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Pretty Battle Scars: Laura Jansen Sets Her Sights On The UK

Wednesday, 10 July 2013 Written by Katie Territt

Laura Jansen might be a new name to listeners in the UK, but the enigmatic Dutch-American songstress has already achieved success in the States and Europe.

A talented songwriter with a beautiful, haunting voice, Jansen is gearing up to release her second full-length, ‘Elba’, on July 15, the follow-up to 2009’s ‘Bells’. It’ll be the first time that one of her records has seen a UK release, and she’s pretty excited about the whole thing.

“My life changed completely when ‘Bells’ came out and I haven't looked back since,” Jansen said. “I've been touring that record for almost four years now and it’s given me a real sense of motivation now that ‘Elba’ is coming out in the UK for the first time. I've always hoped to release music there and have a lot of respect for the UK listeners.

"Most of the music I'm listening to these days comes from the UK, so to get a chance to play there myself is a bit of a dream come true. I enjoy the challenge of finding ways to get to people's hearts and it’s exciting to play for people who don't know who I am. It means the songs have to carry their weight and be judged on their own merit.”

We can expect big things from ‘Elba’, a record that promises a fusion of styles as well as some reflective lyrics born out of some tough times.

“Essentially ‘Elba’ is a pop record but it’s a real combination of traditional singer-songwriter elements mixed in with electronic touches,” Jansen said. “It’s autobiographical in nature but I hope it also connects to people in their own life experiences. The story is really about claiming the space you're in, no matter what life has thrown at you.

“I went through a very turbulent few years and am coming out of that period feeling strong and feeling like I know myself as well as I can. It’s dark at times but I really do try to write music that has an ounce or two of optimism, or at least acceptance. I'm not as concerned about painting a pretty picture as I am about really accepting the utter human-ness of how we handle our lives. There's something very pretty about battle scars.”

‘Elba’ has a familiar face behind the desk as Jansen worked with Matt Hales, more commonly known as the voice of Aqualung and producer of Lianne La Havas’ debut, ‘Is Your Love Big Enough’. Jansen first came across Hales in her own back yard, when he began playing small shows at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles.

“I've been an Aqualung fan since the first album came out in the States, so when Matt started playing at the Hotel Cafe I was just a silly fan girl,” she said. “It’s an amazing little venue in Hollywood where the biggest artists play unplugged sets and you really have a chance to get to know some interesting people. Matt and I became friends when he moved to LA and he followed my progress on the first album.

“When it came time to start working on album number two, he invited me to write with him. One song in and we both knew it would work and I just never left the studio. He's pushed me creatively to really explore the music I am most drawn to and to take some major chances by moving ever so slightly away from the more traditional piano/vocal I had started with. We would start with beats and sound programming instead of the piano and very quickly discovered the direction we wanted to go in.”

Jansen’s latest single, Golden, is the first taster of what to expect from the album and she admits that it's also a crucial track in the record’s overall make up.

“Lyrically, Golden is as close to a mission statement as I can get,” she said. “No matter what you've been through or how many things life throws at you, I really believe that there is a part of you that is never affected. A magical core, if you will. I needed a reminder of that during a time when I was really down on myself so I wrote it down as a mantra and it turned into a song.”

As well as Hales, there are some familiar voices on ‘Elba’ as Jansen was lucky enough to duet with both Ed Harcourt and Keane’s Tom Chaplin.

“Ed is one of my favorite songwriters so when I had the chance to set up a co-write with him while in London, I didn't hesitate,” she said. “I think I went into his studio just for the chance to watch him work. I couldn't really imagine I would have anything to add. It turns out Ed is also really brilliant at being an amateur psychologist and managed to get my life story out of me after a wine-laden lunch.

“We quickly realized the combination of our personalities would mean we would be writing a melancholy and sad song. Having embraced that concept we got to work and it has been a real honour to be able to call him a friend. Having him also sing and play on the song adds so much spirit and soul to the whole thing. That was a huge moment for me.

“Working with Tom happened in a completely different way,” she added. “I had been asked to write a song for a charity campaign that yearly takes place in the Netherlands. I knew I wanted it to be uplifting and for it to be a duet. Quite naively I wrote it knowing I had Tom's voice in mind. I'd never met him and had no way to get to him but I’d been a Keane fan for years. His voice is iconic and sweeping and that was the sound I heard when I wrote Same Heart. We managed to get the track to him and amazingly enough he said yes.

“We spoke on the phone while I was at the hairdresser and then a few days later I got an email with his recorded vocals. He'd recorded them on a tour bus somewhere in Austria. I'll never forget how surreal that was. To hear our voices together like that felt like a dream. I didn't actually get to meet him until a few weeks after the track was done and that is completely backwards. He's lovely and really cares about the content of a song.”

Jansen is already looking to the future and part of her plan in the UK is to get out on the road, beginning with a date at St. Pancras Old Church in London on August 8.

“I will be playing wherever they will have me,” she said. “It’s my favourite part of my job and it’s been a goal for a long time to tour the UK. Your festivals are epic and I have wellies ready to go. I really just want to keep doing what I'm doing. It’s an amazing job and I love playing live. If I can do that with my band of brothers and see the world, I'm a happy girl.”

Remember the name, because Laura Jansen is all set to make a big impression with ‘Elba’. Buy it, listen to it, and fall in love with it.



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