Wednesday, 03 October 2012

Leona Lewis

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Seven years and ten million album sales since she triumphed on The X Factor, Leona Lewis has come home.
It's been quite a journey. Huge, out-of-the-box, top-of-the-charts success for her debut single, Bleeding Love, on both sides of the Atlantic – and in 33 other countries. Top Ten album rankings around the world for both her first two albums, Spirit (which smashed sales records and saw Leona as the first British female solo artist to debut at Number One in the US album charts) and Echo. A brace of Grammy and BRIT Award nominations. An appearance, representing London 2012, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics' closing ceremony with Jimmy Page. A tour in support of 2009's second album Echo. Many months spent in America, recording and traveling and winning hearts and minds as the most successful British female pop export in an age, opening the door for a number of a UK female artists along the way.

But for her new record, Lewis has returned to her roots. Titled Glassheart and executive produced by Fraser T Smith (Adele, Florence + The Machine, Plan B), Lewis wrote much of her third album in London. She recorded in London, LA, Denver and in the studios of some of the best and hungriest songwriters and producers around, including Smith, Emeli Sandé and her collaborators Naughty Boy, Ina Wroldsen, Jörgen Elofsson and Ammo.

The partnership with Smith was a crucial foundation, and bore immediate fruit in his co-production work on Trouble, the gothic, anguished album opener. As Glassheart's first single, Trouble – cowritten with Emeli Sandé – is already attracting rave reviews across the board.

The compelling, noir-ish and frankly towering ballad – imagine Kate Bush singing with Massive Attack – is the album's opening track and very much sets the tone. The killer track also features production from Naughty Boy and a featured rap by Childish Gambino "Kate Bush was definitely an inspiration for some of the songs that on this record, in terms of the register the she uses. I was trained classically from a young age – I actually wanted to be an opera singer!

So to use those kind of tones on this album was great – it's obviously not opera," she clarifies, "but it's bringing a bit of that register of the
head voice in."

In terms of her guest, "I wanted it be someone who was poetic and clever and intellectual with the way they used their lyrics. And I've been into Childish for ages, and I've wanted to do work with him for so long. And I thought this was the perfect song for him to be on. He's a different kind of rapper, and he vibed on the track and just jumped on it."

Lewis first met Fraser T Smith a decade ago, when she was an unknown working on her first demos.

"Getting Fraser to come onboard was crucial, 'cause I wanted everything to sound as a whole. Fraser really helped me to do that, to put everything into context and to have time to experiment and see what sounds I wanted to use. And that's a process, and it takes time.

"It was important to be home for a while," adds Lewis, who mastered the album in Los Angeles and also called on input from top LA writers Bonnie McKee (Katy Perry, Rita Ora, Britney) and Kelly sheehan (Mariah Carey, Karmin). "And I think the album at some points is more British sounding – I was getting a lot of influences from home, which is cool," she says, highlighting the dubstep-flavoured Come Alive. "I think it sounds more eclectic because I've been based here much more."

This is reflected in the sound and the lyrics of Collide which was released as a taster tune last summer and now appears as one of six extra tracks on the deluxe version of the album. This dancefloor anthem with an irresistible house piano and big beat was a perfect early treat for DJs, particularly on the Ibizan party scene. Collide hinted at the new sounds that were on the way from Leona.

As with all her songs, Lewis wanted Collide to "feel classic and timeless. But I also wanted to be in with what's going on now in the dance world. Some of the songs that I've been listening to are so upbeat and euphoric, and I really wanted that feel. And given that Sandy Vee had worked on Rihanna's Only Girl In The World and Katy Perry's Firework, he was the perfect producer to do that."

Collide was a great first glimpse of Glassheart in other ways. "There's a lot more energy throughout the album generally," Lewis affirms, pointing out that her collaboration with Swedish pop-dance supremo Max Martin on Echo track Out Of My Head was a good jumping-off point for the more uptempo feel of both Collide, the throbbing electronica of the title track, and the sassy swagger of Shake You Up, a track produced by Rodney Jerkins (Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson).

