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Dollars to Pounds: Lianne La Havas

I love a girl who will openly discuss female facial hair. Interview done, coffee drained and talk turns to what a girl should do about a hairy upper lip. “Bleach,” I say. “Threading!” counters Lianne La Havas. The 22-year-old Londoner is currently a relative unknown—her first proper single has only just been released—but her songs will soon be beamed into millions of homes courtesy of musician-cum-TV host Jools Holland. His live music show Later… with Jools Holland (one of the few still televised) is a right of passage for UK musicians. “I immediately phoned everyone and cried!” she says of her appearance. With a honeyed tone that comes in somewhere between Feist and Lauryn Hill, her songs are sparse, built around her liquid vocals and backed largely by La Havas on guitar. Watch her singing, strolling and strumming through the bustling streets of Montmarte, Paris, performing her single “No Room For Doubt” (sadly without Willy Mason, who contributes to the recording). But you better not cross her. When one (musician) boyfriend dumped her, he returned grovelling a year later. His offering? A song he’d written for her, with the request that she sing it. No chance. She poured her scathing emotions into “Forget”.

Download: Lianne La Havas, “Forget (Live in LA)"

Your song “Age” suggests you had a dalliance with a much older man. I did. It’s funny because he’s still a lot older than me! The first verse talks about the boyfriend before the older one and how badly he was treating me. I remember sitting in my granddad’s living room at 3AM being really sad about it but thinking, “Oh, I’ll make a sort of funny ditty about it.” For years I just sat on the song. Eventually I played it to my friend and by then I’d made my decision about [the boy] I was going to go with and the chorus happened because I chose the older man. It worked out nicely. And he likes the song, which is all-important. He laughed.

You were born in Tooting, south London. What made you move to Lower Clapton, east London? I was living with friends in a very bad house situation, we had some very dodgy landlords. I happened to be dating my current boyfriend and at the time we were falling in love, and he was like, Why don’t you just stay with me for a bit while you find a place? I never left.

Is this the boyfriend after the older boyfriend? This isthe older boyfriend, the man in my life. I don’t want say how much older. Let's say he’s in his 30s! But he looks really young and he acts very young! He’s an absolute angel.

Over the past year you’ve been out in LA and New York doing a lot of songwriting with Matt Hales (aka Aqualung). I’m always fascinated when artists are put in a studio, they’ve never met and yet they’re expected to create music together on the spot. It seems like such an intimate exchange of ideas. Oh yeah! Basically, it’s like trying to conceive a baby on a blind date! It could go either way, but you know if you’re meant to be together. To share the process of songwriting with someone you’ve got to trust them completely and you’ve got to like what they do as well. I love what he does and I trust him. I feel like I’m his family now.

On the cover of your current EP “Live in LA” (download it in full, for free here) you appear to be making out with a fluffy stuffed dog. Explain please. Ha! My friend has access to a beautiful house in the Hollywood Hills. He house sits every now and again and there’s this stuffed dog that sits next to the couch. Earlier that week my friend had simulated having sex with it. We went up there after I did that gig that made up the EP, we’d had a few beers, we got quite merry and someone suggested, Why don’t you just pretend you’re having sex with it? I was like, Okay. My friend happened to be there with his camera and so I thought because the gig was that day, that should be the cover.

I enjoyed your cover of Everything Everything’s “Final Form”. I think they’re one of the best British bands ever. Seriously. I think they’re so brilliant, creative and weird. They make interesting music; they want to challenge people. That was one of my favourite songs off their album.

I heard that you were up for a starring role in a big BBC drama. What happened with that? I didn’t get the part. I got to the final three girls or something and I feel really grateful that I got that far. It was a TV drama about a 1930s jazz band, the first black jazz band in the UK. It’s about overcoming racial adversity and moral values. I would have played the lead singer of the band. It was based on Billie Holliday or Alberta Hunter. They said I was too modern. But also, I’m not an actress. I’m not opposed to doing acting in the future though and I think it was handy for me to feel comfortable in front of a camera. There was a day when we did the full outfit screen-test thing and I met all the other girls up for the part and they were lovely. Actual actresses from drama school! I thought it’s better if someone with more experience gets it.

Are you going to watch it when it comes out? I’m so not going to not watch it. I can’t not!

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R&B
Dollars to Pounds: Lianne La Havas