Interview: Kyla La Grange

With a strange and bewitching brew of styles and sounds on her four singles so far, Kyla La Grange is tipped for big things in 2012. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Kyla La Grange isn't your typically demure singer-songwriter. With four critically acclaimed singles, including the just released Vampire Smile, taking in a strikingly diverse array of styles from strident rock to bewitching pop and intricate folk, the soaring choruses belie darkly emotional subject matter.

The 24-year-old singer from Watford has been tipped for big things in 2012. And though she's still in the early moments of her career, Florence and the Machine comparisons have been attached to her, though her more guitar-heavy sound also brings to mind the likes of Anna Calvi and Clare Maguire.

Her latest tour brings her to Norwich next week. Her as-yet-untitled debut album follows in the summer.

The singles so far have revealed such a wide range of styles. How do you go about describing your music?

Oh, I'm terrible at doing that! There's a huge jumble of influences but at the core is folk and rock music, and there are loads of big harmonies and choruses to grab hold of. It's often sad and sometimes angry. And that's about as close as I've ever got to nailing it: I leave the rest to other people to work out.

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You don't sound - or look - like an angry person. Where does it come from?

Honestly, I go through months where I don't write anything at all because I'll feel happy and relaxed, like I am now. Unfortunately, being in that state is creatively unproductive for me! For as long as I can remember, ever since I was a kid actually, whenever I felt sad I would sit down and make something. And to this day it's how I cope with feelings: I write a song.

Your latest single Vampire Smile in particular seems written from personal experience.

For my debut album there are three specific relationships I've explored. I know that lots of people write about love and the end of love, but in a way it's understandable because it's often the most intense emotion you feel. I don't have to write about love, by the way, but when I write, it has to provoke that same sort of intensity.

Vampire Smile was written quite a long time ago. Does it feel odd to be raking up emotions, and even people, from such a distant place?

Yes, it's six years since I wrote that song. You know, I wish it did feel weirder. The problem is, the emotional themes that run throughout the song - of obsession, rejection, neuroticism - were written from the viewpoint of a 19 year-old, but have seemed to persist in all my relationships afterwards.

You're clearly very keen on intimate lyrics, but how easy is it to fit them around songs that you presumably want people to be entertained by?

To be honest I don't think I've ever written a song with the express intention of entertaining someone. I don't think I'd be able to do it. For a long time I did find it quite hard to play live because it felt tough to take something that personal to me on stage. I did wonder why I wanted to make a career out of it, because that would mean sharing with everyone. But then, after a while, you get addicted to how it feels to do just that.

Every song so far has a huge chorus though. If you weren't bothered about entertaining people, you wouldn't take such care in writing such memorable songs.

Right. I think that's just what comes out of me when I write. There's something really cathartic about writing something which sounds epic and uplifting when the subject matter is the opposite. In my head, I probably wish I was more of an indie, Elliott Smith-style introverted singer-songwriter. It's certainly the music I listen to. But for some reason when I write it always has to have a hook. Believe me, I've tried to write in an understated, lo-fi way and I just can't do it - I guess I just like working with melody.

We've talked a lot about the emotional, thoughtful side to your music. Did studying philosophy at university have an impact on your writing?

Probably not: the songwriting is the irrational part of my brain whereas the philosophy is the measured part! But actually being at university did definitely have one benefit: it was the first chance I had to play at open mic nights in front of people who I didn't know - which was much less scary. It was very useful in that sense, in terms of learning what songs would work.

And how does having a band these days impact on songs you've worked on for so long?

I'm still a complete control freak I'm afraid! I usually write the song in my room and do a little demo on my computer, and because I've known the band for so long now, it's then just a question of going into a rehearsal room and we'll all try things out. Usually the bones of the song, the melody and lyrics and so on are already there. But the band are really good at bringing their ideas too.

Did that make the recording of your debut album more fun than you thought?

It's not quite finished yet - we've still got the final mixes and mastering to do. But I'm really much happier than I thought I would be.

And what are your hopes for it?

I really hope that people feel moved, that there are songs there that people can identify with, and in those moments, they're swept up in the album. It's not about depressing people, it's about finding a catharsis. That's what I'm searching for when I write them, I'm working out my issues, singing things I wouldn't dare speak myself.

n Kyla La Grange plays the Waterfront on April 16

n Her new single Vampire Smile is out now.

n Further listening: