Album: Is Your Love Big Enough?
For Fans of: Corinne Bailey Rae, Joss Stone, Janelle Monáe
London native Lianne La Havas owes much of her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough?, to a fateful trip to New York City last year. While visiting the Big Apple, she happened into a secondhand music store called Rivington Guitars, where she found the perfect guitar: a black-and-white ’64 Danelectro that’s “the right size and the right weight,” she says. “I love the sound of it. It’s a lovely, bluesy, wholesome sound.” It’s quickly become her favorite guitar, a trusty instrument for writing and performing.
That sojourn also inspired the album’s title track, a boisterous anthem whose agile guitar lick and jittery percussion evoke the bustle of a crowded street corner. “Is your love big enough for what’s to come?” she asks on the chorus, seemingly addressing the query to every borough. Then comes the bridge: “Ice cream! Ice cream on Seventh Avenue.”
Since that eventful trip, things have certainly picked up for La Havas. She made numerous transatlantic flights to write and record in London, Los Angeles and New York. She signed to Nonesuch, which released Is Your Love Big Enough? in August. And she toured heavily the U.S. with Bon Iver. In particular, that trek has proved extremely “useful,” she says, not only introducing her to an entire continent of potential new fans but also forcing her to connect immediately with thousands of listeners in a cavernous arena rather than just a few hundred fans in a small club.
“It was a crash course in instant bonding,” says La Havas. “Up until then my only experiences had been in small bars and clubs, so I just tried to apply that to a massive stadium as well, just to see what would happen. But it was like going in straight in the deep end.”
Amazingly, La Havas managed to collapse those enormous spaces into more quiet settings armed only with her Danelectro and her disarming voice. When she embarks on her next U.S. tour (this time supporting John Legend), she’ll have a small band backing her up, the better to re-create the sound of Is Your Love Big Enough? “There are some intimate songs that only require voice and guitar or voice and piano,” she explains, “but there are more aggressive ones where you need a beat to think into.”
However they’re played, La Havas’ songs are uniformly forthcoming, openly and often alarmingly confessional about her romantic and sexual miscues. “No Room for Doubt,” a duet with Willy Mason, surveys the aftermath of a one-night stand, while “Lost & Found” lays it all out for a manipulative lover: “You broke me-e-e and taught me-e-e to truly hate myself.” The moment is chilling and brutal, even if the voice singing it draws out the syllables lovingly.
“Every time I play to a different audience, it’s like I’m playing the songs for the first time again,” she says. “It’s almost like I can’t help but think about what it was like when I wrote them and what I was feeling. I want that to come across so I can give as honest a performance as possible.”