After a tumultuous six year hiatus that included (but was not limited to) getting dropped from her label, ending a decade-long relationship with her girlfriend and ultimately scrapping an entire album that had been three years in the making, Elly Jackson has finally returned to the spotlight with a brilliant new record, Supervision, and the confidence to talk openly about her sexuality, an aspect of her private life she’s previously hesitated on. It turns out having your life flipped upside down and going solo can actually be a good thing, in the long run.
“It’s not for everyone, which was explained to me in great detail before I made this decision, but I’m a control freak,” she says of her decision to forgo major labels and remain independent this time around. “You’re not constantly having to run things by people you don’t even know that well. That’s something I found really difficult about being part of a major label, you’d build a relationship and then they’d move to another record company, so you’re like, ‘Great, thanks arsehole’, and you just get lumped with whoever. This way, the relationships are tighter, the communication is better, and all of that stuff helps keep me really calm. But if you need to be wined and dined and schmoozed and all of that shit, don’t [go independent], because it’s not there.”
In a world of media-trained artists and – as Elly herself puts it – “everybody wanting to be everybody’s favourite person and be loved and liked by everyone”, the frontwoman and only lasting member of former duo La Roux remains blunt and unflinching as ever when it comes to her opinions, though she admits she’d now rather stay at home making music in her kitchen than critique fellow musicians. “I’m not the hateful, judgemental bitch I was when I was 21 anymore, I’m really not,” she laughs. “I think I just used to love slagging things off because I knew it would wind people up, I used to like winding people up but I can’t be bothered anymore.”
Here, she opens up about why her chart-topping single Bulletproof makes her “cringe” in retrospect, who excites her in the current state of pop music, and why people who have an issue with her controversial views about the gay community can “fuck off” quite frankly.
You’ve been out of the public eye for a while, how has it felt coming back into that?
It’s actually been really nice, and also less scary than I anticipated. I think something I’ve definitely learned about myself over the last five years – but especially in the last two years since I’ve been on my own, in every respect of my life – is that I really love being at home. I’m not as adventurous and wild as I thought I was. And while I like to be a performer and walk onto a big stage with a crowd of people, it’s actually quite rare and I only like it to be in one way, and that’s essentially with a lot of separation and me choosing the boundaries. My manager completely understands this about me, and has seen how important that is, and has tried to protect me in a lot of ways. He and my press agent, who I have a really great relationship with, they just said, ‘Don’t read anything, then it’s like it didn’t happen’. So I just haven’t engaged with the public eye, or the way the outside world feels about me, and that’s really helped.
There is this new generation of artists who share every part of their lives on social media to create a bond with fans, but you’re more of the old-school celebrity mindset where your private life is very much private. Do you struggle with this culture of oversharing?
I have done in the past, for sure, but now it’s less that I struggle with it as a concept and it’s more that it just doesn’t work for what I’ve created. I’m not a pop star in the way that Dua Lipa is – and I think she’s a brilliant pop star, she’s the sort of pop star we’ve been missing for a long time – but there’s that kind of pop star where, like you say, it not only requires you to engage with your fans in that way, but it really enhances it. Of course if I were that kind of artist it would make way more sense to share more of what I do. But what I’ve created just isn’t that, and I don’t feel like that’s what anybody even wants me to do. It would mess with my brand and my aesthetic which I have spent a long, long time creating. Like, I don’t wanna know what gym Grace Jones goes to, do you know what I mean? That just kills it for me.
Six years have passed since your last album Trouble In Paradise came out. Did you feel a sense of pressure to live up to what came before when creating Supervision?
No, actually, I didn’t. Weirdly that’s where the time worked in my favour – and that’s the only way it worked in my favour – that it almost became like, ‘Do you know what, it’s been so long it doesn’t fucking matter.’ At this point, it’s not even a follow-up. I’ve been making music the whole time, but I just really needed to get the music out. Also, I’d already been through the hell of the second album and trying to compete with something that came before, and all that happened was that I literally hated every single second of making music, which is the whole reason I get up in the morning, and that doesn’t make any sense. There’s no point. If I stopped enjoying making music again, I would just not make music. I definitely learned my lesson with that one, so no, I’ve gone past that insecurity. I think it’s hard for people to believe that you’ve gone past that, they think you’re saying it because it sounds stronger or inspirational, but I really, genuinely am past it.
Did you ever consider dropping the name La Roux after the issues you experienced with your label and former bandmate [Ben Langmaid]?
