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Interview: Lianne La Havas on her album 'Blood', vulnerability in relationships, and 'urban' music.

Interview: Lianne La Havas on her album 'Blood', vulnerability in relationships, and 'urban' music.

While in New Zealand last year supporting Coldplay on their World Tour, Lianne La Havas also performed a little show of her own - playing an intimate and wonderful sold-out show at The Tuning Fork, off the back of her sophomore album, ‘Blood’.

We spoke to Lianne while she was here about songwriting, relationships, and the definition of ‘urban’ music…

...it’s something that you don’t need to ever tell them, like they just care that much and they like you that much that they want to make you feel really happy and comfortable, so subconsciously they just figure out all of this and you just feel totally safe.

COUP DE MAIN: 'Unstoppable' is such a jam. You’ve said you wrote 'Unstoppable' about your hopes for getting back together with an ex, and you describe your relationship as "gravitational". It’s a really vulnerable place, to write about still wanting someone after it’s over. Why was that experience one you wanted to write about?
LIANNE LA HAVAS: Well, why is anything something I want to write about? <laughs> It was just what was happening at the time that I was scheduled to be in the studio, and so when that happens I’ve just got to go with whatever is on my mind. I find that’s the best way to just express myself, but yeah that was literally what was going on. I did get back together with him and we are not anymore, but that’s okay, it was my decision to break up so it was me who had to persuade him to get back together. That song was me persuading him I suppose.

CDM: What was it about going to Jamaica and getting in touch with that part of yourself that influenced the record?
LIANNE: What was it? I don’t really know. I think maybe it was the fact that I am from there, indirectly, my family is from there. I had never been there before so I couldn’t help but be super moved by it. I met a lot of family that I’ve never met. Me and my Mother got a chance to have a lot of quality time together which we don’t get much of, and in a way I got to know her really well, if that makes sense. I was raised by my Grandparents and that’s not to say my Mum wasn’t around, but it was definitely a different dynamic, so going to Jamaica with her and going there to make music too, it was all very moving. So I couldn’t not include some of the experiences when I made the album!

CDM: You’ve said this album is a "statement of intent". What’s the intent?
LIANNE: I always feel like I’m introducing myself, constantly. I never want to get used to-- I never want to assume someone knows who I am. So I feel like whenever I do a show or whenever I make a song, it has got to be like if somebody asked, ‘Who are you?’ - like the song would do the talking. I guess with both my albums I see them that way.

CDM: 'Age' is one of the cheekiest songs on your last album, but it also has some good relationship advice. When you sing, "I'm glad that it's just my heart that he stole / And left my dignity alone" - is that something you feel like comes along with dating older people?
LIANNE: I don’t know, it was only in my experience that I was speaking from. I felt like he treated me really, really well, I don’t know if that is an experience thing or if it was just because it was the right time in his life to be with someone. I feel like when it’s the right time, they just treat you really nice. It just works out because the timing is right, it may have been that. He was very well brought up too, which helps. <laughs> He had a great relationship with his own parents - it shows a lot how somebody treats the people in their life, the people close to them.

CDM: In ‘What You Don’t Do’, you talk about knowing that someone loves you. People tend to express love in a variety of ways - for some people, being told “I love you” shows it, for some people it’s gifts, or just thoughtfulness. To you, how do you quantify love to yourself?
LIANNE: It’s the little things for me, it’s when they notice stuff about you that you didn’t know was there. Rather when it’s stuff that you didn’t think anyone else noticed, so when they point that out you’re like, ‘Whoah! They know me!’ When they like the weird stuff about you. Sort of knowing what will make you feel good I guess, but it’s something that you don’t need to ever tell them, like they just care that much and they like you that much that they want to make you feel really happy and comfortable, so subconsciously they just figure out all of this and you just feel totally safe.

