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LIANNE LA HAVAS: Rhythm Junkie

While the sultry sounds of Lianne La Havas may feel reminiscent of those Neo-Soul vibes we have come to miss lately, the UK based singer promises her grooves are here to stay.

Words: Aimstar
Images: Natalie Arnett

This Friday, singer and multi-instrumentalist Lianne La Havas will be performing on Later… with Jools Holland, the top-rated UK music show most noted for affording artists of the mainstream and world music scenes an opportunity to perform to the million+ fans who watch the show on the regular. It’s a feat that most music newcomers on that side of the pond dream of and yet the road here hasn’t been an easy for Lianne. Just a few years ago, the 20-something UK bred singer wasn’t even aware that being a solo artist would be her path. But when father taught her to play guitar and her friends urged her to seriously consider pursuing a career in music—and lots of industry happenings and backup singing gigs in between— Lianne’s story began to unfold. These days, she’s serving up a dose of her reflective tunes on the daily, with her debut EP, Lost and Found.

So you released two EP’s, who does that? [Laughs] What made you decide to do that?

I just thought it would be nice to have a variety of things for the fans to access. So one is free and easy, and is a live recording, which is always fun to have. And one is my official [Lost and Found] EP with proper studio recordings on there, which is not free. So it’s just a bit of variety I guess, and so there’s a range of things for people to listen to.

Was that really important to you, making sure that all of your fans have an opportunity to listen to you?

Well, yeah. I think music should be shared as easily as possible and I’m getting quite a good response from the free EP, it happens. So yeah I don’t regret that decision. [Laughs]

So can you describe the journey? I think the first time I saw you was in Black Cab Confessions

Black Cab Sessions, not confessions [Laughs]. Although they could make a new thing out of that, I reckon. That would be a really cool side project. [Laughs]

[Laughs] So, yeah, where is all of this talent coming from in the UK? It’s never-ending… How did you get here?

It’s been kind of a long, hard slog, but I have not regretted any moment of it. But basically I have always sung since I was about seven, but never really known that I wanted to make a career out of it until about three years ago. And I started as a backing vocalist, so I was singing in a few bands, doing that kind of thing and getting a taste of this sort of world. I also picked up the guitar recently. I was shown things on there by my dad who is a multi-instrumentalist. And one day I sort of just wrote some songs on the guitar and felt like it was what I was supposed to do really. I don’t know, just sort of had an epiphany. And then I got in touch with people like my manager via MySpace, about three years ago when it was still fashionable. I just put up some recordings that I had made up there and he got in touch and wanted to know just what I was doing, really. I was sort of out of college, not earning a lot of money and just didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So he told me how he could help me and then I played him everything else that I had written, and he seemed impressed. So that sorted of started off getting me introduced to people, getting me gigs, finding me recording time. And so for the last couple of years I’ve just been writing, learning about myself and growing as a songwriter, and I feel that now it’s time for me to emerge into the world and show everyone my music and what I’ve been up to.

Does your dad give you any advice since he’s an multi-instrumentalist?

See his thing is that he gives me good advice, but he never really wanted to pursue it as a career. So he just plays for pleasure only. And so he would just give me useful, practical advice on how to keep my instrument playing to a maximum [Laughs], to keep my skill level up and do all that stuff. But yeah, he’s shied away from doing it as a career cause he’s seen the dark side, let’s say, that there can be to it, but he’s very proud of me and proud of what I’m doing and very supportive. He just says, “As long as you’re being true to yourself and doing what you like doing, if you can make some sort of living out of it then it’s good.” So yeah, he’s on my side at the moment. [Laughs]

It sounds like you’ve got a great dad actually.

Oh he’s wonderful and amazing, and I’m really lucky.

Are you worried about the dark side at all? You’re fairly young, you’re only 21, right….

