It's a drizzly, cold night in London. The kind of night that, if you're going out, you think to yourself, in the most bitterly selfish way, 'this better be fucking worth it'.

And it is. Not least for the rows and rows of tequila shots that are being generously handed out at the bar in the busy basement of Birthdays in Dalston. The crowd have assembled to see Lea Lea, otherwise known as Leanne Ratcliffe, who's debuting tracks from her new EP, Die Pretty. The choice of venue is appropriate as it's also her birthday the next day. She stops her band half way through a lightening-paced set to share her favourite drink with the crowd, who suddenly turn into a pack of hyenas at the chance for free booze. A suitably raucous rendition of happy birthday soon follows.

But we're not just here for the free booze. As nice as that is, it doesn't come close to sheer joy of watching Lea Lea perform. Having previously been signed to Wah Wah 45s, she's since ditched the label and the sophisticated electronica of her debut album for something much more vociferous and primal. Die Pretty rests its head on fabric that's a mesh of surf, pop and garage rock, with Lea injecting something fresh into genres long since bled dry of innovation or inspiration. Her show is muscular, feisty and, above all else, fun. The same can be said for the EP, too.

Lea has been keeping herself busy. Too busy, she suggests. She's starting a European tour with !!! the next day after weeks of intensive 12 hour studio writing sessions with production teams. When we meet a week earlier in a bar down the road, she tells me off-record who and I let out a small squeal of excitement. Alongside her long-term collaborator and partner in crime Kim Garrett, she's also launched a label, Gothic Luau, to release parts I & II of Die Pretty (the latter will follow in the spring) as well as a jewellery collection.

It sounds like she's in a good place, I tell her. She smiles. "I feel like I've hit that place not where I'm like, I'm gonna live in the now. I think that's where I'm at and I'm enjoying it. Yeah, it's good. It's alright." She then lets out the loudest, dirtiest cackle in E8, as if it's all come as a bit of a surprise. But as we get chatting about her journey so far, this phase of her career seems to be just one of many serendipitous events. It might well be time for Lea Lea to start getting used to it all.

Take me back to the early days. How did it all begin for you?

Early Lea? Okay. Well I'm from Dalston. A born and breed Dalston girl. I'm from the hood so I've seen it change. It was incredible for music and influences. Everyone worked together, there was a strong sense of collaboration. I was a proper little kid star. My mum would take me to all the auditions.

What kind of auditions?

[rolls eyes] Oh shit. I was a Nickelodeon child. I was doing lots of auditions and singing competitions from a very young age, from about five or six. I went on to the Hackney Empire. There used to be a show on Channel 4 called Nights Out at the Hackney Empire. I was 9 years-old and the only kid to take part in this show, which was on air at 2am. My mum was pretty cool like that. And when I was on stage and I sung a Zhané song. Do you remember her?


[sings] "DJ please, pick up your phone, I'm on the request line!"

Oh yeah, sampled by Missy Elliot!

Yes, so I sang that. What's the guy from Men Behaving Badly? The blonde one?

Martin Clunes?

Martin Clunes! He was in the audience and literally went mad. But I was this timid child. I was so shy. I was the shyest kid you could ever imagine but my mum believed in me so much. I was like, 'I hate this', throwing up on the side of the stage, but I still got out there. From that, I started working with Nickelodeon. I can't believe I'm admitting all of this but you asked for it! This is ridiculous. Then I was like, right, this is not what I want. It was when I turned 16, on own merit, that I actually wanted to do music. I wanted to do it my way. I was from that background of squeaky clean to absolute hip-hop. I was in a hip-hop band with five dudes, I was the only chick, we were called The Hip Hopatives [cackles]

Wow. That's almost as good as the Soulquarians.

Exactly! Yeah we smashed it. We ended up winning this competition to support Jay Z and Beyoncé at one point. But I left that band when I was 19 and just started working with loads of different producers on my solo project. I didn't really release anything as a solo artist [for a while]. I was a writer so I wrote a lot for other people from a young age.

Who would you write for typically?

I would do a lot for Def Jam. A lot for adverts too. I did that Head & Shoulders advert where that chick is on a date and she's got an itchy scalp, so she goes under the table and starts scratching and her hair comes up and it's like [stretches her arms outwards] HELLO! So I did that sort of thing and that was funding the stuff I wanted to do.

Did they pay alright?

Yeah! Adverts is kinda where you wanna be. If you wanna make money in music, adverts and syncing in the only way. And performing, kind of, but there are still a lot of costs. But syncing is just straight up money. So I was doing a lot of that and then I decided I should probably start writing for myself. It was until 2013 that I released my debut album.

That's a long time, 7 years or so, between writing for yourself and finishing an album.

