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By Rosa Barney
Kyla La Grange is a singer/songwriter from England with pretty, emotional vocals and luscious mermaid locks. She is currently gearing up to release her second album Cut Your Teeth on June 2. Early fans of Kyla’s work will be surprised. The discovery of an old keyboard when she was spending time in South Africa moved her to try something new with music, something she’d been wanting to do for quite some time. The sound bites and samples pre-programmed into the keyboard transported La Grange back to her childhood, and it became the inspiration for her sophomore album. She started writing again and laying down beats in Garageband, a program that she had never used before. The result is a sound that is bigger, brighter, and bolder than we’ve ever heard from her.
Just as she was starting to experiment with creating songs on a computer instead of with her acoustic guitar, she was invited by Jakwob, known for his work with Lily Allen, Ellie Goulding, and Lana Del Rey to name a few, to sing on one of his tracks. What was meant to be a one-off recording turned into a partnership that would give birth to Cut Your Teeth. Though Jakwob is behind the majority of the songs on the album, Kyla also worked with Jas Shaw and Igor Haefeli for a couple of the tracks. We were able to catch up with Kyla via Skype as she took us through her newfound production process, her new hatred of the movies, and her new sound.
You started with a folk sound and you have recently transitioned to a more electronic sound. What made you want to make that change?
I started writing songs when I was 15. I had an acoustic guitar and when you have an acoustic guitar you naturally gravitate toward folk and rock because it is just easier to make songs that way. Also, my parents have always listened to folk, rock, blues, and things like that so that was just the first way I figured out how to write. With the first album, I was very depressed for a lot of the time that I was writing it and hibernating in my room with the guitar seemed like a good, appropriate way to write songs. Then I finished all of the promo stuff for the first album and touring and I started to feel like I wanted to try something new. I felt a lot happier and a lot more chilled out.
About a year and a half ago or two years ago—I’m really bad at timescales—I found this old keyboard that I had from when I was a kid and it has all these cool sounds on it that are really fun and I just started writing with that keyboard instead of with the guitar and I started making beats on garageband. I didn’t even really think of it as writing my second album I just started doing it because it was fun. I didn’t even really know if I was going to write a second album I was just really enjoying playing with the old keyboard sounds, it brought back a lot of memories. Making beats on garageband was never something I had tried to do before. I was really enjoying it. It just kind of all came together, in some ways it was similar to what I had done before because it was me in my room sort of messing around but then I met Jakwob who ended up producing this album and that was a really big influence as well. It was just a natural process.
How did you and Jakwob get connected?
It was pretty simple actually. He had heard a couple of songs of mine from my first album and he really liked my voice so he wanted me to come in and sing on a couple of his songs for his own stuff. The way he works is that he often writes backing tracks and then he gets vocalists to feature on them. So, he asked me to come in and I had never really done that sort of thing before, I have never sang on backing tracks and I wasn’t really very good at it but we really got on really well and I went back again to do another day with him and I really liked the way he worked. He played me some other stuff he was working on and I thought his production was really interested and really good.
So, I said at the end of the second day, “Would you ever consider producing one of my songs?” Because I didn’t know if he even worked as a producer I thought he mainly did collaborations of his own stuff but he was really keen to. I played him the demo I had made of “Cut Your Teeth” and he really liked it so we ended up going in and “Cut Your Teeth” was the first song that we did together. It came out pretty much fully formed. It didn’t take us much time and we were both really happy with it. That was sort of the blueprint for the rest of the album. I played it for management and they said, “How many more demos do you have on your computer?” I told them I have pretty much a whole album’s worth so it would be great to go in with James and start working on it. And that’s what we did.
You and Jakwob come from two different musical backgrounds, did you always see eye to eye when working together or were there some challenges?
It was like a dream partnership. I’ve never worked with someone where it just clicked so easily. It was so straightforward and so easy even though we came from different backgrounds. I think we both totally understood what we wanted to do with my album once we finished “Cut Your Teeth.” From the getgo we had a clear idea of what we were and weren’t going to do and we totally agreed on that. I can’t think of a time when we had any disagreements about where we should go with a track or a particular sound or anything like that.
It’s really weird! Even my band who I have played with for a few years, even with them we still argue about how stuff should go so it is definitely really unusual.
What does your band think about the change of direction with your music?
They were really happy. I mean they all had to learn new stuff and kind of switch instruments a bit. For example, my bassist now has to play synth bass as well as live bass and my guitarist switches between playing electric guitar and MPC. My drummer has loads more triggers on his kit and he also uses the SPD-S more.
I think they all enjoyed it because it was a challenge to learn new things but I think in general most musicians love to learn new things. It was really difficult at first and I was really worried about how we could fit the new sound into the live set alongside the older sound but we kind of tweaked a few older songs to make them fit in better and we have a portion of the set which is more for the rock style songs, we dip into that and then dip back out again.
What is the story behind “Cut Your Teeth?”
I’d rather not say exact events and people but it is about that feeling of when you’re a kid and having to sort of cut your teeth on difficult things and people not always understanding you. Being told off when maybe you didn’t deserve it, that’s why it has that line, “You come back home and it don’t feel the same.” You have these moments when you’re growing up and you realize how the world works it is not always pleasant.
