A Rush Of 'Blood': Lianne La Havas Turns Up The Volume

Loading
Error

/

Download
Embed Code

Copy/paste the following code

Donate

Lianne La Havas' second album, Blood, expands on the cool, nuanced tone of her debut, while adding a shot of intensity. (Courtesy of the artist)
Lianne La Havas' second album, Blood, expands on the cool, nuanced tone of her debut, while adding a shot of intensity. (Courtesy of the artist)

At 25, singer Lianne La Havas has established herself as a guitarist, a songwriter and a singer, with fans that include Stevie Wonder and Prince. Her new album is titled Blood, and it's almost like a reintroduction. La Havas tapped her own heritage for inspiration: Her father is Greek and her mother Jamaican, and it was a holiday visit to the latter island that got her thinking about her sound.

"I loved how acceptable it is everywhere to just listen to music really loud, you know?" she says of Jamaica, where she recalls seeing a car rigged up with a makeshift sound system, its speakers pointing out the window. And yet there are moments on Blood that recall the cool, nuanced effects of La Havas' debut, Is Your Love Big Enough? The song "Wonderful," one of the barest on the new album, looks into the past with both its music and lyrics.

"Basically, I was going through a breakup, and at the same time I was starting to write about maybe trying to get back together," she says. "'Wonderful' kind of was the culmination of all those feelings, so I thought, 'I'm just going to fondly remember and write a nostalgic ode to him, so he knew it meant something to me.'"

La Havas' impact keeps growing, and she's spending more and more time in the U.S. — where she says she's found a different set of expectations than in the U.K.

"The first time I ever was called black was when I went to America," she says. "In London, it was just always the norm that all kids from everywhere all hung out, being mixed. It wasn't a thing, basically — you are Lianne. I feel very lucky that the album came out the way it did, you know, how it sounds, because that's all I really want to be judged on."

Hear more of La Havas' conversation with NPR's Audie Cornish at the audio link.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At 25, British singer Lianne La Havas has established herself as a musical triple threat. She's a guitarist, songwriter and a soulful vocalist. Her fans on this side of the Atlantic already include Stevie Wonder and Prince. Her new album is called "Blood," and it's almost like a reintroduction.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN AND GOLD")

LIANNE LA HAVAS: (Singing) Six years old, staring at my nose in the mirror, trying to dip my toes in the mirror, thinking, who's that girl, and does the mirror world go on forever?

CORNISH: La Havas draws on her heritage for inspiration. Her father is Greek, her mother, Jamaican. And it was a trip to Jamaica after her first tour that got her thinking about music in a new way.

LA HAVAS: I loved how acceptable it is everywhere and how it's OK to just listen music really loud.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

LA HAVAS: You know?

CORNISH: It was the volume that got you.

LA HAVAS: Yeah. It's just - I was in the town center in Christiana, and, like, a car drove by. And the whole back of the car was, like, a sound system. And so the window was open with the speaker pointing out.

CORNISH: Because of course, yeah (laughter).

LA HAVAS: The whole purpose of the car is just to share the music. I don't know. It really struck me just how important it is. And it's almost like something within me switched and went, well, yeah, obviously.

CORNISH: There's a little bit of the influence that you're talking about in the opening of this song called "Midnight."

LA HAVAS: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIDNIGHT")

LA HAVAS: (Singing) A long and lonely journey to my hideaway, and I know they'll try to turn me with the things that they say. But no one knows where I'll go when I walk away. So come now, hurry, hurry. Don't miss this train.

CORNISH: Now for people who may not be familiar with your music or maybe the first album, it was kind of quiet, and this song, actually, was one that I turned up in the car (laughter).

LA HAVAS: Yeah (laughter).

CORNISH: My speakers weren't as big, but is that the goal here?

LA HAVAS: This one was made in Jamaica. It was so loud all day, you know? And when I walked into the studio, the beat was playing, and it was thin but with loads the body. And I was like, oh, I can probably play something to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIDNIGHT")

LA HAVAS: (Singing) Honey, if you care to join me...

CORNISH: And your singing is big.

LA HAVAS: Yeah.

CORNISH: You really let some notes rip in this.

