Focus, Faith, Belief

“When I was sixteen, I got The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill as a present. It was life-changing for me. I had never heard anything like it. It pulled me into this place of optimism and that someone understands.” Sitting by the kitchen table in the warehouse flat she shares with her boyfriend, soul singer Andreya Triana speaks calmly and coherently, laying out this moment as if it’s one she often returns to.

Andreya treats music as a natural component of life— something that pulls you out of struggle, but is also worth struggling for. At the start of her career, when she was barely able to make rent and lived on ten pounds-worth of food per week, she wrote “FOCUS, FAITH, BELIEF” on a piece of paper and nailed it to her bedroom wall. This became the mantra that kept her going.

Everything You Never Had, a track on her new album, is dedicated to her mum: “She had me at eighteen and my dad wasn’t really around for a long time. We lived in drafty council flats. We lived in places so damp that I developed bad asthma. She was a teenager, a kid, and had no money. But we had the best time. When I look back, I just think that we had everything. We had absolutely nothing, but we had everything we needed. To be able to pull some happiness out of a bad situation takes a lot of strength.”

Her story could be that of a rising star, making her way out of hardship and obscurity to find her feet on the global music scene, but that would be to misrepresent a complex journey. Those times, even though they were hard, seem to hold a precious meaning for Andreya. I’d even dare to say her life hasn’t changed that much. Her family, friends and the love she holds for music still rest steadily against the chaotic backdrop of London, which is her home and source of inspiration.

Previously known for her debut album Lost Where I Belong and collaborations with Bonobo and Flying Lotus, Andreya has recently released Giants, wrapping her powerful voice around even bigger themes. The album was recorded in L. A. with Matt Hales, who has previously produced music for Lianne La Havas and Paloma Faith. “There were loads of hummingbirds where he lived and they would just stop and hover by the window for a little while and then fly away,” she reminisces, smiling. “Having that space, freedom and sunshine enabled me to go for it in terms of harmonies and sounds. I felt very open. We stripped my demos down to nothing and built everything again.”

Giants seems to have grown out of the same stubborn optimism scratched onto that piece of paper a few years back. The album celebrates music, love and happiness without featuring a single traditional love song. It is a personal piece of work, uplifted by Andreya’s positive outlook on life and a clean production that effectively builds up the energy with tinkling percussive sounds, floor stomping and soulful backing singing. “I was really determined to delve a lot deeper this time. I’ve touched on subjects I wouldn’t touch on before.” She pauses. “It’s important to be honest in your songwriting.” When asked what honest songwriting means in apractical sense, however, her answer wavers. “It’s about getting a certain depth. Songwriting sometimes skims along the surface, like ‘I had a nice day, it was lovely.’ Getting deeper is more along the lines of, ‘This was the best day of my life.’”

I get the feeling she is not entirely satisfied with her answer. Most artistic work is described as honest by the artist (and who would admit to telling lies?), but that doesn’t necessarily translate to depth. Andreya tackles large concepts during our conversation—family, happiness, truth—but it’s not until she breaks it down that her stories gain lifelike resonance. The images that stay with me are small; the motivational note on her bedroom wall, the hummingbirds, how she enjoys sewing colourful tote bags, but is a little embarrassed when asked to show them.

The strengths of Giants at first seem eponymously large- scale. The sound is spacious and her vocals powerful. Lyrically, however, the album is minimal and carefully crafted. The stories are intimate and personal and chart Andreya’s development as an artist. The song Giants begins with a hesitant piano melody that stops, then starts again, testing the ground. Her voice is similarly apprehensive at first, before slowly finding confidence, and perhaps a personal truth, within itself: “I walk like giants with world defiance. Stronger than I’ve ever known. Alone.”

Does she ever feel exposed, as the personal slips into the public domain? “I think it takes a certain bravery and vulnerability to bare your soul,” she begins. “That’s why I admire someone like Amy Winehouse. It’s difficult, but your duty as a creative person and musician is to go to those places and share. Even if just one person says, ‘That song helped me, made me happy or made me dance,’ it makes me so happy.” One of the songs on Giants, Lullaby, describes how teenage Andreya, new in a small town and cut off from her friends and family in London, found a refuge in The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The melody is punctuated with simple handclaps, bringing the lyrics into focus: “Singing songs of wisdom, where every word is a lullaby. Hold me close and listen. Turn this grey into bright sunshine,” she hums, her voice soft and reassuring alongside the trickling keys.

This interview originally appeared in issue 25 of Oh Comely.