Pro-fashion, anti-ex-boyfriends and ready to become the next big thing, folk and soul singer Lianne La Havas just can’t stop sharing her innermost thoughts with the world. It’s a formula that has carried her to the brink of major league success. She tells Roe McDermott about her high-heeled journey towards the top.
“It’s nice to meet youuuuuuuu!” Lianne La Havas yodels as she nearly takes a tumble down the stairs of the Sugar Club. And no wonder. The pint-sized chanteuse is teetering on five-inch wedges. “I have to wear them – I’m only 5’2”, without them the people in the back wouldn’t be able to see me!” she laughs. “I have my trusty Doc Martins too, out of necessity – Ireland and your cobblestones!”
Whether she’ll be able to find them is another story, as her phone, stage outfit – and, slightly more importantly, band and crew – have all disappeared. “Where is everyone?!” the 22-year-old wails, wandering around the backstage area in mock despair.
“I feel left out!” It appears the lads have all fecked off next door for a couple of sneaky pints before her sold-out gig kicks off later that night. “Oh, I can’t go back. I was in there earlier – fans were already waiting and were chatting to us, it was lovely! But I had a Guinness and if I have another I’ll actually be drunk. I think someone has my phone, unless it’s hiding around here somewhere.”
Still searching, La Havas opens a suitcase to reveal what I can only describe as Hipster Barbie Princess’ dream dress-up box. Pulling out micro-shorts, flirty underskirts and whimsically printed blouses, she muses over what to don for this evening’s show, asking my opinion on a flouncy burnt orange mini-skirt.
With my assurance that it’s adorable, she decides to wear it later, and instantly seems less antsy. “See, this is the problem with touring with boys – you ask them an opinion and they either stare at you blankly or all give completely different answers. I need more oestrogen around here!”
Not that her fashion is suffering. Currently the epitome of London chic in tiny shorts, a leather jacket and gorgeous, bouncy curls, the singer’s quirky vintage/high street stage ensembles have already made her a bit of a style icon.
“I love vintage!” she enthuses. “And luckily London does that well. Any outfit that shows off that womanly shape and I’m there – nipped-in waists, ‘50s skirts, I love it all!”
While her style may have young girls rummaging around in their mother’s wardrobes, it’s her voice that has fans glued to the radio. Smart, sassy and soulful, her singing style – a mix of Erykah Badu and Yukimi Nagano – and wonderfully honest lyrics have taken the music industry by storm. She was recently nominated for BBC’s ‘Sound of 2012’ poll, while her enchanting performance on BBC’s Later... With Jools Holland – “possibly the happiest day of my life, completely magical” – outshone her fellow guests, earned her personal shout-outs form Gary Barlow and Fearne Cotton and led Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to ask her to support them on their North American tour. It was a victory that was a long time coming for La Havas.
“I started singing when I was about seven,” she says, “which may have been inevitable in my house. My dad was a musician, he plays everything. He loves jazz, and he’ll find an instrument and force himself to be able to play it. So I guess I got that from him. Playing piano felt very natural to me, I used to work out melodies that I’d heard on the keyboard. And then I sang because it felt good. But I did it in secret and it wasn’t until I was 13 and joined a choir that I sang in front of anyone. When I auditioned, I sang an MJ Cole song and my choir mistress stopped me mid-song and asked me, ‘Where have you been hiding?!’”
But it was when she was in her late teens that she met a musical group of friends that inspired her to take up the guitar. Taking art “as a back-up plan”, her new posse “introduced me to all this electronic music I’d never heard, and I started playing guitar and it was enticing. I felt the guitar more than the piano. I started writing more personal things, because I was inspired. And I made a lot of friends – and enemies,” she adds.
Oh, do tell?
“Well, basically a lot of my songs are about someone I was with at that time. He was actually my drummer for a short period of time, and ‘Forget’ is about him.”
Does he know?
“Oh, he knows! But he’s very forthcoming in admitting that he treated me badly and respects my need to express myself through music.”
Your lyrics say, “Spend all your time writing love songs/but you don’t love me.” He must have written songs for you too then?
“Well, he says he did, but I think that they were about a few girls!”
We’re glad you’re shot of him, so.
“So am I!”
However he did do one thing right, as it was this bad boy that helped La Havas record some demos and put them on MySpace, where she was discovered at 19. And after working as a backing singer for Paloma Faith for 18 months, she was finally signed as a solo artist by Warner Bros. But – perhaps having learned from her experience with pushy men – La Havas wasn’t intimidated by the label, and fought them when they wanted to change her style.
