British singer-songwriter Lucie Silvas made a welcome return to the spotlight with the release of her third album Letters to Ghosts in 2016.
Moving away from the pop sound of her first two albums, Letters to Ghosts shifted towards a more Country sound with elements of gospel and soul. The album was Lucie’s first in almost a decade and the influence of her adopted hometown Nashville is clear.
I sat down with Lucie during C2C: Country to Country at The O2 Arena in London to talk about the journey that she’s been on with her career, discuss her approach to writing music and to find out how living in Nashville has shaped the sound of her music.
I’ve been following your career since the release of It’s Too Late…
Oh my god!
The fact I still have that single on CD is quite amazing…
That is amazing! That song and Forget Me Not, and another song called Digging a Hole, they were very special songs to me because I co-wrote them with a friend of mine called Howard New. He was one of the first producers I met in London when I signed to EMI. That was the record deal that was my first ever foray into the music industry and it didn’t work out. It was such a learning experience and time in my life but Howard has since passed away and he was one of my good friends. It’s amazing to listen to those songs and then hurts at the same time because he was so special to me and such a big part of my career at that time.
Things really blew up for you with the Breathe In album. How crazy was that time for you?
It was so crazy. I was 24 I think when it came out so it’s not like I was really really young and naive. I’d had some experiences – I’d been signed already, I’d been a backing singer, I’d moved countries and I’d been through a lot. You see artists that it happens to really quickly and you think maybe that’s what they expect to happen because they don’t know any different. I didn’t expect it to happen because I’d had hardships and I thought, ‘OK. I really don’t understand the music industry. I’m just going to go and make this music and just go and do it, and go and play it’. I had amazing support from the people I was working with then when when I started to see people come up to me and this ballad (What You’re Made Of) had a big impact on people, I started to realize what the song was doing and what it meant to people. I also realized where it came from and it was hard to get to that point because I’d been through a bit of crap. When you’re young you signed to a label and it doesn’t work out, it really throws you because you’re like, ‘I don’t understand. Is this what happens to artists?’ I went through a really weird time where I didn’t want to be on stage and I just wrote for other artists.
When I wrote What You’re Made Of, I wrote it from the heart. I didn’t expect it to go anywhere. I didn’t think it was anything. When it then happens I think that teachers you to always do things for the right reasons. Don’t do things from a place of jadedness or desperation, do them because you like it. That’s the place I’d gotten to and that’s why I think it worked.
What I’ve always liked about your music is that it feels genreless. Even your latest record Letters to Ghosts, the songs could be produced for any genre. Do you produce to a specific genre after you’ve written the song?
That’s exactly it. It’s a challenge with regards to the way the industry works because they’ll be like ‘where does it fit?’. I always joke saying, ‘well if they say it doesn’t fit anywhere that means it fits everywhere’. It’s not one thing. It’s not just country, it’s not just Motown, it’s not just pop – it’s singer-songwriter and it’s all these things. That’s because I don’t think about who I appeal. I appeal to myself, and anyone or everyone. I do exactly what you just said.
I write and sometimes it takes a shape that I never thought it would take. Roots on the new album, we wrote it on guitar and then when I went in the studio I came up with this piano riff. Then when I started playing that riff, the drummer started playing that groove. I thought, ‘this is cool, it has a cinematic feel to it’. We had the string section come along and then it just became that.
With How to Lose It All, you sometimes purposefully do things in your writing and I knew I wanted that Proud Mary type feel. In the studio I thought ‘what does that make me think of? It makes me think of that Motown sound. The backing vocals that I’ve listened to the Jackson 5, let’s put that on there’. It’s actually fun and creative because you can do whatever you want.
Maybe it’s a hindrance to me in some ways to not think about where it’s going to fit but I can’t because I’m not capable and then I don’t have fun and I’m too worried about the outcome as opposed to just being creative and doing something I like.
