U.K. singer Lianne La Havas is standing on the precipice of superstardom. She’s been buzzed about and blogged about, but until very recently, we’d only heard a few of her songs (including the amazing “Forget,” which you should check out on YouTube immediately). Luckily, we had the opportunity to check out an intimate showcase by La Havas here in NYC, and were blown away by her confidence on stage and by her powerful-yet-delicate voice. She’s got wisdom in her lyrics and skill in her vocals that are far beyond what you’d expect from a 22-year-old. After watching her perform in front of a rapt audience, we had a chance to chat with La Havas about her history and her hopes for the future.
So I guess I should start from the beginning. You went to art school for a year: what did you study?
Well, for my A-levels, I chose art, product design, Spanish, and English. Then I went on to do an art foundation, but I didn’t finish because I wanted to be a singer—that’s why I left.
So was that when you segued into doing backup singing?
Yes, around the time I started foundation art, my friend asked me if I wanted to sing with her. So I said yes, and I landed a job with another singer as well; it was just a great job. It was a valuable way of getting more life experience, and experience being in a band, and all of that.
How long did you do backing vocals?
Probably for about 18 months, and during that time I was able to get my own management because I was writing songs and putting them on MySpace; I was actively wanting to be heard. During that time, also, I met the man that has gone on to produce my album, Matt Hails, and we were writing just as a thing on the side. Then that started to take up more of my time, so it was a good opportunity to leave.
What do you think you got out of doing backing vocals, aside from becoming more comfortable on stage?
Well, the singer that I was working for, Paloma Faith, she was pretty inspirational. She was a very headstrong woman, and just seeing her in action and seeing how hard she worked to get to where she is…I was really inspired by that. I guess I learned how to go for what you want and be determined. She was also very supportive when I wanted to pursue my own career.
The album is openly emotional and very honest—it isn’t shrouded in metaphors. Do you worry about being too exposed through your music?
No, I see music as a way to express myself. Also, I feel I’ve left enough for people to add their own interpretations to some of the songs. But I think music itself is very emotional—even if it doesn’t have lyrics, you can still feel a certain way from listening to it. So, it’s just a way I’ve chosen to express my feelings.
The record is beautifully produced; it’s a little stripped down and spare. But do you enjoy ultra-produced pop music? Do you find yourself listening to that?
It just depends on the song. I enjoy a good song and I like a good beat. It just depends on the song; if it’s really good, it doesn’t matter what form it comes in. Equally, I can enjoy very stripped down acoustic music, as well as very produced pop music or hip-hop even–I’m very influenced by hip-hop, actually.
I read something about Prince being a supporter of yours. I need you to explain that, please!
Well, Prince got in touch with me a few months ago, and wanted to say that he really liked what I was doing. He somehow found my manager and then I had a phone conversation with him and we were talking about music. He invited me to come and meet him at Paisley Park in Minneapolis and we just talked about music. It was like speaking to an old friend. He was just very encouraging about what I was doing, and I told him how much I love him. It was really surreal and amazing to have a nod from “the ‘P’ man.”
I would faint. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be in the same room as him.
Yeah, he’s got an intense energy, but he’s absolutely lovely. I was really star-struck; maybe I was being intense! It was an amazing time.
You live in London—what do you miss most from home while you’re away?
Probably my bed! I moved in recently, in November, but I’ve been traveling so much that it still feels like I’ve just moved in. But I love seeing all these other different parts of the world.
Is there anything else you want to include?
Just that the album is out in the U.S. on August 7th on Nonesuch Records, and it’s called Is Your Love Big Enough? I’m really proud to be sharing it with the U.S.A.
Photo by Alex Lake