After studying music in Birmingham for a couple of years, singer-songwriter Laura Welsh moved to London and formed a band called Laura and the Tears. When the group later disbanded, she found herself at an artistic crossroads. As is often the case, however, a creative crisis can lead you down a new and more focused direction.

And so, taking some time off to figure out what she should do next, a series of chance meetings with like-minded musicians steered Welsh towards a fresh musical path, a record deal with a major (Polydor) and an album, Soft Control. On it, she has collaborated with the likes of Dev Hynes, Robin Hannibal and Greg Kurstin and also got to record with one of her musical heroes, John Legend.

The 405 had a coffee with Welsh at London's Photographers Gallery, one of her favourite haunts, to hear about her journey to completing her debut and what plans she has for the future.


The Girl In A Band Days

Laura and the Tears, in the good old Myspace days, was where it all started for Welsh. "I met a guitarist who became my best mate", she recalls. "We were playing together and then met other musicians, who also became friends, and we did a lot of gigs up and down the country, travelling in a van and playing tiny, tiny venues. Because of that, I decided I wanted to make it into a band. And we did that for a while but it came to a point where, musically, I felt that it wasn't quite right for me. Then my keyboard player left and it all kind of fell apart. I was a bit lost. I didn't know what I was going to do from there."

Welsh took a year off and a step back from everything. "During that time I met my current manager, which was random," she says. "He just called me - he found a song on Soundcloud - and at the same time I started working with other people, writing songs, which became key songs for this album. I wrote 'Ghosts' and 'Call To Arms' in that period and around that time I realised 'shit, this is really what I want to do'."

Perhaps having no pressure helped? "Yes, exactly," she nods. "I had freedom, there was no pressure. It was during that time that I put 'Ghosts' online on my Tumblr site. I also like editing short films - I'd contacted this guy in L.A. whose work I really loved, I sent him 'Call To Arms' and asked if I could edit his short film to the music and he was up for it because he loved the song. So I did that and then the music started getting more and more interest, which is where I got label interest as well. I basically got signed off 'Ghost', which was great."


Working On The Album

The process of working on Soft Control was lengthy but one which has felt natural for Welsh, as she constantly writes new songs. "I am always at it," she says. "Even now I am already writing songs for the next record. Writing is something which I just have to do all the time. It's at the forefront for me. So even though the album was taking time to prepare, I was still creating and writing other music. There is always a point where you have to draw the line and you need to determine - right, the album is done. I need to stop."

Do the older tracks still feel fresh to her? "Yes, definitely. Even, like, last month - I went to L.A. and I played the song 'Soft Control' with my keys player - we literally had the rehearsal on the day with string players for just one song at the Songwriters Awards. We rehearsed and sound-checked and I got so excited hearing those live strings and hearing the song done in that way. It's always exciting for me, especially because the live performance gives me so much freedom as to what to do with the songs. I look forward to seeing where I can go with them. How they can evolve."

Speaking of 'Soft Control', it is not only the title-track on the album but also the song which opens the set. It is very close to Welsh's heart: "When I wrote it, it immediately had this dark, cinematic feel to it, especially with the strings. It felt like a perfect opener for this record, to set the tone. The song, for me, was about taking control over what I wanted to do career-wise and also where I was in my personal life. I felt like that was the right sentiment for the album, overall, and that's why I decided to name the record after that song."


Collaborations

On 'Hardest Part', Welsh got to work with Ohio's finest, John Legend. "I was in L.A. on a writing trip for a couple of weeks and I was working with John. We didn't actually go into the studio until about 8pm. He came in and was so lovely, so cool. He sat down and I played him the demos I had been working on and we then went into a room, sat around the piano and that song was written in four hours. It was magic. The thing is, I'd had a couple of other writing sessions before with other people, which just hadn't gone well. So I was really, really, hoping we could make it happen, because I am a huge fan of his. I was like, please let it go well! And it did, it was insane. He recorded the piano in one take and I did one take on vocal. I then went back to my hotel room with the demo and I remember sitting in my room with my headphones and I just loved it. I got Robin Hannibal, whom I'd worked with on some of the album, to produce it - he just loved it. We got live string players on it and it was magic. I recorded the first version just me and then I'd heard that he might put his vocal on it, which I thought would be amazing and one day I got an email from him with his vocal dropped in, on the second half, which was brilliant."

