After a five year hiatus, split with previous band member Ben Langmaid and temporary vocal loss, one may be nervous about the reception of a second album. It was instantly clear that this was not an issue for La Roux at her show in Bristol, as we were surrounded by an energetic crowd chanting “La Roux! La Roux! La Roux is on fire!” at the top of their lungs. Fans and critics alike have welcomed her back with open arms, partly just happy to see her iconic bouffant appear on the scene again but mostly because her second album ‘Trouble in Paradise‘ was well worth waiting for. We had a pre-show chat with La Roux about the making of Trouble in Paradise, record labels and her teen music tastes…
How’s the tour with the new album been so far?
We’ve absolutely loved it so far. As well as a few gigs here to start off the UK, then going onto Europe, we’ve done about three and a bit weeks in the US. That was really really good, it’s always nice to be there. It does feel like we’ve got a bit of work to do in the UK – in a good way. I still think we’ve got a lot to prove which is great, I like having that feeling. There’s a definite goal. These gigs have been so much more dancy. Something I didn’t like about the first record was that it didn’t create the same kind of dance in the crowd as this record has.
I guess ‘Trouble In Paradise‘ has a slower feel compared to your debut…
Yeah, it’s a more mid tempo vibe that you can actually, without sounding like my dad, get down to. Where as I think with the first record all you could do was kind of head tap to it which worked well for a little bit but I didn’t really want a whole career of that, I love dancing. I love music that makes you dance and move in a different way. I didn’t feel like the first album had that effect on people and ‘Trouble In Paradise‘ definitely has. You can see people responding to the music differently and when you play the old tracks you notice people can’t dance as much and it’s really frustrating because you know that it’s not their fault, it’s just the music. The crowd get excited when I perform songs like ‘In For The Kill’ and ‘Bulletproof’. I’ll jump up and down, but it won’t be the same dancy thing. That’s something that we’re loving about doing new shows, we’re winning people over with musical sections without there having to be vocals. We’re winning people over with music which is exactly what I wanted to do.
It seems like the concept of paradise and tropical influences weave through both the lyrics and music. Can you tell us a bit about the ideas behind that?
I wanted the music to be sunny but I also wanted the lyrics and stories to paint a picture as well. We’ve tried to paint pictures with the with musical sections, like the end of Let Me Down Gently and the middle 8 of Cruel Sexuality. We’re definitely trying to create a landscape. I know a lot of people who can’t listen to music in the same way as others, they don’t respond to certain things and they need a lyrical nudge as well, so I think it was important that the lyrics nudge you in that direction too. I saw on twitter today somebody said “listening to My Paradise is You feels like being in love with somebody on a old holiday in the 50s” and that’s so weird because it’s exactly what my reference was. It was pleasure beaches in the 50s and going on holiday in the UK. Unfortunately, we won’t get to make a video for it but if I could that’s exactly what it would be, what she said.
I think people certainly got the vibe of the first record. People got the defiance of In For The Kill and Bulletproof, they got my attitude and I think they probably got a bit of my personality as well. But with this record we’re trying to get something across that has more layers to it, and it’s really nice that people can see all of those layers. It’s quite rare to do that and I’m very proud of doing it in that way.
After splitting with previous member Ben Langmaid whilst recording, did you feel like you wanted to start with a clean slate for the new record?
When you feel like something’s yours, it’s very difficult to leave it behind. For me, really it was more about bringing the songs in at that point of break that I’d previously been told I wasn’t aloud to use. Tracks like Tropical Chancer, Cruel Sexuality which Ben wasn’t interested in working on, which was insane because I thought they were the best tracks I’d written in the past two years. I felt that these songs had been totally rejected and it made me question how good they were. Then working with Ian Sherwin, I said I want to do Tropical Chancer and Cruel Sexuality and he said good I think they’re amazing. I was like great, thank-you! We wrote Silent Partner, the only song we wrote in it’s entirety together which we would like to do more of in the future. Being pushed to throw away your work is something I obviously couldn’t accept, and it was really nice to work with somebody who understood my wide spread of ideas – some tracks like Sexoteque are a bit calispo-y and then some are a bit more like Uptight Downtown…
The balance between the upbeat feel of the album and more melancholic aspects of certain songs is something that you can hear from the record too.
Exactly, yeah. I knew that it was going to be a delicate balance, I think that was what Ian and I achieved and I couldn’t of achieved that without him at all, no way. He was able to see an album where they could all fit together and help me create it. I knew it was going to be a careful balancing act because there is…well there’s tropical vibes and then there’s a ballad. Some of the album has an 80s feel, parts of it are a bit more modern and other tracks are disco-y, it’s making that all fit together which was important.
