Inside La Roux's Musical Reawakening on 'Supervision'

La Roux
Ed Miles

La Roux

You might associate La Roux with a swoop of orange hair and the smash 2009 single "Bulletproof," but singer Eleanor "Elly" Jackson sort of hopes you don't. Naturally, as the song nears 125 million streams on Spotify and its video crosses 45 million views on YouTube, she recognizes the magnitude of its international success. Yet, the hype and mainstream attention it received existed within a world that Jackson never wanted anything to do with. 

"People don't get it," she says. "Maybe if it was the '80s; it was different to be big then. It didn't necessarily mean you were a bit crap. But we've moved into an era of pop music where, mostly, if you are fucking No. 1 in every country, it's because most people hate that song. 

"For that many people to know a song you wrote when you were like, 18 or 19 years old is amazing; nothing can take away from that," she admits of the song that defined the first part of her career. "But there was also a lot of work to do afterwards to get people to see who I actually was, rather than this person who had been presented as this 'Bulletproof' girl." 

So in 2014, La Roux released Trouble In Paradise, a nine-track record with songs like "Uptight Downtown" and "Sexotheque" -- both examples of a voice being held back; By the end of 2017, Jackson realized she needed to just start over.

"I had a very stark realization one day," she says of her sophomore album, which was released after the exit of producer/bandmate Ben Langmaid. "I needed to start again. That's when I started looking through my phone and all [my] Voice Notes. I realized I'd actually been developing like, half an album of ideas just in my phone. So I just went and started making [Supervision], really. That took four months. I started in February 2018, and the entire album was finished being recorded by August."

Preceded by "International Woman of Leisure," "Gullible Fool" and "Automatic Driver," Supervision embodies La Roux's rebirth on the music scene.

"It's just about me," La Roux says of Supervision. "I'm now so much more confident of the things I like, and the things I want to put out there. Before, I think I used to question more. I think at the start of your career, it's much harder to be sure of things 'cause you know everything you do -- every time you walk out your front door as a musician -- you're adding to the way people see you, wrong or right, [they] like it or [they] don't."

But now, entering 2020, La Roux knows herself. This record and its visuals, she explains, are all about the balance she's finally located. Supervision is also a culmination of what La Roux misses hearing on the radio: elaborate sounds, bright colors and confidence from a period of pop music she links to the feel of the '80s. Hearing this record, La Roux adds, would make it very difficult for people to be unsure of the music she likes -- and the person she is.

Take "Do You Feel," for example. It's the first song from Jackson's notes that sparked Supervision, she says, and is about her best friend Mickey O'Brien, who often plays keyboards for her. 

"She's been a really important person in my life, just in terms of feeling like there's somebody that understands the way your brain works -- and that's why I wrote the song," La Roux says. "It's like I'm writing a security blanket song for her when I can't be there. And then halfway through, it turns into a song about everybody else who maybe needs somebody to be there; maybe they only can have a song to be there [for them]."

La Roux wants the album's words and art to play a nurturing role in people's lives. Her intention with Supervision -- when it comes to fans, people dancing during her shows or those jamming to "21st Century" in their bedroom -- is to help people feel less alone. That's a goal La Roux says music should always aim for, and what she likes to think her prior two albums did, too.

Another intentional element of this album is that each song organically moves into the next; the springy, uplifting beat you hear after one track ends and another begins was plotted out by the master of the machine.

"[When] I started writing, I was just on [my] kitchen table with a laptop, keyboard, guitar, live bass, an organ and piano," she says. I [wasn't] going to allow myself anything more than that. With me, drums have always been a hard thing with La Roux. It's not like a live drum sound; you don't get a drummer and record drums, and that's not a thing I would ever wanna do. I needed this record to be quick and I needed it to be fun and I needed it to be simple -- and limitations are really healthy. Part of the reason [Supervision] is so cohesive is because it's all by me, but also because I said: 'You're going to use this drum machine on every single track.' It gives it that band feeling, [with] the same rhythm section."

La Roux's reintroduction is about being as authentic and natural as possible. And while this album is a restart for her, she says she wouldn't go back in time to do things differently. Rather, Supervision is a knock on a new door to self-realization and freedom as a pop artist. 

"It's like me now starting again, knowing all the things I wish I could have known when I was 21, but there's no way I could have known them," La Roux says. "So I'm not even being hard on myself. It's not that negative, or that I'm trying to erase history. The best thing about now is I can actually say 'No.' Like, if I don't want to do something and if it doesn't fit me as an artist -- and my management agrees, the label agrees, I agree -- everyone agrees and it's fine. That has made my life so much easier. I just don't feel like I'm in a battle all the time anymore."

On Supervision, La Roux isn't vulnerable per se; she's not trying to be, nor does she have to. This album is energetic and alive, an ode to the La Roux of this new decade. Jackson, injecting her aura into every sector of this body of work, aims to change the idea of who people thought she was. Because on Supervision, La Roux owns her pursuit fully, and after a six-year hiatus, showcases the dare of the pop artist she's always been.


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