Rising star Laura a woman who still suffers for her art
In a few weeks' time Laura Mvula will start her biggest-ever UK tour – including a visit to Bristol.
You might think she'd be busy rehearsing with her band, honing every detail of her intricate, soulful music, but that's not quite the case.
When asked if she's been practising at all, she bursts into laughter.
"Well yes, of course we should be rehearsing," she says, catching her breath. "But we're not. We've got so many things going on that to put any time in the schedule for rehearsals just feels impossible."
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In all honesty, though, after the year she's had, touring the world and playing festivals, not to mention her second US tour which precedes the British gigs in October, she and her band will be in fine shape.
The Birmingham-born 27-year-old won't take much comfort from that, however. She's "a right moaner", she says, and while talking to her it becomes obvious she has no idea just how talented she is.
Her debut album Sing To The Moon, released earlier this year, is already a hotly-tipped favourite for the Mercury Prize nominations later this year.
It showcases Mvula's beautiful voice alongside her penchant for interesting, almost challenging, arrangements. In early reviews and articles written around the time she was shortlisted for the BRITs Critics' Choice Award, she was routinely compared to Adele, Amy Winehouse and Rumer. While her occasional jazz inflections are reminiscent of that retro trio, she has far more in common with the likes of neo-soul queens Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Janelle Monae.
"It's happened very quickly," she says, "and I've not had time to take it all in. I've got a month off in December, so I'm going to sit and be quiet, think about things and go over it all."
One thing she probably won't reflect upon is her album.
"I have listened to it a couple of times," she says, bashfully. "I have these moments where I engage with fans who've told me things about my songs, and I want to hear and feel what they do, so I'll listen and think about what they've said. But no, I don't listen to it for pleasure."
She also talks of a common comment from fans, about how her album's good, but nothing compared to her live shows.
"It makes me feel really insecure," she says. "It's like listening to yourself when you're younger, being all naive, and I like to think I've developed since then. I hear a song sometimes and wish I could do the whole thing again.
"A positive person would think that shows growth. But I don't. I do generally feel very encouraged by the change, but there are times when I don't. I'm really enjoying each moment, though. I feel I've been given an opportunity which..." she trails off, thinking of how she can express herself without sounding overly negative.
"I go over in my mind and think about how it all came to be. There were a lot of events, and meeting with certain people that if I hadn't met, these things wouldn't have happened to me. I don't know where I'd be."
Mvula grew up in the Kings Heath area of Birmingham with her older brother and sister. All three sang in local choirs and groups. Naturally Mvula believes her siblings were better than her. Eventually they went to university, leaving the youngest behind to ponder her future.
"I've always had this passion to be creative, and wanted to sing or be in bands and make music, but I didn't have ideas as to what format it'd be, or how I'd do it. I'm not very good with plans," she says.
"I didn't think it would be me at the front, either. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that was something I'd prevent."
She formed The Laura Douglas Band and later, after marrying singer Themba Mvula in 2010 and changing her name, persuaded the rest of the band to call it something else. They became Judyshouse and competed in unsigned competitions.
"Lots of people think I'm telling porky pies when I say how nervous I get about singing," she says. "I was good at working out how music was put together, and I was good at being at the back, but if you asked me to sing up front, then I looked like I was going to pass out."
This was a constant theme throughout her time at the Birming ham Conservatoire studying composition.
"I was a terrible student," she says. "Bottom of the class. But it turns out I was really good at improvising, which is how I write songs now."
After graduating, she worked in a school teaching music, writing songs at her piano in her spare time. She says her laptop's littered with videos of her staring blankly into the distance while she came up with an initial idea, later fleshed out into a full song. It wasn't until she met Steve Brown, formerly a composer of TV theme tunes and, more brilliantly, Glenn Ponder, the leader of Alan Partridge's house band on Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge.
"Meeting Steve Brown was like making a great friend and he's a great musician I respect hugely," she says. "I had two songs I was happy with when I met Steve – She and Dream Garden. When he got in touch about working together, I was really happy, but frightened he was going to be cross that I only had two songs.
"He just told me to keep writing and seemed to trust my instinct. That kept me going, and when we had an album's worth, we stopped."
That album's now sold more than a million copies in the UK, the most recent push in sales thanks to Mvula's appearance alongside Katie Piper, Tracey Emin, Karen Elson and Dame Helen Mirren in Marks & Spencer's latest advertising campaign.
She goes on to say there are occasions when she performs when she doesn't feel too nervous before going on stage. Those evenings are met with positive comments by those nearest to her. The truly special nights, unfortunately for Mvula, come when she's almost too anxious to go on stage.
"Maybe there's something in vulnerability?" she asks. "It's endearing to watch, isn't it? Someone so shy singing these big songs. But it's cruel! I have to suffer so much for other people's enjoyment."
It's not all vulnerability, however. There are rare occasions when Mvula gets carried away and has "a diva strop" in front of her band. She laughs, saying it's now accepted by those around her. Her keyboard player has even given her petulant alter-ego a name.
"He calls me Gregory when I go in one of those moods," she says, smiling. "The band will roll their eyes and say, 'Oh, here comes Gregory' and leave me to it, but it's useful to get things done."
EXTRA TIME – LAURA MVULA