You said previously that on the first record, you didn’t take a lot from record sales. Does this frustrate you? Do you feel like there needs to be change in the way the music industry is running at the moment?
Everybody wants it to change. Everybody knows that the way the music industry is being run is old fashioned and out of date, it’s been like that and getting worse for a long time. I think that’s where the frustration comes from, you feel like you’re trapped in this thing of where you’re like well I don’t have however much money to start my own record label and I don’t know if I could get away with licensing my record at this stage in my career. What I often find is that bands that have already been very successful and made a lot of money can start branching out completely on their own and then they make an absolute killing because they essentially reap every single benefit from their record. None of it’s split 80/20 to the label or whatever. I think realistically me being able to be in that situation where I can completely support myself is a little bit far off but it’s certainly something that I am researching and looking into. I don’t think it’s a good idea for new young artists to sign to major labels anymore. It was a dream of mine when I was younger, my dream was to sign to a major label. It couldn’t be less of a dream now.
Have you found it tricky working with your record label?
I didn’t previously because A) I didn’t know as much about the industry, so didn’t look into it and B) I was way to busy being scared of everything else that was going on in my life to notice anything that Polydor were doing wrong or right. As far as I was concerned I had a record in a CD case. Who’s going to complain? It’s when you get further down the line. I feel like I made a record which isn’t the record that they wanted. I’m not saying that’s what happened, but that’s what I can deduce from it and they don’t tell me but I’m having to assume. Since not delivering Bulletproof mark II, it has been a lot harder to work with them – I don’t really have a relationship to speak of with them anymore. You only end up having a problem with anyone that you work with when you’re thinking different things and maybe we were just thinking different things.
You were around 18 when you recorded your first album, how did you find that experience? Was it hard to deal with the sudden success?
I’ve been writing songs since I was 12. I was always going to make an album, and I was never not going to do what I do now. It was just about how I got there I guess. It was weird because it happened so quickly. I had always wanted to be an artist that grew, I wanted to grow into that position. There was part of me if I’m really honest (which I always am) that didn’t feel like I’d earned it. Nowadays the amazing thing about major record labels is what they can do that to an artist. It’s quite incredible how quickly you can be successful, but maybe that’s not the right thing for people. It meant I was awful live, because I’d never had any practice. There was lots of stuff that I wasn’t prepared for that I think I would of been a lot better had I maybe one record out before. Or perhaps gigged a bit previously and let myself develop. I think part of me; although I’ll never regret writing Bulletproof, regrets the way I became successful so quickly and then therefore how you’re perceived by everybody else which is essentially a pop flash in the pan. I found it very, very difficult to cope with that image and didn’t like it at all because I knew it wasn’t the artist and the musician that I was. I kind of felt like the best thing that had ever happened to me was also somehow the worst.
Do you think that made it harder writing your second album?
I think it made it harder and easier, because I knew what it felt like to have a bit hit. If you don’t know what it feels like to have a big hit, you could spend your whole life chasing it. I already knew what it felt like, and yeah okay I liked parts of it but I also really disliked other bits. Now, I just want to make music that I’m proud of and that I feel is the kind of music that I like. I want the people that make the music that I like, to like the music that I make and that definitely wasn’t true before. I think that’s something that all musicians want, you want to be considered in an area of music that you love and if you’re not at all in any way, shape or form it can be quite hurtful.
What kind of music did you listen to as a teenager?
When I was a teenager I listened to a lot of Folk music and Motown. Also, to be honest, I listened to a lot of that Justin Timberlake record Justified too. I still think that’s one of the best pop records of the last 20 years, I cant help it – it is. That record really is a brilliant pop record and I don’t really think anything since, in that realm has beat it as far as I’m concerned. I loved that record when I was that age, but it was the only modern music I listened to. I listened to that and my parents music essentially.
Lastly, a little muso game for you – list three tracks under these titles…
1. Guilty pleasure… Oh god I’ve got loads of these, millions and millions…but the first one that comes to mind is What Is Love by Haddaway.
2. Play on a Loop… At the moment what I’m playing on a loop is Aaron Neville – Tell It Like It Is and Ain’t That Peculiar by Marvin Gaye.
3. Makes me feel sick… Slagging people off is my absolute nono but….Clean Bandit. I can’t take that song, I just can’t handle it. If I hear that riff one more time I swear to god….It’s just the epitome of irritating. I was going to say Ed Sheeran but everyone hates him already so I don’t need to say that.
LISTEN TO TROUBLE IN PARADISE HERE!
FOLLOW LA ROUX ON TWITTER HERE!
Interview by Lula Ososki