LA HAVAS: I know.

CORNISH: I was surprised.

LA HAVAS: Well, so was I.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIDNIGHT")

LA HAVAS: (Singing) So come now, hurry, hurry. Don't miss this train. People think I'm crazy. Lately, I'm...

LA HAVAS: And so the way felt there in a foreign country - you can be who you want to be. There is no former you that day, I guess was the kind of peak of that.

CORNISH: That must be a nice feeling to have when you're on a second album - right? - especially one that was really - your first album was so well received, and this one has a different sensibility, really kind of bigger R&B grooves. And were you worried about straying from the sound that people associated you with, which was kind of little more folk, maybe a little more acoustic guitar?

LA HAVAS: It's funny you say that. There's actually no acoustic guitar on the first album.

CORNISH: And is that a mistake people often made thinking about that first album, the one I just made?

LA HAVAS: Yes (laughter). But it's easy to make, I guess because I play on my own a lot on the first album with - the actual guitar is clean, electric sound. But yeah, I don't mind, by the way. I don't mind.

CORNISH: No, that's OK. I'm just asking 'cause, like I said, I associate it with kind of quiet. And on this album, I was like, hey Lianne, OK. (Laughter).

LA HAVAS: That's the thing. I think if you isolate the guitar parts on this album with just the voice, it will still be the essence of what I think I do, which is - I just love playing guitar and singing.

CORNISH: You mention that if we listen closely in this album, we can still kind of hear what we maybe originally thought of your sound, and I'm going to - I think the song "Wonderful" does that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WONDERFUL")

LA HAVAS: (Singing) Did the world get a little bit colder, no wiser, just a little bit older, so slow we were bound to fall over?

CORNISH: I don't know if it's that kind of heartbeat-like beat underneath or your voice dancing over it. Tell us how this song came to be.

LA HAVAS: Basically, I was going through a breakup. And at the same time, I was sort of starting to write also about maybe trying to get back together. "Wonderful" kind of was the culmination of all of those feelings, and so I thought I'm just going to fondly remember and write a nostalgic ode to him and - just so he knew that it meant something to me. So when I listen, I hear, you know, wasn't it kind of wonderful and just remember, like, all those lovely things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WONDERFUL")

LA HAVAS: (Singing) Wasn't it kind of wonderful? Wasn't it kind of wonderful, Baby? Wasn't it kind of wonderful, wonderful?

CORNISH: You know, you've been collecting some pretty impressive friends here in the U.S...

LA HAVAS: I guess so.

CORNISH: ...One of which is Prince.

LA HAVAS: Hello. Hello, Prince.

CORNISH: He must have some impact on your music as well. I mean, he's a big performer, an amazing songwriter. How has that helped you change how you even look at your career?

LA HAVAS: Well, from the beginning, I thought, you know, I really want to be around for a very long time and make good stuff for a very long time. And he's, like, one of the great shining examples of that.

CORNISH: Right (laughter), yes. He's one of those people - he's one of those performers - Prince has always kind of defied whatever expectations people had around him...

LA HAVAS: Exactly.

CORNISH: ...And around black performers.

LA HAVAS: Exactly.

CORNISH: And I wonder for you coming from the U.K. and coming to the U.S., what has it been like trying to navigate that, right? I mean, it's a different set of expectations.

LA HAVAS: Exactly. The first time I ever was called black was when I went to America. It was completely unusual, like - you know, in London, it was just always the norm that all kids from everywhere all hung out being mixed. It wasn't a thing, basically. It was just you are Lianne. And I feel very lucky that the album came out the way it did, you know, how it sounds because that's all I really want to be judged on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT YOU DON'T DO")

LA HAVAS: (Singing) Heavy words, little lies telling everything but the truth, the truth.

CORNISH: Well, Lianna La Havas, Thank you so much for taking time out to talk about the album and how these songs came together. We really appreciate it.

LA HAVAS: I really appreciate you having me. Thank you so, so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT YOU DON'T DO")

LA HAVAS: (Singing) No sweet nothing could ever be turned into something new.

CORNISH: Singer Lianne La Havas - her new album is called "Blood." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.