ANDREYA TRIANA interview – Evening Standard, 9 August 2013

It’s odd that Andreya Triana has spent her music career rubbing shoulders with the hippest of left-field beatmakers, for the London singer looks every inch a star when we meet in a Shepherd’s Bush pub. Hair piled high, with an elaborate metal necklace taking up half of her chest, it’s not just her music that’s striking.

After early guest appearances with Flying Lotus, Bonobo and Mr Scruff and a debut album of classy, organic soul in 2010, she’s crafting her solo career carefully. There’s a gripping new piano ballad, Song for a Friend, out now, and she plays a sold-out show in St Pancras Old Church next week, a suitable setting for a softly husky voice that is a thing of angelic beauty.

Signed to Ninja Tune, venerable indie label and home to Mercury-winning Speech Debelle as well as legions of edgy, experimental dance producers, she’s not feeling the pressure to be the next Adele that many of the more mainstream soul singers must be under.

Although her first album, Lost Where I Belong, fell in a similar ballpark, it came with a dusty coating of relaxed, jazzy production from cool name Bonobo that suggested she’s in no hurry to clamber to the top. “I want to make great music, and that takes time,” she tells me. “I have people behind me who believe in me and will let me do my thing, so there’s no hurry.”

She won’t give me her age, which implies an especially long run-up to the current moment; she has 60 new songs written but no producer yet chosen for the 12 that will become her second album towards the end of the year. It’s a journey that includes early years in Brixton with her single mum, unhappy teens in Worcester when her stepfather changed jobs, and adult years studying music technology at Leeds University’s School of Music before working a range of terrible jobs in Brighton.

Not surprisingly, London came out well against Worcester in the battle for a 14-year-old Triana’s affections. “I went from a cultural melting pot to the arse- end of nowhere. Musically, everything seemed to come to Worcester two years late. I’d go to London in the summer holidays, go to Notting Hill Carnival and hear the latest reggae and R&B, tape as much as I could, buy so many CDs and bring them back. I felt really isolated but focused on music a lot. It was a really creative time.”

Her childhood comes out a lot in her forthcoming songs, she says, hinting that she feels her work to date, beautiful though it was, was lacking something. “The first album was pretty much the best I could do in the time I had between doing crappy jobs. There was an innocence to it. I think I was quite elusive in my lyrics and now I’m much more aware of what I want to say.”

She sings of her Jamaican mother, who had her at 18, her absent father and hard times with a new father figure who arrived when she was seven. “I want the songs to be more raw and honest. It’s been hard but therapeutic. I’m working with all these different songwriters right now, telling them my deepest, darkest shit as soon as we meet.”

She reserves great praise for her mother, who never told her to pack the music lark in and get a real job, even when she quit the envelope-stuffing, sushi-waitressing and work in a hearing-aid shop, well before she had any solid musical employment, and started borrowing money.

“I remember telling Mum I’m going to do music full-time. I chucked out my polyester office clothes because I didn’t want to have in the back of my mind ‘if things don’t work out I can go back’. From then on Plan A was music, and Plan B was to work harder at Plan A. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep worrying about how I’d pay my rent. I lived on £15-worth of food a week. Maybe blind faith is the difference between people who succeed and those who don’t.”

Gradually she started gigging regularly as Bonobo’s guest vocalist, and in 2006 she landed a spot at Red Bull’s Music Academy in Australia, a travelling fortnight-long series of music workshops that puts unknowns together with established talent. She ended up making the hypnotic down-tempo track Tea Leaf Dancers there with influential digital jazz producer Flying Lotus, and also a decent name for herself among the cognoscenti.

“I saw him the other day at Lovebox,” she says. “It’s amazing to see old friends doing so well. I’m so proud.” Another old pal is her newest collaborator —Breach, aka dance producer Ben Westbeech, whose house track Jack hit the top 10 last month. His follow-up single will feature Triana’s vocals while he’s also working with her on more songs, suggesting that she might take a turn for the upbeat.

Other new co-writers are as varied as Paul O’Duffy, who wrote Wake Up Alone with Amy Winehouse, and teenage dance newcomers Bondax. “I don’t think I’ll get more electronic, though. I want to keep that organic sound,” she says. “All I know is I’ve been true to my creativity.” So speaks a singer free from the pressure to sell millions of records, who just wants to make “great music”. She’s succeeding.

Andreya Triana plays St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, NW1, on August 14 (sold out) and XOYO, 32-37 Cowper Street, EC2 (020 7354 9993, on October