February 5, 2016


Interview: Lianne La Havas on Her Next Album, GRAMMY Nod and Solo Tour

John-Paul Pietrus
John-Paul Pietrus

Lianne La Havas drastically expanded her musical world for her second album, 2015's Blood: She recorded in Jamaica, worked with Paul Epworth (AdelePaul McCartneyU2), dropped the mesmerically ornate "Unstoppable" as her first single and toured with a robust band of multi-instrumentalists. Now the 26-year-old Londoner is doing a limited run of American solo performances—just her and her guitar, sporting the sound that characterized much of her luminous 2012 debut Is Your Love Big Enough?

Before La Havas' Brooklyn performance tonight (Feb. 5), she spoke to Fuse about Blood getting a GRAMMY nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album, the very different direction she'll take for the new record she's now writing, plus eating at Cracker Barrel as a vegan.

Fuse: Can we start with the GRAMMY nod? You're in the same category as The WeekndMiguel, The Internet and Kehlani.
Lianne La Havas: It's amazing. It's completely amazing. I can't believe I'm nominated for a GRAMMY. That just makes all of my worries about anything I've ever worried about completely go away.

That's a strong reaction.
I'm very, very proud. I'm so honored to be able to go there and represent the U.K. as well, and just be able to say that my whole album was acknowledged for a GRAMMY potentially. I feel like I've already achieved a great amount just by being nominated.

How has the solo tour been so far? Tonight's your fourth show.
It's been absolutely amazing. I'm so glad I did it. I'm not even halfway through yet, but it's so—it's just been so brilliant. All the crowds have been so gorgeous and lovely and supportive. I feel really a great sense of freedom being able to play my songs alone, because I only have myself to rely on. And initially I was a little bit daunted by that fact, but having done it now, I really feel a great sense of newfound confidence in the whole thing. And I would do it again and again. It's where I came from, just playing on my own, writing songs on my own—I love it. There's a lot to be said for playing guitar and singing.

How'd you feel on the first night?
Honestly, terrified. It's not like I've never played solo before, but after a whole year of feeling like I needed a band in order to interpret my new album, I was understandably a bit like, "Oh no, what if nobody likes it?" I had the fear. But then as soon as I got onstage, I felt completely at home and I realized this is what I do, and I love what I do, and it's just making me love it even more. So: before stage, terrified, after stage, very excited and very proud.

Not that fear is always logical, but it doesn't seem likely that people are going to hate seeing one of their favorite artists playing solo in a small venue.
[Laughs] Well, you know, I didn't think of it that way. 'Cause a lot of my audience seems to be also musicians and they're all very creative people. There's maybe a certain element of...I want to please them, and I know they've got probably very high standards, as I do myself.

How do you rate yourself as a guitarist? Your arrangements and playing are really complex.
Well that's very kind of you, thank you very much. Yeah, it's something I'm always trying to get better at. I love the guitar and I love the amount of possibilities that it offers you for having your own style and your own voice. It's such a phenomenon, the guitar, 'cause you can do so much on it. But I don't know, I still feel like I've got lots of ground to cover. I've only just scratched the surface, really, even though I've been playing for about eight years, it's still like it's just the beginning. And I also started pretty late and I've never had a proper guitar lesson, so I would love to actually see what that's like. I don't feel by any means a professional but I would call myself a guitarist for sure.

So you still push yourself to learn, to stretch?
Yeah, I have to. Can I be honest with you? There are some songs on the album that, because I had a band, I never had to learn. For example, "Green & Gold"—I could've done [that song], but my diary was ridiculous last year, so I had literally no time to even sit down and play the songs alone, until before this tour. I said, Look, if I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna have to do all these songs I've never played. So I just pushed myself and I'm so glad I did. I know it sounds silly, 'cause I wrote them, but I've never actually sat down and played and sung certain songs in one go. I was panicking, obviously, but then I did it and I was like, "Oh yeah, it's fine, I can play guitar, it's fine."

