The young English singer/songwriter/guitarist Lianne La Havas’s debut 2012 album Is Your Love Big Enough? received more accolades than many artists experience in their entire career. Sparked by a sensational introduction on Later with Jools Holland, the year-plus that followed the album’s release included more than 120 shows across Europe, North America, and Japan—including two sold-out London shows at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire and a sold-out headline show at the Somerset House Summer Series—and a top five position on the UK chart. Is Your Love Big Enough? won iTunes’ Album of the Year in the UK and earned Ivor Novello Best Album and Barclaycard Mercury Prize nominations.
The media concurred, with the Associated Press calling Is Your Love Big Enough? “Not just one of the year’s best debuts, but one of the year’s best albums,” NPR praising “the sound of a new and electrifying voice,” and the Los Angeles Times saying “With Is Your Love Big Enough?, Miss La Havas vaults right to the big leagues.” Artists that La Havas had admired soon began reaching out to her, to express support and/or collaborate, including Prince, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver).
After touring for the album came to a close, it was time to reacquaint herself with family and old friends as La Havas returned to what she calls “real life.” To recharge, she took a trip with her mother, who is of Jamaican heritage, to the Caribbean island. Little did she know that this holiday would sow the seeds for her next record.
“It turned out to be a life-changing experience,” says La Havas (whose father is of Greek heritage). “I was brought up by my Jamaican grandparents, and I was well acquainted with a lot of their culture, like the food and the manner of their generation. So when I actually went there it was strangely familiar—but also completely unlike any other place that I’d been. It was just so amazing to know all about a place and to even be able to understand strong patois, without ever having been there.”
During this time of self-discovery, La Havas enjoyed emotional reunions with long-lost relatives, spent time in Kingston’s clubs, and even jammed in front of her family for the first time during a session with acclaimed dancehall/reggae producer Stephen McGregor. Discovering her roots inspired La Havas to reflect on the connections between the present and the past, which in turn sparked the songs that would become her future. “Everything seemed to have a lot more clarity, and I really wanted to speak about it,” she says.
La Havas’ new album, Blood, is a collection that shakes, shimmies, and swings with imaginative and immersive grooves. “It seems as though you hear music everywhere you go in Jamaica and there are gigs going on all the time at the beach,” she says. “People appear to have an in-built ability to dance, which comes from a deep-rooted connection to the feeling in the music. I found a new way to enjoy rhythms and syncopation and how to interweave delicate guitar parts with more aggressive sounding beats. What I definitely took from Jamaica is how to write songs based on the feeling of the rhythm and to build from there, and I’ve applied that philosophy, in some form, to everything I’ve written thereafter.”
The first single, “Unstoppable,” is particularly indicative of that bass- and groove-orientated feeling. Produced and co-written by Adele/FKA twigs collaborator Paul Epworth and founded on an instrumental recording by The Invisible, “Unstoppable” is a song that La Havas wrote to help to repair a relationship that she had ended. “It represents having a new phase of understanding in our relationship. My former boyfriend was interested heavily in astronomy, so Paul and I wanted to find some way to relate galactic celestial speak to this love story to support its unconventional and multi-faceted nature.”
Lyrically, the songs that emerged are almost all related to “the feeling of who you are and where you come from,” she says. The centerpiece of that approach is “Green & Gold,” which was written and produced with Jamie Lidell and Matt Hales. It weaves Jamaican and Greek imagery into an autobiographical narrative that offers insight into the “weird and wonderful journey that I’ve been on since I was a child” In fact, it was La Havas’ second generation Greek-English father—a stonemason and enthusiastic accordion player and instrumentalist—who was the primary musical influence in her life and first taught her guitar and piano.
Family is of course a prominent theme on Blood, from “Fairytale”—about La Havas’ close relative whose ability to suddenly become an “amazing and capable” single mother has been a source of inspiration—to “Good Goodbye,” which addresses her dear friend losing her grandfather and also relates to her own grandmother. “It’s about appreciating your elders, but also all of your loved ones,” she explains. “If you have the opportunity, you should spend as much time with them as possible; if it’s going to be goodbye, make sure it’s a good one.”
“Midnight” best encapsulates La Havas’ adventures in life and music. “Being in Jamaica and writing this song really signified the coming of a new phase, as well as having a new understanding of everything as I enter my mid-20s and find a new sense of independence,” she summarizes. “For me, it’s got an overall sentiment of empowerment and emancipation.”
That next stage commenced with a steady succession of guest appearances. There’s been another recording with Is Your Love Big Enough? producer Matt Hales (who again collaborated with La Havas on Blood, notably on “Wonderful,” which they co-wrote with Disclosure’s Howard Lawrence) on the recent Aqualung track “Egg Shells,” as well as guest vocals on Alt-J’s “Warm Foothills” and Tourist’s “Patterns.”
Most extraordinary of all was La Havas’ contribution to Prince’s Art Official Age album (also on Warner Bros.), which was recorded over the course of a heady weekend at Paisley Park. “Anyone liking my music is great, but it’s just a bit crazier when it’s someone that you’ve admired all your life—memorized all of their lyrics, etc.—and they then turn out to be wonderful people that just happen to be like-minded.”
Family and friends, the past and the future, and an international array of cultural influences are all part of a rich tapestry that makes up Blood. “I’m constantly surprised by the coincidences of life” admits Lianne. “The title Blood reminds me that there are connections between pretty much everything, no matter what.”
With major summer shows already confirmed—including Glastonbury, Latitude and Bestival—followed by headline tours of the UK, USA, and Europe, the stage is set for Lianne La Havas to continue, as the Daily Mail predicted, her ascent as “Britain’s next big female star.