INTERVIEW: LIANNE LA HAVAS
Lianne La Havas became known to many as the online sensation gracing the screens of La Blogotheque and Black Cab Sessions with her mesmerizing stories of older men and breakups. At the tender age of 22, Lianne has become one of the most talked about new female artists of 2012, seen on Later….with Jools Holland, touring America with Bon Iver and England with Bombay Bicycle Club. The future looks bright for the lively Lianne, with slots at all the best festivals this summer and headlining shows in England and Europe.
We met Lianne at Leeds Metropolitan for the Live at Leeds festival where she had just replaced Marina and the Diamonds as a headliner; a very different artist, but one that would prove she could hold her own on the large stage. Lianne represents a young conscious female artist unyielding to the pressures of pop stardom; she has no problem exposing herself, however, it is rather through her intimate stories and raw emotion in which we get an insight into who she really is.
Bowling over to both myself and the photographer with a great big hug, we settled into her tour bus to have a friendly chat about memories, fashion and meeting with Prince.
EA: What’s your first creative memory
LLH: I got a keyboard for my seventh birthday from my Dad. It was a little toy Yamaha thing. My first memory is that there was a little table at the end of the bed and I would kneel down and press the buttons to the built in songs. I remember sitting down and working out the melody of Camptown Races.
Another one is that my father was a stonemason as well as a musician. He didn’t do music as his job but it was his passion. He’s got a really great eye for art so I love art and grew up drawing a lot. At one point I was going to pursue another path and become an art teacher, or something in design… because I didn’t know that I wanted to properly be a singer until about 4 years ago. It was always something I had done and enjoyed doing but it was more of a hobby and I always felt it wasn’t a certain future.
EA: And was there a moment where you realised that this was what you wanted to do?
LLH: Yeah, not that anything was certain but I definitely knew I wanted to do it when I began backing singer for a friend of mine, Rox, and through that was meeting all of these creative people. We used to be in the choir together at school and she asked if I wanted to do some dates with her. I got a taste of the nightlife, the gigging scene, met all these people that played guitar and it made me want to play guitar. I met her friends that could record music, which is how I met my ex boyfriend who had a bedroom studio which is where I did my first demos. I was doing that and at college at the same time and that’s when I realised I would probably have to bite the bullet and choose.
EA: Your career took off after the videos on “La Blogotheque” and “Black Cab Sessions”. Was that a real confidence boost?
LLH: I haven’t always been confident in what I do but I’ve always liked doing it. But from doing it a lot I was able to get a better idea of how to do it best for me. I was at a show, and Mr. Black cab sessions Mr. Chris Patterson ended up being there and that’s how that came about. He said the response to it was really good.
EA: So you signed your deal to Warners back in 2009….
LLH: I was offered a development deal in December 2009 but I didn’t sign until May 2010. It was a 12 month development period from the American Warner Brothers. I had initially gone out there to write with Matt Hales from Aqualung who had relocated to Los Angeles, so my manager Duncan and I went out. He was able to meet people from Warners and that’s how they ended up hearing about me.
EA: So you signed to America before England?
LLH: I did which was very unusual and normally they don’t offer development deals. They wanted me to produce 5 mastered recordings and if they were good enough, showed a continuity, and they liked them, they would sign for the whole album.
EA: That’s quite a lot of pressure….
LLH: It was more of an exploring period. They introduced me to a lot of producers and song-writers. I needed that time to try things out for me to realise that really I just wanted to work with Matt. There are some songs that we have used on the album that are demos which we recorded even before the deal was signed.
During that period I used it to explore my own personal song-writing a bit more because Matt was the only person I’d ever written with. I went back to writing songs on my own and getting a producer to record them with me. That was fun cause I made Dave Sitech from TV on the Radio. He has a wonderful presence and it was a lot of fun recording with him.
EA: Were there any low moments during the recording process?
LLH: There were some low moments. For example, I wrote something that I was really happy with but the label wouldn’t see my point of view. Its tough, that rejection, but now that song’s on the album and it’s one of the singles so I’m really chuffed. It was just the interpretation.
EA: You recently went to America to meet with Prince, what was that like?
LLH: Yes I went to meet with him; it seemed like he just wanted to chat really! We just hung out and talked about music. I was quite starstruck because we went to his house. I went with my A&R guy and we followed his manager’s car to Paisley Park and then suddenly it was him coming down the stairs. I was like “is that really Prince coming down the stairs?!”
EA: What was he wearing?
LLH: He was wearing all black. He looked absolutely impeccable. A really cute black jumper with an overlapping neck with some black tight flares and his little black shoes. Natural hair, his curls out. He was just really lovely. Funny, nice, cool. We played guitar together and chatted and we even watched a documentary together about Bill Withers, “Still Bill”.
EA: You’re a really great storyteller and people feel like they are getting a real insight into who you are through your music. Has that always come naturally to you?