What's your favorite place Blood has taken you?
Probably to the GRAMMYs. It's been a highlight of my life, to be honest, this whole situation. But also, I was able to play one of my dream, dream, all-time favorite venues, which was Brixton Academy in London, just before Christmas. I have always wanted to play there ever since I went to see gigs there, ever since I was growing up and and hearing about it. I'm from South London, from near Brixton, so it was kinda like a homecoming when I went back there. I couldn't believe that was all my audience. That was a big, big moment in my life after releasing Blood.

Watch Fuse and Lianne La Havas' 2015 conversation about the making of Blood:

What's a song from Blood that's stuck with you more than you might have expected?
One that I really love to perform is "Unstoppable." And having been on this solo tour, that one seems to feel different to the others. Because it has the most instrumentation of all the songs on the album, doing this one alone just gives it a whole new life. It's the one that I go back to, yeah.

Is there an older song you never get sick of, one you could play every night?
"No Room for Doubt." I'll always love that song because of where I was when I wrote it. It was my first single and it was the first time I felt like I deserved to have a single out. I felt really proud of it. So whenever I play it, I get that feeling again.

Where were you when you wrote it?
I was in New York City. I was actually in Brooklyn, in an apartment, in an Airbnb, and I recorded it there with Willy Mason and wrote it there with him. It just reminds me of a lovely time. It was a very hot summer, I remember, in 2011. And that song happened, and I remember thinking, Right, I guess I'm gonna be a singer then. I always get that feeling.

Just before getting on the phone, you tweeted that you have great stuff coming this year and that you can't say what it is.
Yes. Not yet. But I will tell you, obviously, but I just can't tell you yet. I don't wanna get in trouble. But, yeah...that's all. I can't say.

Can you say how you feel about it without saying what it is?
I'm very excited about it. Very excited about a couple of things. That's what I'll say.

"Very excited."
[Laughs] Yeah, I try.

You only have two albums so far, so it's always exciting to find you've guested on someone else's song. Are you planning more collaborations?
I'm very open-minded in the studio and I love to try and get the most out of any creative collaboration. And it's definitely something I'll be doing a lot more of this year, because I'm starting work on my new album immediately. You can expect some collaborations of some kind, whether it's for me or for them or just something for everyone, there's gonna be a lot more of that. I like having my brain expanded by other people's ideas, and I like potentially expanding someone else's brain with my ideas. 

You're starting on the next record now?
Yes. Exactly. I'm hoping to have it all written, at least written, by the end of the year, and then hopefully have something to release next year. I've got a little bit more breathing space this year and I'm just planning it so I've got adequate time to be creative but also adequate time to play shows and festivals and do all that fun stuff, as well as all the fun stuff in the studio. That's what this year is about for me.

John-Paul Pietrus
John-Paul Pietrus

That's fast. Last time you had a three-year gap.
Yeah. No, I know, I know. But I just didn't want to hang around, you know? I don't see any point in wasting any time. I want to use all my time for the better.

What are you going for with this one?
I want it to be a pure, the purest representation of who I am so far. Just something that is completely untainted by any outside interference. I feel like it really needs to come from me this time. Not that it doesn't, but...the process of making the last album was fun, but I don't think I wanna do it that way again. I wanna keep it a little bit more contained and just show who I am, who I'm becoming as a musician, as a producer and as a songwriter.

Going back to Twitter again here, sorry—
That's okay, I tweet a lot.

So you're vegan and you went to Cracker Barrel. How'd you make out?
I ordered the sweet potato with steamed broccoli on the side and salad. You just basically have to order all the sides at Cracker Barrel, and that's how you do it.

Did you get anything from the shop?
Uh, yes I did, I got one of those crazy peg games. I don't know what it's called—but you know, with the triangle and the pegs.

The one that's on the table when you eat.
Yes, exactly [laughs]. I thought that would be a cool souvenir to remember my time at Cracker Barrel, in the depths of America.

You're sure you didn't just swipe it from the table?
No, I bought it. I got a brand new one. Still in the plastic. It's for the long drives. And I will crack it.

Lianne La Havas' U.S. solo tour runs through Feb. 11. For more, read our extended 2015 conversation and check out a clip detailing the story behind the metal-tinted Blood track "Never Get Enough":