Live Virtual Session: Lianne La Havas

Lianne La Havas joins The Current's Sean McPherson for a Live Virtual Session. (MPR Video)
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Interview highlight: Lianne La Havas describes working with Mura Masa
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  • Interview highlight: Lianne La Havas discusses Prince's legacy 01:54

Lianne La Havas joins The Current's Sean McPherson for a Live Virtual Session to talk about and to play two songs from her 2020 self-titled release, releasing Friday, July 17. La Havas also plays a selection from her 2015 release, Blood.

Watch the full session above, and read a transcript of the interview below.

Interview Transcript

SEAN McPHERSON: You are hanging out with The Current. I am Sean McPherson and I am beyond excited to be chatting today and hearing some music from Lianne La Havas, and she is joining us in advance and in anticipation of this record that's coming on July 17.

After a five-year break, back into releasing music. Lianne, thank you so much for taking time out today.

LIANNE LA HAVAS: My pleasure. Thank you.

A lot of times, if somebody waits a little while between albums and then comes out with a self-titled album, it feels like a real moment of arrival and a statement within the career. Is that kind of where we're heading with this Lianne La Havas record?

I guess so. I don't know if I intended it to be that way, but I think that it is that for me. (laughs)

There's a comfort in the songs I'm hearing from the album. A lot of times it sounds like one vocal take, or at least there's not two of you multi-tracked on the thing. The band sounds very intimate and comfortable, and I know that you're working with your own band to a greater extent than you have on your previous records. Is this just you getting to that level where you're really comfortable doing things on your own terms? Did you want to simplify? What makes this record so intimate and down to earth?

I think it's a few things that you mentioned. Just the fact that it's my own band makes it very homely.

Also the fact that I've done most of it in London, which is my home. And anywhere that I've worked that was outside of London also was with people I know and care about, so it's all kind of definitely like a family project.

I also wanted to leave things in their most natural state, I guess. I feel like I can hear when something has gone too far or something is too produced for my taste. And I think my style of production on this album is definitely a more natural approach, or the more kind of haphazard, use-what-you've-got-there, DIY approach. But of course, we used some amazing equipment! If we did have that there available, so yeah. (laughter)

Well, we are loving how the record sounds. So glad to have you back.

Thank you.

Before we talk more, let's get into one of your tunes.

[music: Lianne La Havas, "Courage"]

Lianne La Havas singing and playing guitar
Lianne La Havas performs a Live Virtual Session for The Current. (MPR Video)

Thanks for hanging out with The Current, and we are listening to some incredible music from Lianne La Havas, who is celebrating this new release, which is self titled, and the first album in five years.

Now Lianne, you started recording this record under very, I would say, low-stakes circumstances; it sounds like you brought your band into the studio to record a cover of a Radiohead tune, "Weird Fishes," that you had dialed in from doing your live shows, and I'm wondering if that was part of the casualness of getting the record started was just, you got a great band, you jump in and you start that way. Did that help inform the rest of the recording process?

It definitely did. I had done a few kind of "jam sessions" leading up to the climactic finishing of the album, because it had been a long time being written, basically; it took ages to write it. And then, yeah, but what I realized is a lot of my demos were already jam sessions with musicians and great people that I knew and am friends with, so as well as having those elements on this album, when it came to doing the rest of the songs, I just— yeah, that was the moment I tried "Weird Fishes," because I wanted to know if … Well, I wanted to have a version of it just to listen to because I never did a real recording of it before, apart from a live one.

So yeah, then I got my band, and then everyone had a really nice day, I think, they tend to tell me. And we ended up making that version, and I honestly just felt really positive about it. I just felt like, "Yeah, this is exactly how I want to sound, and these are the people that I think can help me to sound the way I want to sound for the rest of the songs," so as each other song got finished, the next natural port of call was to get my band to help me finish them. And that's how it ended up.

And now one song we've been loving on The Current is the first track that's on this new record, which is called "Bittersweet," and the first time I listened to it, I have to admit, that I thought my Spotify had moved over to Jay-Z's The Blueprint, because the very start of the track has a real kind of old-soul sampled feel, and then you go somewhere really different with it, and I absolutely love the tune, and I was reading that you felt like you couldn't really deliver that tune till you gave yourself some rest and relaxation to be able to hit that one note. Can you tell me about the process of sort of both forgiving yourself or not being able to hit the note, but also arriving to that point where you really could deliver it?

I don't know if I really think about it that much. Honestly, I feel like when I'm just feeling like it is when I sing the best.

Gotcha.

If I'm being, you know, if I've got to find the energy from somewhere that it isn't already, then I find it more difficult to enjoy singing, you know? So I think having a five-year break (laughs) is the kind of thing that is really good for your voice, it turns out.

But yeah, I started that song in 2014, and then I finished it in 2018, so it was just the right time and the right words and the right time in my life, I think.

Well, the writing and the performance of it sound really great, and I keep on going back to the word "intimate" but your vocal performance on that sounds so comfortable and just — I don't know! It feels really right.

Thank you.

Absolutely. On top of that, I was reminded initially of a Jay-Z sample-based tune right when I heard the track. You also have the band doing a lot of dropped ones and quiet fours, and a lot of tricks that I associate with Jamaican music where you're doing arrangements that have a lot more with taking things out than putting things in, and I know that before your last record, you actually visited Jamaica and worked with a producer down there. Is it through Jamaican music that you picked up a lot of those dropping the one type of tricks for your album?

Maybe. I think it's sort of built in to me, honestly! I think it's just a part of my upbringing and, you know, you could say, DNA. There's just music everywhere in Jamaica, so I definitely feel like I absorbed some of that.