I feel it’s so short-sighted of the music industry to constantly push people into these labels. If you work a good song, it’s a good song regardless of where it fits…
I just think there’s too many, and I could be wrong about this and learning as I go, but I think there’s so many variables with why things do well. Who’s to say what one thing makes someone do well. It can be genreless like Adele. What would you say Adele is? It’s everything and it’s every genre. She did a song on the 21 album that sounded a little bit country, it was Sheryl Crow-ish ballad. I think sometimes you get a feeling about something instinctively and you don’t know why. You just get that feeling. I think that’s the same with music. It hits people. I get that there are some things that are sold like soda pop and they’re like, ‘this is our product, this is who we appeal to, and this is how we’re going to sell it’. Some things just hit people and you can’t explain it and I’d rather be in that category.
Have you been quite surprised since you started in the music industry to see country music become so big over here?
I’m not surprised. I’m not here as I live in America so it’s hard for me to really see what’s going on but coming back and seeing C2C I’m like ‘wow this is crazy’. It was probably crazy to me that country music wasn’t bigger before this because it’s such a huge genre of music across America and across the world and yet. They’re just they’re great songs, they’re great singers and they’re great musicians. It is a lifestyle. I grew up in London in New Zealand and I didn’t grow up with those colloquial and with that lifestyle of country music. I think maybe it was something they thought people couldn’t relate to before but now I think they realise people just like good songs. They don’t really care where they come from and they may not live that lifestyle but they like a good song. That’s all that matters.
How did you find that Nashville helped in terms of your creativity and the direction you’ve gone in with your music?
It’s been a big influence. I think it’s helped me a lot. I think that you learn wherever you go, you kind of absorb it. I learned to play the mandolin, so that made a difference because I then started to write some songs on it or just infuse it in the music. Apart from the fact that people are so talented in Nashville that I wanted to learn from them and I wanted to get better, what it did for me on a very human basic level was help me to be fearless.
I was going through a strange time when I first went there personally and musically. I just decided to hold hold tight and just say, ‘I’m just going to live life a little and just figure out what makes me happy’. I think that place and the people in it, just made me feel accepted. They were like, ‘you do you in your lane and who you are, and go for it!’. I felt like Nashville shines a light on you and they it they embrace people that just want to do music. They don’t care what you’ve done or you’re going to do, if you have a love for music and you want to learn and want to work hard they’ll embrace you. I got given the green light to be myself and that’s what made me make music not necessarily any one thing. It just made me get back in the studio and do music because of how Nashville made me feel.
You co-wrote the song Mississippi Flood, which appeared on Nashville and has been one of the standout songs on the show so far. How did you get involved with that?
Nashville is such a small town and you get to me everyone. I knew people involved with the show and they came to a show I did in Nashville and heard some songs. Once they knew my name, songs would get submitted by my publisher. I’m signed as a songwriter and they heard Mississippi Flood and I thought it would be good for Hayden (Panettiere) to sing in that scene. Subsequently I then met people within the show like Lennon and Maisy (Stella) and Sam Palladio who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. It’s such a small town. I mean Sam lives on the next road to me. We’re neighbours so it’s the craziest thing. Everything’s very close knit in Nashville and then it becomes easier to meet people and make yourself known.
When I come here today, I’m in my own home country but I’m seeing people that I see all the time in Nashville. We’re all friends and we all know each other. We’re all intertwined so it’s actually quite an amazing thing. When you come there you see that community. You’ll go there once and you’ll meet people that will be your friends forever. London, L.A and New York is much more spread out. It’s really hard to make headway, when it comes to feeling at home you want familiarity and familiar faces. Even though you get that comfort in Nashville, I still feel challenged because the talent is so high that you can’t get lazy. You can’t be like ‘everyone’s so nice so I can do whatever’. You have to be good, you have to learn. It’s a fun city!
Lucie’s album Letters to Ghosts is available now. Listen to the title track from the record below: