The truth is out there, finally
Laura Izibor’s much-delayed debut album is finally ready to shimmy our way, writes TONY CLAYTON-LEA
THAT SOUND YOU hear coming from the office of Atlantic Records and a house in the Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham is a collective sigh of relief. After four long years of waiting, Laura Izibor’s debut album, Let the Truth Be Told, is about to be unleashed.
Izibor herself doesn’t appear too bothered about all the fuss, and in fact seems to be taking it in her stride. The once self-professed shy girl from a working-class Rathfarnham family is now a confident charmer who doesn’t necessarily want to settle down in any one city; Dublin is where the heart is, but New York is where the soul resides. Stress lines? What are they?
“A lot of people are asking what my expectations and hopes are about the album,” she says, “but they’ve no idea how far removed I am from that attitude – I’m in such a different place right now. Because this album has been so long in coming, it’s like I’ve done a lot of groundwork – gigging, primarily. It’s a blessing in that I already have some kind of career on the live front, but just to get the album out is great.”
But what about all those false starts: signing to a record label (Jive) four years ago; expecting the album to be released within a year; changing labels (from Jive to Atlantic) because your original AR manager moved; contending with the scheduling (frequently postponed) of a worldwide release rather than territory by territory. Was Izibor worried that people – fans as much as industry insiders and music critics – would regard the stream of interruptions as a sign that the album wasn’t up to much?
“Well, it does send out bad messages,” she agrees. “But the album is good, it’s been sitting there for years, and the only thing that has changed over that time is the addition of singles. The one thing that kept it alive for many people was the placing of some of the songs in various movies, because that got me back into the studio.
“ Shinewasn’t originally on the album. I wrote that specifically for The Nanny Diaries. That was an addition, but yes, the delays were beyond frustrating, because I’d already had a batch of songs for the next album. But it teaches you a lot – you have to find your centre again, and continue to believe in the material. Life is like a Pilates workout! You have to do your warm-up, and then make a conscious decision to focus.”
It sounds all quite Zen-like. Not true, says Izibor. “Jesus, I’d throw a wobbly now and again – I’m not going to sugar-coat it for anyone. But I’m laughing five minutes later. I’m very centred like that, yet at the same time I have no problem voicing my opinion.”
Izibor’s path to success has been an interesting one. Not yet 22 (although she will be by the time the album is released in the US in June), she is nonetheless a music industry veteran, having won the Jacob’s/RTÉ 2FM Song Contest while still in secondary school. From that point, her career looked set to soar; instead it was temporarily grounded. Was this difficult to deal with?
“It’s been a real mental test to deal with being 17 and thinking, hoping, that by the time you’re 18 you’ll have an album out. And then, over the years, knowing that the album won’t be out until I’m almost 22, which is a long period of time to have to wait.”
The most difficult point, she says, was the departure from Jive of Steve Lunt, vice president of AR, who supervised the rise of, among others, Britney Spears at the label.
“I was petrified I was going to be kept at Jive. We had deliberately kept everything we had been working on in a low-profile manner, which meant I was virtually an unknown and, if you like, disposable artist. So I was terrified, living in a bubble waiting for a phone call. Steve said he’d try to get me on to Atlantic, but I thought it was bullshit, that no one was going to bother with me.
“I was hoping that Jive would let me go, but they wouldn’t, and that became an even more difficult time. I didn’t want to be on the label, but it turned out I had fans there and they wanted to make it work for me. But four months down the line I knew it wasn’t working, so I asked to speak to the head of the label. He asked me to go on a two-month writing session with top urban songwriters, just to see what cropped up.
“It was great, but it became more and more apparent how I was not this person Jive thought I was. I didn’t even get to the end of the two-month session. So I went back to the label boss and asked him to let me go. I hit him with the ‘I’m an 18-year-old girl, just let me go’ line and fair play to him, he agreed.”
Throughout all this industry palaver, what has she learned most about herself?
“That I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was, and also that I’m not inhuman. I know that’s a contradiction, but sometimes I look back and wonder how I got through it all. I honestly think that if the album had been released a few years ago I’d have turned into a spoiled brat, a train wreck. Or if I hadn’t gone down that road, then who knows? Self-destruction, maybe, an internal, not-coping process. At that age – 16, 17, 18 – you genuinely think you know absolutely everything. I reckon it’s when you stop thinking that you know everything that life gets a bit easier.
“The music industry is no place for a teenager. The X-Factorthing is a very lonely place to be, with all these people around you who say they ‘love’ you. That kind of gratification is a really easy thing to buy into. I look at the past five or six years and reckon I’ve been through a music industry boot camp. Now – and not in a cocky way, I hope – I can see industry bullshit a mile away, I’m not fazed by anything at all.”
Izibor reckons there isn’t a lot of the kind of music she’s doing out there, which she says is both a blessing and a curse. “I’m not one particular thing. Maybe what makes a difference is that when it’s live gigs, it’s just a keyboard, a guitar and me. It’s all down to the songs, though, isn’t it?”
Izibor is smart and experienced enough by now to know that, irrespective of the actual worth of the music, the hopes and hypes of record companies don’t always bear fruit. As she said at the start, her expectations and hopes for Let the Truth Be Toldare far removed from some people around her.
“I’m not building my career on this album. I can’t. Indeed, I never have because of the way I stepped into all of this. I’m already able to tour, and I can do my tours in America. I’m not particularly fussed about being in the Top 10 of anything in magazines. It’s longevity that’s important, but longevity in a slow curve, a good pace.”
** Let the Truth Be Toldis released on May 8th and reviewed on page 15. Laura Izibor plays Dublin’s Tripod on May 28th and Cork’s Cyprus Avenue on May 30th