It was a challenge to track down Laura Mvula (mmm-VUla) during her tour stop at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. Since the release of her debut album, Sing to the Moon, the singer-songwriter from the United Kingdom has been steadily gaining attention for her strong vocals and meticulously choral and ornate musical compositions. Mvula was nominated for Britain’s Mercury Prize for her debut and she also took home two MOBO awards for best female act and best R&B/Soul artist.
After tour bus delays, entourages, hotels, makeup sessions, sound checks, and an eventual sold-out performance, we had the chance to sit down and chat with the singer in the compact, busy greenroom of the Crystal after her set as the opening act for Iron and Wine.
On her last name and her musical inspirations:
“My maiden name is Douglas. I’m Scottish. Related to Jill Scott! We’ve discussed this … (laughter). Jill Scott, Lauren Hill, they were, like, the first artists that I properly listened to when I was a teenager. And for me when I was a teenager, music for me was obsessive, so I would rinse albums. I got my parents to get me a Walkman, or a Discman, and I just shut myself out for hours and just listened. I begged my parents for lessons on the piano and they said, ‘OK,’ and then I decided that I wanted to do music for my college education. I wanted to do composition. Actually I wanted to play, but I wasn’t good enough!”
On music and marriage:
“I think [marriage] helped. Marriage for me was two different things. The name changing for me was kind of a formality, something that you do — you don’t really think much about it until it happens. It was a coincidence that at that point I was ready to start searching for a voice — an artistic voice — and I discovered that I had these songs. And I happened to be Laura Mvula at the time. But Sing to the Moon is really Laura Douglas, 27 years in the making.”
On her personal style and presentation:
“I’ve always been a person interested in the aesthetics. I was a girl that was obsessed with my creative environment. I always enjoyed people coming into my home, or flat, and feeling like, ‘Hey, this is a cool place to be!’ So I’ve always cared about how I present myself and what my surroundings look like. So it was natural when the label set about saying, ‘So, you’re going to have an album cover and there’s a whole campaign …’ And there were a couple of ideas that were put to me that I didn’t feel were right. I knew that everything had to be simplistic and clean and striking. And leave enough to the imagination. I don’t think that people want to be spoon-fed anymore; I don’t think people need to be spoon-fed. I think people appreciate things in their most honest form. So my head on an album cover — that’s what I look like. (laughter)
On her impressions of Portland:
“Honestly, the only thing I’d heard was from my manager when I asked him, ‘What we’re going to do here and how much time we had here …’ … But my manager said, ‘It’s Portland! It’s huge, it’s a big deal!’ And so from that, my energy, my thoughts and my feelings were like, ‘Portland is the place!’ It’s been the first gig where [the audience] have been standing. We’ve been doing theaters, so this is the first place on the tour where people have … stood up, which makes them very expectant and engaged.”