Laura Mvula is a major standout in the UK’s latest swarm of soulful songstresses. Armed with her haunting, minimal, yet quite complicated single “She,” Mvula is getting props from everyone from Jamie Cullum to the Brits Critics Choice Awards to producer Tom Elmhirst (Adele, Amy Winehouse) — who is working on her debut album — to winning MTV Iggy’s Artist of the Week last week. But for such a powerful singer who sends chills down the spines of the most hardened of music fans, she’s a very humble artist of few words, preferring to let her music speak for itself. However, we did manage to wrangle out a few from her.
So much publicity for you in the last few months. Do you feel like things are moving quickly?
For you what is the most exciting bit of recognition you have been getting ? The Brits Critics Choice Nomination ? Or maybe just a show that went exceptionally well or a compliment that hit you hard?
The Brits Critics Choice nomination was a crazy thing to get. Crrraaazzzyyy. The MTV Iggy Artist of the Week was also really strange for me because I realize that the type of music I do is fairly “out there” so I am always shocked by people’s acceptance of it. I love that people get it, though. And Jamie Cullum’s tweet for some reason hit me hard because I was hearing from a hero of mine.
What is “She” about?
That my friend is for you to interpret.
You were in the church choir growing up. Does your love of layering voice stem from that?
Yes. Partially. I also arranged for Black Voices (a Birmingham a capella group) from the age of 15 and I loved doing that. So it is both really.
From a media standpoint there seems to be a definitive explosion in UK soul artists. What is your take ? Is something happening post Adele or is the media only paying attention more ?
We owe a lot to Amy Winehouse and to Adele. Both artists broke the mold and made it okay to be accepted for just who you are and what you do, and sing soulfully. They were successful, then made the media take notice of something that we in the UK love: real artists who sing soulfully.
Why South Africa for your video for “She”? Can you recount some experiences you had there ?
That is the place the director grew up in. When we got there he took us to the church that we were to shoot the video in, and we met the women in the choir. They limbered up by singing when we arrived at the church, and I have to say I will never ever forget their voices. And oh yes, wow the meat there in South Africa is incredible!
You have worked as a substitute teacher. Tell me about that.
I taught music for a year to year to seven pupils and it was very challenging for me.
You have described yourself as kind of a geek, maybe a little understated and shy. Not to mention that you are a composer and not just a singer. Do people tend to expect you to be someone else ?
They often think I just sing soul and R&B. It is only when I start singing that they go “Oh … I see.”
What is it like working with Tom Elmhirst ?
Tom Elmhirst is incredible. He brought the songs to life in a new way and he is the coolest person I know.
What can we expect from the debut album ?
For it to be different from anything me or you have ever heard.