I’m watching Andreya Triana make her live comeback beneath the stained glass windows of Soho’s Chapel of St Barnabas. Dressed all in red with hair vaulting upwards, the soul singer doesn’t find it hard to draw attention away from 19th Century architectural flourishes.
New songs from her forthcoming third album include Broke, which dismisses material things to announce, “I’m a rich woman with you,” and Woman, a riot of handclaps and impassioned backing vocals that declares, “I can rule like a queen, be a superhero.” St Barnabas first appears in the Bible in Acts chapter 4, where he gets his name because it means “son of encouragement” – so the place is a good fit for Triana. After an hour in the Londoner’s company earlier in the day, I find myself telling her she should start a sideline in motivational podcasting.
Around a year ago she and her boyfriend left Seven Sisters in north London for a flat in Hastings with windows looking directly onto the sea. She shows me a picture of the view on her phone and I manage to sound only slightly sick with jealousy. It’s part of the philosophy she calls “freedom lifestyle”.
“That’s my only goal. If I want to travel, I can do it. If I want to spend Wednesday in bed, I can. It’s not about money, it’s about fulfillment, being able to do what you want to do, not being tied to things that don’t serve you. I’m just trying to live that life the best I can,” she tells me.
We’ve met before, in 2013, when she was booked to perform at the Evening Standard’s Progress 1000 party. “It was two or three songs in a really loud room with nobody listening to you – one of those – but I was very honoured to be asked so I gave it my best. I met Boris Johnson,” she says, making a “yuck” face.
Back then, as well, she didn’t seem to be chasing success with the hunger of some of her peers, despite having the kind of rich, dynamic voice and organic musical backdrop that could file her music next to Adele’s and Emeli Sande’s[ACUTE ON E]. Her first album, Lost Where I Belong, produced by her hip early collaborator Bonobo, arrived in 2010. The follow-up, the more polished Giants, wasn’t ready until 2015 and her third, Life in Colour, is coming later this spring. Her only top 10 hit came in 2013 as the voice of Everything You Never Had (We Had It All) by dance producer Breach – a hands-in-the-air old school house track with almost nothing in common with her solo material.
“My definition of success has definitely changed, and a big part of that has been moving out of London,” she says. “I really feel like I’m now assessing success on my own terms and not by other people saying things like, ‘You should be doing this,’ or ‘Why aren’t you here?’ I don’t even let that come into my consciousness. Am I happy? Am I well? Am I enjoying what I’m doing? Is it honest? Does it feel good? Am I spreading some positivity? That’s why I do what I do.”
The new album definitely feels positive, from its vivid blue, pink and yellow cover onwards. Dance the Pain Away, with its restless piano, infectious melody and more joyful handclaps, is another good indication of the overall theme, as are Beautiful People and It’s Gonna Be Alright. The next single, coming in April, is an energetic gospel-funk number called Freedom.
“I felt like a lot of my songs in the past have been written from a kind of victim mentality, which honestly is how I felt for a long time. My home life in my teens was quite turbulent, so that didn’t help. Everything was a knock-on effect from that. But I stepped into my thirties and did wonderful things like going to therapy, and just got to a place where I felt like, ‘Wow, I feel all right!’”
She spent her early years with her single mother in Brixton. A stepfather arrived on the scene when she was seven, and a new job for him meant an unwanted relocation to sleepy Worcester when Triana was a teenager. Her song Broke is about the time when family was just her and her mum. “We were in flats so draughty that I got ill. We lived off rice. But I look back on those times I had with her and it was so idyllic, so wonderful,” she says. “It dramatically changed once she got married.”
The song Woman is an attempt to offer a boost to those who might feel the way she did as a younger woman. “It’s about how I felt throughout my teens and early twenties. I was very insecure, didn’t feel good about myself at all. I look back and it’s such a shame when young girls are growing up with no positive affirmation.”
Her current outlook has given her the strength to make changes when something isn’t right, rather than going with the flow. She has left her previous record label, the influential indie Ninja Tune, for a smaller operation. “It’s worked really well – ultimate freedom to go and be creative without 10 million opinions confusing the hell out of me. I feel in control and very empowered.”
She also scrapped an entire album before arriving at the one which is about to be released – a difficult decision, but the right one. “It was ready, then I stepped away from it for a couple of weeks, listened to it on the Eurostar and thought, ‘Andreya, girl, you’ve got more work to do!’ When you’ve made something and finished it, that’s a nice feeling, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good. The album needed to be a lot better. It was gut-wrenching, because it’s very exhausting writing songs when you’re always trying to do your best and delving as deep as you can. I thought, ‘Where else is there to go?’ But I had to keep going.”
The result, finally, is her most confident-sounding record to date. “I think before, I didn’t even know what it was I wanted or who I was exactly, which is why this album feels different,” she says. “I want it to be simple, stripped down, more raw, the songs to be straightforward and say what I want to say in a very direct way. My first album I think feels very innocent. The second, I was like an insecure teenager. It feels like I’m a grown woman now. I kind of know what I’m doing.”
March 21, EartH, N16. earthackney.co.uk
Andreya Triana’s next single Freedom is released on April 8. The album Life in Colour is out on May 24 on Hi-Tea Records