the records that changed la roux’s life
Before heading to Glastonbury, we caught up with La Roux to unearth her musical biography.
Watch her Top of the Pops performance from over New Year and you'll be reminded just how good a pop star we have in La Roux. Shoehorned in among the Jess Glynnes and the Clean Bandits, she seemed like a strange booking - and probably felt like one too. A shock of orange hair in a Beetlejuice jacket; next to George Ezra she was sex, androgyny, euphoria, Chic, Grace Jones, Tom Tom Club and the Thin White Duke rolled into one electrifying whole. What's more, as much as she had the appearance of someone who had gatecrashed a party - like your big sister stumbling in from BoomBox and taking over the SingStar - she also looked like a person who was, in that moment, in exactly the place she was supposed to be; surrounded by the lights and cameras of a television studio and performing to millions of people at home. That's the ability La Roux has. To be so much a misfit that by the time she's finished singing, it's everyone else that looks like the uninvited guest. That's what you call being a proper popstar. These are the songs that changed her life.
What song reminds you of growing up in Brixton?
There are many, all fairly obvious, like You Don't Love Me (No No No) by Dawn Penn, but I'd say that one reminds me more of my late teens when I'd started going out around Brixton as it was always being played. The track that reminds me most of my childhood in Brixton is equally predictable, Sun is Shining by Bob Marley and The Wailers. I'm not sure why exactly but it's the one that brings back the strongest memories of walking through Brixton with my parents. In 1996, Nelson Mandela came and they thought it was too important for me to miss so took me out of school for the day to watch him speak. There was a brilliant atmosphere and music was blaring before and after his arrival. I cant be sure if Sun is Shining was playing but I certainly feel like it was and, whenever I hear it, it brings back the feeling of that day vividly.
What's the best sounding record of all time?
One of the most unique sounding records of all time for me would have to be Deetour by Karen Young, but in no way could I say I felt it was one of the best sounding records of all time. That prize, if pushed to award it to one person, would have to go to Stevie Wonder, for the entirety of Songs In the Key of Life, but specifically I Wish. The texture and arrangement of that record is so engaging, it has so many layers of rhythm, every pocket is filled with playful little hooks and sounds that pop and grab your attention and make you want to move in a way only Stevie Wonder can make you move. The mid-range of this record is really what I love about it most sonically; it's punchy yet smooth and so, so warm. It's incredible how much is going on yet how much space and separation there is.
When was the last time a song brought you to tears?
Tell It Like It Is By Aaron Neville. Whilst on my way back home from the airport last year I was listening to this and I was quite tired and it just got me.
What's the best chorus of all time?
This Old Heart of Mine by The Isley Brothers. This is obviously a near on impossible question to answer but I've chosen it based on pure energy and the way it makes me feel.
And the best verse?
The Circle Game by Joni Mitchell for its unbelievably visually beautiful lyrics, there are so many verses that get me off musically but I think a verse is traditionally a sacred thing derived from poetry and folk so I chose my favourite from that genre of writing. The picture she paints is so clear and the metaphor is so simple but clever. It's a song I have loved for a long time and a record that got played a lot as a child.
What song reminds you of summer?
Close To Me by The Cure. It reminds me of dancing outside and every great party I have ever been to (even ones that would never have played it).
What does the future sound like?
Nothing else. I think the most important thing about the future is that we all make a conscious effort not to hark back. I'm talking to myself as much as anyone else but it seems like if we don't then music will remain post-modern forever, which would be very sad. I would however like it if some of the energy and imperfection of older records could be injected into new music. That part of it is the bit we seem to have wrongly left behind.
La Roux plays The John Peel stage at Glastonbury on Saturday 27th June and the BBC Radio 6 Music Stage at Latitude on Sunday 19th July
Text Matthew Whitehouse
Photography Louie Banks