INTERVIEW: Lianne La Havas
by Mercy Chikowore
In the middle of her six-city North American summer tour, Lianne La Havas greeted me with a huge smile, a warm kiss on the cheek and the best hug I’d had in a while. Her quaint British accent made me pay attention to her every word as we had small talk in Baltimore Sound Stage’s green room on July 26, 2013. Before we got comfortable we searched high and low for her misplaced cell phone and giggled about it’s potential whereabouts. The British songstress has had much success with her debut album “Is Your Love Big Enough?” as her fan base continues to grow in the United States.
Phone found, comfortable seats and permanent smiles on our faces, we started chatting about love, touring and the ins and outs of her debut album.
So you’re on tour! You’re going to the east coast for a while and then to Europe, correct?
We’re gonna be on the east coast for a while, we’re going to Canada for one show and then I’ll go back to England for a bit, play a couple of shows in the UK and one in France and then we go to Japan. And in between I’ve got holiday.
Good, what are you going to do for your holiday?
I’m taking my boyfriend to Iceland to see the Northern Lights.
Wow, how many people can say that?
Exactly. I hope we see them now because it’s often you don’t see them but either way it’s kind of a late birthday present for him so I’m working it into my own holiday.
Do people know who he is or is he secret boyfriend?
Uhh, some do.
Okay, is he in the industry?
Yes. [looks around suspiciously]
Well what does he do?
[giggles] He’s my bass player. So you’ll see him tonight.
Wonderful! That’s awesome so you get to tour with your boyfriend, have a good time and you’re going on vacation together to Iceland!
Yes, we’ve had a lot of practice traveling together so I think it’s going to be good.
How long have you been together?
Almost one year.
Sweet, so let’s talk about your music since we’re talking about love. It seems like a lot of songs are very love-driven but some of them sound sad, what’s inspiring your music?
Well, for this first album, assuming that I’ll make another one, has been mostly me talking about two relationships in particular. So the album spans those two relationships– starting them, the earliest one and everything in between that lead to me meeting an older man who I describe and then some songs are about him being in love with him and then ending with him as well. So I started writing it when I was about 18 and then finished it when I was 22 so those were the kind of the strongest songs that described mostly how I was feeling.
How old was the older man?
Well when I was 18, he was 32.
Wow. But now you’re happily in love, how does it feel to sing those songs when he’s on stage?
[laughs] It’s cool, it’s cool now. Now they’ve taken on their own personality and they mean, still what they’ve meant when I wrote them but now they are pieces of music that kind of exist now as artifacts of what I was feeling then but it’s cool. It’s just whether I write a new album about my new boyfriend.
I don’t know if he’ll like that- or maybe he will?
As long as they’re love songs probably!
So your inspiration is typically love?
Typically yes or just, I’ve just been thinking more about the self and that’s why the title of the album is not anything to do with the boyfriend songs. The title of the album is “Is Your Love Big Enough.” That song is the only one that’s like about me and it’s for my own strength and it’s about me feeling a sense of womanhood almost and having a love for myself that I rediscovered after just spending time alone, which I think is extremely important as well. So normally the songs center around what’s going on in my own brain about myself or my feeling towards my loved ones.
Do you love yourself enough?
I do now since writing that song and since everything that happened that lead to that song I definitely do now. For me it was about identity, finding that I became completely comfortable with who I was and didn’t need to, or wasn’t doing anything to please anyone else necessarily. I only do things to better myself or make me feel happy and therefore I can love other people correctly instead of in an unhealthy way or perhaps when I was younger.
And what made you change was?
Being alone for a period of time. And also playing music essentially. If you listen to the lyrics, the guitar line ‘finding myself in a second hand guitar’ is all completely true. I feel metaphorically I found myself but when I bought that guitar I felt like it sounded different to all my others and it sounded like how I wanted it to sound like. So it’s kind of like finding my sound. Umm, I did scream down 2nd avenue, sort of metaphorically again because I was happy and I did eat an ice cream.
Now going back to touring, how do you stay creative when you’re on the road?
Well I, with regards to creativity, I tend not to write songs on the road, I find it difficult because you’re rarely alone and I like to be alone when writing. I like to be in a quiet place as well and it’s rarely quiet but I like to draw when I’m on the road, I write things down at least if I can’t make a whole song. Also we all as a band like to exercise together and also just having a love for the traveling cause I love to see different cities and different restaurants and different cultures. So we stay kind of awake by absorbing these new experiences.
What are your favorite places to visit?
Okay, like cities? Well in general I love coming to the USA, I think the crowds are amazing here. I did a US tour recently and just every audience seemed to be better that the last in that they were just supportive and loud and beautiful people and creative people, like people I want to be friends with basically so that keeps it amazing for me.
What can fans expect from you? You said you may be starting a new project?
I’ve already started making new songs in the hope of putting them on a new record. Right now I haven’t been able to settle down completely to make it but once I get off the road I’ll be going straight into the studio.
And who are you listening to right now, what are your favorite artists, songs?
I’ve got a lot. Favorite new artists- Laura Mvula, a good friend of mine as well and she’s got the most incredible album out, it’s called “Sing to the Moon,” she’s such a brilliant role model as well, just a strong woman with something to say so I listen to her a lot. I’m listening to a singer-songwriter whose got a beautiful voice that’s like angelic that reminds me of Jeff Buckley, he probably won’t like me saying that, but his name is Sam Sallon so check him out. I love guitar players, so he has the long nails on the right hand and he plays amazing finger-picking and his songs are beautiful so Sam Sallon I love. And a band called Everything Everything, they are my favorite UK band I think of the last five years. They’re music is very complex but I respond to it for some reason and they have strangely catchy songs but amazing melody lines. So that’s the new music I’m listening to, I’m always listening to Beyonce and Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and all kinds of things from my upbringing.
Let’s switch gears for a second. So I have a really fun fill in the blank thing- I say a sentence and you finish it- Cool?
[big smile] Okay.
When I woke up this morning…
I had some breakfast.
Okay, that was safe. The last text message I received said…
Oh, God what did it say? It was a photo message from my friend of guy who had gotten a tattoo of his elephant and his dong was the trunk.
I love it! Sometimes on social media I…
Like to ask silly questions. Oh no, I’ll say something like, ‘holla if you’re…” and I get these funny replies.
When I meet a man I like I?
[starts blushing and laughing] I was going to say something awful but I’m not going to say that. When I meet a guy I like, I try to make him laugh.
Don’t you dare…
[busts out laughing uncontrollably] This is so good. I wanted to swear just then.
Don’t you dare sh*t on me.
Yes, everyone should know that! I wish the world…
Could be more equal.
Your love is big enough if…
[laughs] Your love is big enough if, oh I don’t know- it’s such a good thing. Your love is big enough if you love others.
After the interview, Lianne rocked out to the Baltimore crowd that sang just about every word of her set. She even stayed after the show to meet her fans and take photos with every single one.
While Lianne La Havas chases the Northern Lights, wraps up her tour and works on her second album, check out her latest video for single “Don’t Wake Me Up.”