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The young English singer/songwriter/guitarist Lianne La Havas’s debut 2012 album Is Your Love Big Enough? received more accolades than many artists experience in their entire career. Sparked by a sensational introduction on Later with Jools Holland, the year-plus that followed the album’s release included more than 120 shows across Europe, North America, and Japan—including two sold-out London shows at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire and a sold-out headline show at the Somerset House Summer Series—and a top five position on the UK chart. Is Your Love Big Enough? won iTunes’ Album of the Year in the UK and earned Ivor Novello Best Album and Barclaycard Mercury Prize nominations.
The media concurred, with the Associated Press calling Is Your Love Big Enough? “Not just one of the year’s best debuts, but one of the year’s best albums,” NPR praising “the sound of a new and electrifying voice,” and the Los Angeles Times saying “With Is Your Love Big Enough?, Miss La Havas vaults right to the big leagues.” Artists that La Havas had admired soon began reaching out to her, to express support and/or collaborate, including Prince, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver).
After touring for the album came to a close, it was time to reacquaint herself with family and old friends as La Havas returned to what she calls “real life.” To recharge, she took a trip with her mother, who is of Jamaican heritage, to the Caribbean island. Little did she know that this holiday would sow the seeds for her next record.
“It turned out to be a life-changing experience,” says La Havas (whose father is of Greek heritage). “I was brought up by my Jamaican grandparents, and I was well acquainted with a lot of their culture, like the food and the manner of their 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 understand strong patois, without ever having been there.”
During this time of self-discovery, La Havas enjoyed emotional reunions with long-lost relatives, spent time in Kingston’s clubs, and even jammed in front of her family for the first time during a session with acclaimed dancehall/reggae producer Stephen McGregor. Discovering her roots inspired La Havas to reflect on the connections between the present and the past, which in turn sparked the songs that would become her future. “Everything seemed to have a lot more clarity, and I really wanted to speak about it,” she says.
La Havas’ new album, Blood, is a collection that shakes, shimmies, and swings 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 says. “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 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 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 founded on an instrumental recording by The Invisible, “Unstoppable” is a song that La Havas wrote to help to repair a relationship that she had ended. “It represents having a new phase of understanding in our relationship. My former boyfriend was interested heavily in 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,” she says. The centerpiece of that approach is “Green & Gold,” which was written and produced with Jamie Lidell and Matt Hales. It weaves Jamaican and Greek imagery into an autobiographical narrative that offers insight into the “weird and wonderful journey that I’ve been on since I was a child” In fact, it was La Havas’ second generation Greek-English father—a stonemason and enthusiastic accordion player and instrumentalist—who was the primary musical influence in her life and first taught her guitar and piano.
Family is of course a prominent theme on Blood, from “Fairytale”—about La Havas’ close relative whose ability to suddenly become an “amazing and capable” single mother has been a source of inspiration—to “Good Goodbye,” which addresses her dear friend losing her grandfather and also relates to her own grandmother. “It’s about appreciating your elders, but also all of your loved ones,” she explains. “If you have the opportunity, you should spend as much time with them as possible; if it’s going to be goodbye, make sure it’s a good one.”
“Midnight” best encapsulates La Havas’ adventures 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 as I enter my mid-20s and find a new sense of independence,” she summarizes. “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 (who again collaborated with La Havas on Blood, notably on “Wonderful,” which they co-wrote with Disclosure’s Howard Lawrence) on the recent Aqualung track “Egg Shells,” as well as guest vocals on Alt-J’s “Warm Foothills” and Tourist’s “Patterns.”
Most extraordinary of all was La Havas’ contribution to Prince’s Art Official Age album (also on Warner Bros.), which was recorded over the course of a heady weekend at Paisley Park. “Anyone liking my music is great, but it’s just a bit crazier when it’s someone that you’ve admired all your life—memorized all of their lyrics, etc.—and they then turn out to be wonderful people that just happen to be like-minded.”
Family and friends, the past and the future, and an international array of cultural influences are all part of a rich tapestry that makes up Blood. “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 tours of the UK, USA, and Europe, the stage is set for Lianne La Havas to continue, as the Daily Mail predicted, her ascent as “Britain’s next big female star.
