What Matters (feat. Simon Neil)
Before The Dawn
Pink Noise, Laura Mvula’s third full-length project, is a sexy album. “It really is,” Mvula tells Apple Music. “And I wanted it to be. I needed it to be.” Having felt boxed in by the success of her first two records, what she calls the “serious music” of 2013 debut Sing to the Moon and 2016’s The Dreaming Room, the Birmingham native allowed herself to “paint using more colours than perhaps I let myself use before”, resulting in a vibrant, ’80s-influenced soundscape, shot through with rediscovered confidence and unabashed desire. Indebted to the era of MTV icons—Michael and Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince—this is sophisticated, luxurious, kinetic pop music. It demands that you dance.
Mvula is deeply respected as an artist—classically trained, nominated twice for the Mercury Prize, the recipient of an Ivor Novello award—but Pink Noise, by deliberate design, presents her as not just a talent, but a superstar. “I had gotten so comfortable with everything being so focused on the music as its own thing, and somehow I was sort of separate from that,” she says. “This time I wanted to be front and centre.” Here, Mvula walks us through Pink Noise, track by track.
“'Safe Passage' was the first song I made that felt like the beginning of something. There’s a  song by BeBe & CeCe Winans called ‘Heaven’. And I knew I just needed to capture that sound, because that song was always played on a Sunday after church. And if I hear it now, I can smell Sunday dinner. I can go back there. I was creating the palette that this was going to be nostalgia. This body of work was going to be nostalgia, but brought into the present moment. It needed to make me and us feel good and safe and celebrated.”
“I instinctively knew that ‘Conditional' was going to be the most far-left thing that I'd written or put out to that point. I didn’t grow up with hip-hop, so discovering it now in my own world, in my own way, since I started listening to Kanye, I've just been floored by his level of creativity. A lot of what he does sounds like symphonies to me. The idea that you can make something so hypnotic and rich from the simplicity of a cyclical beat. There's so many thousands and millions of versions of how you can manipulate just one frequency. I remember messing around with that beat and then Dann Hume, who co-produced the album, took it to another level with the sounds that we were using.”
“Chris Martin FaceTimed me to tell me that this was his standout song. He actually called it a masterpiece, which I found so funny because writing it felt...I couldn't understand how something that felt so immediate to me was taking so long to craft. I'd done it randomly on the train. And then I wrote the chorus chords like six months later, but didn't really have a melody or a verse for it. But the fact that the verse and the chorus lived in two different tonalities was always going to be the thing. The shifting gears is really important to me for the story of this song and letting go of the devils, so to speak, and figuring out how to dance. It's like looking back as well as looking forward all at the same time.”
“I wanted to offer something direct to the struggle. It was during the time where people were taking to the streets and protesting. It needed to kick the way it did, it needed to slap the way it did, because I was pissed and tired and confused. I think that's all in that song. It was a direct point to Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation and that whole era. The militant-ness of it was important for me. There's only so many times we can have the same conversation. My people are tired.”
“I only used to have a verse and chorus chords for this song for so long. I hated it. I rewrote the chorus, and once the chorus came, that’s when we knew it was a game-changer. My brother, my sister, my adopted brother from another mother came through, played guitar and sang on it. And we just basically put the song to bed. I can't describe to you the feeling when something becomes what it is: the mystery of music-making.”
“The simplicity of this being a dance moment meant that I needed to draw, access things, tools I hadn't used before. I had to chip away at it slowly. It's not the kind of music where you play nine notes in a chord and it sounds lush. This is the kind of thing where if you put a few too many grains of whatever seasoning, it fucks the whole thing up. But you put it on and instantly you move, which is different for me. This is where the word ‘bop’ actually truly shines, because it is an actual bop.”
“My cry for help for anyone that feels like they suffer in silence. Which is unfortunately a universal truth, a very universal reality. I’ve always been good at crying and I’ve always been good at expressing my woes. I needed, in the midst of all this triumph, a space to do that on this record. Just towards the end where it peters out and you have this very strange dissonant harmony and the pulsating sort of circular breathing, it’s supposed to feel hypnotic, like 'Are we still here? Are we still in this moment?' I'm super proud of this song.”
“What Matters” (feat. Simon Neil)
“I don't think I've said this before, but for me, this wasn't really going on the album. This was truly just for me, the Laura who doesn’t know what radio is, what streaming is—they don’t exist to me. It was like an afterthought, but then it became this lullaby anthem. Simon [Neil, of Biffy Clyro] is one of the most special humans I think I'll probably ever meet or work with, so reverent for music and the art of collaboration.”
“I'd been trying to pander to this picture of innocence and purity—all things that I do value on some level, but unfortunately, at a cost to ignoring a large part of who I am. I just needed a moment and an outlet to put into that. I feel like it serves a different purpose to any other song on the record. I don’t have to hide anymore in that way, and it’s really liberating.”
“Before the Dawn”
“When you are at a point where you're struggling and you feel like you're going through a moment in life where it's like, how on earth do you navigate this crisis? And you go back to the simple truths. My best friend said it to me first: ‘The night comes before the dawn.’ Which we all know, but it's just being reminded and reminding myself and singing to myself. Once I'm in that and I reflect or meditate on that and it seeps more deeply into my subconscious, I find that I move with way more purpose and with less baggage.”