No limits for London singer Lianne La Havas
With a second album just out and a tour about to start, Lianne La Havas tells Andy Welch about the joys of experience
A FEW weeks after her second album was released, Lianne La Havas is in reflective mood.
"Experience is so good, because I can be more efficient and more adaptable," she says. "I know how to make things right if there's a bump in the road."
And indeed, in the last few years – since her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough?, was released in 2012 to rave reviews – there's been plenty of scope for experience and growth.
La Havas's second album, Blood, was released last month, and takes the beautiful songwriting and stunning vocals from her Mercury Prize-nominated debut and wraps them up in sumptuous strings and much bigger arrangements.
The effects are no less enjoyable. "It's interesting, releasing a second album," says the 26-year-old. "You feel like everything's changed and nothing's changed.
"I was super-excited about it in the lead up to release day and on the day it came out, and I still am.
"All the changes happen around me constantly, and I just have to be in the path of the change to notice," she continues. "I see it on my social media, and I see it on tour with the audience growing all the time. That's amazing. Things are definitely different this time around, and that's the only thing an artist wants to see, really, that things are moving in the right direction."
In between the two records being released, La Havas found herself namechecked by Prince.
He'd covered one of her songs, and invited her to his Paisley Park base where she featured on one of his songs, Clouds.
Then, in a somewhat bizarre move, when the Purple One came to the UK to announce his Hit And Run tour last year, in which he played a series of guerrilla gigs around Britain, he did so via an online press conference from La Havas's living room, which then turned into his de facto headquarters for the remainder of the tour.
It's obvious she's a bit tired of being asked about it all now, but does say he was very nice.
There's not much of his influence on Blood, although she says the magic of the experience will never leave her.
As for moving through styles, as her sort-of-mentor has done during his four-decade career, she says she wants to try everything, and there's no style she'd explicitly rule out in the future.
That's why Blood sounds so different to Is Your Love Big Enough? and why her next album could go in a much more electronic direction.
"I worked with with Matt Hales again on Blood," she says, referring to her long-time collaborator, better known as solo artist Aqualung.
"He's got to know Howard Lawrence from Disclosure well, so he came to the studio to write a song."
The resulting track, Wonderful, is a different sound for La Havas, and she thinks it could be one she explores in more depth next time around.
"I feel like I'm constantly trying to get at something with each song or album that I make, so why limit myself?
"I always want there to be a song at the heart of whatever I'm doing, that's the most important thing, but what surrounds that is totally limitless. I like the idea of electronic music but played with live instruments, if that makes sense."
She also worked with Paul Epworth on Blood's lead single, Unstoppable. The producer is much better known as Adele's chief collaborator these days, and for working with the likes of Florence + The Machine, Lorde and Lana Del Rey, but it wasn't these marquee names that drew La Havas to Epworth, it was the bands he produced earlier in his career that clinched the deal.
"We were having lunch ages ago and I asked him how he got started. He told me the first album he produced was The Futureheads' debut and that was that. I loved that album, and loads of other records I loved while in my teens were him," she explains.
"It was a lot of fun working with him and he's very generous with his ideas. He's a great songwriter himself, like an artist, but very accommodating and gives you what you need, so he works around you."
Among the shows on La Havas's forthcoming tour, which kicks off at Dublin's Olympia Theatre, is a night at Brixton's O2 Academy, a giant, 5,000-capacity hall not far from Streatham in south London, where she grew up.
"I was terrified when I found out there was going to be a Brixton date, but I loved the idea, surprising as it was," she admits.
The new year holds even more exciting prospects. She's toying with the idea of a short run of solo shows across the States, just her and a guitar, like it used to be, while there's also a one-off show at the Royal Albert Hall.
"It's in March and it'll be the biggest show of my life. I'm not worried – it's like the others but bigger," says La Havas, smiling. "I just have to make sure it's a good one."
:: Lianne La Havas plays The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on Thursday December 3. Blood is out now. (liannelahavas.com)
EXTRA TIME – LIANNE LA HAVAS
:: Lianne La Havas was born Lianne Charlotte Barnes on August 23, 1989 in south London, to a Greek dad and Jamaican mum. They separated when she was young and, growing up, La Havas spent a lot of time with her grandparents.
:: She sang for her school choir, and recalling her first audition, says: "I was shaking like a leaf, but I got in, and my choir teacher also gave vocal coaching privately, so she took me on. I give a lot of credit to her in helping my confidence and teaching me good technique."
:: Her first job in music was performing as a backing vocalist for Paloma Faith.
:: As well as appearing on Prince's track Clouds, she sings backing vocals on several others, and guests on two songs on Rudimental's album We The Generation and one by Alt-J.
:: Her stage surname is an adapted version of her father's surname, Vlahavas.