Ain't no mountain high enough for this gutsy Uk songbird with big dreams.
Words and Interview by Starr Rhett Rocque.
Lianne La Havas may be a newly emerging artist, but her music sounds as if she has been here before. She sings gutsy songs about breakups and love affairs with older men with the wisdom of a 40-year-old woman. While the 22-year-old London born singer/songwriter had been singing and playing the piano since childhood might explain some of it, finally pursuing a serious career as a musician in her late teens proved her musical prowess. A former art school student, she used to hang out with a group of musicians back in college, which led her to touring with Paloma Faith as a back up singer and even picking up a guitar habit along the way.
Last October La Havas got her major break. She was asked to appear on the highly rated British music show, Later…With Jools Holland, which is rare for unknown artists. Nowadays, La Havas can boast a jam session with Prince and major accolades from Stevie Wonder, who actually attended one of her sold out shows in L.A. Her United States debut, Is Your Love Big Enough, is currently in stores and La Havas is hopeful that fans relate and understand where she’s coming from.
We caught up with the young siren as she prepares for her fall tour with John Legend and chatted about being inspired by Lauryn Hill, wanting to record with Erykah Badu, her new album and more.
Describe your earliest memory of wanting to perform.
I was seven the first time I ever sang, and I was inspired because I saw Lauryn Hill singing and I said I wanted to sing like her. So I tried singing one day, and I loved the way it felt so I carried on from there. The first time I thought I wanted to do it as a career it was later, after I started playing guitar when I was 18.
What’s the next instrument you want to learn how to play?
I’d love to learn how to play the harp. I love the sound of it and think it’s beautiful, and it kind of combines piano skills with having skills on a string instrument as well. So I’m intrigued to see what that sounds like.
Speaking of sound, what was the creative process like in putting together Is Your Love Big Enough?
It was a lot of self-discovery and music discovery. It’s about exploring and it’s autobiographical in some way and about finding ways to express myself through music. So it was a journey coming out from my late teens to my early 20′s and the feelings and thoughts that have occurred during that time—and I did it with Matt Hales, who was the producer at the time, and he wrote a majority of the songs with me and we finished it three months ago. It’s always fun to work with him. He helped me nurture myself and we did everything ourselves. We played most of the instruments and then we got the band to play on it in London.
Your story is unique because it seems like everything just fell into place for you when you decided to pursue music. So did you ever have any major set backs that almost made you quit?
It didn’t all happen quickly. There was a lot of hard work and just figuring out what I wanted to do, and writing songs and learning more about myself, and playing gigs and trying to get booked by promoters.
You went to art school, but did you work any odd jobs during the time you were working toward being a serious musician?
I worked at a bar very briefly, which is how I paid for some of my demo recordings but my main job was being a backup singer, which I fell into through friends of friends and that’s when I got encouraged to go solo.
Your sound is the antithesis of what seems to be more prevalent these days in the States from artists your age. There’s a lot of pop music that gets popular, and it’s usually performed by people singing with auto-tune or some type of gimmick. Did you have trouble getting put on in the music industry because of that?
I found that when I personally knew what I was going for or what I wanted to do, people felt that I wasn’t ready yet. I was getting that people wanted to know what I was like or who they could compare me to and stuff like that, but it was true self-discovery, and sticking with it and being honest with myself and trying to make music that I like. I feel like I was able to define the truth for myself, and therefore that came across when I was trying to make the album. So it was a lot to do with just me moving myself and knowing myself, and from there I was able to be what I was instead of having people make me into something.
Prince and Stevie Wonder like you so you’re doing something right! Will we see collabos between you and either of them?
I hope so! They’re both extremely busy but I’d absolutely love to, so I’m putting it out there because I’d love to see that.
It’s also no secret that you would love to collaborate with Erykah Badu, so what would your ideal jam session together sound like?
If we got together to write something, I would play the guitar for her but I’d love to hear our voices in harmony and see what happens, and maybe she’ll rap [laughs]. Maybe she’ll play it for her producers and her band, and we can see what we’ll make, but I’d just love to hear our voices together and do an all-vocal piece.
But is rapping in your future too?
When I first saw Lauryn Hill rapping I just thought it was amazing that she could do all that and sing so well and be a great guitar player as well. I’d love the idea but I can’t speak fast enough—with spoken word or poetry maybe, because you can go at a slower pace like Jill Scott. I like that idea, but maybe I’ll practice [laughs].
You’re also a visual artist. How much of those skills will come into play with how you present yourself in terms of styling and album artwork?
There is a stylist that I work with. She’s my best friend, so that helps. We just kind of put stuff together and I take advice from her, and she helps me better find what suits me and my shape. I’ve always loved color and fashion and shape on stage, because if you’re looking at me from far away, I want to wear something that’s memorable. So I love to play with that. And with regards to artwork, it comes to play with the album. It’s photography-based. I had a hand in how it looks and how it was put together, and I hand wrote all the lyrics, and I think it all goes hand-in-hand. They’re all ways of expressing your personality so I’m very in touch with it. You have to combine music with all of those other arts.
Your personal style is cool, it’s girly but boyish too.
Thank you. I like that. I like the strength of the tomboy look, but also adding the feminine touch. It shows a strong woman look, a young woman look. On stage I like to give more drama sometimes, and during the day I like to be lighter. There’s so many possibilities with fashion, that’s why I like it.
Based on how you’re feeling today, if you could describe yourself if you could be a song, what would it be?
That’s a great question! It would probably be Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” I love that song so much. It’s pretty and that version is how I’m feeling today. I’m a really big fan of her music. I love her complete honesty in her performance and her vocals. I love that she was such a great pianist as well.
And we know you like older men based on your song, “Age.” Who would your older man crush be? I mean like in the George Clooney, Alec Baldwin range.
Vincent Gallo, the actor and director. He’s also a musician. He’s my dream older man [laughs]. I think he’s amazing.
Going back to your music, what do you hope people in the Untied States take away from you?
I hope they have an emotional connection with my music, and I hope they’re intrigued to hear more from me and more records from my life. I just love doing [music], so if they receive me positively that would be amazing.
Photo by Claire Vogel.