ON HER NEW SELF-TITLED ALBUM, LIANNE LA HAVAS IS IN FULL BLOOM

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Lianne La Havas’ new album was inspired by the life cycle of a plant––specifically a rose bush, she tells me from the UK as we chat over Zoom. Gazing over her computer screen, she admires one in full bloom outside her front window. “It’s always astonishing to see it come back every year and I don’t even really do anything to it. I don’t look after it. It just is there,” the singer, 30, says with a smile. “It knows what it’s doing and it knows it has to shed its petals in order to be rejuvenated.”

She began writing amid a fruitful period of a romantic relationship, exhibited at the top of the record on tracks like the shimmery “Read My Mind.” (“The pure joy, when a girl meets a boy; Natural chemistry, better believe,” she sings blissfully.) The album follows the bond as it begins to break and by the end she emerges courageously solo, an arc she likens to a rose bush blooming in the spring after appearing dead all winter. 

“I was just seeing all of this happening and comparing it to my life and my relationship,” she says. “The plant itself is still rooted in the ground, but what we see is changing, so I related that to myself and thought, ‘Well I’m the same person, but every year I learn something else, and everything I go through makes me different, and you have different seasons of your life like a plant would, perhaps.’”

When La Havas released her last album Blood five years ago, she thought she’d make the next one right away, but a period of loss instead forced her to do a bit more growing up then she planned to in the back half of her twenties. Her grandmother passed away in 2015 and the following year she lost both her great-grandmother and her dear friend and creative mentor, Prince. 

“I think it was just all very shocking, particularly the passing of Prince. [It] was very sudden, and strange, and mysterious, and a lot of unanswered questions there. A lot of regret, and looking back I feel like it just made me have to rethink a lot of things about my own life,” she confesses. “It makes you aware of your own mortality when people pass away.”

She wasn’t even afforded the time to fully process such tragic events as Blood took on a massive life of its own. Between a Grammy nomination, headlining tours, and opening slots for Leon Bridges and Coldplay, La Havas was booked and busy through 2017. Then she finally got the chance to take a step back, live, and write. She set out to create the new record with one goal in mind: to put forth the purest form of artistic expression she possibly could. 

While that may seem like a simple task for an artist, it wasn’t what she experienced creating Blood. “There were just a lot of people involved, and it kind of meant that I wasn’t as close to that album as I wanted to be,” she explains. Though she’s proud of Blood, the experience ultimately led her to decide to fully co-produce the new, aptly self-titled record. After all, no one knows her sound better than her — no matter how hard people may try to put a label on it. 

La Havas’ music encapsulates a Rolodex’s worth of genres with a common thread of her warm, strong vocals and impeccable guitar skills. But when the industry finds it necessary to classify her artistry, the word ‘urban’ is often used. Blood was nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2016 Grammys alongside The Weeknd’s pop-filled Beauty Behind the Madness and Miguel’s R&B/rock-fused Wildheart. Despite her excitement at the nomination, she felt the category was strangely named, perhaps to categorize Black musicians without any true description of the music they make. 

It wasn’t until this June that the industry finally began to recognize the problematic nature of such descriptors. Major labels have started to abandon ‘urban’ from their catalogs, and the Grammy category was renamed Best Progressive R&B Album. “If you’re changing the name of the category, it makes a point that it’s not necessarily just a minority anymore to be Black,” she says. “You can have as many genres as non-Black music can have basically, which I think is a tremendous step in the right direction.”

If the Recording Academy decides to give her a Grammy down the line, it’s unclear which category would be the best fit. Her sound can’t be directly categorized and that’s what makes it so unique. Even when she performs a cover, as she does with Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” midway through the record, it sounds distinctively like Lianne La Havas. No matter the track, her vocals are soothing and powerful, her melodies are rhythmic and infectious, and her instrumentals are complex and often dream-like. 

During her time in the studio creating Lianne La Havas, she didn’t even think about genre. “I think about things that I like and sometimes I hear my favorite songs influencing me in my melodies,” she details. “But I don’t ever go into a song thinking that I’m going to try and make a particular genre. I just sort of let it be what it wants to be.” 

Crafting a signature sound isn’t the only step she’s taken to ensure pure artistic expression on this record. Its cover art, a black-and-white selfie picked right from her phone’s camera roll, was chosen over an image taken at a larger, fully-produced photoshoot that didn’t feel quite right to represent the personal body of work. La Havas dons a simple t-shirt and an ear-to-ear grin on the final cover that evokes the same intimacy and vulnerability captured within the record itself. Such qualities make the album especially suitable for at-home listening, something she obviously didn’t expect would have become the norm by the time of its release. She thought she’d head out on tour right away. 

“I was obviously very excited and eager to get back on the road,” she says. “I think the weirdest thing is not being able to see the effect of all the work you’re doing to promote it in real time.” 

In order to achieve something similar to a true live experience, La Havas is performing an album release show at London’s Roundhouse venue with no in-person audience to be live-streamed worldwide. Of course there will be no physical crowd interaction, but it’ll partially quench the thirst that both her and her fans have to be back in a theater together. Until the day that becomes possible, she has time to let her creativity regrow and bloom yet again. 

In fact, that’s exactly her plan for once the album is out in the world, she reveals: “I just want to make another one.”

CONNECT WITH LIANNE LA HAVAS

INSTAGRAM // TWITTER // SPOTIFY

Story / Jack Irvin

Photos / Hollie Fernando

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