"It was quite..."

“It was quiet,” says Lianne La Havas. “I was definitely less busy.” Clash has caught a few minutes with the 22-year-old singer-songwriter and we’ve asked how her life had changed in the past 12 months. Her stunning debut album, ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ has just been released and it seems everyone is after a piece of her. “This time last year I had just written the title track of the album with Matt [Hales] and Willy [Mason]. We were in New York City and it was the most fun time of my life, because the album became more of a tangible thing. It went from a collection of songs to actually having a direction.”

For many, the first glimpse of Havas’ magically emotive voice and her elegant blend of soul-folk was during a performance on ‘Later With Jools Holland’ back in October 2011. If it was a career-defining moment, the magnitude of those few minutes of national television didn’t seem to faze Havas. “It is a very unique experience and I just tried to make sure I was well rehearsed,” she tells us, already sounding like a seasoned professional. “I didn’t want to be making a mistake on live telly. But nothing can prepare you for the feeling of actually being in the room doing the song. You realise it is not just the people in the room watching you but there are millions of viewers as well.”

Two stellar EPs followed (‘Lost & Found’ and ‘Forget’) plus notable support slots with Bombay Bicycle Club and Bon Iver (who’d shared the stage on that Jools show). However, Havas, who began writing songs in her early teens and had previously been a backing singer for both Paloma Faith and soul singer Rox, is not an overnight success story. Signed to Warner Brothers in 2010, Lianne subsequently spent two years developing her songwriting with Matt Hales.

“When I first met him,” Lianne says of the Aqualung stalwart, “I was already a big fan of his music and so it was very exciting and an honour to be working with him. The first day we met each other we actually wrote a song [‘Liar’, the b-side to the single ‘Lost & Found’] and recorded it. It was a really nice release of musical energy and it shocked me how strangely comfortable it felt sharing personal lyrics with him.”

In talking to Lianne it is evident that Hales has had a huge influence on her music. “He was very encouraging of my guitar playing and he definitely helped me define my sound. Wherever he wanted to take the song – like if I didn’t know where to go with the chords – I felt that any suggestion he made was the right place to go. It felt really organic and just how it was meant to be. I’ve already asked him if he wants to do the next album. He said he’d love to but he also said that I might meet someone who can interpret what I do in a different way that I might respond to really well.”

Lianne La Havas - Forget

- - -

Talk of a future album may seem strange in the week her debut long-player was unleashed, but Lianne is already beginning to plot her next musical move. “Now that this album is finished it has given me a lot more space to process thoughts about new songs and what the next album might sound like,” she reveals. “I’m coming up with new ideas on the guitar and I may go with a more live feeling on the next one, perhaps, based on live takes and seeing where that vibe goes.”
As we chat, Havas seems genuinely thrilled and surprised at the almost universal positive reaction to ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ After spending the previous couple of years refining her sound, we ask how happy she is with the final result. “Very - the album is true to my own taste but I’d like to explore that further. With a second album, it could be even more of a confirmation of what the sound is now, but I am happy to explore and perhaps collaborate with [musicians from] some different fields of music. Watch this space.”

The star-in-waiting seems to be taking every step of her whirlwind year in her stride, and is grounded enough to claims to “not want to get used to anything.” She is even calm when she recalls an evening spent with the mighty Prince after His Purple Highness caught a web stream of one of her shows. “I went to Paisley Park to see him,” Lianne explains to a wide-eyed Clash. “It was completely surreal but really, really lovely. He is an amazing man and I felt so honoured to be spending time with him. Paisley Park is the most amazing studio you have ever seen multiplied by ten and it felt like a very important place. We were just hanging out and jamming; playing guitar, listening to music and talking about music.”

Did The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince give her any advice? “He just said for me to keep doing what I was doing - so I will,” Lianne reveals. “To get a pat on the back from a living legend was really nice.”

For Havas, 2012 has been so crazy that a visit to Paisley Park does not even rank as her absolute highlight. “Meeting Stevie Wonder was a big, big turning point,” she divulges. “I was playing in Los Angeles about a month ago and he came to one of the shows. We met and it was very overwhelming - I cried. I was overcome with emotion at meeting someone who, basically, has inspired every musician I have ever met.” Clash enquires as to whether the great man also offered her any advice. “He did - he said for me not to smoke.” The words have had their desired effect. “So I don’t – not anymore. I’ve seen the light.”

Words by John Freeman

- - -

'Is Your Love Big Enough?' is out now.

Follow Clash: