"Is Your Love Big Enough?" by British folk-soul artist Lianne La Havas debuts this week at No. 1 on Billboard's Heatseekers Albums chart and No. 142 on the Billboard 200, with 3,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The artist's debut album peaked at No. 4 on the U.K. chart following its release on July 9.
It's been a long time coming for the performer, who was influenced by acts like Jill Scott and Mary J. Blige. Similar to fellow U.K. chanteuse Adele, La Havas took heartbreak and turned it into a No. 1 album. "I would love people to connect emotionally and relate to the album," the 22-year-old artist says. "It's an introduction to who I am."
The London-bred singer/songwriter, who began singing in her school choir and writing before she was a teenager, was discovered on Myspace nearly four years ago. Duncan Ellis, owner of Scruffy Bird Artist Management, first heard of La Havas through colleague Alex Hardee of the Coda Music Agency, and it was love at first scroll as Ellis skimmed the material on her Myspace page. When Ellis first saw La Havas perform, she was in the duo the Paris Parade, collaborating with future Elephant member Christian Pinchebeck.
"Lianne was definitely the standout performer, as far as her voice and presentation," says Ellis, who kept in touch with La Havas, then started managing her and contacting label executives for feedback. Some A&R execs, including Mercury's Thomas Haimovici, listened to the then-19-year-old singer, but decided La Havas wasn't quite ready to be signed.
During this time, Ellis matched his client with producer/writer Matt Hales. They formed an instant connection, and the two began writing and producing music for her 2011 EP, "Lost & Found."
Hales, who is also a Columbia-signed artist known as Aqualung, played the pair's music for Columbia A&R executive Maria Egan, who flew La Havas out to meet and write with Rick Rubin. But then Ellis and La Havas hit a roadblock when a stateside deal with Sony fell through due to conflicting U.S./U.K. record policies and "internal politics," according to Ellis.
While waiting for final word from Sony, Ellis met with former Warner Bros. exec Ben Gaffin (now with 4AD) and former Warner Bros. Records president Lenny Waronker. "They loved what they heard at first listen," Ellis says, and in 2010 Gaffin and Waronker signed Havas to a 12- to 18-month "old-fashioned development deal." Just as that pact was drawing to a close, however, Mercury's Haimovici started a new job at Warner Bros. U.K.
"The stars finally aligned," Haimovici says. "The first thing I did when I got to Warner U.K. was to see how La Havas was doing. I happily and quickly took her on." In April 2011, Haimovici signed La Havas to the label and "re-created a moment by reconnecting her with Matt [Hales]." A year later, Hales and La Havas wrote and produced Is Your Love Big Enough?, which Warner imprint Nonesuch Records released stateside on Aug. 7.
In support of the album, La Havas will play several live dates, including opening for John Legend's North American fall tour (Oct. 16-Nov. 21). Before that, however, La Havas will make her U.S. TV debut on "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" on Sept. 17.
"Our next wave of U.S. activity will be concentrated around early September in New York during Fashion Week, anchored by a headlining show at the Bowery Ballroom, along with some L.A.-based activities," Nonesuch senior VP of marketing Peter Clancy says.
But the label is counting on more than the singer's fashion-forward, Annie Hall-type wardrobe and her kitschy hair poof to draw American fans. "Lianne has a striking voice to match her solid musicianship," Clancy says. "Through her songwriting and her ease onstage, she possesses the power to persuade."