- 30 Jul 20
Five years after the release of her acclaimed sophomore album Blood, Lianne La Havas is back. The South London soul star tells us about her hiatus, and how she regained control over her sound on her self-titled third album.
Rushed into the spotlight as a wide-eyed 21-year-old, armed with nothing but her six-string acoustic, an old soul and staggering talent, Lianne La Havas found herself standing before an almost overwhelming wave of adulation and expectation – including a nomination for BBC’s Sound of 2012, a global fanbase that counted Prince among its numbers, a support slot on Coldplay’s world tour, and the iTunes UK Album of the Year honour for her acclaimed debut, Is Your Love Big Enough?
However, it soon became clear that La Havas’ genre-blurring sound transcended the industry’s narrow pigeonholes, flash-in-the-pan fads and ‘next big thing’ tags – as did her defiant spirit, which has placed her in the tradition of soul legends like Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Ms Lauryn Hill.
Now, after a five-year hiatus, she’s ready to present herself and her music on her own terms, with the release of her third album, Lianne La Havas – a raw, personal and vibrant reintroduction to the South Londoner. So why is this sound coming out of her now?
“Because it’s been allowed to!” she laughs warmly. “I feel like I’ve always had this in me, but for the first two albums I was figuring it all out. But this is the kind of thing that I’ve been longing for – to do something that’s really my own.
“When I first started out, it was basically like this – but then I got signed,” she continues. “When that happens, you take opportunities that you’re given. There’s a lot going on, and you’re just going with it. I was 21 at the time, and just falling into this industry.”
She soon discovered a pressure to conform to industry standards.
“As a young female artist, you get asked to co-write a lot,” she explains. “You have to work with a lot of strangers, to somehow come up with a hit song in 24 hours. I was in a lot of those kinds of situations – some were successful, some were not! But by doing things like that, I learned what I liked doing and what I didn’t like doing. I figured out that I like doing things on my own terms, with people I know and trust.”
Even during the making of her last album, 2015’s acclaimed Blood, which explored her Jamaican and Greek heritage, La Havas admits that she “felt a bit rushed.”
“I didn’t like that I was being made to do stuff, just for the sake of it,” she reflects. “I like things to have a point. I can’t just turn on a switch that will make me write songs. I have to experience something, or be responding to a feeling to make something. There was this rush to capitalise on the first album – or just generally to capitalise on whatever I am! That’s not always a bad thing, and I’m not trying to slag off anyone, but I felt confused as to why I was doing it sometimes.”
The five-year hiatus that followed the release of Blood allowed La Havas the time to not only catch her breath, but to regain control over the direction of her work.
“When I was able to have some space and time to make this one, I was a lot happier,” she notes. “I got to do it with a live band too, which is always my intention. That was my favourite part of the second album – having a live band in studio, and actually having my production ideas come to life with real musicians. So I knew I wanted to do that across this new album.”
For such a decidedly personal project, one of the surprising highlights of Lianne La Havas is a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes’, which takes the intimate core of the original into a stunning new direction.
“It’s just a perfect song,” she gushes. “I don’t even know how else to describe it – everything is right. There’s no superfluous section to it. I love it, so I covered it at Glastonbury seven years ago. But I had never recorded it live, so I wanted a studio recording. And the day I recorded that, with my own band, I was able to define the sound of the new album. It all just came together. I was really satisfied with the feeling and the sounds – and I knew that was something I’d like to use to represent me on the album.”
While La Havas’ break from the limelight certainly afforded her the space to craft a powerful third album, it was also necessary on a more basic level. Having risen to international attention at a relatively young age, there was a sense that she needed time to grow up at her own pace – away from the public eye.
“I hadn’t even realised I needed that, but I think I did,” she reveals. “I was growing up in the public gaze. You have to do that, and make a load of mistakes, all in public. But in the last five years, I definitely had a few changes going on. 25 to 30 is a big growing up period, for a lot of people.”
This growing up period has also shaped her approach to issues outside of the world of music. After facing the ire of Twitter back in 2016, for her unwillingness to get involved in #BritsSoWhite, an online campaign protesting the lack of diversity at the BRIT Awards, La Havas has recently been using her platform to express her support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This is a society that encourages you to have an opinion, but then if people don’t like your opinion, you’re bad,” she laughs. “But the power of social media has also been able to draw attention to all these things going on in the world right now – and that’s actually been really positive for the movement.”
That being said, she doesn’t agree with the expectation that artists and musicians should be speaking out on every social and political issue.
“I’m not sure how I feel about people being shamed and bullied into saying things,” she argues. “It’s quite a complex issue. If there’s injustice, and you feel strongly about speaking up, then you should – but you shouldn’t feel pressured to say stuff, just because you have a platform.”
Of course, despite the imminent arrival of her new album, these last few months have been testing – for La Havas along with the rest of the world.
“It has been tough,” she admits. “A lot of people I know, including myself, have been emotionally up and down during this time, because of all these crazy things going on in the world. I’m glad my loved ones are okay, but I do miss them, and I want to see my grandad. I’m just trying to take each day as it comes, and find a little bit of joy in whatever places I can – drawing, cleaning and listening to Brazilian music. João Bosco, that’s my new jam!”
• Lianne La Havas is out now.