Lianne La Havas

Lianne La Havas: “I don’t do it for anybody else”

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Short Profile

Name: Lianne Charlotte Barnes
DOB: 23 August 1989
Place of birth: London, England, United Kingdom
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, musician

Lianne La Havas' new album, Lianne La Havas, is out now via Warner Records.

Lianne, is authenticity the key to good songwriting?

I don't know what the key is to good songwriting... For me it works the best when I just feel totally relaxed and totally happy with what is coming out of me in the melody and in the music; when it just makes me feel good. That kind of authenticity is something I've always wanted to put across, it’s the most important thing.

How do you go about expressing that authenticity?

I guess I don't think I feel totally satisfied if I'm not expressing myself in a way that is honest — if I'm saying honest words, if I'm talking about real actual experiences of myself. Obviously if I was writing music for something else, like to a brief, composing for film, perhaps it’s a different mindset. But for me, I’m only releasing music that I like. I don't do it for anybody else or because anybody else has told me to, it's got to be something I’m actually into.

“I feel like it's been really good for me to finally get to be this authentic with my work.”

Has there been pressure in the past to release something you’re not completely sold on?

Yeah, I think perhaps because I was bit younger then and I didn't really know that I could speak up if I didn't like something. Maybe sometimes some things have slipped through my own quality net just because I was going along with things and I had a lot of exciting opportunities, so I just thought, “Okay, you know what, sure, I'll just do this one thing and then it’ll be fine.” And it was fine, but I always have some like feelings like, “What if I hadn't done that?”

Ólafur Arnalds said that when he was younger, he said yes to everything because every opportunity felt like the last good one — that it was a long time before he learned that he can say no.

Yes! I totally can see his point of view on that. I think it's very easy to say yes to lots of things because I mean, it's a super exciting and super phenomenal weird job that we do. You're often exposed to very unique opportunities. But I think as you go through your career, you kind of learn what actually is right for you as whatever type of artist you are and you know, you figure out where you want to go and what you want to do. And in the end, I don't think I would be making the music I’m making if I had not gone through those prior experiences. I’m really happy with how this latest release, Lianne La Havas, has happened, I feel like it's been really good for me to finally get to be this authentic with my work.

People often describe your work as soul music, but you once pointed out that the genre could apply to any artist because that kind of expression all comes from your soul.

You know, I’ve found that people just give you that label if you are an artist of color, even if you may not necessarily be trying to make that specific genre, or if you’re trying to bend genres, which is what I’m trying to do. I just felt like my interpretation of soul — if I'm going to be called soul is — something more than just a sound, it's an attitude. And I think for me personally, singing is so attached to my feelings. I love to sing because it feels really nice, but also when I'm singing my own songs, I'm responding to something in my heart that I have to respond to. It makes it quite personal for me, the actual physical act of singing.

How is it for you to then present these lyrics and songs with your fans? Is it daunting to share such personal experiences?

No, actually. I feel more relief in sharing the album, and I'm happy to talk about certain aspects of the subjects. But I do find it a little bit daunting to perform these songs live. When I was first performing songs from Lianne La Havas live like a year ago, I found it very exposing. It really made me feel shy, more so than in the past when I've performed new material; just because I know what it's all about, and I know what I went through to get to these songs.

I can imagine that re-experiencing those emotions on stage could be almost overwhelming at times.

Right, plus there could be other factors building up and then it all sort of erupts during your performance. I've definitely had that moment in the studio. I was writing the melody for “Sour Flower” and I was in a really fragile state emotionally. And it was kind of one of those studio bookings where I just felt really, really exhausted and sad, but I thought I should probably still go… I was just listening to the music and I started to sing and I just started to cry. I don't know, something connected in me with the melody and it had almost a healing effect and I started to feel better, even though I was crying. It was like I was getting out something that I needed to get out.

Are there any personal experiences that you wouldn’t consider sharing through song?

I'm learning that about myself, actually, I don't know where I draw the line yet. I have to follow my heart if I decide it's something I need to actually say. With my last album, Blood, although I feel kind of protective about my family, I did decide that I wanted to talk a bit about that. It was sparked by this trip with my mother to Jamaica, which is her native country — but also my experience growing up with a Greek father and a Jamaican mother, and being raised in London. It was quite an interesting mix of things, figuring out who I really am and what do I like? This holiday to Jamaica was deeply significant for me in that respect because I met my cousins and my grandparents and it made me really reflect on my childhood and adulthood. I ended up feeling very inspired by it. So I feel that all my songs kind of introduce me in that way, that’s what I've always wanted to do with my music.

Do you think that will always be the goal for you, or will songwriting play a different role in your life in the future?

I'm not sure. It's my chosen medium to express myself and I just… I love it. But the possibilities are endless with music and collaboration and production and writing and instrumentation and everything. So I just want to further explore… I'm still on some kind of journey to discover who I really am.