Kyla La Grange returns, and this time her music is brighter,bolder. There has been a shift towards a subtly emotional electronic popsmartness. Her forthcoming second album Cut Your Teeth, the follow-up to 2012’sAshes, represents an absorbing new direction for the singer-songwriter, with asense of initiative, determination, and a wholly fresh musicalapproach.
In the aftermath of the release ofAshes, Kyla went to South Africa, where her mother's side of the family arefrom, and stayed with grandparents and an aunt during Christmas. Feelingrelaxed and far from the pressures of the music industry, she began writingsongs again. Only this time, she swapped her guitar for Garageband, and a relicfrom her youth: “My mum found an old keyboard from when I was 12, with allthese crap but really good sounds - xylophones and kalimbas and ‘80s samples -and it was really fun,” she recalls. “It reminded me of when I was younger andI would force my friends to go into my basement with me and write songs in acorner.”
Using this old technology had abeneficial effect. As Kyla explains, “It sparked off a lot of songs from thattime, of when I was growing up and hearing these stories that other kids tellyou, and of people I met as a teen.”
As the songs took shape, it soonbecame apparent that Kyla’s second album would comprise a series ofreminiscences and observations about her childhood and adolescence, and of thecharacters who populated them.
As for her musical quantum leap,that was partly effected by her use this time of a computer for working up songdemos, and partly by a chance invitation to sing on a track by electronicproducer James “Jakwob” Jacob, remixer of everyone from Ellie Goulding and LilyAllen to Usher and Lana Del Rey and an artist in his own right.
“We got on really well, and Iloved his production so I asked him to produce one of my new songs with me, CutYour Teeth,” she explains. “So we did the song and I played it for my managerand A&R team, and they all loved it.”
As a result, Jakwob and Kyla endedup producing all but one of the tracks for her second album together, and CutYour Teeth became the first single. It is the first time Jakwob has produced awhole album for a single artist. Kyla recorded two further tracks with Jas Shawof Simian Mobile Disco and one with Igor Haefeli of Daughter. Whoeverwas in the studio hot-seat, the sessions were uniformly trouble-free.
“It was so painless,” she says ofthe making of this new record. “My first album took years, and it was a realstruggle. I was miserable for a lot of it. I was obsessed with relationships onthat album, so it was all about heartbreak. When you’re unhappy that’s all youcan write about, but this time I wasn't depressed. That frees you up to write aboutother things. Doing this album was much easier.”
Kyla jokes that she has donethings the wrong way round - she should be experiencing difficult, not easy,second album syndrome. She describes the new music as spartan pop that blendstogether sounds both organic and electronic, with guitars, bass and drums aswell as synthesisers and various keyboards. Jakwob handles the programmingwhile the musicians from her band also appear in readiness for the moment whenKyla performs the album live.
The album title suits the songs,she says, because of “the idea of formative experiences”. The title trackis about “a kid being reprimanded”. Fly is about bullying. White Doves castsback to a strange, scary event from her childhood when she “sneaked into a roomwhere a man was rumoured to be buried and stole sweets.” The eerie, if not thesupernatural, is a sort of leitmotif. “I used to play a game calledMatchy-Matchy where I’d tell my friends that someone would come and kill themin their sleep,” she says, although she does add by way of reassurance: “It wasmore mischievous than malicious.”
If this new album has a theme,it’s past events whose reverberations can still be felt well into adulthood.There’s The Knife, “about people who allow a relationship to define them, sothat when it ends they have nothing left.” Maia concerns “a fear of death andthe world ending”. I’ll Call For You is about “being young and scared of dying”- the five-year-old Kyla remembers crying out from her bedroom, for her parentsdownstairs, fearful even at that young age of oblivion. Never That Young takesan askance look at marriage. Cannibals is about “people being so wrapped upwith each other it’s as though they’re eating each other.”
“They look at things that werehorrible at the time, at the bad things people do to each other,” says Kyla ofthe new tracks. But the point is, she’s recollecting in relativetranquillity.
“There are a couple of unhappysongs on the new album but they’re mostly observational,” she clarifies. “Thereisn’t the intensity of emotion of the first album, which was so strongly felt.That was teenage despair. This one is more, ‘Oh god, I’m actuallyalright.’
“I’m in my twenties and contentand I feel like, ‘Phew, I’m glad that’s not happening now!’” she continues,laughing. “I’ve felt much more settled and happy for the last year than I’veever been. All the interviews around my first album were like, ‘Why do youwrite such unhappy songs?’ ‘Because I’m unhappy - why do you think?’ Ashes wasme getting stuff off my chest, crying as I wrote. I was so wrapped up in thewhole thing. This has been so much more creative and nice. It has been a freerprocess.”
The songs are deftly produced,sparse but effective, with a couple giving the observational lyrics an epicfeel worthy of an ‘80s power ballad - Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse Of TheHeart, Heart’s Alone and T’Pau’s China In Your Hand remain touchstones fromKyla’s youth.
“I bought China In Your Hand froma market when I was ten and played it on repeat,” she remembers. “I used to doa Napoleon Dynamite-style dance to it in my front room, singing the chorus atthe top of my voice. I still love that chorus, and I always will.”
More often than not, Kylaexplains, the music is stripped-down, less layered, and suits the notion oftentativeness and nascent experience contained in the album title.
“I wanted to keep some of that‘I’m-in-a-basement-with-Garageband-and-a-shitty-keyboard’ feel,” she says.
She’s come a long way from Ashes,that’s for sure.
“I started out completely folk,playing acoustic nights, and the songs on the debut started with me and anacoustic guitar before they became rocky and big. This time the songs beganwith me finding a beat and using that to set the tone and build a story aroundit.”
But, she insists, for fans of herprevious work, this isn’t entirely a case of Kyla Gets Happy.
“I’m happy personally but I’llalways be drawn to writing about darker things because writing about happythings is pretty dull,” she decides.
We know now where her new musiccame from. But where will it take her?
“I’m just happy to have made thealbum,” she replies. “I can’t believe I’ve got to make music in my twenties -it’s so cool. I’ve never been one of those artists whose reputation is based onhits or hype. I never had great expectations. I just like writing and makingmusic. And if this album does well, amazing, because that means I’ll get tomake another.”