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With big songs and real emotion, singer-songwriter Kyla La Grange comes as a mighty relief, as Tim Hughes discovers.
I HATE to come across all miserable here, but don’t you sometimes find that too much music these days is just too, well... cheerful.
There are just too many demure singer-songwriters churning out twee tunes, upbeat bouncing pop stars and beaming X Factor spin-offs flashing perfect smiles and singing about how great life is. Which is why Kyla la Grange comes as such a blessed relief.
Occupying a spot somewhere on the borders of rock, pop and folk, her powerful songs, with their towering harmonies and soaring choruses belie a darkness and emotional intensity which comes as bleakly refreshing .
In fact, she admits, if it wasn’t for the sadness, she wouldn’t be a musician at all.
“I go through months where I don’t write anything at all because I’ll feel happy and relaxed, like I am now,” she says. Unfortunately, being in that state is creatively unproductive for me! For as long as I can remember, ever since I was a kid actually, whenever I felt sad I would sit down and make something. And to this day it’s how I cope with feelings: I write a song.”
And with four critically-acclaimed singles, including the intensely personal Vampire Smile, an album on the way, and a gig coming up at Oxford’s Jericho Tavern, thank heavens for those dark times and break-ups.
“My music is often sad and sometimes angry,” she explains.
“For my debut album there are three specific relationships I’ve explored. I know that lots of people write about love and the end of love, but in a way it’s understandable because it’s often the most intense emotion you feel. I don’t have to write about love, by the way, but when I write, it has to provoke that same sort of intensity.”
But with some of her songs dating back a number of years, does she find it strange to cotinually rake up emotions from the past?
“It’s six years since I wrote Vampire Smile,” she says. “And, you know, I wish it did feel weirder. The problem is, the emotional themes that run throughout the song – of obsession, rejection, neuroticism – were written from the viewpoint of a 19 year-old, but have seemed to persist in all my relationships afterwards.
“I love it though: it makes the whole album hang together because it most clearly encapsulates what is behind a lot of the songs.”
Despite that, the music is certainly not gloomy. And you have to listen to the lyrics to find out what is going on. So how does she reconcile the notion of sharing her inner thoughts with what is, at the end of the day, entertainment?
“To be honest I don’t think I’ve ever written a song with the express intention of entertaining someone,” she says. “I never actually imagined that I’d be able to write music for audiences; I was first of all doing this for myself because I really enjoyed it. For a long time I did find it quite hard to play live because it felt tough to take something that personal to me on stage. I did wonder why I wanted to make a career out of it, because that would mean sharing with everyone. But then, after a while, you get addicted to how it feels to do that.”
Yet, she rocks out, throwing out those killer hooks and epic choruses which make her music so captivating.
“That’s just what comes out of me when I write,” she says. “There’s something really cathartic about writing something which sounds epic and uplifting when the subject matter is the opposite.
“In my head, I probably wish I was more of an introverted indie-singer-songwriter. That’s certainly the music I listen to. But for some reason when I write, it always has to have a hook.
“Believe me, I’ve tried to write in an understated, lo-fi way and I just can’t do it. I guess I just like working with melody. I want to move people with the music as well as the lyrics. People like to feel sad sometimes, they like to feel they can identify with a song. Certainly when I’m listening to music myself the most, it’s when I’m feeling miserable.”
What impact, I wonder, does playing with a band have on those very personal songs?
“I’m still a complete control freak I’m afraid. I usually write the song in my room and do a little demo on my computer, and because I’ve known the band for so long now, it’s then just a question of going into a rehearsal room and trying things out. Usually the bones of the song – the melody and lyrics and so on – are already there. But the band are really good at bringing their ideas too.”
Has that helped with the album?
“Oh yes. It’s not quite finished yet but I’m really much happier than I thought I would be. I kept going back into the studio to tinker with it and re-record different parts. I did wonder whether I’d actually ever be happy! But I’m finally there, I think.
“I really hope that people feel moved by it,” she goes on. “I hope there are songs there that people can identify with, and, in those moments, they’re swept up in the album. It’s not about depressing people, it’s about finding a catharsis. I’m working out my issues, singing things I wouldn’t dare speak myself. It’s about feeling a sense of release. If that transferred itself to the listening experience, I would be absolutely delighted.”
* Kyla La Grange plays the Jericho Tavern, Walton Street, Oxford, on Sunday, April 15. See wegot ticket.co.uk