Q&A: La Roux Faces Sexism Amid Her Summery, ’70s Sci-Fi Album ‘Trouble In Paradise’
By Courtney E. Smith
Getting La Roux‘s new album Trouble in Paradise off the ground turned out to be more challenging than the average sophomore album. Not due to the usual sophomore slump, but thanks to a split between Ms. Elly Jackson and her production partner Ben Langmaid, citing serious creative differences. “Once I started to know what I wanted for the album, I realized that that relationship wasn’t the best way forward,” Jackson told Billboard. Oh, and some unexpected vocal problems that stopped Jackson from being able to sing in her signature falsetto.
Following La Roux’s self-titled debut album, a dance-pop smash, Jackson found a big supporter in Kanye West, who asked her to sing on his smash single “All of the Lights” and the Watch the Throne track “That’s My B—h.” In the time since her very high-profile entree into music society in 2009, Jackson has been trying to craft the vision for a follow-up. Jackson partnered up with Ian Sherwin, La Roux’s engineer for the debut album, and found some sort of paradise on the sophomore La Roux effort.
Radio.com talked to Jackson about how she could never write songs the way Taylor Swift does, latent sexism in the music press and her epic disappointment that the future turned out nothing like sci-fi from the 1970s promised it would.
Radio.com: There are two contradictory ideas happening in this album; the theme is “the feeling of emptiness in a place where there was once joy” but you’ve said it’s also “musically cheekier” than your previous work. How do those disparate sentiments fit together?
La Roux: I think they fit together because it’s the mood of the record, in terms of its subject matter, is very much about seeing the beauty in trouble; the paradise part isn’t, the paradise is about the trouble. Anywhere that’s perfect can’t be a paradise in my eyes, it has to have imperfections. The mood of the record should, content-wise, feel like that — the storytelling content, the emotional content — the trouble is the subject matter, the paradise is the music. That’s how the cheekiness comes in and that’s how it fits together.
So then should we take the idea of paradise presented by the album literally, as a tropical, summery place?
Paradise is a few different things on the record. Paradise can be the person that you love, the way you feel that day or whatever it is. Or it may just be a literal place that you see as paradise. In terms of, for instance in the case of “Paradise Is You,” I mention that even in the world’s most beautiful paradise, often you can’t enjoy that without the person next to you that you like to enjoy things with. Stylistically, I would say the music in the paradise and that’s represented in different ways. Obviously it’s more summery in some parts of the record and less so in others.
You’ve gone from one mostly silent partner to another with this album — what about that creative pairing appeals to you?
I’m not really sure. Whenever I’ve spoken to another artist or band about the process of meeting a new producer and working with them, I’ve never been able to understand it. I guess I’m the odd one out in that. Most people are dying to work with their favorite producer or a famous producer or whatever. The way I see it is that regardless of the experience someone has, a producer is only worth anything if they understand who you are and what you want. Even if they’re the best producer in the world they could be useless to me, and they kind of are. I need to have a connection with somebody. Of course they need to have a certain amount of knowledge and experience, as was the case on this record, to pull off the record that was in my head. I certainly needed someone with a lot more experience than myself. I knew what my ideas were but carrying them out is quite another thing.
A lot of people nowadays will tell you, “I totally get what you mean,” but I feel like no, I don’t think you do get what I mean at all. It’s hard to find that person. I hope to find the person who understands and gets you and if they, like Ian [Sherwin, producer and co-writer], had the knowledge as well to go along with it then you’re in a good place. It just turned out he’s liked most of the same music I’ve liked throughout my life and is now almost quite good at mimicking what I might do in the studio. He’s that close to my style.