HOW I FEEL ABOUT OPENING FOR COLDPLAY…

CDM: You were in development for two years before you publicly released any music - what was the decision process like for this? With artists, there’s a tendency to rush things, especially when music fads and crazes move so quickly. What are your thoughts on how the music industry creates trends and develops nowadays?
LIANNE: It was just the nature of the deal that I signed. It wasn’t anything that I necessarily chose, it was just like, basically that was the only deal I was offered so we were like, ‘Let’s just take it.’ Then they were like, ‘Can you make five master recordings in 12 months and if we like them you can make a whole album?’ <laughs> So that is basically what happened. I feel lucky that it happened like that for me because it doesn’t really happen like that anymore, I know that development deals are kind of rare. I think it was rare when I did it. I do feel grateful for that extra time, I was able to meet loads of producers and figure out whether I actually wanted to be a singer-songwriter for real, which I obviously do, but I was a lot younger then so I didn’t real know what I was getting into. It felt right when I wrote a song called ‘No Room For Doubt’ and I remember playing it to the record company - my A&R person is called Thomas, he’s my manager now - and I remember I spoke to him on the phone after I’d written it and I said, ‘I think you’re going to like this!’ Because he likes Brazilian music and I like Brazilian music too, so I remember it feeling a little bit Latin-American, and then a day later he was like, ‘Well it’s definitely the first single!’ I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ After that the ball got rolling and it sorta felt right.

CDM: I read that the song ‘Tokyo’ was inspired by ‘Lost In Translation’ - what other films are you inspired by?
LIANNE: There’s a film called ‘Betty Blue’ which is maybe one of my favourites and it is a love story, a tragic French love story. It’s so beautiful and the characters are so beautiful, the song ‘Au Cinéma’ is inspired by that film. There is also a film called ‘Belleville Rendez-Vous’, another French one which I mention actually in the song ‘Au Cinéma’, but the music in that is so amazing and I just always have that in my conscious, whenever I’m making music.

IF I HAD A DAY OFF IN NEW ZEALAND…

CDM: You received an Essence award a few years ago, and on the red carpet you said that it was particularly meaningful because identity is such a potent issue for millennials. Has music been a way for you to sort through your own identity? Does this album do that?
LIANNE: Definitely! I think about this constantly and I think that people who are in music, you could argue that all artists use their music to show us who they are and to tell us things about them with stories that they need to tell. It’s funny how you need to feel compelled to make music, so yeah I always see it as each person’s individual thing, individual identity is their sound, so with each album I feel like I’m getting a bit closer to the purest expression of who I am or I’d like to be eventually!

CDM: Speaking of awards, at the 2016 NZ Music Awards, a New Zealand woman of colour named Aaradhna won an award for Best Urban Artist and she refused to accept the award. She said, "It feels like I have been placed in a category for brown people," and then went on to give the award to someone else instead. Do you think this is something that exists in the wider music industry, the categorising and division of music based on race?
LIANNE: Yes, I do think that! I think it about the category that I was nominated in for example at the Grammys! It was called Best Urban Contemporary Album and I was like, 'Hmm.’ I mean, obviously, to me getting nominated for a Grammy regardless of what the category is unbelievable and I was so honoured to have been recognised as a UK artist as well, I felt very proud. I did find it interesting that it just sorta sounded like they didn’t know what exactly... I personally wouldn’t call myself 'urban contemporary', I would call myself maybe 'contemporary soul' or 'contemporary singer-songwriter'. Why is it that soul has to have the connotation of, 'You are probably brown?' Urban, I don’t think is at all a good adjective because it does kind of just mean they’re probably black which is maybe a little lazy, because urban means ‘of the city’, which we all learnt in geography class back in the day. It’s very interesting, I’ve just heard about this through you that she didn’t accept the award. I probably would have accepted the award and just said what I just said, ‘Thank you so much... But...’, but then still had it on my mantelpiece. That is interesting though, and I do think that it’s not just me who thinks that. I’m certain it’s not just me who thinks that.

ONE THING ON MY BUCKET-LIST…

CDM: You received a Grammy nomination this year for Best Urban Contemporary Album - which is incredible. In your opinion, what does success mean to you?
LIANNE: Imagine if you said you received a Grammy! <laughs> One day I will win that Grammy! In my opinion, true success is getting closer or getting to that pure expression in your music and all of it, how you dress, or how your videos look, or your artwork. All of that is you, so for me if I could do that I would feel successful. But also to be remembered for the right reasons, in my opinion the right reason would be because I was a nice singer and I wrote nice songs, I would like to be remembered by that.

Lianne La Havas’ album ‘Blood’ is out now - click here to purchase.

Watch the ‘Green & Gold’ music video below…

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