In 2009, Dutch-American artist Laura Jansen released her debut album, Bells, which was a huge success in the US, as well as Holland, Germany and China. Unfortunately the release never reached the UK, something that seems like a crying shame when you hear Laura’s voice. Thankfully her second album, Elba, produced by Matt Hales (who also produced Lianne La Hava’s Mercury nominated album), has seen the light of day in the UK and it’s a wonderfully charming offering. After reviewing the album, we caught up with Laura to chat all things Elba.
Firstly, tell us about Elba – what inspired the album?
Laura: I’m an autobiographical writer for sure and have always remembered the advice to write what I know. After coming off of the road for my last album I suddenly was faced with a lot of deeply personal changes that coincided with me going back into the studio to write my second album. My relationship hadn’t survived the grueling tour schedule and I felt like the experience of making music out in the world had somehow even changed my DNA. The older songs I had ready to go didn’t seem relevant and I started from scratch. The songs on Elba all come from that highly charged period of time. It’s a document of a relationship falling apart but also a testament to discovering new sources of inner strength and a new sense of purpose. A few years ago I was a waitress with the dream to make music full time and now, four years later, I have the extreme fortune to do that. It has consequences and can be challenging but it’s exactly where I want to be and that does really change how you see life.
Elba is a symbol to me of the space we claim as our own. With all its faults and beauty and mystery and magic it is a territory worth exploring. When Napoleon was exhiled to the real island of Elba he crowned himself the king of his prison. I loved that idea and used it as a symbol to start being okay with the place I was finding myself in. Why not crown yourself the king or queen of the place you are in? It may not be a perfect place or where you thought you were going to be, but it is yours.
What was the recording process like?
Laura: I was lucky enough to work with producer Matt Hales who wanted to to make an album that shied away from the traditional singer songwriter form. He let me be about as weird as I wanted to be, and our morning conversations would always start with discussions on things like quantum physics, greek mythology, napoleonic history, my breakup, his family, and a thousand other topics. He let me explore new ideas and also encouraged me to really write an album that reflected the music I was listening to. We were inspired by Miike Snow, Jonsi and Kate Bush (of course).
We worked quickly and this was the first time I consciously chose to collaborate on the writing. That gave me the chance to really challenge my old patterns and bring in people I had wanted to work with for a long time.
What can listeners expect from the album?
Laura: Elba is sonically a big step from Bells for me. It’s a combination of electronic influences and more traditional songwriting. It’s a bigger sound than my first album but incredibly personal to me. It’s my most intimate work to date but you can still dance to some of it!
Describe your music in one sentence…
Laura: Confessional piano electro pop that leans just left of centre.
Who are your musical influences?
Laura: I’ve been hugely inspired by Kate Bush my whole life. I was raised on Queen and Brazilian protest songs (Chico Buarqe). I played heavy classical piano and listen to James Blake daily. So it’s varied and I hope at least a hint of what inspires me shows up when I write a song.
What do you think is the best album ever written?
Laura: An impossible question. Really! I think I have a perfect album from every decade? But to stick to the format I’ll go with the first one that comes to mind. Joni Mitchell, Blue. It’s one of the few albums I can play in its entirety over and over again for years and never get bored. It had a massive impact on my teenage heart. I could read her lyrics as poems, learned guitar chords over these songs and just dove right into the world of Joni after hearing this album.
What’s been your best gig so far?
Laura: Thats a tough question as well. It has been such a whirlwind few years and different gigs leave different impressions on my heart. Playing in places I never thought I would go, let alone have fans in is pretty mind blowing. I’ve been lucky enough to tour in front of large audiences in China on two separate tours and those shows were incredibly special to me. Playing my first real show in London’s St. Pancras was amazing. It was so intimate and direct. I felt a lot of love at that show. Every show feels like an opportunity to learn something and push myself further. I know it sounds corny but it’s really true. In Holland we play in front of really big crowds but that is as exciting to me as playing in a brand new city for a brand new audience and feeling the challenge to win them over. I love that part the most.
If you could duet with anyone, who would it be?
Laura: I’d love to sing with Guy Garvey (Elbow) and my big wish is to collaborate with James Blake.
What TV show would you like to hear your music featured on?
Laura: I’m a total series nerd but only end up watching tv shows once they’ve gone off the air! I think Skins does a pretty great job with music placement and I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a really great dance performed to one of my songs on So you Think You Can Dance!
Where in the world do you most want to perform?
Laura: Glastonbury! And then tour Japan.
What’s your fondest musical memory?
Laura: Hearing my new neighbors through the thin walls singing to one of my songs!
What are you listening to right now?
Laura: Trouble Will Find Me by The National.