Gatlin Thornton is on a spiritual journey, one you can follow along with through her music.
The Nashville based artist, who goes by the stage name Gatlin, describes herself as a “toned down Maggie Rogers,” layering modern pop production with folk lyrics, her ethereal voice draped over mystifying melodies of soft, thumping drums and guitar.
Gatlin walked a winding road trying to decipher what genre suited her style best. She initially gravitated toward Christian Contemporary, inspired by years she spent singing in church choir. In high school, a cowboy boot-wearing phase heralded a shift toward country music. Now, the 21-year-old’s newfound love is that of modern folk-pop, a niche she discovered upon moving to Nashville, a city that’s had a profound impact not only on her musical direction, but her personal journey.
Gatlin relocated from her native Orlando, Florida to Nashville in 2017 to study religion and the arts at Belmont University, but after two years, she quit and became a songwriter full time. She got a taste of the city’s pop scene when she began working with a diverse range of songwriters, proving to the longtime pop snob that she doesn’t have a distaste for all pop music – in fact, she has a gift for creating her own style of the genre. “That time in my life, I learned the most because I was writing with someone new every day,” she tells Audiofemme via phone interview.
Coming from a Christian background, stepping into the diverse Nashville culture broadened Gatlin’s horizons, causing her to challenge the conservative ideals she was raised on. “I got out of my little bubble and I realized that things aren’t so black and white. I went through this huge doubting phase. I am a Christian, but it looks a lot different,” she professes. “It’s a spiritual journey now. I’m trying to figure out a lot of stuff and I feel like that comes through in some of my lyrics.” She addresses this point head on in her song “Curly Hair” as she sings, “and I love Jesus, but he’s busy upstairs, and I’m a first world nothing.”
“I think everyone’s on their journey, and growing up super conservative Christian, it wasn’t okay that it was a journey, you had to have it all figured out,” she continues. “Where I land, I still think God is real, I just don’t think everything is so black and white, I think it’s pretty gray and it’s different for each person. I think I’m trying to figure out the normal things people believe as far as religion and Christians go. I don’t have an answer for literally any of it – [I’m] just figuring out as I go what is true for me.”
Gatlin takes listeners on this journey, exemplified in her latest track, “I Think About You All the Time.” Co-written with friend Victoria Bigelow, the song is based on Gatlin’s experience being a relationship where feelings developed on her end, but not her partner’s. The video captures this sentiment through a dark red hue cast over scenes of Gatlin surrounded by friends as they enjoy life, yet she’s lost in a daze of sadness and confusion.
“With this relationship, I literally could not enjoy parties with my friends, because my mind was trying to figure this relationship out,” she describes. “Then the moments when I would be alone was when I would freak the fuck out, and so I wanted to feel that juxtaposition.” Gatlin took control of the situation and told the other person how she felt, which liberated her from the toxic dynamic. “I realized there’s more power in admitting that you have feelings if you do. It’s always looked at as weak, but me admitting ‘I think about you all the time,’ there was so much power in that,” she expresses. “It was a very healing process.”
Gatlin is currently working on an EP, planning to drop each song as a single throughout the year leading up to the EP’s release. As she walks the path that’s shaping her identity, Gatlin will continue to take fans along for the ride through her art. “I’ve learned that God is love and it’s so much more of an emphasis of that. We are supposed to love others,” she says of the most important discovery she’s made thus far. “I physically look different and also my insides look different every six months because I’m 21, I’m in such a changing time of my life.”