It seems entirely disingenuous to suggest that Laura Mvula is just happy to be part of the musical conversation in 2013. But here we are: the Birmingham, UK soul singer-songwriter notes that this time last year, she was an soft-spoken office receptionist and gospel choir director who simply composed and created music in her spare time, never dreaming that she would have a much talked about album and be touted as "the new Adele." Her debut album, Sing To The Moon, is a gem, a soul/jazz/gospel endeavour that owes its existence to Mvula's spiritualty and classical music upbringing and training. Riding the European momentum, Mvula lands on these shores poised to make a lasting impact.
With your current UK success, you feel like you're effectively re-introducing yourself to the North American audience?
I think so. Sometimes I need reminding though. I think that because the UK release of the album was such a moment for me, I thought that was the world. It's been amazing to go to the different territories and have people look forward to the music. The vibe in North America seems so positive and everybody seems like they're expecting something. It feels really good.
So what's success for you? Is this it?
Great question. I think mostly success for me is fulfilment. There's a kind of happiness and maybe even go so far to say ecstasy when I'm onstage with the band. This for me is a miracle. What I mean by that is just making an album is for me something that I never would have thought or imagined possible for someone like me. I think I always had ambition to be in music in some way but not really as a performer or as somebody on the front lines. So I feel like I've been given a gift, a chance, and an opportunity to express myself. And I've been given total freedom and control. I'm on cloud nine.
Gospel is a huge aspect of your music. How does it inform your sound from a musical and spiritual point of view?
Consciously and subconsciously, I think it's something that connects and flows one into another. I wouldn't be able to tell you where it begins and where it ends. I think with belonging to a very loving family where we grew up expressing love through music, from which we would express many, many things — music might not have been the answer where we found resolution, but I was used to using it as a means to getting by.
A socially conscious track like "It's Alright" feels extremely personal. Did you encounter a lot of discrimination growing up?
Even though that song has a specific idea in it, it was actually meant to be universal. In some ways, in modern society there's one ideal or very few things that seem acceptable. And if we don't fit in that, we try really hard to get there. So for me, yeah, that came in all sorts of different guises, whether is was in relationships, and yes with racial prejudice when I was much younger. And yes, within my own personal development when it came to who I wanted to be and what my goals and ambitions were. I have a lot of supportive family around me who they themselves have ideas on what's great and acceptable. Really the song is about interdependence and about celebrating and being comfortable and secure in your individuality and uniqueness. So you're free to celebrate that.
What is it you hope to accomplish with this album?
Most of the songs were written and recorded before the exposure, or being on the map as it were. So it kind of fell together. I think it was only at the end that it was clear that this may or may not be a coherent body of work. The exciting thing is that it seemed to be coming from the same place, which was me being totally liberated. Having grown up in a music school and studying composition, for me I was more than aware of ways of writing that were deemed as saying something important, hopeful, contemporary and relevant.
How important is it to have creative vision and a singular vision?
To be honest with you, when [producer] Steve Brown got in touch with me, I had done two song sketches on my computer and home studio. But when he asked me if I had management, I really didn't know this language. What is management? Why would I need management? What do you mean get signed? This was alien to me. It was listening to other artists in London and questioning them about their stories and journeys, it felt like a right and good formula. I just felt like it was right and he was happy. He's old school so his natural instincts were to hear [my music] and didn't interfere with it. He just kept telling me to follow my instincts. And I did.