“I wanted to make a bigger sound with this album,” she says. “I got pissed off doing tours and feeling like I was the ‘quiet’ act when everyone else was making more noise than me, so I was determined to make a record that wherever I was going to play, everyone was going to hear me no matter what.”
It was a bold move by Mvula, whose artistic and musical style has prompted accolades and awards across the industry since her 2013 debut, Sing To The Moon. But Mvula says the highest of honours came from the late Prince, who despite never sharing a conversation with Mvula, became aware of her attention-demanding presence through a TV performance that spawned a legendary story.
“I was so sad to hear Prince passed away earlier this year – I actually wanted to do my next album with him,” she says. “I was told that he saw me on Jools Holland, and walked to HMV to get my record and actually had a go at the shopkeeper because they didn’t have my record there. Stuff like that is just surreal and I freaked out when I was told that.”
The Dreaming Room is Mvula’s confessional, an album that soaks up surroundings and looks to the skies with a new attitude reflected in its instrumentation and production. Mvula attributes much of this change to not only her coming of age as a musician, but the combined collaborative efforts of musical legends who had no second thoughts on lending their talents – namely jazz-rock guitar icon John Scofield and eclectic record producer Nile Rodgers, who features on lead single ‘Overcome’.
“I really wanted to come outside of my comfort zone when it came to the writing,” she says. “Writing for the instruments and the album was much more natural this time around, because I always grew up writing for classical instruments. But in terms of using synthesizers, I’d never written for that before, so it was kind of a challenge that motivated me all the time.
“I wanted to get the best [musicians] I could for this one, so we called up John Scofield. It was one of those things like where you decide where you wanna record – ‘Where do you want to record, New York? OK, let’s go to Electric Lady. Who do you want to play guitar?’ ‘John Scofield.’ ‘OK, let’s call up John.’
“He was more than happy to do it. Nile was a bit different – he actually came to me, which was shocking. He quite literally phoned me up and told me he really liked my music, and he wanted to know what the biggest songs on this record were. At that time it was ‘Overcome’, and it was actually finished to me. But he asked to let him jump over it, and a few days later he transformed it totally into something magical. I probably listen to that song at least once every two days; it’s incredible.”
Mvula’s persistence as an artist has paved the way for other opportunities that she never thought possible, and she admits that disbelief sometimes gets the better of her in these situations, including at Glastonbury earlier this year where she performed alongside the likes of Coldplay, Tame Impala and Sigur Rós.
“There’s something about that experience that is a bit too surreal for me,” she says. “I couldn’t really get into the moment. I’d like to think if I get more opportunities to play at that magnitude that I’d want to be able to feel how I feel when I do my own shows, which is a much more tangible [thing]. Glastonbury is so huge, you know, it’s like a whole culture. I feel very privileged, but it’s terrifying because it’s such a huge scale.
“Sometimes I’m overly intimidated by things like that, rather than just being able to share music as I would do at my own shows, which is what I enjoy doing the most. I imagine as I get older it will get easier for me.”
Mvula will have to set aside her anxieties sooner rather than later. On her first visit to Australia next year, she will be heading north to Byron Bay to play on the monumental Bluesfest lineup alongside soul greats like Roy Ayers and Bee Gees legend Barry Gibb. Mvula says the nerves have kicked in, but she has never been so intrigued about travelling somewhere to perform. “It’s going to be such a huge experience for me,” she says. “All I really know of Australia is when my dad went there for work when I was only five or six years old – he came back a genuinely changed human being. He was raving on about everything, from the food to the people to just the general vibe. I’ve always been very intrigued. The beauty of the place is endless. But there’s always that natural nervousness because it is the first time I’m going. I hope it’s the beginning of a long relationship. I think it’s long overdue.”
Laura Mvula will be in Australia next year for Bluesfest. The Dreaming Room is out now via Sony Music Australia.