When I was seven, I was barely into elasticated school trousers, and collecting worms out of the garden, albeit after episodes of Hong Kong Fuey. I might have managed a quick rendition of London’s Burning on the recorder on a good day, but that was about it.
In contrast, Nottingham’s Harleighblu (her real name) was already in the studio, courtesy of a community project. So while she was already on the road to becoming an artist, my Mum was still wiping my nose with a tissue in public. It’s no surprise that a few years on Harleighblu has blossomed into one of the new great soul voices in the UK today.
And that’s only the start. She’s signed to the Uber cool Tru Thoughts label, home of artists such as Alice Russell, the Hot 8 Brass Band, Quantic and the London Posse, and she has her debut album Forget me Not out on October 14th.
Seemed like a good idea to speak to the lady herself about, well, starting early and the journey to where she is today.
BM: Hey, Harleighblu, you’ve got your debut album coming out very soon – excited?
Harleighblu: Super duperrrrr excited!! I literally cannot wait. It’s such a milestone in any artists career their debut album, so I’m currently wishing my life away!! I just wanna be like “yeahhhh check out my debut album – out now!” to anyone asking about my music 😉 lol.
Tell us a bit about it? How longs it been done? Did it take a while, and was it enjoyable?
The whole process has taken a while to be honest, but I think it’s worth it. I write my actual songs quickly – experiences, feelings, wearing my heart on my sleeve… but taking that song to the next level production wise was the key. We took our time musically, re-recording samples, fiddling about with different riffs and ideas, making sure it was right…
It was important that I came out with the right sound and came out as the artist I wanted to be. This industry can make you lose your way very easily with musical trends and fashions, I wanted to go against the grain and just be myself, do my own thing regardless… and just hope people dig it.
It was so enjoyable to make, I learnt a lot from my producer Joe Buhdha… we inspired eachother, and I think we created something that is quite special.
But now that’s done it’s so weird!!? This massive build up and now all I can think about is the next record! And touring!!!
Can you describe it to us in three words?
Dark, Gritty, Grande.
Are there any musical or/and lyrical threads that run through the record?
The whole record is about the ups and downs of love… The sometimes devastatingly dark side of love, the sucking you in type of love, the never letting you go type of love, the betrayal of love, the unforgettable type of love. I just sing about my experiences, my relationships, my hardships – Love is a universal thing, all people can relate to love.
Was it mainly songs you’d already written, or a bunch of new songs, or a bit in the middle?
It was a bit in the middle really… I’ve gigged some of the songs on the record over the last year throughout Nottingham. Nottingham has always been my spring-board. I’d gig it live and see what the feedback was like. Casanova is one of the first songs I wrote when first working with Joe Buhdha and it made the album!! So… some have been there from the beginning of our journey. Some are only a few months old. Thats the beauty of a good song, if it can stand the test of time without you getting bored with playing it or hearing it – it’s a good song.
What’s your favourite? Or is it like choosing one of your children over another?
You can’t pick a favourite!!!! It feels wrong to pick a favourite hahahaa! My favourites change all the time, I’m a kid in a candy shop with this record lolol. I suppose it’s what mood you’re in… If you wanna go out with the girls and you’re on one – “Play Me” would be good. If you want a chilled one in with your man – “Love of my life” is your jam.
So is there one track that sums up what you were trying to do, in terms of sound?
I’m not sure there is… I think I show so many sides of myself as an artist on this record, I don’t think it would do it justice to pick just one to represent the group of songs. The whole album sums up the sound, in a collective way… I hoped to make a record that you could play from start to finish without skipping, not just one good song. Hopefully I’ve done that.
And when’s it out, and where can we get it?
It’s out officially on the 14th October and 15th in the US. You can get it via iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp etc. and at the labels very own Etch Shop – hard copy is also available (anooo, very swish!)
You’re signed to Tru Thoughts – how did that come about?
Joe Buhdha has worked on numerous songs with Rodney P over the years and Rodney happened to hear our album demo’s at one of his studio sessions, he immediately passed what was going on to Rob Luis (Tru Thoughts Label Boss) and the rest they say is history!
It’s funny really, you work so hard for years and years to make connections and sometimes a little luck and little help from your friends is what actually cracks it.
It seems like it’s the perfect label for you, was there any competition for your signature at the time?
There was a lot of going down to London and going for label meetings, for a very long time… There was a lot of interest just before we signed but they just didn’t have the same vision as Tru Thoughts. The Nottingham music scene is flourishing and I’ve friends that have signed to majors and I’m not always convinced they know what they are doing with real talent.
Tru Thoughts care about the music, they care about careers. They’re not just looking for their massive advance back straight away – they wanna build careers and make credible, timeless music. The Nottingham music scene schooled me about this label back in my early gigging days, it was always the dream to sign to a label as cool and credible as them, and I was the one lucky enough to have done it! I’m glad I’m going the route I am… I want to stay credible and I want a career in this thing. I don’t want to be sucked into doing an electronic sounding one hit wonder to make sure I make my advance back as quickly as possible.
You starting singing early, at seven? Is that correct?
Yeah as early as that! I’ve always written, recorded and performed. It all started at a community recording studio, I was given free studio time and was able to record some of what I’d written. I knew then that was what I wanted to do… I’ve never paid for studio time yet – which I’m proud of. I’ve always managed to land on my feet and find a producer that wanted to work with me. Now though, I’ve finally got my own set-up at home!! Which is a god send as I can record demo’s whenever I want.
And what were you influenced by then? I read somewhere it was your Mum’s record collection, but what were the real gems in there you couldn’t stop listening to?
My mum is a massive rare grooves and soul head. She was blasting out classics like Marlena Shaw ‘Go Away Little Boy’, The Jones Girls ‘Nights Over Egypt’, Gwen Mcrae ’90 percent of me is you’, Brand New Heavies ‘Brother Sister’ to name a few…
When I got to about 11 years old she bought Jill Scotts debut album ‘Who is Jill Scott’ …I was hooked. From there I got into D’angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Bilal, Mary J Blige and really old soul/jazz like Ella Fitsgerald, billie holiday, Ray Charles and Nina Simone.
I know meeting (producer) Joe Buhdha was important to you a wrote together a lot, and he prompted a change in musical direction. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Whatever his musical ideas were I just buzzed off… He’d play me an idea and I would just write and write and write. He was into combining samples with hard hitting heavy drums and seemed to create the sound I wanted. We both had the same ideas about music – that the music and the sound came before everything. He gave me complete freedom to write about whatever I wanted to and express myself in whichever way I needed to lyrically. He was the first producer I’d worked with that let me be me.
And who else was important in your development?
I’d say my Mum is without doubt single-handedly one of the most important people in my musical development. Aside from her constant support and encouragement, taking me to all my shows, studio sessions, meetings, driving me up and down the country without a second thought, she has been massively instrumental in helping me get to the next stage in so many other ways.
Without her musical taste and without her playing the music I was brought up with throughout my life, I can’t see me even being anywhere near as passionate about music as I am today. I grew up emulating the singers she used to play, which I think can shape an artist in many ways.
I’ll never forget how amazing a mum and friend she has been throughout my journey.
My grandparents, my little brother, all have been so supportive and there every step of the way. I owe it all to my family
The best record I have heard this year is….
The song is three years old but I discovered him this year. Amazing amazing amazing! –
Jesse Boykins 3 -Amorous
So it seems that, to all potential mothers out there, stock up on your record collections. You might just be in possession of a little Harleighblu all of your own.