La Roux: ‘I knew I was a one-hit wonder. It’s not a secret’

Five years after her world-beating debut, synth-pop sensation Elly Jackson is back with a tremendous follow-up, despite splitting with her writing partner and temporarily losing her voice

Elly Jackson of La Roux: ‘My biggest ambition was to start again as the artist I should have started as in the first place.’ Photograph: Gus Stewart/Redferns

Elly Jackson of La Roux: ‘My biggest ambition was to start again as the artist I should have started as in the first place.’ Photograph: Gus Stewart/Redferns

Fri, Jul 25, 2014, 13:07

On the surface, it has all the hallmarks of the cliched “difficult second album” syndrome. The ominous title. The fact that it has taken five years to follow up a resoundingly successful debut. The split from her songwriting partner, Ben Langmaid. But don’t be deceived: Trouble in Paradise is one of the finest pop albums you’re likely to hear in 2014.

After just a few minutes of conversation, it is apparent that its creator – or at least co-creator – Elly Jackson is not the kind of person to simply roll over and fade into professional obscurity. Speaking from her London home, the 26-year-old is shrugging off a bad head cold but is still capable of thoughtful, thought-provoking ruminations on how, why and when, all delivered in a likeably no-nonsense, matter-of-fact manner.

It’s no surprise that Jackson is the articulate type: when her eponymous debut landed in 2009, both her music and her outspokenness on the “Ikea mentality” of youth culture marked her out from her peers. Here, at last, was a modern pop star with something to say and an intriguingly androgynous image. The album La Roux did the business on both sides of the Atlantic, even bagging a Grammy in 2011. A heavy period of touring followed. Then silence.

Let Me Down Gently

“There are so many factors that made this record take the time it took,” she says. “The recording took about two years. For me, that doesn’t seem that long, but for a lot of people that is a ridiculous amount of time. Most people would never be given that much time with a producer, because it would cost way too much money and because the producer would never give up two years of their life to one band or one artist. So me and Ian [Sherwin, who had previously acted as engineer] just worked together.”

Working with a multitude of producers, as so many pop artists do these days, was never an option. “The reason that I don’t work with many producers is because (a) I don’t have a personal connection with them; and (b) [with them] I only have a limited amount of time, which I’m not really interested in. Actually, we were given a time limit, but we just ignored it and said, ‘Leave us alone, we’ll let you know when it’s finished’,” she says with a chuckle. “So that’s part of it – but then also there’s the fact that I wanted to do something a lot braver, production-wise. Just generally, I wanted to do something braver. I wanted to become – I needed to become – a better musician to pull that vision off. So that did take a while. There are elements of perfectionism in there and elements of dysfunction, too.”

The process of creating album number two wasn’t as straightforward as navigating dysfunction and vague deadlines, however. The success of the debut brought many high points, but it also led Jackson to a place of crippling anxiety that affected her ability to sing. At one point, she thought she might have had throat cancer, but treatment for performance anxiety eventually curbed the problem.

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