If you had to pick a favorite track off of the album what would it be?
For me it’s “Cannibals” just because when we were working on it, it just came together so well. I love how it mixes the sort of live band element and there is this huge wall of sound thing at the end then the rest of the song is so sparse, eerie, and beautiful. I see it as a really good linking song between the first album and the second because it has this whole big rocky, layered bit at the end but it smoothly transitions from the sparseness at the beginning to that. I really like how it turned out.
It’s the only breakup song on the album. In general this album is not about breakups or love or relationships. I called it “Cannibals” because of the image of two people eating each other, they want to be together but they end up being really harmful to one another.
Was it a conscious decision to not include a lot of relationship songs or did it just happen that way?
No, it just kind of happened that way. To me it is really obvious why I didn’t write about those things. When I wrote the first album I had been through a few really bad breakups where I felt really guilty and horrible and things were really messy. I was really, really unhappy and so that is just what you write about because that is all that is filling up your mind. With this album I didn’t have any drama in terms of people that I was breaking up with or going out with. Everything was very chilled out. So I found this old keyboard and I started thinking about my childhood and growing up, because that was what was around me and that was what was in my head.
What have you been up to now that you’re done with the album? How are you spending your free time?
Well, at the moment I have a little bit of writer’s block so I am struggling. I have a little dog that I love hanging out with. She is sort of my favorite thing in the world. I go running quite a lot. I love running. I used run competitively so I still try and do that a much as I can nowadays. I don’t like cooking and I don’t like going to the cinema. I don’t know why, I just don’t like it. I make it to the cinema like once a year. I really struggle to commit.
Is it that you don’t like the act of going to the movies or you don’t like films in general?
I don’t like watching films in general. Occasionally I do but they just make me feel really funny afterwards. There is something that really creeps me out about seeing time move really fast. Whenever I see a film I feel really empty inside afterwards and then I can’t sleep really well. I’d rather just read a book or watch a TV program.
I read that your dog spent a lot of time in the studio with you when you were making the album.
She’s quite small and durable so I take her everywhere with me. I take her on the tube, I take her to the studio, to shoots just everywhere. I don’t like leaving her alone. I feel sorry for her. I didn’t actually plan to get a dog because it’s not a good thing when you’re a musician, but luckily my mum and dad are completely in love with her too so they have her half the time and I have her half the time. We have joint custody [laughs]. She is good though, she just hung out in the studio and and we’d give her bits of cardboard to chew and the intern at the studio would have to clean it up.
I didn’t want to be forty years old and saying, “Oh you really should have tried to do music for a while.” You should try and do what you love in your twenties.
So you went from studying philosophy at Cambridge to making music. What made you change your mind?
Well I first started playing live when I was at Cambridge. Before that I only ever did like school performances and they were never my own songs. I never performed any of my own songs live before I went to Cambridge. It is a collegiate system and the university is split into loads of different colleges and the colleges each had their own open mic nights so you could just go to a random colleges open mic night and no one will know you and you won’t know them. It felt really anonymous which was good because I was really nervous.
I used to get horribly, horribly nervous so I preferred to play where I didn’t know anybody—at least at first. Then gradually when I was there my friend started singing with me then my other friend started playing drums with us and we were doing quite a lot of shows by the end. We just played gigs all over the place and I was writing a lot at the time. When I graduated I felt like I still had loads of time to try music so I figured I might as well give it a go. I didn’t want to be forty years old and saying, “Oh you really should have tried to do music for a while.” You should try and do what you love in your twenties.
So I got some crap part-time jobs for a while. I was a charity mugger and a waitress. I was an editor’s assistant for a little while, just a bunch of random things. Every day off I had I would go to the studio with a producer I met at one of my shows. He said I could come in to his studio and he’d record my demos for free which was just amazing because it gave me something to put on MySpace and in those days MySpace was huge. Everyone that worked in music had personal accounts on MySpace then so I used to sit and look them up and message them every day. I ended up getting invited into a few record labels for meetings and I met my lawyer who was helpful and introduced me to my manager. It was all through MySpace. Just sitting there and sending dozens of messages hoping someone would get back to you.
What did your parents think when you graduated from Cambridge and you told them you were going to pursue music?
They’re really artistic and liberal so they were quite supportive. My dad used to be a photographer and now he is a photography teacher and I think he would have liked to carry on with his photography when he was younger but he never had the chance because he had kids and had to get a proper job. My mum is hugely into music, she is massive music fan, I mean she knows all the hip bands before I do. She is just on the button. They were just so supportive of it and they have always been of the opinion that you should try and do what you love and see how it goes and if it doesn’t work out then you do something else. They always come to all my gigs.
Who are you listening to right now?
I really like Kwabs’ stuff right now, the song “Wrong or Right” which I love right now. I also really like all of Banks’ stuff. She is so great. I’m really bad at listening to a high volume of stuff. I tend to find a couple songs I like and just listen to then non-stop for a few weeks and then I go to something else. It was one of my New Year’s resolutions to stop doing that because I will kill a song and then it takes ages before I can enjoy it again.
How is the New Year’s resolution going?