Lianne La Havas
One night last October, Lianne La Havas' life changed on a dime. The 22-year-old London-born singer, songwriter, and guitarist had been asked to appear on the influential British music show Later… with Jools Holland (a rare invitation for an unknown artist), and she made sure to take advantage of her moment. Cutting a striking figure in a white pleated skirt and side-swept poof of hair, with a radiant smile spread across her face, La Havas performed "Age"—a playful tune about a dalliance with an older man—with effortless grace and charm. When the show aired, the reaction was instantaneous and unanimous: Lianne La Havas was on her way to becoming a star. "With her electric guitar strung high, and her beautiful, smoky, vibrato-rich croon of a voice enunciating every word, she seems to be confiding in you directly, with no filter in between—a strange (and rare) mix of fragility ... and impregnable, ensnaring confidence," raved the UK's Sunday Times about the performance.
Following La Havas' performance on Later…, her London club residency sold out in a few hours and she was tapped by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who had also appeared on the program that night, to open his band's North American tour in December 2011. She was nominated for the BBC's Sound of 2012—an annual poll of music critics and industry figures to find the most promising new musical talent (past winners include Adele and Jessie J).
The daughter of a Greek father and a Jamaican mother, La Havas fell in love with music at a young age and cites her parents' tastes as a huge influence. Her dad, who played accordion, piano, and guitar, favored jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, while her mother loved female soul-R&B singers like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and Mary J. Blige. La Havas remembers wanting to sing herself at age seven after watching Lauryn Hill belt out a gospel tune in Sister Act 2. She enrolled in college to study art but dropped out to pursue a career in music after joining a circle of friends who wrote and recorded music while attending London's famed performing arts institution The BRIT School. One of those friends asked La Havas to accompany her at a gig and also introduced her to British singer Paloma Faith, with whom La Havas toured as a back-up singer. She also performed in bands, put her music up on MySpace, and found management, which led her to Hales and her future. Now La Havas is ready to take center stage herself and win over American audiences with the August 7 U.S. release of Is Your Love Big Enough? by Nonesuch Records.
At first glance, the title may be simple, but Alice Smith's new album She is anything but.
An intoxicating mixture of rock, pop and R&B, the album reveals a singer/songwriter/producer who has an unshakable sense of self and the attitude to match. Get ready, because here comes She.
Alice was raised between Washington DC and Augusta, Georgia on a steady diet of gospel, pop, soul and a little go-go thrown in for good measure. Those influences remain on new songs like "Be Easy" and "The One", representing an evolution from her critically-acclaimed debut album, For Lovers, Dreamers & Me, released in 2006.
In the time between albums, her fans across the globe have followed her remarkable live show to world famous venues like NYC's Joe's Pub, LA's Wiltern Theater and Paris' Le Zenith. Known for a 4-octave vocal range, Alice has the kind of live performance that can coax goosebumps and tears from even the most jaded listener. She has honed her stage presence since cutting her teeth in NYC's Afro-Punk Scene alongside artists like Tamar Kali and Imani Coppola. To her devoted followers, Alice's follow-up album can't come soon enough.
"I've been through a lot of heartaches and setbacks," she admits, while adding, "I'm grateful for everything that's happened. Today I'm just trying to practice my gratefulness because I'm really comfortable with the place I'm at now, and I am so excited about She being released in March."
Riding the wave of For Lovers, Dreamers & Me, an artful blend of bluesy, soulful vocals and mid-tempo grooves that Vibe Magazine said "evoke[s] Fiona Apple's finest material," Alice signed to Epic Records. Her single "Dream" was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Urban/Alternative category, and her sophomore release seemed to be full steam ahead. However, the label soon underwent numerous, well-documented changes to its executive staff. Though she was producing new material at a
steady clip, it was delayed by the inner workings of her label.
While recordings were held up in legal snafus for months stretching into years, Alice found herself going back to the source. She reconnected with producer Alex Elena, (known for collaborations with artists including Lily Allen and Avril Levigne), with whom she recorded For Lovers, Dreamers & Me. The pair went back to the beginning. "Alex came to my house, and we cooked and ate and talked—and we finished the album," explains Alice.
Much of the album was also recorded in Hawaii, where she joined forces with writer/producer Reginald "Syience" Perry (Beyonce, John Legend, Ne-Yo) and singer/songwriter Rebecca Jordan. "We got a house and would record in another structure on the property with a huge Parvati statue in it," describes Alice. "That's the SHE that inspired the conversation leading to the song and album title." The Hindu goddess of love, devotion and power, Parvati is a remarkably fitting agent for a project that has led to Alice's own reincarnation as an artist.