And when it came to making my album, I love R&B, and I love syncopation, and I love things that trick the ear, and I love lots of texture in music.

And I think "Bittersweet" provided the opportunity to make something that has all of those elements. And my band kind of did most of it just naturally as well. They just are that funky! (laughter)

Well, I'm really excited to hear an even more intimate version of "Bittersweet," but for those of you that haven't checked out the song yet, I sincerely recommend checking out the band version. But let's get into it, Lianne La Havas doing "Bittersweet."

[music: Lianne La Havas, "Bittersweet"]

That is "Bittersweet," Lianne La Havas off this new album, which is a self-titled album, and for me, from what I've heard so far, the album I connect with the most from your discography, which is saying something, because I really love all the music you've made beforehand.

Now you've had a bigger hand in producing this record than you've had in your previous records, but you did also connect with some real friends, including a producer who I adore out of England named Mura Masa; you worked on the tune "Can't Fight" with Mura Masa. Can you tell me how that came about and what that experience was like?

I love him, too. He's really cool, basically. He's a really cool guy, a really nice person. I found the process of working with him extremely natural. And yeah, I guess, on my first two albums, I — or maybe not so much my first album, but my second album, I definitely worked with a lot of new people, and I had to sort of build relationships at the same time I was making songs with them, which worked out in some cases; it didn't work out in other cases, but that's fine.

But I remember during the process of the second album; well, maybe it was just after it came out, I heard Mura Masa, and I heard his music, and I just fell in love with it. And we happened to have some mutual friends, so I found a pathway to kind of ask if he wanted to work together.

So this was four years ago now, so we worked together four or five years ago for the first time, and then whatever happened happened: I went on tour, he won some Grammys, you know, that kind of thing. And then we got back in touch when I was making this album, and he happened to be set up in South London, like myself, and we ended up the first thing we did was make "Can't Fight."

And so, yeah, I was glad, because I had a great feeling about him when I first met him and we stayed in touch, and I, you know, bumped into him at Coachella and stuff, so there was definitely like a, you know, an actual relationship there, and it was solidified by making that song. He made me feel really comfortable in general, and he got me to play my guitar, and I sometimes get weirdly shy about playing guitar in sessions. Do you know what I mean? He was just like, "Oh, just play." And I was like, "What do you mean? I don't want to 'just play'."

And then I did, and I felt totally comfortable, and I was playing riffs from years ago that I'd never done anything with, and then that is what "Can't Fight" became; he was able to see the beauty in that very old riff that I had.

Lianne, if I could play guitar like you can, I would be playing it 24 hours a day just walking around, "Hey, look at me! I'm really good at guitar!"

Oh, stop it! (laughter) But thank you.

No, you are a spectacular instrumentalist and of course, the writing and the voice push it over the edge.

You are one of the great talents of right now in music, and I'm not remotely the first person to say that; one of the first people to catch wind of you and to reach out is Prince, and you guys had a relationship, one of the first ways I heard your voice was as the narrator on that album.

Yeah.

As we now navigate more years since Prince's passing, and I don't want to dwell on Prince's passing, I know y'all had a private friendship and I don't want to get in the way of that, but as the years go by of surviving without Prince, how do you relate to his music or his legacy differently in this time?

I definitely really miss him. I miss him on a few levels; like, I miss him as a friend, obviously. And I miss his, you know, just being there for me. But then, I feel like with everyone else as a planet, we miss his presence as well.

And his, you know, sort of almost omniscient, omnipotent, just being around and knowing always, you know, [he] always knew what was going on with music, always had his finger on the pulse; he was always finding new things.

And I think — I think that his influence, more than anything, it made me more determined to do things myself and not rely so much on other people to help me do things I already could do but just maybe didn't believe enough that I could do them, and he definitely always did that in his career, and his whole legacy is just so "Do it yourself and be the best that you can be." And I think the best would be if his music continues to inspire generations of people like it has myself.

Well, that is beautiful words and I definitely take that to heart, and this spirit of his self-determination, his willingness to cut his own path certainly show through in the way you're rolling out this new record and your comfort. I even think about, as I was looking at the cover art to your record; all the other covers are wonderful, but your hair is very perfectly groomed and you look fantastic, and in this new album cover, you also look fantastic but you look so comfortable, and your hair is free and out, and if that's an indication of also this spirit of the album of this sort of willingness to make it on your own terms and to create on your own terms, I hear that in the music as well, and I'm so thankful you're bringing that into this universe when I think honesty and accessibility and intimacy is something that is in short supply right now, and you're bringing some of it into the universe, and I sincerely thank you for that.

Thank you very much. Thanks. That means a lot to me.

Lianne La Havas singing and playing guitar
Lianne La Havas's self-titled album releases July 17, 2020. (Nonesuch Records / Warner Music)

We're going to get to one more tune from Lianne, and I just want to say thank you so much for taking some time out to chat with The Current. Congratulations on your new release, and I can't wait to get to see you not over the internet but at a venue in the Twin Cities.

Right!

Or perhaps in our studios.

Yeah, I hope so as well.

You've visited our studios twice before. We love you, we appreciate you making new music, and great music and putting it into this Earth, we'll hear one more tune, and thanks again.

[music: Lianne La Havas, "Green & Gold"]

Thank you very much. I love you. Bye.

Songs Performed


02:50 "Courage"
12:36 "Bittersweet"
25:02 "Green & Gold"
Songs 1 and 2 are from Lianne La Havas's 2020 self-titled release; song 3 is from 2015's Blood. Both are available on Warner Music / Nonesuch Records.

External Link

Lianne La Havas - official site

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