Meet Indiana, Your New Favorite Pop Artist
With the scorching single "Solo Dancing" already an overseas hit, the U.K. singer-songwriter is ready to break big.
Indiana's "Solo Dancing" is a song about constant movement that eliminates heat from the physical equation. Ostensibly, it is a song about joyously dancing on your own, the quiet sadness of Robyn's 2010 single refracted into a solitary passion fiercely earned and maintained. But Indiana's vocal delivery is not inviting: she circles each lyric, scowling at the assumptions one might make about their meaning, and packs every syllable with a detached numbness that prods the listener to wonder why she sounds so calculating. "Don't hold back my dance devotion/It's the path that I have chosen," she sings, as if she'll sock anyone that gets in her way. The backing track is menacing and minimal, finally allowing for streaks of daylight after the second verse when a three-note synth bit breaks through, and Indiana pauses her confessional to whirl around in place.
"Solo Dancing," fittingly, is not a euphoric dance floor filler, but rather a brooding piece of electro-pop dedicated to necessary self-release. One of the most complete singles of 2014, "Solo Dancing" has been slowly scooping up fans since its February release, and immediately establishes Indiana -- a Nottingham, Britain native by the name of Lauren Henson -- as an artist to watch.
"I write these songs that can appear to be love songs, and seem all nice and sweet," Indiana, whose debut album "No Romeo" will be released overseas in September, tells Billboard. "But then you peel away that first layer and chip away at that exterior, and they're all dark and a little bit twisted, and a bit sinister … I'm quite an odd person anyway, but I think if I didn't write these songs, I'd probably be doing horrible stuff. I write these songs to save other people from things I might do."
Chatting via Skype from the U.K., Indiana consistently flashes a winning grin under her unkempt blonde hair, and doesn't seem like someone who would be doing "horrible stuff" if she wasn't writing songs. A few years ago, she was working at a job printing t-shirts, bored out of her mind and yearning to do "something that meant more." She stumbled into a musical career after her sister leant her a grand piano while moving houses, and Indiana taught herself how to play without harboring any professional aspirations.
"I'd be covering songs off the Internet and teaching myself how to play, and that turned into me writing my own stuff and putting it onto the Internet," says Indiana. "John Beck saw one of my covers on YouTube and said 'This is better than the original.' He invited me to work in his studio with him, and at first I didn't really believe him -- I thought it was some weirdo. Then I Googled him and saw that, no, he wasn't a weirdo, but was actually Grammy-nominated."
Beck, a veteran producer and songwriter, is best known for co-writing Corinne Bailey Rae's hit single "Put Your Records On," which was nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 2007 Grammys. After writing the song "Blind As I Am" with Beck during their first weekend in the studio and scoring an overseas deal with Sony last year, Indiana worked with Beck and his fellow "Put Your Records On" co-writer, Steve Chrisanthou, on "Solo Dancing" a little over a year ago. Inspired by the synth-noir sound of Cliff Martinez's "Drive" soundtrack, Indiana aimed to create "something more uptempo" than previously released tracks like "Bound," "Smoking Gun" and "Animal," all three of which have earned over 200,000 YouTube views each.
"I've put out things prior to 'Solo Dancing' that I wrote after 'Solo Dancing,' so there has been a progression in songwriting, but I think 'Solo Dancing' was always going to be one of the strongest things I've written," Indiana admits. "In my head, it's still unfinished, because it was something that I couldn't quite draw a line underneath. I kept going back to it production-wise. The label loved it so much that they said, 'We need to take this now, you've got to stop.'"
Since its release earlier this year, "Solo Dancing" has earned 370,000 Soundcloud plays, and its official video has 863,000 YouTube views. The track has reached No. 1 on the HypeMachine Popular chart, hit the Top 10 of the U.K. singles chart in April, was included in TIME's Best Singles of 2014's First Half list and has been lauded by pop blogs like Popjustice, The Singles Jukebox and Earmilk.
"No Romeo," due out Sept. 1 in the U.K., will also include the follow-up single "Heart On Fire," which was premiered in late May and earned the praise of BBC Radio 1's Zane Lowe. Another immaculately produced single that boasts a Grandmaster Flash interpolation and a breathless pop hook, "Heart On Fire" swivels away from the coldness of "Solo Dancing," and demonstrates the versatility of the singer-songwriter.
"I've been experimenting with my voice, and there are songs on the album where I sing in such a way that I've never sounded like before," she says. "I'm learning so much about my lower register. Everything has evolved."
Indiana is quick to answer questions about her stage name (it's in memory of her father, who loved the "Indiana Jones" films and passed away when she was 17) and her well-documented interest in motorcycles (her boyfriend is a BMX fanatic, and Indiana is "getting to grips with it, although I'm not as good as him"). However, she's unsure of when her music is making its way to America fans. "Solo Dancing" is available for purchase in the U.S. via Sony Music U.K., and has sold 1,000 downloads to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But Indiana is unsure of her specific label affiliation in the States, has done little U.S. press, and when asked if she has any idea when she will be heading over for a visit, she answers, "I've heard October? I don't know."
The good news is that Indiana wants to keep getting bigger -- she's had a small taste of pop stardom, and will patiently wait to expand her profile beyond the U.S. blogosphere. ""I knew ['Solo Dancing'] got to No. 1 on HypeMachine, but then I think, two years ago, I didn't know what HypeMachine was," says Indiana. "For me, it's always been about people singing my song back to me. Success, to me, is hearing more voices when I'm onstage. In a stadium with 40,000 people, I want to be able to drop the mic and cry."
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