Written for Warner Bros. Records, July 2015.
25-year-old Lianne La Havas’s debut album ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ seemed to provide more highlights in its life-cycle than many artists experience in their entire career. Sparked by a sensational introduction on Later, it was a journey that encompassed over 120 shows across Europe, North America and Japan – including two sold-out London shows at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a sold-out headline show at the Somerset House Summer Series – and a top five chart placing at home which was soon followed by similarly impressive stats the world over. Artists that Lianne had admired soon admired her, to the point where she can call upon the likes of Prince, Jill Scott and Bon Iver.
Further acclaim followed as ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ won iTunes’ Album of the Year, and earned Ivor Novello Best Album and Barclaycard Mercury Prize nominations. After touring for the album came to a close, it was time to reacquaint herself with family and old friends as Lianne returned to what she calls a “real life.” Having grown-up in England with a Jamaican and Greek heritage, a trip with her mother to the Caribbean island sounded like an ideal chance to recharge. Little did she know that the seeds were being sown for her second record.
“It turned out to be a life-changing experience,” she begins. “I was brought up by my Jamaican grandparents, so I was well acquainted with a lot of the culture, like the food and the manner of that generation. So when I actually went there it was strangely familiar but also completely unlike any other place that I’d been. It was just so amazing to know all about a place – and to even be able to speak and understand strong patois – without ever having been there.”
In a time of self-discovery, Lianne enjoyed emotional reunions with long-lost relatives; embraced Kingston’s clubs; and even jammed in front of her family for the first time during a session with legendary dancehall / reggae producer Stephen McGregor. Discovering her heritage inspired Lianne to reflect on the connections between now and then, which in turn sparked the songs which would become her future. Simply, “everything seemed to have a lot more clarity, and I really wanted to speak about it.”
Her new album, entitled ‘Blood’, is a collection that shakes, shimmies and swings its way through your body with imaginative and immersive grooves. “It seems as though you hear music everywhere you go in Jamaica and there are gigs going on all the time at the beach,” she states. “People appear to have an in-built ability to dance, which comes from a deep rooted connection to the feeling in the music. I found a new way to enjoy rhythms and syncopation, and how to interweave some delicate guitar parts with more aggressive sounding beats. What I definitely took from Jamaica is how to write songs based on the feeling of the rhythm and to build from there and I’ve definitely applied that philosophy, in some form, to everything I’ve written thereafter.”
The first single, ‘Unstoppable’, is particularly indicative of that bass and groove-orientated feeling. Produced and co-written by Adele / FKA twigs collaborator Paul Epworth and featuring Ninja Tunes trio The Invisible, ‘Unstoppable’ is a song that Lianne wrote to help to repair a relationship that she had ended. “It represents having a new phase of understanding in our relationship. My ex-boyfriend showed me a lot about astronomy, so Paul and I wanted to find some way to relate galactic celestial speak to this love story to support its unconventional and multi-faceted nature.”
Lyrically, the songs that emerged are almost all related to “the feeling of who you are and where you come from”. The centrepiece of that approach is ‘Green & Gold’, which was written and produced with Jamie Lidell. It weaves Jamaican and Greek imagery into an autobiographical narrative which offers an insight into the “weird and wonderful journey that I’ve been on since I was a child” In fact, it was Lianne’s second generation Greek father – a stonemason and enthusiastic accordion player and instrumentalist – who was the musical influence in her life and first taught her guitar and piano.
Family is of course prevalent, from ‘Fairytale’ – about her close cousin, whose ability to suddenly become an “amazing and capable” single-mother has been a source of inspiration – to ‘Good Goodbye’, which addresses the loss of her dear friend’s grandfather and also loosely relates back to her own grandmother. “It’s about appreciating your elders, but also your loved ones,” she explains. “If you have an opportunity to spend as much time with them as possible, you should – if it’s going to be goodbye, make sure it’s a good one.”
It’s ‘Midnight’ that best encapsulates Lianne’s adventure in life and music. “Being in Jamaica and writing this song, really signified the coming of a new phase, as well as having a new understanding of everything entering into my mid-twenties and finding a new sense of independence,” she summarises. “For me, it’s got an overall sentiment of empowerment and emancipation.”
That next stage commenced with a steady succession of guest appearances. There’s been another recording with ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ producer Matt Hales (again a regular collaborator on ‘Blood’, notably on ‘Wonderful’ which he and Lianne co-wrote with Disclosure’s Howard Lawrence) on recent Aqualung track ‘Egg Shells’, as well as guest vocals on Alt-J’s ‘Warm Foothills’ and Tourist’s ‘Patterns’.
Most notable of all was Lianne’s contribution to Prince’s ‘Art Official Age’ album, which was recorded over the course of a heady weekend at Paisley Park. “Anyone liking the music is great, but it’s just bit crazier when it’s someone that you’ve admired all your life and memorised all of their lyrics and they then turn out to be wonderful people that just happen to be like-minded, it’s a huge sense of validation.”
It’s all part of a rich tapestry – family and friends, the past and the future, and an international array of cultural influences that makes ‘Blood’ what it is. “I’m constantly surprised by the coincidences of life” admits Lianne. “The title ‘Blood’ reminds me that there are connections between pretty much everything no matter what.”
With major summer shows already confirmed including Glastonbury, Latitude and Bestival followed by headline UK, USA and European tours, the stage is set for Lianne La Havas to become the UK’s next international superstar.