Andreya Triana has the kind of timeless, soul-bearing voice that melds with any music she aligns herself with. Some may recall this Brighton-based artist’s 2007 collaboration with producer Flying Lotus on the single “Tea Leaf Dancers,” an atmospheric, down-tempo track on which Triana’s vocals sound right at home. But many more were introduced to the singer-songwriter last year while she toured North America with ambitious, sample-leaning producer Simon Green, a.k.a. Bonobo. With Green and a full band surrounding her, Triana and her slightly smoky voice helped redefine the Bonobo stage show.
All the while, Triana had been quietly working with Bonobo, crafting her solo debut, Lost Where I Belong, due out in August on Ninja Tune. Her debut single of the same name was just released with the folk-meets-soul “radio edit” version leading the way. Guest spots on Bonobo’s latest album, Black Sands, have also made this past year a particularly productive time for Triana.
During the Chicago stop of Bonobo’s extensive 2010 North American tour, Triana discussed her long journey in establishing her expanding career. And hearing her excitedly talk about the possibilities in songwriting and recording, it’s apparent that this artist may be only beginning to tap into her vast potential.
Up until you started touring with Bonobo last year, a lot of people in the States and North America weren’t that familiar with you. Can you give a little background in music and how you became a vocalist?
I guess going back I was a born singer. A lot of people say, “How did you become a singer and when did you start taking it seriously?” And I was just born singing, really, so it’s just been a gradual progression. When I was at uni I started my own band and kicked a lot with them and did a lot of songwriting with them, and then as soon as I graduated I got a gig as being the front woman of a band who were quite big at the time — a Latin jazz kind of band. So I basically lived on a tour bus with them. We went up and down the country on a broken down bus, which was a lot of fun. And when that band ended I just really had the time and head space to get myself together. And I’ve always been a writer and I’ve always been a singer, but doing the collaborations that I’ve done has just kind of given me like an extra soundscape for my voice really. It’s helped me shape who I am as an artist.
How has working with these different producers, like FlyLo and Bonobo, influenced yourself as a solo artist?
Obviously it’s their thing and it’s their sound, and I just get to be able to sing on that stuff and express myself. I quite understand that I’ve got another element to my voice. But yeah, it all helps you develop. Everything you do. I’m sure if I worked with a rock band I would try something completely different, and again that would help me develop in another way. All of the things that I’ve done have helped me to develop and be the singer that I am today.
You released four different versions of the first single from your upcoming album. Can we expect that much variety on the album itself?
Absolutely. The main thing with this album is I said to Simon that I don’t want to use any reference material. I really wanted the album to just be what it’s gonna be — not, “Oh, I want the drums like Erykah Badu,” or, “I want the harmonies like Jill Scott” and that. I didn’t want to copy what they’re doing or emulate what they’re doing in any way. I just wanted to discover who I was as a singer and a songwriter. So there’s all kind of influences. It’s really weird — when we finished the album, we sort of sat back and chatted about it and I was like, “Wow, it’s not a straight-up soul album; it’s not a straight-up folk album; it’s not a straight-up jazz album — it’s just all of these elements combined,” which is really great and totally unexpected.
Was the process like? After you finished Black Sands, did you go right into the solo album?
No, my solo album was actually finished nearly a year and a half ago. So we finished the album over a year ago, it sat there for a year, and since then, Bonobo has done the Black Sands album and then I featured on a few tracks from the album. So we’ll see what happens afterward.
And is your album exclusively produced by Bonobo?
How did you make that decision?
It was a really simple decision. I’ve done a lot of collaborations, and they’ve all been really exciting, but I’ve been featured on other people’s music. I wanted my debut album to be my debut album. And I was really certain that I wanted one sound consistently. I know it’s kind of an experiment with different genres, but I wanted there to be a thread going through all of them. And if I had one big producer and then another big producer and another producer, I don’t think it would have that continuity. It just wouldn’t sound cohesive. So I knew I wanted to work with one person and, yeah, Simon was the perfect person. So we got together once a week to sit there in the studio and make weird sounds and have a laugh and have a cup of tea and keep just working until we had done what we needed to do. There was no pressure or expectations. It was a really nice time.
And as far as song-writing process, how much was he involved in that and how much was that a part of actual production element?
I pretty much wrote all of the songs before I came to him — some of them were more polished than others, but a lot of them were all acoustic: the chords, the choruses. So it started on a sort of basic level and then he came along and fleshed it all out and brought it to life really. But yeah, what he did was really vital to the whole process. And then I played him something, and he’d be, “Oh, that’s cool, but let’s try this.” And he’d change it up a bit as well, so I really feel that even though I came to him with those songs, it’s actually more so a 50-50 thing. He’s definitely got a part in the song-writing process actually.
The album’s been done for a year and a half. How have you evolved since then?
A lot. I always say I’m really proud of everything that I’ve done and I’m really proud of the album, but I listen to it now, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh! My voice sounds so weak and my lyrics are so weak.” But then that’s a great thing you know because it shows that I’ve progressed in certain ways. So I think I feel more comfortable with myself in my voice and what I’m trying to portray and what I’m saying.
What types of things were you referencing lyrically on the album?
The main thing at that time was I had just done a massive move from the north of England to the south of England pretty much by myself and I had some pretty shocking jobs. I worked as a sushi waitress, I worked in a hearing-aid shop, and I worked in an insurance company. And so the whole album is pretty much about that time and just really struggling financially, artistically, creatively. And the whole “Lost Where I Belong” thing is just about knowing my purpose but really struggling with it, thinking, “I know I’m meant to do music, I know I’m meant to sing, but why can’t I pay my rent in two days?” And just kind of thinking, “Am I doing the right thing?” and sometimes, “I can’t do this, I’m going to jack it in and get a crap job forever.” So it’s just about those struggles and really keeping faith and really trying to believe in myself.
Do you feel like the completion of the album was the solution to the struggling?
You know what? I think that’s going to be a common thing throughout my whole creative career. It may not be financial struggles, but there’s gonna be some other struggles. I’m sure when I do my next album I’ll probably struggle, “Oh my gosh, this is my second album and somehow I have to better than the first.” So you’ve got that kind of shift going on there. I think there’s always gonna be struggles of some sort — they just change and rearrange in different ways.
Going back to the performance element, I know you’ve done some acoustic shows in the U.K. How does that differ for you opposed to these shows with the live band?
I come from a simple background musically. I love anything stripped back, simple — give me a guitar and a double bass and I’m right at home. So if I’m doing an acoustic show, I feel like it really enables me to just really, really sing from my absolute gut. And I do that with the live band anyway, but there’s these other huge elements going on so it gets drowned out sometimes. But then again, being with a live band, it enables me to feel a lot bigger and express myself even more. When I do acoustic shows, I’m pretty much allowed to sit down and feel as comfortable as possible, and it’s all about the voice. And with the band, it’s all about performance and moving and things like that. So it just brings about different elements as a performer.
How does it feel to have become such an important element of the Bonobo stage experience?
It feels good. I think the main thing up till now, it’s really interesting to see how it’s grown. I’ve been singing this style for about four years now, and it’s amazing to see how the show changes and new things are added and new sounds are added and new songs. And it’s really great to be a part of the process.
When will we see you in the States solo?
Hopefully later this year. If not, definitely next year.