Yeah, it is a concern, obviously, as a young female artist in the business. I feel like I’ve seen some of the dark side already, but at the same time, if I ever don’t feel comfortable with something that I’m doing I feel I’m in a good position to say, “I’m not comfortable with that.” And normally, the people around me have the same instinct, and I think that’s really valuable, like if you have people around you that share your vision to help you make your career work. And as long as you’re all on the same page, you should be okay. But I mean, I know that I feel kind of safe at the moment because I’ve got a clear idea of what I want to achieve. So that’s how I’m feeling about that at the moment. [Laughs] It may change, if you ask me in a year. [Laughs]

So what is it that you’re trying to achieve?

Ultimately, I would just love to get my musical point across really, to anyone that would listen, really. I would love to be respected for what I do and to be remembered as a really good singer, songwriter, who was kind of funny on stage sometimes. Yeah, I guess that’s all I want, really. I can’t really imagine myself doing anything else, now that I’ve sort of found myself in music. I think music is incredibly important and everyone has a favorite song or several favorite songs, and you know, I’m one of those people. So I’d love to add to the pool, but be a necessary addition to the pool of music that there is already available. That’s what I want…

What’s your favorite song of your own and what’s the story behind it?

Oh, of my own music?

Yeah…

Uhmmm. Oh…I don’t know. Oh, well. There’s stuff I really love playing…oh ok, there’s one song called “Forget”, which is a song about an ex-boyfriend, who was not very nice to me and he was also involved in music. Basically, he broke up with me and then a year later he turned around and said, “Actually, I didn’t mean to. I still love you and I’ve written a song about you and I’d love you to sing on it.” So I said, ‘No…’ [laughs] And I just thought it was really outrageous that he’d ask me to sing on this song after he’d broken my heart. So my song “Forget” is a response to him having the audacity to contact me a year later and ask about singing on this song. So I’d say that one is probably my favorite to play and sing because it helps me to get a lot of anger out and a lot of aggression out. [Laughs] I get to shout in it pretty much in the chorus. So I guess that’s my favorite at the moment, but there’s always more to be written.

I’ve heard artists say that before, that music for them is cathartic and it sounds like that it is the same for you. Does it bother you the comparisons to the Lauryn Hills, etc because how cathartic their music has been for them?

I actually rate Lauryn Hill as one of my biggest influences, if we’re talking about just Lauryn Hill. I think she is absolutely unbelievable and she had this unbelievable talent. But you know, it probably is a worry about getting so into your own writing world that it actually becomes destructive, you know. So I try and just stay as down to Earth as possible [Laughs]. And I tend to only write about what I’m feeling or seeing really, and so far it’s quite personal stuff but at the same time it’s nothing that will make me go insane at this point. [Laughs] So…the thing I use writing for I’ve discovered over the years, is actually when I’m going through something it’s just a way of documenting it and getting it out of your system. It’s like writing it down, like it helps to write it down. And so, it kind of helps to write a song about it, and to share that situation with other people and then they can relate to it. So I kind of use it as therapy, I guess.

What are you like on stage?

It’s pretty much like this, if not a bit more excited. But yeah, I love being on stage and I like to talk to the audience as if they’re just in my living room, having a cup of tea together and I’m just telling them about myself. I like to think it’s like me shaking their hand and they’re just meeting me for the first time. So I’m just sort of quite, you know, chatty. Sometimes I do a lot of mindless chit chat just to make myself feel less nervous perhaps at the beginning of the set. [Laughs] So usually I relax into it and it becomes a real enjoyable experience.

That’s refreshing, especially when you see a lot of artists these days who feel the need to have alter egos and personalities on stage…

I think it depends on the type of music that you do as well. And what I’m doing is very—like I said before, the songs are quite personal. Every song that I play or that I’ve written has to do with something that has happened in my life. So I feel like being myself on stage is just another way of letting people get to know me. When I might not be able to speak individually to everyone that comes to a show, it’s like my way of speaking individually to everyone, I guess. I just think that it’s nice to be who you are and usually, the person you really are is better than the person you pretend to be.

Download Lianne La Havas Live in LA EP.

Follow at @LianneLaHavas on Twitter.

Images courtesy of Natalie Arnett.

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