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Kyla La Grange: BOTW Interview

Musical U-turns rarely work out, but Watford-born musician Kyla La Grange proves the opposite on new album ‘Cut Your Teeth’ (released last week), which almost completely abandons the bleak folk-rock sound of her debut, ‘Ashes’. In its place, Jakwob’s bassy production skills and a long time spent playing on Garageband have added a new house-y punch to her stripped-back sound, and the result is quite possibly the best pop album of the year so far. There are relatable, hands-in-air bangers (‘Fly’, ‘I Don’t Hate You’), ominous moments (‘Cut Your Teeth’), as well as balladry (‘Never That Young’) AND calypso (‘The Knife’). All in all, it’s brilliant from start to finish and – basically – a great, big bundle of joy.

Planet Notion: When did you first meet Jakwob?
Kyla La Grange: I think it was sometime in 2012, he asked me if I’d like to come to his studio and sing on one of his songs. He’d heard a couple of songs from my first album and liked them, so he got in touch. I tried to write on a few of his tracks but I’m not really used to writing over backing tracks or collaborating, so I don’t think I was very good at it (I think I wrote a song that sounded like something out of The Lion King, which is either really good or really bad depending on how much you like The Lion King). Anyway, we got on really well during the session, and he played me a bunch of stuff he was working on and I loved his production, so I asked if he’d ever be interested in producing one of my songs. He said yes, so I played him the ‘Cut Your Teeth’ demo that I’d made on my laptop and he was really into it. That was the first song from the album that we produced together.

PN: Were you a fan of his music before?
KLG: I knew his Ellie Goulding remix because it was everywhere, and it’s so great, and then there were some other tracks on his Soundcloud I was really into, including one called ‘Detox’ which I still listen to quite a lot.

PN: How would you describe his role on Cut Your Teeth? Producer? Co-writer? Something else?
KLG: He was a producer and also really influential in terms of broadening my mind to a lot of sounds and genres. I hadn’t really listened to that much electronic music before and he opened my ears to a lot of really amazing stuff. He was a producer in the best sense of the word as well – he really listened very carefully to all my demos and tried to build up around them in a really sensitive and imaginative way – a lot of the production is very delicate and spacious and I really admired that. He had such great ideas, especially for beats and bass (I’m crap at doing bass). I had all the album tracks in the form of Garageband sessions I had made on my computer, and we’d usually choose two to work on at a time – James [Jakwob] likes to switch between tracks so you always have fresh ears – and we just kept in stuff from my demos that we thought worked, and added better things where things needed replacing. It was a great way to work.

PN: Describe a typical day in the studio.
KLG: Well, we kind of had two different kinds of studio time – at first we were doing programming and beats and stuff at James’ own studio, where it’d just be the two of us on our own, building up the elements of the track all day, seeing what worked and what didn’t. Then once we had the skeletons of all the tracks ready, we moved to Britannia Row Studios where were did all the live stuff: drums, guitar, steel drums, marimba, kalimba, etc. When we were there, we’d get in at about 11, Charlie our engineer would already be there having been working on edits or mix tweaks that morning, so first we’d all have a cup of tea together and give Flea, my dog, a cardboard toilet roll to chase down the stairs and shred on the floor of the studio. Then depending on what we were recording, I’d either go into the live room and do vocals, or Mike my drummer would come and do drums, or James would go and magically learn to play the marimba in an hour, or something else. Every day was different depending on what we were doing.

PN: What’s your favourite song on the record? Why?
KLG: My favourite song is ‘Cannibals’. I don’t know exactly why, I just like the gentle power it has, and how sparse it is right up until the end when all hell breaks loose and this huge wave of sound takes over. It means a lot to me, and the person it was written about means a lot to me.

PN: Broadly speaking, how would you say this record sits in relation to Ashes?
KLG: Well, it’s obviously a totally different sound and it’s written about very different things. I guess what it has in common is that the lyrical content is still pretty dark and a bit weird, and there are still a lot of live elements, but this time around there is much more of an electronic focus. I just felt so different when I was writing this record – I wasn’t unhappy anymore, I wasn’t messed up over a break-up, or missing someone, and so I just wrote a bunch of stories about stuff that happened in the past. The writing process was a lot more fun, and I’d never experienced that before; writing had never been fun for me, it had always been something I felt I had to do to cope with how I was feeling at the time. I guess this record is a lot more restrained, because I felt quite secure and happy in myself when I was writing it, and I just enjoyed playing around on Garageband and my old keyboard.

–Huw Oliver

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