Back when Little Boots wasn’t just an eBay search term, the most commercially viable singer in the world was Susan Boyle and the pain of Michael Jackson’s death was still extremely fresh, there was one act that felt simply unstoppable. With major pop hits and worldwide interest in their self-titled debut, it felt as though La Roux were truly on their way to becoming the next big things. And then… nothing. For quite some time. The project entered the proverbial wilderness, resurfacing in bizarre places like Kanye West and Jay-Z’sWatch The Throneor anAbsolutely Fabulousspecial. It naturally begs the question: did Elly Jackson – the vocalist, songwriter and now sole member – ever feel as though La Roux was truly over?
“Not done entirely,” she says after a moment of pondering. “I don’t think I’d ever stop. There were times that I thought that I’d maybe missed some kind of window. I thought that maybe I wasn’t cut out for all of this – maybe this wasn’t I wanted to be doing. Not to sound entirely fucking clichéd, but the way of the music industry means that there are a lot of things that are asked of you – a lot of things that you really don’t want to do, as well. You’re told that if you don’t, ‘This, this and this will happen.’ I didn’t want to live with that kind of pressure. That’s when I kind of realised, halfway through making this record, that you’ve just got to keep making what you want to make. You have to do what you want to do, in the way you want to do it. If it doesn’t feel true to me, then I’m not going with it.”
Ironically, given how long La Roux was mistaken for a solo project or a stage moniker for Jackson, it has become just that. The unseen producer, co-writer and instrumentalist Ben Langmaid officially resigned from the group following a difficult recording process for the long-awaited second album, Trouble In Paradise. Although some of his work made it onto the album, La Roux from herein is simply Jackson on her own. Given the shift in dynamics between La Roux and Trouble In Paradise, one may easily assume that the latter is far more the record that Jackson herself wished to make. The singer, however, is quick to assure that this is not the case.
“The first record is definitely what I wanted to make at that time,” she says. “What was going on musically and relationship-wise with Ben and I at the time worked. I certainly was happy with that record – I am happy with that record. But things changed. I changed. Ben changed. I’m not saying he wanted to make a record that sounded exactly the same as the last one, but we just had different ideas as to where we wanted to be as artists. The best way to explain it, really, is…” She trails off momentarily, attempting to gather her words correctly. “People say things like, ‘You were so close – I don’t understand what happened!’ People get together with people when they’re 17, boyfriends and girlfriends, at school or at college or whatever. It doesn’t mean you stay with them until you’re 25. You change a lot in those years, and I did. Ben was a fair amount older than me – he’s at the age where you don’t change much, and I’m at an age where you change a lot.”
Langmaid is still credited with work on five of the album’s nine tracks, but there is still a change in direction that is undeniably present on Trouble In Paradise. The songs carry a sense of adventure and boldness, which skews from the conventions set down for the La Roux sound within the confines of the first album.
Lyrically, Jackson continues to draw stark, glaring contrasts between the deeply personal and the vulnerably private. Details are given out here and there, but never expanded upon. It’s a unique take on pop songwriting – so much so that even Jackson herself is unsure when questioned about the origins of her lyrical style.
“No-one’s ever asked me that before,” she says with surprise. “My immediate answer in my head is nothing. I’ve got different influences and inspirations for everything else to do with music, but in terms of that nature of songwriting that the songs have, where there are allusions to certain things and letting out partial bits of information… I really don’t know. That’s just how I like writing songs. If my songs don’t do that, I go back and rework them.”
With a new backing band and a calendar full of tour dates, Jackson and La Roux are definitely back in the swing of things. Keyboardist Mickey O’Brien and drummer William Bowerman have returned to the live fold, alongside two new recruits – Matt Carroll on bass and synthesizer and Ed Seed on guitar and percussion. When asked about a third visit to Australia for La Roux – the group visited for the 2009 Parklife festival and for the 2010 Bacardi Express tour – Jackson is affirmative that it’s on the cards.
“We’ll definitely be coming over,” she confirms. “The crowds out there are brilliant – there’s no way we wouldn’t be coming back.”