Laura Mvula: Reflections of...
Having impressively begun this year as a Nominee for the 2013 BRITs Critics Choice Award and highly ranked in fourth place for the BBC Sound of 2013, Birmingham, UK-born-and-raised soul singer/songwriter Laura Mvula this month delivers her much -anticipated debut album “Sing To The Moon”. Which, produced by Steve Brown (of Rumer fame), is currently being pioneered by its uplifting offshoot single “Green Garden” - a track which effortlessly infuses Laura’s signature use of percussive chimes painted with enchanting harmonies to create a truly distinctive and original sound.
Indeed, with the classically-trained Laura having graduated from the Birmingham Conservatoire with a degree in Composition, the 26-year-old - whose work has been described as “orchestral soul with emotional vocals” - displays a unique collision of her Caribbean background and formal music training throughout her aforementioned new L.P. Whose tracks range from the dramatically-string-orchestrated, haunting “Sing To The Moon” and sober acoustic piano chords of the personalised “Father Father”; to the more upbeat, punchier “Flying Without You” and lyrically poetic, softly-percussive recent single “She”.
…Cue a charismatic yet eloquently-coy Ms Mvula meeting up with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis at her management’s spacious Camden Town offices. As the lady originally born Laura Douglas in 1986 (and whose music has been described as giving nods to the likes of Nina Simone, Bjork, George Gershwin and Amy Winehouse) enthusiastically discusses her aforementioned debut album plus her richly musical family upbringing in suburban south-west Birmingham.
PETE: Let’s begin on obvious ground - what influenced your debut album “Sing To The Moon” musically?
LAURA: “For me it’s an amalgamation of all of the different musical experiences I had while growing up. You know, I do think I owe a lot to the music my parents had me listen to when I was very young. Which happened to be a lot of soul, a lot of black gospel - and then eventually CLASSICAL music. Which is why I basically feel like this album is just an expression of all of that subconscious learning plus what for me was just sheer INTRIGUE. Like I remember the first time I heard a Miles Davis record through my dad, and for me it was like ‘OK, well if my dad’s really into this music there must be something about it - so can I discover something within it that I can connect with?’. You know, I gradually just began to explore all these things that I was being given… Plus, in addition to my parents, I also grew up listening to my auntie’s acappella group and following them around the country. I mean, they’d do ALL sorts of arrangements - whether it was reggae, folk music, some jazz…And I remember - when I was about 12 - hearing them for the first time in Birmingham Town Hall and just feeling SO MOVED - because I was hearing songs sung in a way that I hadn’t HEARD before… So yeah, as I say, I do feel this album is basically like a celebration of all of these different sounds that I enjoyed from a kid on up.”
PETE: “Sing To The Moon” definitely makes for an intriguing album title…
LAURA: “Well, the actual SONG “Sing To The Moon” came from a time when I was reading a book called “Underneath A Harlem Moon”, which is a biography by a jazz singer called Adelaide Hall. Which is basically all about how she kind of was overlooked, or probably didn’t get the recognition she perhaps deserved. Plus it also talks about how she’d had a hard time growing UP, because her sister - who she was very close to - had died tragically of an ILLNESS... So anyway, there’s a point in the story where she describes her close relationship with her father - which I think kind of resonated with me - where she talks about the conversations she had with him and how he used to say to her randomly ‘Sing to the moon and the stars will shine’. Which kind of became her THING really that she just took WITH her everywhere...And I don’t know why, but for some reason it just struck some kind of CHORD with me - you know, it was just something I seemed to CONNECT with at that time. And so because of that, it then became a saying that I liked to use MYSELF....So yeah, because it’s become something I personally like to express, I just thought “Sing To The Moon” would also make a good title for the album as a WHOLE.”
PETE: Let’s discuss what inspired your current breakthrough single - the enchantingly uplifting, handclap-driven “Green Garden”
LAURA: “I actually wrote “Green Garden” outside sitting on my patio. At the time my husband and I were living in this really tiny little flat in Birmingham, and I just wanted to do something that made me want to DANCE. You know, I was basically thinking a lot about childhood memories of being in the family house with my parents, which for us as kids seemed HUGE - basically because we’d moved from a terraced house to this bigger house with this garden which was MASSIVE, with like 15/20 TREES in it! So for us - bearing in mind we hadn’t had a garden at ALL in the old house - it was like ‘This is a PARK!’ - and I’d say we spent most of our first year in the GARDEN rather than INSIDE! So it was that actual feeling that I wanted to put into a DANCE song. But then once I started it, it got to the point - which usually happens with me - where about three of four hours later I was like ‘Well no, this doesn’t make any SENSE! You know, I actually LOATHED it! But then I realised I hadn’t actually put a BASS-line in. So I improvised this bass-line, and then all of a sudden it actually made the chord progression seem a lot more INTERESTING. Which is when I started to become really excited by it, sent it to Steve (Brown)…And it was actually after he heard “Green Garden” - along with “She”, which I’d already sent him as like a sketch - that he became convinced we definitely HAD something…So yeah, that’s how Green Garden” came ABOUT!”
Laura headlines her own regional tour from April 30 to May 8. Dates include: London, Islington Assembly Hall (May 1); Manchester, Deaf Institute (7); and Birmingham, Glee Club (8). Additionally she will support Paloma Faith on tour at Liverpool Empire (June 4); Bournemouth BIC (5); and London O2 (7), and will play The Isle Of Wight Festival on June 15.
Laura's album “Sing To The Moon" is out now through RCA/Sony Music
Read more from this fascinating interview with Laura Mvula in our print issue, available at all good retailers now or by clicking the link below.
Words PETE LEWIS