“I find it hard to have conversations about how I’m feeling. Even in close relationships I wouldn’t spill it all out. But when I write it’s different, there’s no filter on what I say.”
When Laura Welsh speaks about her impulse to make music it sounds as if her life depends on it, or at the very least her emotional well-being. Shy and sensitive in person, Laura’s songwriting defies her introverted nature: her music is sparse and sophisticated and her lyrics are so confessional that the listening experience is akin to tracing the pages of a diary. Accrued from a very specific period in her life, the collection of songs featured on her forthcoming debut were born out of isolation and heartache: “Everything felt like it fell apart and I had to think what my next steps were. It was a dark time and I think that a lot of people around me thought ‘she’s not going to carry on with music’. But maybe that was just my inner-thoughts speaking to me…”
Before the lows, before her debut album was conceived – and way before the highs of signing a record contract and spending her nights locked in a studio with the likes of Dev Hynes and John Legend – Laura formed the basis of what would later make her a varied collector and creator of musical styles. Most of her childhood in Staffordshire was spent surrounded by sound: her mother was a local folk singer and from an early age music was already an integral part of her make-up, she says. “It was natural that singing was something that I just could do. It was probably the only time that I didn’t have any inhibitions.” Inspired by her mother’s music and a record collection filled with straight-to-the-core country crooners like Pasty Cline, Laura became obsessed with the art of writing honest love songs, and after stealing her sister’s Prince and Michael Jackson albums, she became ensnared by the immediacy of big hooks and a memorable melody. As she eased her way into her teens she discovered Carole King’s Tapestry; a pivotal moment for the singer who was inspired by King’s simplistic writing style that could connect with any listener. Her tastes then wandered into the late night grooves of D’Angelo, the lingering melancholy of Portishead and Lauryn Hill’s raw and evocative storytelling.
But the Laura Welsh we hear today is beyond a music obsessive. When a string of events flung her into a position of vulnerability she realised she didn’t need to just sing, but to say something too. After moving to London, her long-term relationship ended and at the same time the band she fronted slowly began to dissolve. She was away from her family and those close to her and felt totally alone, until she realized that this solitude could also present itself as freedom. The first sign of creative life from the darkness came in the form of Ghosts, a track co-written with Jonathan Lipsey (Alicia Keys, Amy Winehouse), and a raw and reckless declaration of heartache that feels the full force of fury and passion. “Writing that track was a turning point. It was based around the trigger of that relationship and how it had affected me quite badly. It’s about the battle you have with yourself when you feel like your own worst enemy - you’re battling with your own head, how to let something go.” The song would take on a new lease of life when producer Greg Kurstin [the Shins/Beck/Lily Allen] came on board. He paired the untouched, demoed vocals, full of gothic imagery - “Angels crying lost in shame/Demons laughing playing the game” - with a simple, mournful piano.
Once Ghosts was penned a stream of Laura’s thoughts began to flow. God Keeps addresses the unanswered questions that demand resolution, and the Hardest Part – a track she would later work on with John Legend - is about acceptance and allowing yourself to love again after a disruptive relationship, in equal parts sexy as it is sombre. Her single Unravel, which came out through tastemakers Luv Luv Luv last year found the singer mastering the slick and sincere ballad. On this track, Laura surrenders her heart in a last attempt at saving a relationship, pleading “take what you want from me/I’ll give you all my love/Just take what I don’t need”. Joined by Dev Hynes (Blood Orange and 2013’s go-to producer) Unravel is a song that presents pop hooks with downbeat production, something that for Laura works to haunting effect. Her music is not all auto-biographical however - Break The Fall is a song about betrayal and the darker side of love inspired by conversations with her sister as her marriage was falling apart (“I want to love you but I’m just too cynical”). She worked with a pop powerhouse - Bruno Mars/Lane del Rey producer Emile Haynie, Scissor Sisters’ Babydaddy and three time Ivor Novello winning Amanda Ghost - to transform this feeling of dejection into a glossy anthem, full of determination and bombast.
Drawing from a range of genres and with an inquisitive nature, Laura plays a big part in the production of her music too. The song that she first produced was Hollow Drum, an early track that feels like a whispered confessional of romance and regret, full of echoing vocal arrangements and subtle beats that nod to the foreboding minimalism of the xx. Key to the album was also LA producer Robin Hannibal from the acclaimed duo Rhye, who worked with Laura on a number of tracks to create a nocturnal atmosphere, including the sophisticated, ice-cool single Cold Front with its sorrowful strings and oddball percussion. Each song she’s written represents a different side to her as an artist, but there’s a gentleness and melancholy to her music that runs throughout each track, an ambiance she says she wanted to conjure from the off, “If it was in the studio or working with producers, I always knew the shape of the album and the sounds and finish that I wanted.”
Sharing the same nu-soul approach to hit-making as Solange and Jessie Ware, and the unguarded abandon of Florence and The Machine and Adele, Laura has nurtured her talents to become a very modern kind of pop star. But unlike many artists, the art of making an album has been entirely intuitive, so much so she isn’t even conscious of some of the process: “All the songs I’ve put on the album have come from a place that I can’t explain, sometimes song writing is a mystery. I’ll sit down with a guitar and it will come out immediately. All your subconscious emotions suddenly explode and then you look back when it’s done and think, fucking hell!”
Aside from her pure and powerful vocals, Laura Welsh has established herself as one of 2014’s most captivating artists because of her ability to phrase the most tangled thoughts into something simple and true. A private soul transformed by pop music.