From troubles with her record label, to falling out with her musical partner, to leaving and then returning to Spotify, La Roux' has faced myriad obstacles to producing that difficult second album. She reveals all to Ed Power.
You want to applaud La Roux's Elly Jackson simply for existing. With her flaming quiff and androgynous dress sense she looks like a cross between Dancing In The Street-era David Bowie and Simon Le Bon after a sex change. The artist behind hits In For The Kill and Bulletproof is a proper, weird-around-the-edges pop star – the sort you feared they'd stopped making.
She's outspoken too – a trait that has given her a prominent media profile, albeit at the price of strained relations with her record label (more of which presently). She'll tell you, straight up, that the recording of La Roux's astonishing comeback album, Trouble In Paradise, was the most traumatic period of her life – there was a terrible falling out with musical partner Ben Langmaid (now very much her FORMER musical partner) and a spell of anxiety verging on depression.
"My biggest regret is not just announcing [her parting from Langmaid] two or three years ago," says Jackson (26), speaking exclusively to Independent.ie following a sell-out performance at Dublin's Academy. "But when [the falling out] happened, I wasn't in a fit state do that. I was all over the shop in my mind. I didn't want the new record to come out with a negative piece of news attached. It was difficult: 'do I put the negative news out before the album and then have people come to the record with a negative view?' It was a s*** time – I just hope it never happens again."
As La Roux, Jackson and Langmaid seemed the perfect match. The daughter of two London actors (her mother appeared in The Bill and Emmerdale), she was stylish and strong-willed, with a voice that seemed to mix shrapnel with honey; he was a quietly-spoken producer, the classic potterer in the background. On their 2009 debut album, the contradictions came together sublimely: steeped in eighties electro pop, the LP yielded two mega hits, the aforementioned Bulletproof and In For The Kill, and earned the pair a Grammy award.
However, cracks appeared as they set to work on a follow-up. The crux of the conflict was Jackson's growing confidence as a writer. She approached Langmaid with several ideas which he is said to have sat on the fence about. Then another producer, supportive of Jackson's vision, got involved. In a few weeks a friendship stretching back years was soured – the ex-collaborators haven't spoken since. You sense it may be a while before they reconnect.
"I couldn't keep it a secret," she sighs. "People needed to know there had been a change. It's just one of those records - it had that [conflict] around it. The fact is: this is what happened. Everybody thought we were a perfectly happy duo until that point. The best thing in this industry is to be honest."
You can't accuse Jackson of pulling her punches. She has been outspoken about what she regards as lack of support from her record label – and also asserts she has made practically nothing off the eight million units she's shifted since 2009.
"I don't give a s*** whether I earn money or not," she says. "I don't look at what I do as a business. However, I employ 20 people: so from a certain perspective it IS a business. I don't just have to pay myself – if I want to go on stage, I have to pay the musicians. So if I do look at it as a business, I have to consider that I've sold however many units of the product I happen to make and I've made no money. That's the bit I find wrong. I'm encouraging young musicians to look closely if they are about to sign to a label that is going to take almost 100 per cent of their earnings…I feel that somebody else shouldn't be taking all the money.
"The big worry was that I might not be able to go on tour. I need tour support – that is something my label are not really offering at the moment. They are offering such a small amount – it was almost impossible for me to go to America. I had to do a corporate gig in the US, just so I could get out there. Otherwise, I would have had to cancel the whole tour and let down a lot of fans."
Jackson was initially hostile towards streaming service Spotify, yanking all her music from the site. She's since had a rethink and accepts that, for her songs to find a wider audience, she has to dance with the digital devil.
"If you are Taylor Swift and you know you are going to sell six million units then it makes sense [to take your music off Spotify]. People are going to buy it on iTunes and in HMV. For me that isn't the case. The reason I have put my music back on Spotify is because they have supported me – which iTunes didn't: they deleted me from their front page within 12 hours [of the release of Trouble In Paradise]. If you're in my position, you just can't support yourself on your own. You can't simply have a website and hope people come to it."
Jackson is glad her tour finished in Dublin. Hailing the gig last Thursday as unforgettable, she says she hopes to return to Ireland for a festival date next summer. "The response from people, especially after everything that happened and my record label making me feel the album isn't as good as I know it was…it is as if the music won out over all of that.
"It instantly seems that everybody likes the album and is as passionate about it as we are. It was amazing how loud people were screaming. I don't think I've ever had that before. The gigs have been very emotional. They made me really, really happy."
The album Trouble In Paradise is out now. La Roux's latest single is Kiss and Not Tell.
We went to Shrek The Musical. What else would you be doing on a Sunday afternoon? I have been to the cinema once in the past year, and the last time I was at the theatre was to see The Lion King. I haven't been out on the piss since the summer. But somehow I decided to use up a rare outing on going to the Sunday matinee of Shrek with a six-year-old. And I was the one who actually initiated it. It wasn't even pester power. In terms of a theatrical opinion, my terms of reference are quite limited, so I can tell you it wasn't as good as The Lion King, but it was good enough.