If you haven't checked out Lianne La Havas yet, you need to get correct and buy her album today. Is Your Love Big Enough? is one of those rare critically-acclaimed debuts that actually lives up to the hype. She blends elements of folk and soul from different eras to create a timeless collection of songs that document a young woman with a clever wit and a big heart. I was lucky enough to have a quick phone chat with the rising star as she headed to Paris for what I'm sure was an all-conquering performance. Lianne was absolutely lovely and told me she'll be in Australia early next year. I can't wait to hear gems like "Don't Wake Me Up" and "Au Cinéma" live! Read when she has to say about Prince, older men and the state of R&B below.
I hear you’re on a tour bus. Where are you now?
I’m just travelling to Paris from Oxford.
That sounds pretty good to me.
It’s a lot of fun.
Perhaps I should start by asking how you found your sound?
[Laughs]. Well, I like to think it was natural. I always just wanted to play whatever I liked the sound of really. Eventually I arrived at the sound of the guitar I have and the subjects I chose to sing about. I guess it was also influenced by the music I was listening to growing up, the music I still am listening to.
Can you name a couple of the artists?
There were lots of different things but I always remember responding to strong female voices. They made me really want to sing myself. I cite singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu. All of these women share a strong sense of identity in their songwriting as well. So that really influenced me.
You mentioned a number of great soul singers. When Beyoncé came out with 4 she implied the genre had taken a wrong turn somewhere. Do you think that’s true?
I do agree. The genre has moved towards dance music. That does seem to have happened but at the same time I think it’s become very broad. I always avoid putting things into a genre box because music itself is always growing and always developing. Music feeds other music. I can’t really explain why the change has happened but I think we should embrace it.
Who is making great music now?
Laura Marling. I love her. I just don’t think she’s ever written a bad song. It’s always amazing what she can do with her voice and where her train of thought takes us, the listener. I love her. I’m also a very big fan of Little Dragon.
How good is “Sunshine”?
Yeah, great. Again that’s a voice that I really respond to. Their sound is just so… it makes me feel really warm and fuzzy. It also makes me want to dance. There’s a real purity and soul to it and you can’t put your finger on it, you can only say that it sounds like Little Dragon – the warmth of their sound. So I love Little Dragon. They’re my two favourite people who are around now.
Both of those acts are great storytellers like yourself. How much of your own experience went into the lyrics of your album? It sounds extremely personal.
All of my personal experience! Each song is, in some way, based on a true event and has come from a real place. I don’t know how I’d make that up. [Laughs]. The thing that compels me most to write is the stuff that happens in my actual life. It’s such a great pleasure to me when other people want to hear that because I was just singing to express myself. To make myself feel happy. It’s a good job to have!
I guess Is Your Love Big Enough? is something of a diary then – capturing all the things going on in your life?
Yeah. Exactly. That’s exactly what I wanted to put across. To me when I listen to it, if you know me, you can listen to the journey – from me coming out of my late teens to my early twenties. Just the rollercoaster of emotions that you feel as a teenager and then the complexities of love and relationships once you’re not a teenager anymore. If you think it’s complicated then [laughs]… so I like to think of it as that but also I think it needed to be so candid because it’s an introduction to me as an artist and as a musician. So I wanted to offer the listener something that would help you get to know me and maybe wonder what else I could do.
I think you definitely achieved that.
So “Age Is Just A Number” (below) was also based on real life? It really makes me laugh. I think it’s so cheerful but also oddly romantic at the same time.
That’s a true story also. I wrote that a few years ago now actually. When I was 18 I wrote the first verse and I finished the song when I was 19. So I wrote the chorus a year later because it turns out I had chosen the older man in fact. So I needed to live of all that and decide what I wanted in order to finish the song. I always giggle at the same point in that song too. It’s always going to be close to my heart and my boyfriend’s heart.
So you’re still with the older guy?
Yes. I guess that proves he wasn’t some weirdo [laughs]. He’s completely not. He’s a lovely guy. He just happens to be… what seemed a lot older than me when I was 18. But now I’m 23 and we’ve stood the test of time. It feels normal and cool. Our families completely accept it and love us.
How much older is he?
He’s 14 years my senior.
It’s not that bad. I thought he was going to be 60.
He's not that old! But we do make a lot of jokes about it. [Laughs]
You threw in one cover on the album. Was there a reason you chose “Elusive”?
I love it. I remember first hearing it when I was about 14 and I was in my bedroom just listening to the radio. It came on and it’s almost like everything around me stopped. It was just me and that song for however long it ran for. I’ve just always loved it. I loved the delivery of Scott’s voice on the song. The atmosphere – everything. It really moved me.
Then I grew up and lived my life and then I rediscovered the song very recently – like maybe 10 months ago – and I just had that same feeling again and I just thought it would be really nice to have a cover of it on the album and it turned out to be the thing I felt completed the album because it was going to be 11 songs but I wasn’t quite sure about the order of the songs. With the cover, I knew exactly where I wanted to put it and then it felt like the album was complete. And just because of the way I interpreted it, it was a way of showing my sound.
Maybe you could tell me a little bit about your experience with Prince. I read in an interview that you had the chance to go and hang with him.
Very crazy. Very surreal. Amazing.
He’s such a legend.
He is! A living legend. One of the very few. It was a great honour. It turned out we got on very well and he’s lovely. We just hung out. We played guitar. We talked about music and we listened to music. It was wonderful.
*Dude from record label tells me I’ve spoken for too long*
Sorry. One last question. How do you compute the buzz surrounding the album? 6 months ago you were relatively unknown and now a lot of people are calling you the next big thing.
That’s really nice. I love it. I’m happy about it. I always wanted it. I’m so thrilled knowing I made an album that I was happy with and then just knowing that other people like it. It’s just amazing. So I’m just going to enjoy that for as long as it lasts. It may not last forever!