Interview: Lianne La Havas


Before Mercury Award nominee Lianne La Havas embarks on her European tour, Aoife Valentine chats to her about doing what you love, drinking with Bombay Bicycle Club and not being able for the rock-and-roll lifestyle

If there’s one thing that you pretty much immediately glean from speaking to Lianne La Havas, it’s that she almost can’t believe her luck when it comes to where she stands today. The 23-year-old London native has been nominated in the BBC Sound of 2012 poll, and her debut album Is Your Love Big Enough?, which was released two months ago, has been nominated for the Mercury ‘Album of the Year’ award. She counts Prince and Stevie Wonder as some of her biggest fans and she’s toured with an impressive line up of bands since her appearance on Later… With Jools Holland less than a year ago.

More than anything else, La Havas repeats how happy she is to be in the position she is, but it seems she’s taking her success largely in her stride. There are no diva requests when it comes to this folky-soul singer-songwriter, as she appears almost scared to criticise even the smallest aspects of her life. With a constant emphasis during our conversion on how much she loves absolutely everything in her life; it seems that she’s dealing with her new-found fame by simply taking each day one at a time. “I love my job a lot and it’s really, really fun so I’ve just been keeping busy, playing a lot of shows, amongst other things… I kind of feel like it depends on the day and the venue and the atmosphere and the colours of the place that you’re in but… I like it all equally, to be honest.”

It wasn’t always La Havas’ life plan to head into the music business, but after auditioning for her school choir, she felt a gradual pull towards the industry. “I always loved music but I didn’t always know that I would pursue it as a career. That was a quite recent development, but I always sang and I always loved music, so it was kind of a gradual decision I made… It was also just feeling like I didn’t really want to do anything else because it brought me the most happiness.”

She was first signed to Warner Brothers Records two years ago, and spent the time since intensively song writing, before finally releasing her first LP in July. The record is quite eclectic stylistically, though she isn’t quite sure why. “Maybe it’s just because I’m an eclectic kind of person and I like little different styles of things and I can appreciate music from all walks of life and all genres… It was just always how we felt we should interpret each song, is what happened.”

La Havas is quick to admit however, that with such a long writing and recording process, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. “Yeah, of course, there were many times where it was a struggle but you know, that’s life.” While she doesn’t shy away from the fact that often she was ready to give up trying release her music, it was her passion for what she was doing that eventually resulted in an album release. “I really love music, and I found it my favourite thing to do… I felt compelled to share the songs I was writing with my friends and then that developed to wanting to share them with a larger audience. It kind of lends itself to that, if you decide to write music in the first place with personal lyrics.”

Her lyrics are almost totally autobiographical, and that is something which has been very important to her for her debut. She, however, isn’t ruling out taking another tack later on in her career. “That is the nature of the way I have chosen to express myself. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to write music for someone else or something else, but for it to be completely truthful, then it has to be from the heart.”

Though Is Your Love Big Enough? takes us through numerous aspects of her love life, and her past relationships, with the album’s title she wanted to steer away from that side of things. “I wanted it to have a positive title and to be kind of cheeky and funny. That was the song on the album that is about the love that you have for yourself rather than talking about any of my relationships. I wanted that more than anything else. Otherwise it would have been self-titled, but that’s just boring.”

Though quite sweet and innocent in her answers, when talk turns to life on the road with Bon Iver and Bombay Bicycle Club, La Havas reveals that perhaps she’s not afraid to have at least a little fun. “I found that the Bon Iver tour was more relaxed because I was just on my own, I didn’t have a band at that point, and they took me in like I was a little sister. It was very exciting but I found there was a lot more drinking that I did on the Bombay tour, so it was a bit more full-on.”

She quickly reverts back to good-girl mode however, and admits immediately after that it was on that tour that she learnt that the infamous rock-and-roll lifestyle simply isn’t worth it when you’ve to get up and do another show the next day. The biggest lesson she’s learnt? “Know your limits and try and get as much sleep as possible even though sometimes it’s impossible. You have to look after yourself as best you can.”

While she’s on the road for the next couple of months, a sophomore effort is top of her agenda. She isn’t however, giving anything away. “I’ve started thinking about it but I don’t know what’s going to happen. I haven’t even finished a new song yet, so watch this space.”

Lianne La Havas plays the Olympia on October 15th. Tickets are priced at €21.  Her debut album Is Your Love Enough? is out now.