“With ‘Forget’, I first recorded it with David Sitek from TV On The Radio and we did a version that had a lot of his sound on it. Because I was on a development deal with the American Warner Bros., it seemed like it wasn’t what they thought I should sound like. I refused not to play it, and would always play it live. And the version that’s going to be on the album is one that me and my producer Matt Hales [from Aqualung] worked on, taking the vocal takes of Dave’s version and creating a version that shows how my sound has developed. And I’m so proud of it, because the sentiment of the song is important to me. I’m glad I dug my heels in!”
Lianne admits that Warner Bros.’ less than enthusiastic response rattled her.
“I was thrown, because I was excited about it and their reaction wasn’t great. So I got very down, I was writing a lot of stuff I wasn’t happy with, wasn’t playing the guitar, and I think I was also too comfortable in my relationship. I don’t think artists always have to be in pain to write good music, but you do need to feel whatever you’re feeling strongly – happiness, hurt, whatever. You need to have passion and I didn’t.”
But one sure-fire way to get out of a funk? Have Californian lo-fi beat junkie Shlohmo remix some of your songs.
“I love the ‘Forget’ remix! It’s so cool seeing him put his spin on it, it’s all edgy and ethereal. It’s a pity I haven’t met him, I’d thank him! It’s great that people are blogging about it and bringing my stuff to a new audience, so I’m well happy with that.”
More than Schlohmo though, La Havas credits Matt Hales for her success, likening their first encounter to (musical) love at first sight.
“The process of finding a producer and songwriting partner is bizarre, it’s like being on a blind date where you’re hoping to have a baby with them!” she laughs. “I met Matt three years ago and he was the first person I ever wrote with. It was the most fulfilling experience, and we’re now great friends because of it. Which I think has to be the case. Because it’s such a personal thing – for me, anyway - to write a song, to say what’s deep in your heart. So I think we were so lucky to have met each other that day and I’m so proud of our baby, the album!”
So tell us about this baby then.
“Well, of course there are a lot of love songs about my current boyfriend, who I’ve been with for over three years and is beautiful. Then there are a couple of hate songs! And then there’s a lot of songs about self-love, about me trying to figure out myself, ones directed at the past and the present. Identity is huge for me. My whole problem in the first place, when I was 19 and writing all these songs was that I didn’t know myself. Like, I used to change my handwriting all the time, it’s bizarre! My mother used to do it too, it’s some bizarre genetic quest for perfection! But I feel like through my songwriting, I’ve discovered who I am – or at least am close to finding it, to tasting true happiness and being at ease with myself.”
And as for who she will be in the future, La Havas has big plans.
“I aspire to be like confident women who know themselves – Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Nina Simone. Their voices made me want to sing, to want to be able to sound exciting. They gave me the need to sing. I’d like to give that gift to someone.”
Lianne La Havas’ debut album Is Your Love Big Enough? will be released in July. She’s back in Dublin for an Academy show on May 9
Recent events and initiatives have highlighted the gender disparity within the industry – but is it changing? By Roe McDermottRead More
Jamie Foxx stars in sloppy and substandard remake of brilliant French action flickRead More
Subtle drama addresses post-war grief and the tricky morality of comfortRead More
Jessica Chastain is electrifying as ruthless lobbyist in political thrillerRead More
Time to retrieve those jackets and jeans from the wardrobe- denim is back in a big way this spring.Read More
Glorious Guardians sequel is a smart, hilarious, character-driven triumph.Read More
Human drama needed in atmospheric thriller about forces of nature.Read More
Timothy Spall steals the show in this safe drama about Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness.Read More
Timothy Spall steals the show in safe drama about Paisley and McGuiness.Read More
The sequel to James Gunn's science-fi adventure is finally hereRead More
Warren Beatty's passion project about Howard Hughes falls flat.Read More
Horrors of Armenian genocide undermined by romance.Read More
It's spring, it's been a hard year, and it's time for some sunny optimism.Read More
Milliner Deb Fanning has earned widespread acclaim and numerous awards for her stunningly imaginative designs.Read More
Witty, warm, and quietly subversive coming-of-age taleRead More
Three years ago, director James Gunn reignited Guardians of the Galaxy, a giddily irreverent intergalactic journey that acted as the hyper kid brother of The Avengers. More family-friendly than other Marvel outings, Gunn imbued his cosmos-crossing adventures, cliff-hangers and daring escapes with an irresistibly playful self-awareness – and the most charming cats you ever did see.Read More
