|Lianne La Havas, a British singer interviewed by Jane Stevenson on Wednesday, August 1, 2012.(Veronica Henri/QMI Agency)
When British jazz-soul-folk-pop newcomer Lianne La Havas was recently forced to go see an ear, nose and throat specialist following a showcase performance in Toronto, she found herself in good company.
"Basically everyone who is a celebrity, who has come into the surgery, he had their picture on the wall with an autograph -- you know, Nicole Kidman, and Mick Jagger," said the 22-year-old London singer at a Toronto hotel.
Good company would appear to be a trend in La Havas' young life.
It was while she was performing on the BBC music show, Later with Jools Holland, that acclaimed American indie folk-rock star Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame saw her during their respective soundchecks and asked her a few days later to open for his band's North American tour last December.
"When I finished singing he applauded my sound check," said La Havas. "I just felt very blessed because I was a big, big fan, as were a lot of my friends as well, and they were very jealous that I was going to be sharing the tour bus with Justin and his band."
Now La Havas' debut, Is Your Love Big Enough?, has entered at No. 4 in her native U.K. -- "I can't believe it... the reviews have averaged four out of five," she says -- and will be released in Canada on Aug. 7. So far she has only one headlining Canadian tour date on Sept. 13 in Montreal but is expected to have more in November.
The disc was produced by L.A.-based Matthew Hales, better known as transplanted British singer-songwriter Aqualung, who had a big U.K. hit, Strange and Beautiful.
"He was the first person I ever actually co-wrote with," she said. "I was 11 when his song came out that was a massive hit in the U.K. I was aware of him and I actually loved his music and I actually loved him. I fell in love with him. He's just so cool. All the footage I saw of him, every time I heard him speak he was just the kind of person I wished I could be friends with."
La Havas was actually born Lianne Barnes at birth, after her Jamaican mother -- her parents divorced when she was young -- but took her stage name from an adaption of her Greek father, Henry Vla Havas, a stonemason who is also a musician and gave her her first guitar at age 18. She was signed to a development deal 18 months later when she posted demos on myspace and got a manager.
"When I felt like when I wanted to be a singer I didn't know if Lianne Barnes was jazzy enough," she said. "I kind of just wanted an interesting name that gave a nod to my dad because of his musical influence on my life. So I just asked him if I could just adapt it."
La Havas, who started playing piano and singing at age 7, grew up listening to her mother's music, like such "luxurious voices" as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, and would later discover jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.
"I think I'm sort of blind to genre," she said of her own undefinable sound. "As long as it has a sort of honesty about it, which I think you'll hear in whatever music you respond to, then I think it doesn't need to be called anything particularly."