected. Though the stage fright and nerves of her early years were largely squashed by her days touring in backing bands, being front and centre can still be kind of daunting. “I was worried I’d just be thinking about how I look and if I’m moving in a weird way,” she says, jerking around. “But I’ve been able to let go of a lot of that stuff. Having a band with me has given me a lot of confidence.”

Wearing a suit helps massively too, she says, pulling her shoulders back and jutting out her chin to recreate the silhouette of the album sleeve. “I feel part of something bigger.”

Fabiana Palladino is released on 5 April via Paul Institute / XL Recordings

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