Set in a rugby-playing boarding school, Irish director John Butler's new movie Handsome Devil is a superb buddy comedy that explores issues of identity and sexuality. He talks about his youthful adventures in San Francisco, challenging traditional notions of masculinity, and why he wants to be a mainstream comedy director.Read More
Florence Pugh is ruthless and mesmerising in disquieting period drama.Read More
Psychologically disturbing and audacious horror tackles grief and the occult.Read More
Sexuality, gender and the exciting possibilities of fashion are explored in the work of innovative designer Conaill O'Dwyer.Read More
Biopic of Emily Dickinson is tonally jarringRead More
Jim Sheridan talks about the challenges of adapting Sebastian Barry's novel The Secret Scripture and his participation in the recent Apollo House occupation.Read More
Disney remake only partially succeeds.Read More
As films have become more diverse, so too have their audiences – but when it comes to representing different demographics, Hollywood still has a long way to go.Read More
Chilling autopsy-based horror film plays with gender and genreRead More
Beautifully constructed portrait of national and personal dysfunctionRead More
Kristen Stewart is tremendous in this unconventional ghost story.Read More
Ex-2FM DJ Jenny Huston is generating quite a buzz for her new venture, uber-hip jewellery label Edge Only.Read More
It’s all about timeless elegance on the catwalks this spring, as the versatile ruffle takes centre-stage. By Roe McDermottRead More
Isabelle Huppert amazes in cocktail of sex, violence, & dark humourRead More
Hollywood star Tom Hiddleston sounds off about the gruelling physical training for his new blockbuster Kong: Skull Island, acting opposite Samuel L. Jackson, and his unforgettable experiences during the movie’s globe-trotting shoot.Read More
Following on from the recent 20th Century Fox fake-news controversy, Roe McDermott rounds up other notorious film marketing disasters.Read More
Home to a scene that spawned Mogwai, Arab Strap and Franz Ferdinand, Chemikal Underground is one of the most influential indie labels of the past 20 years. Irish director Niall McCann’s new documentary, Lost In France tells the remarkable story of the label. It also offers a unique starting point for a discussion on politics, social welfare and the odds that are stacked against artists. Interview: Roe McDermottRead More
The controversial new movie from Olivier Assayas, Personal Shopper, features Hollywood superstar Kristen Stewart as a young professional trying to communicate with her deceased twin brother in the afterlife. “I want to take people into weird areas,” he tells Roe McDermott.Read More
Music doc explores impact of indie label on ’90s GlasgowRead More
Subtle, empathetic drama about three rural women is slight but powerfulRead More
It’s all about rave culture and glam rock on the catwalks this spring as the Bad Girls aesthetic comes into vogue. By Roe McDermottRead More
Brenda Ahern and Helen Delany, aka Electronic Sheep, have earned widespread acclaim for their imaginative knitwear designs, and count the likes of Kelis and Liam Gallagher among their growing army of celebrity fans.Read More
In a hugely embarrassing upset, Oscars announce incorrect winner of Best Picture...Read More
Roe McDermott takes you through the rollercoaster of emotion that was the 89th Academy Awards, including that truly shocking twist in the ending...Read More
But not for the right reasons! Hot Press film correspondent Roe McDermott looks over the major categories and predicts the winners, losers and controversies in store at this Sunday's Oscars ceremony.Read More
Everyday heroism is the focus of gripping homage to Boston.Read More
Hollywood stars Zach Galifianakis and Will Arnett discuss their roles in one of the best comedies of the year, the brilliantly satirical Lego Batman Movie.Read More
What do modern images of heroism and masculinity mean at a time of political and social divide?Read More
Hidden Figures, with its focus on prejudice and privilege, features great performances and some simplistic optimismRead More
Valentine’s Day is upon us, which means it’s high time to treat that important person in your life… You. By Roe McDermottRead More
Powerhouse performances create a storm of emotion in period dramaRead More
1970S-SET DRAMEDY IS A SERIES OF WARM, WITTY MOMENTS THAT FAIL TO COME TOGETHERRead More
TEAR-JERKING TRUE STORY LACKS NARRATIVE SUSPENSERead More
Rebecca Hall is captivating in shocking and unnerving true storyRead More
Ruth Negga shines in dignified drama about love and race.Read More
It’s time to bid adieu to seasonal gloom with a generous helping of flamboyant colour. By Roe McDermottRead More
Mel Gibson’s war drama proves frustratingly uneven.Read More
Courtroom drama about Holocaust deniers feels powerfully relevant.Read More
Ben Affleck directs and stars in self-indulgent gangster flick.Read More
Humour and grief collide in devastating exploration of family and loss.Read More
