Published Jun 26, 2015"I'm different now from what you've seen before," Lianna La Havas assures Exclaim! firmly as we discuss her new video for the song "Unstoppable." "I wanted to make something that was a performance. I thought it should be something that was very simple."
The video, where La Havas is filmed alone in large, interesting rooms dancing in a very theatrical style, is quite the performance, but simple is an undersell. As much a testament to individual strength as it as a plea to a departed lover for a do-over, "Unstoppable" is notable as one of the few times La Havas has presented her music without guitar.
"I don't play guitar on this song when I play it live. I want to move to it. So in the video I wanted to represent that, and because I'm coming back, it was appropriate to do something new."
Blood, out July 31 on Nonesuch, is La Havas's sophomore follow-up to 2012's Is Your Love Big Enough? While certainly fresh and imaginative, it is a more a natural progression of the UK singer's sound than a 180-degree pivot. Most songs are guitar-driven compositions that straddle a grey area between singer-songwriter numbers and R&B ballads. La Havas's breathy tone gently guides us through discovery and divulgence with equanimity.
"I've got two albums under my belt now. I'm a lot more experienced in the studio, so the way I make music is different," she says. "I know what I want now, and I know what I like, and I have a stronger identity, I suppose. I just feel more confident about what I'm doing."
Blood may seem like an odd title at first glance, but La Havas is as much a lyricist as she is a performer, and finds herself gravitating to certain words when songwriting. "There are definitely things I like the sound of, that are nice words. I always liked the word blood to use in a lyric or a song. So I started writing a song with the word blood in it, and I loved it, but it never got finished."
The word of the title may have been somewhat elusive, but the sentiment behind it is at the heart of this album. "I went on a trip with my mother to Jamaica and that made me think all about my heritage, my Greek father, my Jamaican mother, being from London, and my great-grandmother and what her life must have been like."
During that two-week trip, she squeezed in some studio time to reflect on this sense of selfhood on the song "Midnight." "[It] represents finding a newfound confidence in who I am, because I discovered so much about my heritage, so much about my musical style." This theme carries over onto "Green and Gold," an undisguised allusion to her own history. "I love 'Green and Gold' the most at the moment. It's just really sentimental. I love it because my mother loves it as well. It's kind of for her and my dad. It's very personal. I love the way it sounds, it's also because I co-produced it and I'm really proud of it."
While the time between touring and now had mostly been spent preparing the album, La Havas did have a few high profile moments thanks to her appearance on Prince's Art Official Age album and their Saturday Night Live "Clouds" duet.
"What I loved about being around Prince's band is the band leadership that he has. How he recognizes all the little details," she says. "I think my attention to detail is what I've taken from him and being around his band. It's so incredibly intricate, it's got to be held together right. So I definitely learned a little bit about detail and keeping an eye on how the groove is feeling, you know?"
Asked if her own band have noticed these lessons being applied, La Havas replies sharply, "Yes they do. They definitely know. I've got a very sensitive ear, particularly with this album."
As recently reported, La Havas will embark on a North American tour this fall, and you can see all the dates below.
07/05 New Orleans, LA - Essence Festival
07/07 Hollywood, CA - Troubadour
07/09 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
09/23 Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
09/25 Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer
09/26 New York, NY - Terminal 5
09/28 Boston, MA - Royale
09/29 Montreal, QC - Corona Theatre
10/02 Toronto, ON - Danforth Music Hall
10/03 Detroit, MI - St. Andrew's Hall
10/04 Chicago, IL - Park West
10/06 Minneapolis, MN - Varsity Theater
10/08 Edmonton, AB - Starlite Room
10/09 Calgary, AB - MacEwan Hall
10/11 Vancouver, BC - Commodore Ballroom
10/12 Seattle, WA - Neptune Theatre
10/14 San Francisco, CA - The Independent
10/16 Los Angeles, CA - The Fonda Theatre
10/18 Anaheim, CA - House of Blues
10/19 Los Angeles, CA - Masonic Lodge, Hollywood Forever
10/20 San Diego, CA - The Observatory at North Park
10/22 Dallas, TX - House of Blues
10/23 Austin, TX - Emo's
10/25 Atlanta, GA - Center Stage