Ahead of the release of English synth-pop artist La Roux's third studio album, Supervision, we spoke to the singer-songwriter about the writing, recording and mastering process she followed for the record.Supervision is the first full-length release from La Roux in over 5 years, following on from her sophomore record Trouble In Paradise released in 2014. The record was mastered at Abbey Road by Christian Wright and produced by long-time collaborator Dan Carey, who worked with the singer-songwriter on hit track Quicksand from her Grammy Award-winning debut album La Roux.
We caught up with the London-born artist to find out more about the inspiration for the album, mastering the record at Abbey Road, working with Dan Carey, and the advice she would give to those starting out in the industry:Q: You’ve been synonymous with achieving mainstream success whilst making boundary-pushing, individual pop music. What direction have you taken for your third album?
A: I knew I had to start making another album, very quickly, like over night. Unlike the album I was making, which I binned, and unlike Trouble In Paradise, there is no reference point, and that has become really important to me. Looking back at Trouble In Paradise I think there were multiple problems and reasons as to why that album took a long time. But I think one of them was partly feeling so tired of my references. It can make creating an album easier, but it can also make it harder as well. On this album, I just thought, you don't really need to reference anything, I didn't even think about it.
Q: That's interesting, I think sometimes the longer you spend on it, and the more time you have, can kind of work as a negative in a way. I guess if you have a shorter period of time, you can get all your ideas out and it can work in your favour in a way.
A: Yeah it can. There's no overthinking going on. It's a question of how much confidence do you have in your ability? I do know what's best for my music, and I do know when to stop. I do know when something's bad and I do know when something's good… which is why the album is only 8 tracks long.
Q: Yes that's interesting that it's only 8 tracks long because a lot of artists now are releasing 15-16 track albums as well.
A: Yeah I don't get that, first of all, has anyone ever released 15 tracks that are all good? I think in pop music, the idea of writing 15 amazing pop songs is so unlikely. Because there's never anymore than 2 or 3 really good, single worthy tracks. I obviously like all of my 8 tracks as much as each other. But I don't expect other people to. I do genuinely believe they are all the same quality in terms of pop music.Q: You’ve said that your latest single Gullible Fool is “the most special and meaningful song on the record”. Can you tell us more about how you wrote the track and why it is so special for you?
A: It happened by accident, I kind of knew I needed to write a slower track, because I felt that the album was getting to a place where you needed a break, it's all kind of similar tempo and energy, but that's kind of what I knew as well so I wasn't too worried about it. But I did feel like it needed just a moment's rest and reflection, there's not much time for reflection in the rest of the album. For me there were things like long outros, but it's a bit different to having mood reflection.
I was going up to bed, and I touched the piano, and I was thinking that I should go to bed, but I thought "That chord made me feel something, I don't think I should ignore it". I was really tired, and I thought "I'll just record these three chords and address it in the morning" but then you're so worried that it won't have that exact same emotion in the morning when you hear those three chords because it might be the tiredness that's giving it to you or maybe your mood would be different in the morning. I started just making a voice note of the chords, then made a voice note of the melody that I wanted to sing over them. And the melody and the lyrics all came at the same. I just started singing the song out of nowhere, there was no thought process involved. What starts coming out of your mouth is just the song. That happened instantly, just after I recorded the chords on my phone, I started singing that lyric. And I just had it going round and round in my head while I was going to sleep. Then I woke up in the morning, and stopped working on Everything I Live For and started on Gullible Fool in Logic. I knew that lyric wasn't going to be the first lyric, so I started writing the rest of it. If you're gonna even have that reference idea in your head, you've got a lot to live up to. Then I wrote the first melody as the lyrics started forming.
Q: Is that the first time you've done that in your work, on this album?
A: Yeah kind of, I've tried to do it before, but unfortunately the people I've worked with haven't allowed me to have the process that I've wanted, partly because they might be controlling, and partly because, I think some people, when there's no actual thought process in something, they sort of think that there's no meaning in it. It's like, "If you didn't think about it, then it's probably rubbish". I've had that argument before, where someone says "Yeah but where did it come from?" and I say "I don't know" It doesn't matter, it felt natural, it is true. Now that I've written it I know how much that means, it's just come from my subconscious. I think now, I've realised that there's nothing in this album that meant more to me than this. I would say that actually compared to this album, I would almost say the other songs on the other albums are just not as real. Which I just think is not the way that songs are meant to be. As I started transcribing this one, I started thinking about memories, like dancing with my dad when I was a kid, which I haven't thought about for 20 years.
Then suddenly all these memories came back because of the melody and because of the shape of the words. When it came to the second half and making that bass line kick in I was worried I wasn't gonna pull it off because it's got 3 tempo changes in it, so I tried to do something similar in Let Me Down Gently and I've never felt like the second half of that song kicks in properly. I always thought that it was a bit of an energetic let down production-wise when the second half comes in, I'm always thinking it needs more. It is great, and I am really proud of that track. But it's really annoying when in your head it's more, and in real life it's not. So for this track, even with the demo at home, you know, using nothing special at all equipment-wise. It just instantly worked, and it just proved to me that the energy of the song was just completely correct, completely right. Then when I read all the lyrics back when I finished it, I was so proud and I felt so honoured. It was really important for me.
Q: How was the experience of working with your long-time collaborator Dan Carey and how did he help shape the record?
A: It was a joy, it was pure joy. It was just like hanging out with your best mate everyday and forgetting that you're making a record. I think so many people over complicate making music and I think it's partly because of ego, and I think it's partly because of history. Because of the fact of recording, using engineering and all these big jobs, which are genuinely really important. You do really have to keep your eye on the ball and it has to be quite a serious job.
Q: We saw him when he was working with Sophie [Hunger] here in Studio Two and the way he just goes about things is so quiet, but you can just tell he knows what he's doing and you can sort of feel the artist's trust in him as well.
A: Yeah exactly and I think that trust is everything with him. He just doesn't see the need of taking a long time, like why would you need to take a long time? Unless you have a lack of confidence, or unless you're insecure, or unless you have an ego problem. You know I've told him a couple of my horror stories of the last 10 years. And he was just like "What?" "Why is that necessary?" It just sounds ridiculous, like those people are making things all about them. And I think that happens a lot in the studio, the job as a producer has so much sort of coolness and I think some people really overly enjoy that title. I just like the simplicity that he brings to the process and obviously I just trust him as a best friend, as a kind of brother figure. We've become so close.
For me, music is so personal, I've never done writing sessions, I've never worked with strangers, I've never done any of that stuff. So for me it's such a personal thing, it has to be somebody that feels like family or I won't feel comfortable, and I won't be able to do my job. And I can't really imagine being able to find that with anybody else. So the likelihood is that in the future I'll use this process again where I arrange at home, I write home and I do a lot of the production and the stylistic work at home. Then I'll go and work with Dan.Supervision is now available to purchase in CD format on the Abbey Road Shop here.