It truly is a golden age for Irish actors - and remarkably,there are even more homegrown screen stars set to break through in 2017.Read More
Most people would have assumed The Irish Times would be above clickbait - not to mention deliberately offending vulnerable minorities. Apparently not...Read More
Roe McDermott was one of the 100,000 people who attended the Women’s March in San Francisco – and wonders where we go from here.Read More
Magical Musical Explores Art, Ambition, and LoveRead More
James McAvoy chews scenery in problematic horror about multiple personalities.Read More
It was a night of political messages, passionate speeches - and of course, some whining by Trump, reports Roe McDermottRead More
"For me, Fisher wasn't iconic because she played Princess Leia. Princess Leia was iconic because she was played by Carrie Goddamn Fisher."Read More
Best known for her roles in critical hits Steve Jobs and Inherent Vice, Katherine Waterston’s performance in Fantastic Beasts has confirmed her status as one of Hollywood’s hottest young acting talents. INTERVIEW Roe McDermottRead More
Colin Farrell is back on the big screen in one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the year, the Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. Roe McDermott catches up with the Irish star in LA, where he discusses the magic of JK Rowling's world, the challenges of fatherhood, gender politics in Hollywood, and the strangest American election ever.Read More
Exquisite adaption captures social paranoia of ‘50s AmericaRead More
Designer Gemma O’Leary discusses the creative process that drives her acclaimed jewellery label, Inner Island.Read More
Winter has arrived and it’s time to invest in some snug clothing. Roe McDermott shows you how to be weather-appropriate while still sartorially on-point.Read More
Insightful drama about humanity. And aliens.Read More
Tom Ford's hyper-stylised thriller tackles revenge and loss.Read More
Hollywood star Jeremy Renner discusses his latest movie, Arrival, in which he and Amy Adams square off against mysterious alien visitors.Read More
First there was shock... and regret. And then the city of San Francisco – a place where so many one-time outsiders have found a home that welcomes them – rose up and marched. It was a moment where hope began again. But the road ahead will not be easy...Read More
More white women voted for Donald Trump than for Hillary Clinton. And as for white men? They were even worse. The questions is: why? And the answer? Trump’s victory is an endorsement of white racism...Read More
Old-fashioned melodrama tries to force emotion rather than earn itRead More
Since launching five years ago, Castleknock native Emma Manley’s eponymous label has become one of Ireland’s most exciting fashion success stories.Read More
Spooky statement pieces and glamourous gothic ensembles are everywhere this season. Roe McDermott shows you how to make the gloomy glamorous, and transform a Halloween costume into haute couture.Read More
Director Derek Cianfrance discusses his intense relationship drama The Light Between Oceans – and seeing stars Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander fall for each other on set.Read More
Hollywood superstar Ben Affleck discusses playing a character with Asperger's i his new thriller The Accountant, the ups and downs of fame, and his excitement about taking on the role of Batman again.Read More
Self-reflective Documentary Explores Performance and TruthRead More
Multi-talented fashion blogger and activist Sinead Burke’s work has earned her widespread acclaim - and also an invitation to the White House.Read More
A post-modern documentary about a US news anchor who shot herself on air in 1974, it hits screens next week.Read More
Mattress sales become a metaphor for modern Ireland in affecting docRead More
Swedish star Alexander Skarsgard discusses shifting acting styles from Tarzan to John Michael McDonagh's dark new comedy, War on Everything.Read More
A remake of a remake, Anotoine Fuqua’s suicide-superhero-squad style western is based on John Sturges’ 1960 classic of the same name; itself a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. With such revered origins - not to mention the vainglorious nature of the title - one would expect a modern masterpiece. So why does this star-studded shoot-out feel so stale?Read More
Why requisitioning original screenplays for franchise films has become a Hollywood epidemic.Read More
The film charts the remarkable rise of Mattress Mick and his wingman Paul Kelly.Read More
Powerful tale of Irish troops besieged in Congo.Read More
Civil War rebellion gets offensively smug retelling.Read More
Zellweger shines as Bridget struggles with the modern world.Read More
...and trousers, shirts and dresses! Whether you’re into shimmer, sequin or shine, this season, a touch of metal will add that vital extra dimension to your look.Read More
Witty and original dramedy explores parenting, love and powerRead More
Poignant examination of Masculinity and young friendshipRead More
Impressively imaginative twist on the heist film.Read More