Her experience of her first ever tour was also a factor. The Labyrinth show was creatively directed by Kylie Minogue's long-term collaborator William Baker, and featured costumes especially created by Vivienne Westwood – the fashion legend who shares Lewis's passion for environmental and animal welfare issues. Musically, too, Lewis wanted to step things up: producer Inflo crafted remixes of five of her songs especially for the live show.

"It just went so well," beams Lewis, still agog at the memory of three sold-out nights at London's O2 – the best kind of homecoming show for the girl who grew up a short tube ride from the arena. "Everyone was dancing and full of energy, so I definitely wanted to bring some of that into the new album."

It's a mark of her stature on both sides of the Atlantic that Leona Lewis can count on the creative attention-to-detail of two of the biggest names in the global music industry: legendary American executive Clive Davis (shepherd of the careers of everyone from Whitney Houston to Jennifer Hudson via Alicia Keys) and Simon Cowell (does some telly programmes or something). Both helped Lewis craft the sound and direction of what is, lyrically and emotionally, her most personal album yet.

Representing this newly intimate approach are the moody, stringsladen I To You, the heartbreaking honesty of Un Love Me and Fireflies' breathtaking beauty. She cites Trouble as one of the most close-to-the-heart songs she's ever recorded.

Another key collaborator is Ryan Tedder, most recently acclaimed for the songs he wrote with Adele, Rumour Has It and Turning Tables. Lewis describes the One Republic frontman – co-writer of her international hits Bleeding Love and Happy – as her "go-to guy. It's always great working with Ryan 'cause he knows me so well. He's like family now. I got to go Denver and hang with him and his wife and little boy."

This time round Tedder's Colorado studio was the wellspring for Glassheart and Favourite Scar, a pop epic that also features songwriting contributions from Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith.

"Every single time we work together, Ryan always wants to progress and make something different. And I think on every album we've done

"Leona has some definite God-given talent," says Tedder. "To some degree she's my muse. We both have an old-school sensibility. All that matters to us is putting really meaningful lyrics with really meaningful melodies. It is so hard to get a traditional song, a real song without gimmicks, on the radio and be successful these days. Leona Lewis is one of the few artists out there that can deliver that. That's the difference with her – when she sings a song, you know you're going to be hearing it ten, 15 years from now at weddings."

Right now, Leona Lewis isn't so bothered about what happens a decade from now. Her first priority is to finish her most heartfelt album yet. She's been working on Glassheart for almost two years, and won't be rushed on the final lap.

Ever the perfectionist, she admits that, "I'll literally keep doing stuff on my record until someone takes it away from me! So I've been going back in and just doing a few adlibs here and there, dong a few harmony tracks. The album's done, but I'm just adding layers until the final hour basically."

Then and only then will do what Lewis has been burning to do for months now: to get those songs out there, on the radio and in the clubs and into people's heads.

"The seven years since X Factor have just flown by – it's crazy how fast it's gone. And over the course of making the records I've just been more and more in control, knowing my own self and knowing what I wanna do. And this time I knew exactly what I wanted to do – I wanted to move on."

For ambitious, restless, never-more-honest Leona Lewis, moving on meant something specific.

"I wanted to move outwards - more dance tunes!" she smiles. "And I wanted to move inwards, by creating songs that were me speaking from the heart."

Glassheart, then, is the album of Lewis's brand-new life. "A lot of the songs I've done in the past have come from a place of sadness – I do sing sad songs!" laughs this ballad queen. "And I love it!

And I love feeling emotional and being moved by songs – I am drawn to lyrics that are a bit darker and a bit sad.

"But Glassheart is all to do with growing up," she says firmly, "with experiencing different relationships and situations in my life, and
becoming more independent. That fragile place I might have come from before is in the past. This is definitely me coming from a stronger place than ever before."

August 2012 – Radio One play 'Trouble', Leona's brand new single and announce release details for her third studio album 'Glassheart' set for release on October 14th