Out of this remarkably intimate setting came songs like "Cabaret," where Alice seems to be daring herself with lines like, "What kind of chances will you take?" Sultry and swinging, "Cabaret" ushers in a new era of her sound—fiercely honed pop drenched in notes of soul, orchestral arrangements and multi-hued harmonies.
The sound "is much more free and light," says Alice. "I'm still an emotional person, but the music is getting lighter. There is more ease."
That lightness is revealed in songs like "Ocean," with a Calypso twang and earthy, Janis-influenced vocals. Produced by Alex Elena, the track is one of the last Alice wrote for the album. She opens, crooning, "There's something I've been dying to say," a statement that seems to encompass all the disappointments and ultimate triumphs of the process of
bringing She to light.
Something else happened during this period when She has been coming to life—Alice became a mother. "Having babies is a really powerful feeling," she muses, and the birth of her daughter has been one of the moving experiences that finds its way into the words and notes of She. Even when setbacks revealed themselves, "I started to think about who I want her mother to be, knowing that the best way to teach is to show."
Alice's journey of bringing that higher self to life—documented in full, rollicking volume—is She. And her story has never sounded so sweet.
The NYC-bred singer/songwriter/producer, known for her 4-octave vocal range and stunning stage presence, made a name for herself with her critically-acclaimed 2006 debut album, For Lovers, Dreamers & Me, released on BBE Records. At the time, her artful blend of bluesy, soulful vocals and mid-tempo grooves garnered a passionate following that packed venues like NYC's Mercury Lounge and Joe's Pub, while Vibe Magazine gushed that her sound "evoke[s] Fiona Apple's finest material." Her single "Dream" was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Urban/Alternative category.
For a young performer who had until recently cut her teeth within the New York Afro-Punk scene—where she sang with Black Rock Coalition and Tamar Kali, and collaborated with Zero 7's Sia Furler and Imani Coppola—the spotlight attention was a surprise. The glow dimmed rather quickly, however, when it came time to record her sophomore album.
She signed to Epic Records after a bidding war and re-released For Lovers in 2007. The next four years were dedicated to writing and recording new material. Meanwhile, the label went through numerous, well-documented changes to its executive staff. For an artist who had always been self-reliant, Alice suddenly found herself at an impasse. Though she was producing new material at a steady clip, it was being held back by the inner workings of her label.
"It was painful," explains Alice of the process of recording her unreleased album. Though she recorded countless tracks, they lingered on the shelf. While her reps tried to mold her into something she was not, fans showed that they love her as she is—they packed her performances, demanding new music. It was a wake-up call for the fiercely independent singer. "It's almost embarrassing, to be performing a sold-out show and people are asking me where the new music is," recalls Alice, adding that she had so little control over her own music, that she didn't even know when her fans might get the chance to hear it.
Though her fans may have wondered what happened to Alice Smith, she was hardly silent during those years. She performed new material for sold-out crowds at top venues like New York's Highline Ballroom, SOB's and Blue Note Jazz Club, and Los Angeles' Wiltern Theater. Meanwhile, she experienced huge shifts in her personal life, giving birth to a baby girl, and moving her new family to Los Angeles for a sunny but serious change of pace. With a new pair of trusted collaborators—producer Syience and singer/songwriter Rebecca Jordan—she put these experiences into song.
Today, Alice looks forward to finally giving her fans a hotly anticipated dose of new music. "It's an exciting time, but it's a really calm excitement," she explains. "I feel really inspired to get where I'm going musically. I'm excited to get back to work and continue examining what it is and what it takes to be a powerful woman, happy and fulfilled."
The new collection reveals the same passions of the "country at heart" singer, raised between Washington DC and Augusta, Georgia. Surrounded by everything from go-go, to gospel, to pop, she crafted her own stories blending elements from her favorite genres. By the time Lovers debuted in '06, Alice was known for a unique approach to soul, tempered by a heady dose of rock and her own personal take on matters of the heart. It's the same appeal that she brings to her new material.
"I've always written about and been interested in relationships," says Alice, musing over her songwriting process. "I'm still interested in those things, because I think they are most important. However, I'm just as interested in how they relate to the self. I've been more consciously applying what I've learned about relationships in my outward life, to my relationship with myself inside."
With notes of '60s pop, Burt Bacharach-style melodies and that intoxicating element ofattitude, Alice's upcoming collection has something for die-hard followers and new fans alike. Her sound has evolved, adding lush, orchestral arrangements and multi-hued melodies. Though she has always been an artist at heart, Alice is now a mother, and she's been through some powerful experiences over the past few years. She emerges with new insights to realize through song. Still singing, of course, but today, stepping out independently, she has all the more reason to give 'em something they can feel.