It is. I have to be honest. Kim and I met 8/9 years ago. She was an amazing lyricist and I was like let start writing together. We had this amazing chemistry so I was like, let's keep doing this. But we are also drinking partners so we did a lot travelling and getting smashed. We went to Mexico and our eyes were completely opened up to the drugs war that was/is happening there, because we plonked ourselves unknowingly right bang in the middle of a territory of the drug war. But then that created the song 'AK-47'.

We took like 3 years to get our material together for the first album. It dealt with the drugs war, violence against women and there was such a incredible reaction. We got such amazing press but we didn't get any radio play. I never saw it once. They'd be like, 'We really love it but we can't play it because it's about guns'. Or it's about drugs. I'd be like, that's cool, but it's not really cool. But okay, I accept that.

I was interested in what you said in your email about 'Drum of Death' that "death eradicates the concept of hierarchy". Tell me a bit more about that.

Yeah, well for me, it's like, we all die. It doesn't matter where you come from, your race, how much you have in your bank, any mentality you have; we're all going to die. That completely eradicates being better than anyone else. I think that's the message that I wanted to drive home with 'Drum of Death'. In it's production, I wanted it to be really fast paced. I wanted it to have that energy because it's not a sad song. It's about celebrating the now. Celebrating each other, celebrating life. Even lyrically, its not about bringing people down, it's about, 'Hey, c'mon, wake up'. I'm no different from you! Death has no prejudice. No prejudice whatsoever. When me and Kim wrote that, we got super dark with it, we kinda had to reign it in. We were like, 'we need to turn this into a dance floor banger!'

How did starting your own label effect the direction of the music?

Well I embarked on the sound before I finished it with my old label [Wah Wah 45s]. It kinda evolved from my live performances. Fatty, who's my bassist, who's also in Submotion Orchestra, and I changed the songs from the album into these raw sounding rock tunes. We got so used to performing like that I couldn't then imagine going back to a electronic, contained sound. And so, I knew when it came to recording the next project, I knew it had to be live. I wanted that energy. I'm kinda tired of going to a gig and seeing someone behind their laptop, which is pretty much a lot of gigs.

This feels a lot more like you. I think if someone was to meet you and see what your like in person...

Yeah, a crazy person!

Well, in a previous interview, someone asked you how you would describe yourself as an artist. You said something along the lines of 'fun-loving and conscientious'. I thought it was funny how it's assumed you can't be both. Like, you had to clarify it, which is weird.

I think in life people want to put you in one box or the other, right? And that makes no level of sense to me. It also goes back to my heritage. My mum is black and my dad is white. And growing up, it'd be like, are you black or are you white? Choose now. But I'm not. I'm neither and I'm both. That is who I am and that should be celebrated.

I feel like that's been my concept and ideology throughout. You don't have to be one thing. When you're a fun-loving person, it's almost like you're a dope. You can't be conscientious, you can't think about world issues, you can't be political, you can't speak out. Or vice-versa. When you're political, you can't be sexy, you can't be fun, you can't go out and drink. But why can't you be both? I think it's the imbalance of not having those two things in your life that makes the world dry or a bit hostile. And so I've always tried to find a balance between those two elements.

Where did the political consciousness in your music come from?

I grew quite tired of getting briefs from labels, writing about...just nothingness. For me, my life has always been about helping people. There's like this thing I can never quite lose. I will always put someone else in front of myself. I think, again, that very much stems from my upbringing. My family are very involved in the community and mum was always very charitable. She's like the community mum and I grew up with that as a concept. I can't understand the concept of injustice and inequality.

And I think there isn't enough...I mean, I do think it's better now than it ever was. People are speaking up and speaking out about it, particularly in music. We'll probably see a huge trend in that now because Beyonce's done it recently. But for the longest time that has not been happening in mainstream music.

It's funny you mention politics being popular today. I feel like there's a divide in opinion where people, typically the older generation, can't decide whether our generation is political or apathetic. I would say it's definitely the former.

I agree. There's a part of our generation that wants to fight for change. And there's a big movement on that. But I also feel, through the evolution of the internet and the concept of 'everything now, I must have everything when I want it', that there is also a sense of 'me'. So, as much as I feel as there is a political movement, there's also a 'does this work for me?' side to it. There is almost a war between the two. I'm quite interested to see how things evolve on that. The concept of 'as long as I'm alright'.

That's true. Sometimes, in my mind, I get delusions of grandeur and think I'm a "political activist" only to realised I've actually done nothing other than retweet a petition. Talking of which...[orders another cocktail]

Chin chin! Ha! That's the thing with Facebook and social media, there is such a continuous stream of being made aware of what's happening in the world. You can't run away from it. That's a great thing. In can also be over saturated.

I think it can make you numb.

I think that's where we've gotten to. We need to have an awareness, that has to happen, but we've become desensitized. It's hard to know where the balance lies. We almost need to go back to default mode. Like, how do we address this? I'm not sure anyone really knows.

No. But I'm not deleting my Twitter.

[cackles] I'm not deleting my Instagram!