Culture

La Roux: How to Be a Musician When You Hate the Music Industry

The synth-pop artist is back with 'Supervision', her first album in six years. Here, she tells us exactly why it took so long.
Daisy Jones
as told to Daisy Jones
02 February 2020, 10:00am
La Roux Supervision Album As-Told-To Interview VICE 2020
Photo via PR

In the late 2000s, after her smash hit “Bulletproof”, La Roux was everywhere. But once she'd released 'Trouble in Paradise, her acclaimed second album in 2014, she seemed to all but disappear for six years. Ahead of this year's 'Supervision', out on the 7th of February, she tells VICE Associate Editor Daisy Jones exactly what happened in those lost years.

I never wanted to be in a band. Mainly because I didn’t want to share. So the fact that I then found myself in a duo, in 2005, was accidental and intentional at the same time. But just over a year into writing songs with Ben Langmaid, I knew that I wanted to be in a project that looks more like what La Roux looks like now: Something more changeable, and free.

We became successful really quickly. Everyone around us thought “Bulletproof” would be a hit. They told me I could live off that tune for the rest of my life, but I was like, “What the fuck are you on about?” I don’t think I understood. “In For the Kill” and “Quicksand” did well too. But it’s hard for me to revisit that person and time.

Being a public figure didn’t sit well with me. People see it as a privilege. For me, the privilege was the musical success. But I never wanted to not be able to go to the shop. That’s my idea of hell. It never quite got to that point – that level of fame didn’t last long enough because I ran the fuck away. Fame is a machine that you have to feed. There are certain things you can do, like hang out with other famous people, go to events and have your picture taken. I don’t do any of those things, and I didn’t then.

The second album, Trouble in Paradise, was hard. It makes me tired just thinking about it. I’m really happy looking back, knowing that it’s a good album. But being in the studio for five years was the most draining thing. I didn’t have dinner at home for three years. A lot of it wasn’t my choice – I think that’s why it’s really hard to look back on. I let other people dictate how happy and free I felt and that’s where it gets a bit dark for me.

I lost my voice, but it wasn’t a physical problem. I got tested for nodules, throat cancer, mouth cancer, polyps. I went to therapists, masseurs. But none of it made any difference because deep down, I wasn’t okay with what I was doing. Essentially, my body went on strike. It was like: “You know what? You’re not happy with any of this. You don’t trust your management. You don’t trust your label. You don’t trust their intentions. You’ve become a cash cow, and they just want to overwork you.”

I made it my mission to try and protect other artists. I made a contact sheet for those who were going through the same thing. It was a list of all the people who had been helping me. I remember trying to give it to two major labels and them saying ‘no, we don’t want this contact list.’ Basically: we’ll never help artists. There are specialists in the industry who can help you on an emotional level, others who can help you on a physical level. But there’s only so much you can do if the labels aren’t willing to have that kind of support network there.

I started repeating similar patterns in the studio, on my next album, which I’d spent three years working on. I was sharing too much again, in the wrong ways; allowing things to be co-controlled. I realised I still wasn’t happy. Music is my one true love, so it was like – how can I possibly not be enjoying every second of this? At first I’d been gagging to get in the studio, but suddenly I was like: I never want to see any of you, I never want to go back to that fucking studio and I don’t want to carry on doing this. It was only when I was really honest with myself about all of these things that my voice properly came back.

In August 2017 I made the instantaneous decision to walk away from that project. I was walking with my partner and five minutes later had a panic attack, realising I need to change everything. The next day I wrote an email to my accountant and lawyer, explaining why. And then I spent a couple of months at home, reflecting and being quite angry. There were a lot of other things that had happened with the record on a personal level that I really don’t want to get into, but I’d been having a hard time emotionally. Around that time I went to the Caribbean to visit friends, and during that trip I realised my relationship – which had been a bit up and down for a while – wasn’t right either.

I realised I had to step up and learn everything and become the producer that I knew I was in my head. I had to stop being such a pussy, basically. It’s not rocket science. I’d been in the studio for eight years, so I knew what I was doing. I realised it would actually be quicker to start a new album. So I started doing it and ended up writing a track called “Do You Feel” in two days. That was a big moment for me.

I have no idea how to describe Supervision. With my second album, I could tell you the references that I used. But with this album there are no references. It’s not like I had time to sit down and build a concept. I think the best way of explaining it is that it sounds like a ‘La Roux record.’ My whole life I’ve wanted a sound that I could call my own, and now I think I have one.

The main thing that I apply now is to try and be positive, as opposed to reacting in a knee-jerk way. When I was younger it was easy to look at tour dates or a TV show and freak out. Whereas now I freak out for a second, and then I remember that I’ve done it all before already and I’m not dead, so maybe it will be OK. And I don’t look ahead. I’m not in a five-album deal. If I say no to somebody, it’s my opportunity missed, nobody else’s.

I live very quietly these days. I have a frenetic mind. I design all my costumes, source the fabric, do all the videos – it’s constant. But I’m managing to stay on top of things without being stressed. I do that by working out every day. I've not been diagnosed, but sometimes I feel like I have some form of ADHD, but maybe not. Either way, regular exercise is really good for my mental health. Being grounded is important for me. I liked my life before La Roux. I just wanted to make music, and put it out. So I’ve kept my life the same.

I hope I make a lot more music, a lot more frequently. I know what I’m doing and why it hasn’t worked before. And therefore I feel as though I’ve cracked the code. I just want to keep on moving forward.

La Roux's 'Supervision' is due out on Friday the 7th of February, and available for pre-order in all the usual places now.

@larouxofficial and @daisythejones