There were talks that I couldn’t continue as La Roux because it started as a duo and all that, but it literally means ‘red haired one’ in French, and I came up with the name, so I thought, ‘Hang on a minute, what the fuck?’ I am her, so it’s like taking away my birth name, and that’s fucked. I had to defend it so staunchly that actually it made me realise how much it meant to me. I didn’t realise how important it was until I had to fight for it, and then I was like, ‘Fuck, La Roux is my whole life’. While I was making the album I had to ditch before Supervision, there were discussions about coming back with another name. But that was me literally about to lose my mind for the third time, and then I stopped myself.
We have to talk about this because we are GAY TIMES – you’ve spoken properly about your sexuality for the first time while promoting this album, and from what I’ve seen, your comments have had a mixed response from the community. I think a lot of people expect queer artists to be spokespeople for the cause. Is that something that frustrates you?
Yeah, it really frustrates me. I actually find it really offensive, I find it incredibly demanding, and I find it very idealistic. Just because we fancy people of the same sex, that doesn’t mean we all think the same. Do I even need to go into how insulting that is? It’s difficult for me, and I think the fact that it becomes about whether you’re standing up for the gay community or not is also really out of order. Of course I’m here for the whole gay community, I hope the whole world is. I mean, Jesus Christ, it’s two-thousand-and-fucking-twenty, anyone who’s not here for the gay community can fuck off as far as I’m concerned. But for me, I’ve been called a self-hating gay for 15 years – and all sorts of other horrible bits of lingo that have come out of the gay community that I’ve unnecessarily been labelled as – because I am not ready to talk about my own private life, and I find that upsetting just as much as they might find something I’ve said upsetting. I think we need to move into a world where we don’t just say the right thing all the time whether we agree with it or not, because that’s got us all in a lot of trouble as a society, especially in the world that we live in of PR and everybody wanting to be everybody’s favourite person and be loved and liked by everyone. That’s not possible. If I met 80 people in a room, not every single one of them would like me, so that’s gonna be the case when people read my interviews as well. I knew I wanted to be open about my sexuality and speak about my opinions now, and I also knew that I would get a mixed response from people. But I find that a lot of the people who are offended by what I say, unfortunately, maybe haven’t reached as secure a place as I have as a woman, as a person, and as a gay person, and that’s why I completely 100% forgive anyone who is offended by my comments, because clearly I’m not trying to offend anyone, clearly I’m not trying to wind anybody up. I’m an extremely liberal, open-minded, supportive individual and I’m not here to offend or upset, but I am here to talk about the experiences I’ve had, and my experiences as a gay woman are going to be completely different to other people’s experiences. I was 100% accepted by my friends and family from day one, so that need for a gay community just didn’t really exist for me when I was younger. There are so many reasons why I think people find my experience offensive to them, but at the same time I don’t really know why because nobody will ask me directly, they just comment online and then run away, so it’s difficult.
So many of the artists we interview are very outspoken about their sexuality, and they want to be a spokesperson for the LGBTQ community, so it’s easy to forget that not everyone wants that. And you can’t put that pressure on someone.
Yeah, and also what about being a spokesperson for all the other gay people who feel differently and haven’t been represented for the whole time since being gay was visible and mainstream? That’s the problem, nobody’s hearing when I’m trying to talk about it. What I’m trying to say is, ‘I don’t feel like I’ve ever had a spokesperson for the kind of gay person that I am, and I’m trying to be that spokesperson’. I was really confused growing up, because I didn’t relate to the most obvious examples that were being given to me and being shown to me, and it actually took me to find friends and meet people over the last 10 years who actually feel the same as me as a gay person, to suddenly be like, ‘Oh right, shit’. Meeting the gay people that often called me a self-hating gay because I hadn’t fully accepted myself actually made me want to go inside the closet even more. That’s a problem, I’m sorry, but that is a problem, and now I’m told I’m not even allowed to talk about it because otherwise I’m not representing gay people? I’m trying to talk about my experience and instead I’m having that thrown back in my face. Sorry, but fuck off.
The fact that it’s caused so much conversation and debate may be a good thing.
Well, it has to be. I met two gay people the other night who were like, ‘Oh thank god you’re saying this, finally, everyone else is too scared to say it’, and these are two gay guys saying this to me. I do think it’s really important, yeah, and it is quite scary being the person coming out and saying it, because also let’s face it, whenever there’s a group of people, collective, together, there’s that gang mentality where we all have to think the same and speak the same about everything. It’s clique-y and I don’t like it and it’s not healthy.
You’ve spent your whole career having people asking you these questions and expecting you to speak out…
…but can you see why I haven’t? What’s happening is exactly what I thought would happen, people are saying it’s really offensive for me to think this way. People can’t fucking handle it, that’s why I didn’t talk about it. I partly didn’t talk about it because I hadn’t fully accepted that I was 100% gay, right, but that wasn’t the main reason. Everyone around me knew, my label knew, I never went up to anybody in a bar or a pub and denied it, I’ve never had an issue saying it in my private life, I haven’t hidden it because I was ashamed of it, I’ve just thought I might be a bit more bisexual than I was, but the main reason I haven’t spoken about it is because I knew this would happen, and now it has. So there you go. I was right. Actually, it’s just a horrible indictment on those people, and it’s a real shame because it just means people aren’t listening, they’re becoming insecure and offended rather than actually listening to the problem.