It's interesting to hear that some of Welsh's other co-write sessions didn't work out quite so well. What was it about them that lacked the spark she had with John Legend? "From as far back as my days of working with my band, I know that I work better with people that I connect with," Welsh says. "That, for me, is really important. The best songs I have come up with have been the result of sessions where there isn't an agenda, it's just about sitting around together and making music. Seeing what happens. It won't work out if it feels forced. There were certain people that were suggested for me to work with and whom I felt would not be quite right for me. But with someone like Robin Hannibal - as soon as his name came up I was up for it because I loved the Rhye record and also I hadn't realised that he was on the Quadron record, which I'd had on repeat for ages. So I couldn't believe it when I heard that there was a prospect of me working with him. And, you know, we just hung out in L.A., had a drink the night before, and I could tell straight away that it would work well. We got on, we were chatting about music and stuff. The next day we wrote 'Cold Front' - it was the very first session we did."

The 405 wants to know more about the sessions where things weren't so hunky dory but Welsh remains diplomatically evasive. "I got on with the people I was working with," she says, "but I knew exactly what I wanted to make and when you have that strong sense of what the record should sound like, you get on better with people who are behind that. People like Dev Hynes, for example. He wanted to get what I wanted to make. Creatively, there are certain people that you know you are going to click with. It's not about personalities matching but more about musical taste. About both of you wanting to make the same music. Making an album is just something that I always wanted to do and I am drawn to music where I can hear honesty and raw emotion. Those are the kinds of albums that I am drawn to and I wanted to work with people who felt the same."

Examples of the kinds of albums Welsh loves to listen to herself include Carole King's Tapestry and the latest D'Angelo long-player. "When I first heard Tapestry it changed the way I viewed song-writing. It made me want to be a better songwriter. At the moment I also have the new D'Angelo record on repeat. I think I've rinsed that too much. It's the musicianship on that - I always hear something new. I love the All We Are record, too. Their sound is just great."


Extra-Curricular and Beyond Soft Control

At the same time as readying the release of her album, Welsh has also contributed a track to the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. "It was completely by chance that it got picked up for that. I have been incredibly lucky with film and TV synchs in the US. From very early on, Grey's Anatomy picked 'Hollow Drum' and this sort of stuff has been great for me. When I found out that they wanted to use 'Undiscovered' for Fifty Shades, I was happy to give it away because it wasn't on the album, it meant I could put another song, 'Breathe Me In', on the record. To be among people like Annie Lennox and The Weeknd - they are people who I love musically so it was amazing to be included on a soundtrack like that."

The choice of Photographers Gallery as the venue for our meeting was not a coincidence, as Welsh loves photography and film and is heavily involved in the visuals for her songs. "The visuals come after the songs are finished," she tells The 405. Then I start to get ideas. A lot of the time I have footage on my phone and then my friend edits them for me. He did the 'Ghosts' video as well. There'll be more visuals for the live shows, all black and white."

Whilst we're on the subject of shows, Welsh is looking forward to bringing Soft Control onto the live setting. "Touring is a big one for me," she says. "I'm in the States [this month], which will be amazing. I want to play live as much as possible." Also on the agenda for the coming year is the next record: "I'd love to make another album this year - I've already started writing for it." The 405 asks if there any people she'd like to collaborate with and her face lights up. "Oh my goodness, yes, so many! I'd really like to write with James Vincent McMorrow. D'Angelo would be next level dream. And Flying Lotus! That would be insane."

We bring our coffee morning to a close with one final question - what is the song which Welsh is most proud of on Soft Control? She thinks this through for a moment and then picks 'The Hardest Part'. "I think it's this one because I knew as soon as I wrote it that I loved it. I think I'll still love it as much a couple of years down the line. Musically, it comes from the heart and that is the most important thing. But, then, I do also love 'Soft Control'. It's quite good [laughs]."

Soft Control is out now on Polydor.