LLH: I guess so. I’ve always felt like it was easier to write about something that had actually happened. For me, the music I’ve always enjoyed making was when I could talk about my feelings in song form. It perhaps turns a bad situation into a happier thing because you are singing it.
EA: So sort of a therapy…?
LLH: Yeah exactly.
EA: Forget is a confident, girl power song. Did that confidence come through writing the album?
LLH: No actually that was the song the label rejected. It was the first thing I wrote after I signed the development deal. I was with this guy and we broke up. Well he broke up with me and wasn’t happy about that. Eventually I got over it, and started going out with my current boyfriend.
EA: The older man….
LLH: Yes! And that’s when my ex-boyfriend decided that he was very sorry and he loved me then and he loved me now and wanted to work things out. No! It’s a bit too late. So what happened was that he had written a song about me and wanted me to sing on it and I was like “No way!” So that’s where “Forget” came from. It’s a musical response to him specifically asking me to sing on something. I thought it would be a type of twisted revenge.
EA: What’s the best thing about going out with an older man?
LLH: Well…..you know….(laughing) I’d like to say…..it depends who it is!
He was very secure about his own identity where as younger guys find that later and are still growing. So when I met him I felt like we’d known each other for a lot longer than we actually had. He seemed wise and I like that in a person.
EA: So you toured with Bon Iver and recently with Bombay Bicycle Club. How were they different?
LLH: Bon Iver was the first support tour I had ever done and was on a very grand scale and I was completely on my own with my guitar travelling around on their bus. It was a very different touring experience because it was just me. To have a stranger on your bus who you’ve only met once is a big risk and I was just so grateful that they let me play to their audience who were great, really loyal fans who were always listening. Although we’re very different, I felt like we could share fans.
The Bombay tour has just finished 5 days ago and that was completely different but just as satisfying. The band are just lovely and made us all feel so welcome. Being the main support for a band that I’m a huge fan of was a dream come true. I’ve been following them for years and to know that they are the same age as me but have achieved so much is amazing. They’re lovely, great people and making really innovative and creative music and it’s great that they have so many fans even though it is quite left field. It was a super, magnificent tour.
EA: Where would we find you on your day off?
LLH: At my house or just around the East London area. I’m generally catching up on sleep and washing lots of clothes when I’m home. Unless I’m visiting my grandparents and then I’d be in South London!
EA: Is there an artist from your childhood that you still listen to today and what lyric has resonated with you from that artist?
LLH: Most certainly, I definitely still listen to Lauryn Hill, and my favourite lyric is from the unplugged album. It’s a song called “I find it hard to say (Rebel)” and the lyric is “we must destroy in order to rebuild, wake up you might as well. “
EA: What was your staple item of clothing when you were 10 years old and what is it now?
LLH: Can I say a shoe? I bought these Adidas campus trainers. Suede blue with stripes and I just loved them. I got them when I was 10 and wore them all the way through till I was about 19, because I was a size 5 and stayed a size 5. Now, it would have to be another shoe. These boots I’m wearing (Doc Martens) or my chunky wedged heel that I wear on stage. I am not super feminine at all but as soon as you put a pair of heels on, no matter how uncomfortable you are, you feel incredible. Your walking differently and I get this sort of authoritative feeling. So, that’s my staple item for on stage at the moment.
EA: Has your style changed since you’ve started doing bigger shows?
LLH: I’d say there is a running theme. I like shapes. I like to have the female form showing and wear flattering shapes because I’m not massively tall. I find on stage block colours and sparkly things work, or even tassled things with sparkles. If I’m doing a bigger show I’ll wear something with a distinctive shape and a smaller show something with a distinctive colour. I love fashion and I love design and I love the fact that clothes can make you feel a certain way. If you want to look more fierce one day there’s subtle ways you can do that. The possibilities are endless. I really like supporting new young designers
EA: What new designers have caught your eye lately?
LLH: There’s this brand Sorapol whose dress I wore to the Brits. It was a structural almost spaceship dress. I was wearing jewellery by Ericson Bieman, this sort of body harness thing with a neckpiece. I went with that sort of ballerina shape but I wanted to be completely covered up. It was really fun
EA: Who would you like to see at Live at Leeds today?
LLH: I’d like to see Lucy Rose and Jessie Ware because I know both of them and love their voices and songs. Rae Morris is playing if I can catch her…who else?
LLH: Ghostpoet? I love Ghostpoet. He’s my mate! I didn’t know he was playing! I’m gonna text him. I love him. I wanna do that. He’s such an amazing guy, his soul is amazing. He’s smart and I always feel like he’s thinking. So mellow.
Lianne’s EP Lost & Found is out now on ITunes. Scroll down to watch the video. The album is out this Summer.
Lianne is performing at Hop Farm, Lattitude Festival, Bestival, Camp Bestival, and Wilderness,
For more information and tour dates: http://www.liannelahavas.com/
Words & Interview by Emily Ames
Photographs by George Beck