Lianne La Havas - Her voice is big enough

The songs of romance that make up Lianne La Havas' debut album have earned her critical acclaim and a Mercury nod. But, she tells Gillian Orr, her route to the top was no fairytale

"I cried. It was something I'd wanted and dreamt of but you have no idea until you're told and I was just so, so, so… happy." Lianne La Havas is recalling the moment she found out that her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough?, had been shortlisted for the Mercury Prize earlier this month. "It's been such a great summer. It's interesting that I consider there to be quite a lot of pain discussed on the album and now I'm just really happy all the time so I'm like, 'God, what am I going to do for the next record?'"

Sadness is something of a speciality for the 23-year-old Londoner. With her unique blend of soul, folk and jazz, La Havas's personal tales of falling in and out of love, sung in an impressively smoky voice that goes from a purr to a roar in an instant, are somewhat reliant on a certain kind of temperament. Not that she's too worried about the next record.

"There are so many different things that you can draw upon and angles that you can look at things from in song," she says, sipping on coffee in an east-London café.

Since coming to the public's attention last October when she appeared on Later… with Jools Holland, before she'd had a single release to her name, La Havas's rise to the top has been seemingly effortless. Her fellow guest on Later…, Bon Iver, was so impressed with La Havas that he invited her to join him on his north American tour. She was featured on the BBC Sound of 2012 poll at the beginning of the year. Stevie Wonder has turned up at her gigs and left her voicemails of encouragement. Her album charted at No 4 back in July. And now the Mercury nomination. No wonder she can't stop smiling.

Her Greek father and Jamaican mother split when she was just two years old and she was raised predominantly by her grandparents. However, they all instilled in her a love of music. But, although she had been part of the school choir and completed a GCSE in music, it was only upon leaving school at 18 that she decided upon a music career. She decided to get in touch with an old schoolfriend, the singer Rox. She became one of Rox's backing singers, before doing the same job for Paloma Faith.

"I loved being a back-up singer, I think it's a really great job," she insists. "I was lucky enough to have the time to be working on my own stuff, and I just wanted to feel ready when it came to that point of doing my own thing."

It was around this time that she picked up the guitar, mainly because a lot of people in her new musical circle could play and, being more portable than a piano, thought it would be good to accompany herself on when she worked on her own music while on the road. Things began to snowball after she posted some early songs online. Music-industry execs started to circle, she got a manager, was introduced to Matt Hales, of Aqualung fame, who became her writing partner, and then she was offered a development deal with Warners in 2010.

But she has been faced with setbacks and there were moments when success seemed far from assured. "There were a lot of times when I couldn't write anything," she recalls. "After I decided to leave Paloma, there were times when I thought, 'God, why didn't I just stay in the band?'. I was completely broke and not able to write, and people at the label I'd been working with had left and there was this kind of limbo. I felt like I had lost all my momentum." She decided the only thing to do was to play as many gigs as possible. "I just played and played and played. I kept playing because I was frustrated," she says. "Then somehow I managed to create some sort of buzz; I don't know how it happened really."

The buzz led to her being invited to perform an internet Black Cab Session, which grabbed the attention of the Later… producers. Now La Havas is in a position where breaking America doesn't seem out of the question. She's already had a positive write up in The New Yorker, was a hit when she made her US television debut earlier this month on The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and has some more gigs lined up there later this year. But for now she's focused on next month, which will see her embark on her biggest UK tour to date, and, of course, the Mercurys.

So, who would she like to see win? "I'm so happy that Jessie Ware is nominated. And I happen to know her and just love her singing and love her songs. So it would be amazing if she won. The talent on the list is insane. Yeah, I would vote for Jessie," she says, before laughing. "I mean, only if I couldn't vote for myself."

Lianne La Havas tours the UK from 5 October. 'Is Your Love Big Enough?' is out now

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor