Raised in London mostly by her Jamaican grandparents, soulful singer/songwriter Lianne La Havas knew of the culture of the Caribbean nation from dinner table conversations and records. But it took her until an in-between-albums vacation to actually experience the island in person. And as one might expect, La Havas turned a pleasure trip into a working one, meeting up with producer Stephen McGregor (who is also a successful reggae riddim producer and performer).
“So not only was my vacation this beautiful, emotional, eye-opening holiday, but I also was able to express myself as it was all happening,” she says. “I learned a lot about myself, which I talk about on the album. I called the album ‘Blood’ because it’s a lot to do with my heritage and identity and a feeling of self-discovery.”
amNewYork caught up with La Havas to talk about the trip, her latest album and her current solo tour, which stops in New York twice this week.
Some people retrace their roots to find something they feel is missing, while others look at it as adding discoveries onto who they already are. Did this trip lean more toward one of those two paths? Or was it something else completely?
For me, personally, it was kind of a missing part of a jigsaw. I’d been raised by my Jamaican grandparents, so I was completely immersed in Jamaican culture from a very young age. But it was all in London — I had never seen Jamaica. To actually be there is a unique feeling. You find out why half your family sounds the way they do, and why they like what they like, and why you like certain foods or colors. But you also feel very separate from it. I’m from London, I consider myself very much a Londoner, very English. I felt completely connected and yet very disconnected.
Obviously “Green and Gold” [La Havas’ song which explicitly refers to her trip] is a track borne of this journey, but are there other moments on “Blood” that transport you back to Jamaica?
The song “Midnight,” because that one was actually written and recorded in Jamaica. I can’t help but feel the warmth and the laid-back, chill attitude of the people I was there with and the studio I was in. It’s actually my favorite on the album – I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I was so proud. It represents many things. I’ve never sung like that before. It’s like the song made me sing that way.
A lot of the rooms you’re playing on this tour are much smaller than one might expect. What made you downsize for these dates?
Because this album is so, for a lack of a better word, “produced,” I wanted to give them a different life by performing them on my own. And it satisfied my own desire to play alone. But in those venues, I just thought I wanted it to feel like you’re with your friends in a living room, and it’s cozy and very personal. My music is very personal, and I wanted the venue to reflect that.
IF YOU GO: Lianne La Havas performs at the Manderley Bar at McKittrick Hotel tonight at 10:30 p.m., 530 W. 27th St., 212-904-1883, sold out.
She also performs at Rough Trade NYC on Feb. 5 at 8 p.m., 64 N. Ninth St., Williamsburg, 718-388-4111, sold out.