It’s like what you said before – putting pressure on someone to identify in a certain way or behave in a certain way can end up pushing them back in the closet, and that’s never a good thing.
No, it’s not a good thing at all, and it genuinely did push me further back in the closet, I even behaviourally lashed out in my private life. So anyone who’s reading this thinking, ‘She’s not supportive, she’s rejecting us somehow’ – I don’t even know what they’re thinking, because I don’t know what the problem is – I’m not here to upset anybody, I’m not here to create some sort of drama or problem, I’m just here to talk from the other gay girl’s perspective, and we should all be allowed to talk about that openly and nobody should be able to shut that conversation down.
Right, let’s get back to the music. Supervision’s been out for a month, where’s your head at right now?
It feels like it’s been out for fucking ages, and obviously I’ve listened to it a lot, so the only thing that’s really changed for me is that I can listen to it on streaming instead of going onto my Dropbox, which is really nice. I hate using all these words because I’m talking about myself, but now that I’ve ‘re-emerged’ I can release whatever I want, whenever I like. It’s different now, I feel creatively very excited and free. I have my studio at home in my kitchen, I had it built last year, I sorted out exactly how I want to work – and I’m actually working on a tune right now, after this interview I’ll go back to it, and I’m hoping to put it out in the next couple of months. I would really like to release new tracks every few months now, I don’t wanna be behaving like one of these old-school artists where you wait a couple of years to release an album and there’s all this weight placed on it, I just don’t think that’s how music is anymore, and I think one of the most positive changes about the last 10 years is streaming, because the freedom it creates is incredible. I can go downstairs, make a tune, mix it in two days, have it mastered, and I could have it on fucking streaming services next Monday. That’s amazing, I don’t care what anybody says, that’s amazing. And that really excites me.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how you were going to feel about streaming services.
I mean, I wanna get paid a bit more [Laughs]. But yeah, apart from that I’m happy with it.
So many artists now are finding success outside of mainstream charts and without record labels because platforms like Apple Music give them the chance to easily release music and find a fanbase. That’s a positive change in the industry, right?
Yeah, it is. Before, when it was radio, there was a serious gatekeeper situation where if radio didn’t like your music and they weren’t gonna play it then basically you were fucked. Whereas nowadays, everyone can be visible. It does mean there’s so many things to look at that you can miss loads of music, but that’s where the algorithms come into play – and at first, the talk of algorithms used to make me feel sick, I used to think it was so wrong, the world was fucked, but actually I’ve started to really like it when an algorithm really works for me, like, ‘Thank you so much for showing me this fucking incredible album, thank you so much for showing me this great tune I didn’t know about’. We’re in the real infancy years of this technology, and it’s easy for us to feel like social media and streaming has been around for ages but obviously it hasn’t. I think we’re just at the beginning of understanding how positively these things can be used, and how much better they could get.
You said at your London show that you don’t like Bulletproof anymore. Why is that?
I mean, I think the song is brilliant, but I’ve had 10 years of producing now and becoming a better arranger and a better musician and working on groove and sound and texture and sonics and all of that stuff, and you can’t listen to Bulletproof as somebody who’s aware of production and not be like, ‘Christ, that is really full-on!’ It makes me cringe. But I also know that’s what makes it so successful, it’s that aggressive naivety production-wise. I’m not delusional about it, but I do not need to put that in my live set that’s full of great basslines and grooves and beats. It’s a good song, and I get why it’s popular, but for me it’s like reading your old diary from when you’re a teenager.
With the way you feel about some of your old work now, do you ever worry you’ll feel the same about Supervision in the future?
I think I’ve reached a place where I’m always gonna be pretty happy with what I’m doing. I feel like the growth in this album, lyrically, the place that I was in, this will always be an incredibly important album for me because it’s probably the biggest turning point I’ve had in my life so far. It’s a huge, huge learning curve for me, I stepped over a big precipice during the making of this record, and it was like self-therapy. I’m realising now how much it was self-therapy. At first I just thought of it as a bunch of songs, but now I’m like, ‘You should have gone to therapy, not written an album’, and I think that you can hear that. It’s in there.
La Roux’s new album Supervision is out now.
Photography Savanna Ruedy
Fashion Willyum Beck
Words Daniel Megarry
Makeup Victor Noble
Hair styled by Elly Jackson
Photography Assistant Kaleigh Wright
Fashion Assistant Nathaniel Miller