Talking to Lulu James is like trying to hold on to a jet ski with one hand, blindfolded. The first and finest purveyor of her very own brand of “21st Century Soul”, James has been slowly but decidedly notching up interest since last year, with her blend of buttery smooth melodies and unexpectedly captivating production catching the eyes of Annie Mac and Rinse FM, and leading to singles put out by Black Butter Records, nesting ground to Rudimental, Syron and My Nu Leng – all of whom are at least part of the reason electronic music is enjoying such a crossover at the moment.
I chatted to Lulu earlier in the year, as she warmed up for her Cardiff date supporting Ellie Goulding, with her asking me just as many questions as I was supposed to be asking her. We were best mates within five minutes, apparently.
Hey Lulu. What’s up? Are you still living in South Shields?
Yeah, I’m here. I’m back up to London on the train all the time, but I don’t think I could move there, it’s too busy. Have you been to Newcastle? It’s a great place to be when you’re 21.
Just the once. Perhaps I’m due a re-visit. Annie Mac’s said you love going out. True story?
Ai! I was out at her album launch night, what a mess. I’m hanging to be honest. Hard night.
What’s been your hangover cure?
Nothing! I’ve just winged, all day. I haven’t even been able to eat because I’ve just had my temporary veneers in. I had a muffin for breakfast, lunch, and dinner yesterday and today I’ve had a bowl of soup. Some celery nonsense.
How on earth are you keeping your strength up?
Exactly. I’m weak and nobody understands me. Do you understand me?
Absolutely. Got your back.
We’re like best friends already.
So what would your perfect night out be?
Well, you know how you get ready, do your make up, all that stuff? I can’t do that anymore. When you get into loads of people doing everything for you, like putting make up on for you, it’s very hard to then dress yourself. Imagine people getting you ready all of the time.
Yeah sounds like a nightmare. How about your stage outfits? Are they picked by other people too?
Everything’s picked by me. I’m massively creative. I love getting involved in everything I do. In my recent video, I directed the director, do you know what I mean? It was a vision of mine, and she made it happen.
It’s a good position to be in. Have you ever felt any pressure from anybody to change your image or your music?
Nah, I have a good team of people. Everybody I’m working with is working on my vision, or else I wouldn’t be working with them.
Where do you see yourself in six months?
I can see myself with a really incredible album, holding a nice glass of Don Perignon. I’d love to think that the album could do really well. I’m working hard on it, to make sure that I’m completely happy with the product, before I put it out on sale.
When are you hoping for a release date?
Sometime next year, early ish? January to March maybe.
A spring treat for everybody.
Yeah, a ‘getting ready for the summer’ album. We’ll wait until after Christmas so people have got money to buy it. I hope to be able to do bigger European festivals after it’s out.
How was this year’s festival season? What were your favourites?
Ooh it’s such a hard question! I totally tore it up at Unknown in Croatia. I got in the water, I sang in the sea!
Is that not a little bit dangerous?
I had a wireless mic! You can’t get electrocuted by a wireless microphone, can you?
I’ve no idea. Did you perform at any that weren’t so good?
NASS Fest. I wouldn’t go back there again. There was nobody there. I played to no one. It was a very quiet festival full stop, though I think that was the only bad one.
So you’re on tour with Ellie Goulding, and you’re about to go on the Annie Mac Presents Tour. Are you looking forward to a change of crowd?
People will definitely be older on the Annie Mac tour, because it’s obviously at night. I’m looking forward to playing to grown up people!
Annie Mac’s had your back for a while now. How does is it feel having one of the biggest music tastemakers in the country support you?
She obviously likes my music, she supports me, that’s all I can say! She’s mental. Great craic, very genuine. I like to think I’m genuine so we just clicked straight away. I think the first time I met her was on our Google Hangout, when I did the splits for her. I’d do anything for Annie Mac.
That’s quite a claim. You’ve been performing for almost two years now. Do you think you’ve grown in confidence?
I feel like my nerves have gone done a lot more, or I don’t notice them – I’m not sure which. I don’t feel like I’m too bad when I go on stage. I get nervous at home gigs more than anything. I want make Newcastle proud! I do love playing at home, but I’m often too concerned trying not to fall over in my six inch heels.
That must be pretty stressful. What else do you like wearing on stage?
I wear not much on my body, and a lot on my face. I also like to reveal my face, at an opportune moment during the show.
So you’ve coined this 21st Century Soul genre for yourself- what’s your musical direction with the new album?
As long as it’s current, and soulful, that’s where I’m going. You’ve got people doing older stuff, just ‘soul’ without the 21st century, and they’re good at it, but I don’t want to mimic that. It’s already been done.
I’ve seen a few Grace Jones comparisons floating around. How do you feel about that?
I think it comes from the fact that I’m quite mad as a personality. It’s amazing, and I don’t mind it. She’s class. I don’t compare myself to anybody though- there’s no one like me! At least I haven’t met anyone like me, not yet.
“Sweetest Thing” is out now.