Reporting Courtney E. Smith
About thirty seconds into her debut single, “She,” Laura Mvula introduces a choir. And the vocal arrangement is like the sun coming out. It’s reminiscent of what the Beach Boys did, but filtered by way of a black gospel choir of the best singers you could imagine. Behind Mvula and her choir, a chiming keyboard melody floats while drumbeats push things along. It is at once primal and delicate.
This is a glimpse into the unexpected world of U.K. singer-songwriter Laura Mvula. Unexpected because the tools she’s working with to create musical soundscapes are not in fashion right now. In an interview with Radio.com, she described her music as “orchestral soul” and explained her music making process.
“I love dreams and colors and as a kid I was a daydreamer,” Mvula said. “I would spend lots of time just dreaming about whatever… [The song] “Green Garden” is really a picture of my summer time at home with my family [as a child]. We would spend six weeks on holiday. We would play in the garden, literally make up dance routines to whatever songs were out.”
The track, with its tinkling bells and hand claps, invokes the spirit of the kind of music kids would make left to their own devices. But the choir vocals, sheened with Auto-Tune and reminiscent of the style of Imogen Heap, add a grown up production value to it.
Her debut album, Sing To The Moon, just saw its U.S. release on May 14, following a March release across the pond. Mvula says she drew inspiration for the album from a number of places: her training in classical music and composition, gospel music and the religious Caribbean community in the U.K., as well as reggae, blues and soul. She used the piano to improvise her compositions, noting, “I didn’t know any rules.”
There’s a piece of clothing in her video for “That’s Alright” that Mvula feels captures her musical aesthetic: the red flowered dress and coat. The song’s opening lyrics, “I will never be what you want and that’s alright/Because my skin ain’t light and my body ain’t tight,” forcefully get across the idea that she’s a person doing whatever she wants. But the red dress, which Mvula noted came from one of Lady Gaga‘s designers, that she selected from a pile of clothing a stylist brought her for the shoot was one that made her immediately say, ”I want this one!” And even though Mvula recalls that it was heavy, seemingly weighing almost as much as her, she committed.
“I’d only done the two videos before that. This video I knew I wanted to be in a different way. I knew there was going to be one big thing for it. I wanted to — there’s a part of me that is like the song itself, in your face and loud and over the top. And that dress took all of the parts of me.”
Mvula is currently touring the U.S., with more dates in Europe to follow.