“There are many songs that aren’t about my boyfriend… or my ex-boyfriend,” laughs Lianne La Havas, when questioned about any surprises for her debut album. Indeed, this probably won’t be the only surprise on her debut album ‘Is Your Love Big Enough’ when it drops later this year. The pressure is on to produce something special though, especially after being included in the BBC’s Sound Of 2012 poll.
Jessie J was the winner of last year’s poll and she picked up three nominees at the Brit Awards only last week. This was also the first time that Lianne has attended the Brit Awards and she will no doubt be looking to feature as a nominee (and hopefully a winner) next year herself. Reflecting back on the night she reveals that “the energy in the room was fantastic, seeing people like Ed Sheeran do so well made me a little bit envious but it made me want to work really hard over the next year.” With an album, a tour and festival appearances all lined up her work will be cut out for her, but interest is high. A recent four night residency at The Social in London sold out within four hours, and support slots for Laura Marling and Bombay Bicycle Club are both imminent. Of the latter she tells me that she is a “huge fan and it was flattering that they would like me to join them.” The Bombay Bicycle Club tour will also see her play some of her biggest venues in the UK to date, when it comes to the larger rooms she muses “I hope the honesty of our performance will come across.”
Signing to Warner Bros in 2010, it’s only been in the last few months that things have really started to pick up for her. Of course, any artist has an embryonic period and Lianne is philosophical about hers, admitting that she “wouldn’t have been ready just over a year ago,” a very frank reflection for a creative young talent, and one that a lot of artists struggle to come to terms with, but it was far from just a simple transitional stage. “It was frustrating at times, there was one song in particular that the label didn’t like yet I was really proud of. But I used that time to write, get better and try to discover a musical identity. I’m still developing now, as we all are, but I think I helped build my musical identity through my song writing.”
For many people, the first thing they heard of Lianne was her breath-taking yet understated performance on Jools Holland. She stole the show despite being on the same bill as Feist, metal titans Mastadon and Bon Iver (who later invited her to join him on his tour.) While this is an obvious turning point from a public perspective, Lianne believes that the real turning point happened much earlier: “writing those songs paved the way for other stuff. I got on Jools Holland largely because of the work I’d put in back then. They convey me as an artist, what I like and a bit of what I’ve been through.”
Her song of choice for that performance was ‘Age’, a song depicting exactly what she’d been experiencing in the early days of her current romance. Given that she’d just witnessed Adele win two Brits for an album trashing an old boyfriend, I wondered if Lianne’s other half was worried about being canonised in such a manner at a later date. For now though he seems fine with it, as Lianne elaborates “he’s my biggest fan, as long as I can express myself in a way that’s best for me then he’s quite happy to be a feature.” Writing good songs about one’s life has always been a staple for musicians, but Lianne is keen to keep some parts of it out of her music, “A lot has happened in my life, as it has with anyone’s. I felt like I wanted to write about my family but decided to maintain the sanctity of it.”
So what can we expect from the album then? A lazy observer would just expect some nice Jazz ‘singer-songwriter’ album, but with Lianne already stretching her style it seems that there will be a lot more to it. Aqualung is already on board to produce it, a man whose biggest hit, ‘Strange And Beautiful’, had a far more ethereal sound than something we’d automatically associate with Lianne. Such a collaboration is definitely no accident as she’s keen to not be put in the one box, “I’m very influenced by Jazz and I love to play guitar in that style. But it shouldn’t just be reduced to Jazz. There’s a lot of rhythm on there, but still with an honest sound. The songs aren’t crowded, they’re able to breathe.”
Before I leave I ask her what her favourite song on the album is. It’s like asking a parent to pick a favourite child and she ponders for a few moments. Eventually she happily tells me that the title track of the album is the one that she’s probably most proud of, “It’s the song that helped me realise about having love for myself, other people and self-discovery. It’s a really fun ditty.” In her voice I hear the contented sound of a woman who has put together something that shares a very pure corner of herself, someone who has finally found the voice they have long been searching for and can’t wait for you to hear it. With that in mind, I don’t think it particularly matters if we see her at The Brits next year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we did.
Lianne La Havas will release ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ via Warner Bros on 9th July.