La Roux: How 'Bulletproof' singer learned to stand up for herself by starting her own label

·6 min read

Remember La Roux?

The British synth-pop singer (real name: Elly Jackson) broke out in 2009 with her infectious self-titled debut, winning a Grammy Award for best electronic/dance album and spawning dance-floor hits "In for the Kill," "Quicksand" and "Bulletproof" (the latter of which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart).

But things went south during the making of her 2014 follow-up, "Trouble in Paradise," when Jackson split from her longtime songwriting and producing partner, Ben Langmaid, over creative differences. Making an already unpleasant situation worse, the album underperformed and Jackson was dropped by her label on New Year's Day 2015.

"There's no way I could just stop making music," says Jackson, 31, who eventually started her own label, Supercolour Records, and released a third La Roux album, "Supervision," last Friday. That said, "it's frustrating for me to constantly have these huge gaps in between my records, and I want that to end now. I definitely want to rectify this whole situation somehow by releasing an awful lot of music."

Question: After you were dropped by Polydor Records, did you ever consider going to a new label or had you always wanted to start your own?

Answer: I did consider going to another label, but I was also aware that I'm never going to have what the currency is now in (mainstream) pop music – there's no way I could mold myself into something they would get excited about. Plus, when it comes to major labels, unless you sold millions of (copies) of your last album or you're a brand new artist, they don't care. No labels are going to get buzz about an artist that's been around for 10 years. So I went to see a couple of the majors, but weirdly, I actually got the most money starting my own label. I think a lot of artists are worried you won't get any money from them and your project will look really (cheap), but I got enough to do all the creative things I wanted to do.

Q: Looking back, what kind of head space were you in while making "Trouble in Paradise?"

A: I didn't feel happy making "Trouble in Paradise;" it's called (that) for a reason. I'd been having trouble in my (personal) relationships, with my management, my collaborative relationships – everything. It was fine that Ben and I split – it was a relief – but then there was this feeling like I somehow needed to replace Ben. I was literally in the middle of the countryside on the phone (with my label), like, "Ben's gone. I don't want him to come back, it's the right thing." And they're like, "Well, you're going to carry on writing this afternoon, right?" I didn't even have an hour to process, and I don't think that was healthy. It led to a lot of problems.

They thought the talent had left the room, which replaced all the discord I had with Ben with a whole different anger I had with my management. I felt completely and utterly unbelieved in as an artist and producer and arranger. I felt like the split enabled me to finally get on and do what I wanted to do, but they saw it as, "Oh, no, she's not going to have a clue what she's doing. She's just an idiot with a keyboard." That really got to me, understandably. And then the pressure of following up the first album just seemed insurmountable.

Q: And how was the process of writing and recording "Supervision" different?

A: Making this album, I stopped accepting so much crap and started standing up for myself. It was like someone giving you your childhood back and making you be able to see the light again. It’s really hard to explain how different I felt and how quickly it happened. Just a couple months after making the decision to ditch the other album, I was in this whole new space writing in my kitchen, living on my own, learning how to do that, and finding out about myself. I'd been lying to myself and the people around me for the last eight years about what I was happy and not happy with, so when I finally found (artistic freedom), it was just so joyful. I cried of happiness as much as I cried of sadness for the things that I'd lost in my life. And I had a great time.

Q: What was the first song you wrote off the album?

A: "Do You Feel" was the first one, which is about my keyboard player and longtime friend Mickey O'Brien. We both struggle with mental health stuff and have ADD symptoms, and it's just a love letter to our similarities and understanding each other. I guess it's a song to make you feel less alone.

Q: In lead single "International Woman of Leisure," you take on this persona of an affluent jet-setter who can't be bothered by their ex. What inspired that?

A: That one's funny because it was sort of a joke. When we were on tour for the first album, there was this website called "I.M.O.L." – International Men of Leisure – where you could buy this (fancy) travel stuff if you wanted to spend too much money on a passport holder or suitcase. We all found that very amusing and it became almost a stupid competition, like, "Who can be the most (outrageous) person with all their travel stuff?"

(I wrote the song) and then just left it for quite a long time, because I thought, "You can't write a song that says that. You can't be that cheeky. No one will ever take you seriously." But then after all these changes in my life and having this joyous experience making this album in my kitchen, suddenly the idea of being the "International Woman of Leisure" didn't seem that ridiculous anymore.

Elly Jackson, left, and former partner Ben Langmaid of electropop act La Roux, posing with their awards at the 2011 Grammys in Los Angeles.
Elly Jackson, left, and former partner Ben Langmaid of electropop act La Roux, posing with their awards at the 2011 Grammys in Los Angeles.

Q: What was your biggest takeaway from the massive success of "Bulletproof" and "In For the Kill?" Is there anything you learned about yourself or the industry in general, getting swept up in all that?

A: If you feel uncomfortable about something, it doesn't matter how dramatic it may seem or the negative things that could come from it – it's irrelevant. That's a big lesson I've learned in my life. I think a lot of people spend their life hiding from what they really feel or not telling people how they really feel because they think it's unacceptable to say the things they actually want. I think women suffer with it more than men, I'm not going to lie. But I do think pretty much everyone can suffer from this issue. I just spent years feeling bad about feeling certain ways about things and not saying them, and therefore ended up in loads of situations I wasn’t happy with. That’s what I would change.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: La Roux needs no 'Supervision' on first album in six years