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Who knew a trip to Pizza Express could inform a young teenager's life so greatly? One evening in 2003, Jess Glynne’s parents returned home from a night in Soho with a signed CD by a new singer they had seen performing at the restaurant’s regular Jazz night. “It had such a profoundly immediate effect on me,” remembers Jess of her parents playing Amy Winehouse’s debut album, Frank. “I’d always loved the big pop vocals of Mariah, Beyoncé and Whitney, but hearing a woman’s voice that was basically a jazz vocal, so full of individuality? Then realising she was British and still a teenager? That was the moment I knew I wanted to be as singer too.”
Glynne is a woman in possession of a rather fantastically distinctive vocal herself. You’ve already heard the 24 year-old’s richly evocative voice on Clean Bandit’s No.1 classical-dance smash Rather Be, which is the highest selling January No.1 since 1996 with sales in the UK alone of over 600,000, earning platinum status.
The track very nearly didn’t happen though. “I’ve never sung on a song that I haven’t written myself, so initially I wasn’t at all sure about doing it,” Jess admits. “But then I met the band and we went to the studio and had such a great time recording it. I absolutely love the song and I’m so happy to have been a part of it.”
She also lends her lead vocal to a second number 1, Route 94’s incredible House-flavoured My Love which also debuted at number one in the UK. When that track was premiered as Zane Lowe's Hottest Record, Adele tweeted "TUUUNE" with Lily Allen tweeting that Jess was "slaying the top 3!!!!!!!" as My Love hit the top of the charts whilst Rather Be held the number three position.
Now it’s time for Jess to introduce her own sound, a distinguished mix of “hip-hop with a soul voice and a sprinkling of pop.” Hip-Pop-Soul perhaps? She laughs. “I’m really influenced by people like Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, but then I also love singers like Frank Ocean, Jasmine Sullivan and Anthony Hamilton.” Jess also identifies ‘Aretha Franklin’s tone, Etta James’s soul, Eva Cassidy’s character and the songwriting of Lauryn Hill’ as having been heavily influential on her, both as singer and songwriter. “Hearing Lauryn’s ‘Superstar’ had a big effect on me because it made me realise you could write about subjects other than love and people could still hugely relate to what you were saying.”
Despite discovering that she could sing at an early age, Jess was initially put off performing by her school, which wasn’t particularly supportive of her ambitions to be a singer. Often overlooked during performances, her confidence took a bit of a knock and so after her GCSE’s, she decided to go travelling for a few months. When she came home from exploring South America, Asia and Australia, Jess decided she wanted to work in the music industry – but on the other side of the microphone. Joining the management team that would go on to sign Rizzle Kicks and Laura Mvula, Jess got an up-close, first-hand look at the business, but quickly realised that, despite her school’s efforts, she didn’t want to stay behind the scenes. “I paid someone to make me a four-track demo and from there I just went and met as many producers and writers as I could. I did a year of songwriting sessions with everyone under the sun but I felt like I was going round in circles because I didn’t have one person to develop my own sound with.”
It was while doing an Artist Development course at East London’s British Academy of New Music that Glynne would meet someone that would eventually become one of her closest musical mentors. Bless Beats was known for his work within the grime scene, producing tracks including Wiley’s Wearing My Rolex and Roll Deep’s Night Life. The pair began working together and it was through Bless that Jess would eventually secure management and, ultimately, a deal with Atlantic Records. “I was signed on the basis of my own music rather than because I featured on someone’s song,” she points out. “The Clean Bandit single came about after I was signed, so I know that I have a label who is confident in my own musical vision. I’m so grateful for the platform ‘Rather Be’ has given me, but now I’m looking forward to being known as an artist in my own right.”
As well as Bless Beats, Jess is also working with one or two other co-writers and producers on both sides of the Atlantic to hone her signature sound “I like that I’m not working with hundreds of people or working with the same names that everyone else works with. Ideally I’d like to just work with these people because I feel we’ve got a great thing going. I’m open to working with other people of course,” she adds, “but so far I feel we are creating something really cohesive that is different to what anyone else is doing.”
Jess’s debut album will be out later this year, proceeded by live shows this summer: “I know that I’m one of a number of British girls to release this year,” says Jess. “But I’m confident in who I am. What makes me different is my experiences, my personality, my songwriting. I’ve had different life experiences, like we all have, and all of that makes me who I am – me.”