The rise of Laura Doggett has been a firm yet fiery ascent, a process of discovery, a gathering of strength that in the force of her debut record reveals her to be one of Britain’s most gifted and emotionally articulate young artists.
“I don’t think I began to know my voice until I was 18,” she says. “I didn’t know its different timbres, different tones. I was still contained. And suddenly I realised the possibility of a computer and a microphone. That you can make such beautiful sounds. It was total freedom.”
Doggett’s beginnings were not illustrious — small-town life in the West Country, studying music, singing piano ballads, winning local songwriting competitions. But two years ago there was a demo that passed hands — from band managers to A&Rs to record company executives in London, that showed a young singer with a startling talent and an extraordinary voice: smoky, rich, compelling.
In the months that followed, Doggett underwent an education, immersing herself in music, experimenting, learning the craft of songwriting; the weeks full, she recalls, of “all these experiences, of people just saying little things that have opened my mind.”
Doggett’s vocal gift was never in question. “People tell me ‘You sound like nobody else’ I just think OK, now I want to use that in a way that affects people, rather than just waste it. Because if I can make people listen to something, then I should say something.” Part of what sets Doggett apart from any of her pretty-lunged peers is that her voice is not only her instrument, it also sits right down in the roots of her songwriting, that it lies in the grain of her lyrics. As dazzling as they are to listen to, these are protest songs as much as pop hits, impassioned pleas to consider the way we treat the world and each other. “For me, music is the way to spread a message,” she explains. “It’s not me playing some kind of piano trill, it’s all about the lyrics for me, and always has been. I like writing about the world.”
For years Doggett railed against the limitations of a small town, always craving more, she says, than a life of lowered horizons and the easy escapes of drink and drugs and teenage sex. “I felt ‘everyone is doing things I don’t want to do’,” she remembers. “I was so determined to do music,” she says, “and I was scared of anything that would stop me singing.” These are, accordingly, songs that defy “all the people who oppressed me and made me feel small. It’s about saying I want more. It’s about respecting yourself and knowing where you want to go. I never had a doubt that I would make happen what I wanted to happen, and I didn’t want anything else.”
Doggett recalls one particularly tough day in her teenage years, when in an effort to cheer her up, her father gave her Tracy Chapman’s first album. “And it was kind of a revelation,” she remembers. “It was her lyrics — the idea of Talking About a Revolution, of social change, of saying the government was disregarding her, but of making that commercial so that everyone could listen to it. She’s bold and she’s not scared to write about the stuff that matters. I felt she was the epitome of someone who had something important to say, and wasn’t going waste that. And I realised then that this was what I wanted to be.” She wrote the lyrics for new single, Moonshine, while still at college, frustrated by the limitations of her music course and the frequent arguments that ensued with her tutor. “It’s about each person’s struggle, and each person’s form of escape,” she says.
“Moonshine is that idea for me, that’s my idea of escape. It’s really about the importance of escapism.” Doggett’s hope now is that her music might offer an escape for its listeners but also encourage strength. “I really want my album to be empowering,” she says. “There are all kinds of different musical styles on this album, there are catchy songs, and there are sad songs, but it’s about the lyrical content. I want everyone to understand that my music is about the expression and emotion. I want it to sound unique but I also want it to be powerful.”
Working with songwriter and producer SOHN in Los Angeles earlier this year only strengthened Doggett’s resolve. She had gone into the studio that day with an idea for a song about a phoenix rising from the ashes. “And slowly it evolved into this whole idea of how music changes me as a person,” she recalls. “How music changes how I see the world and how I talk to people. How it engulfs me.” The song that resulted from this session — a soulful, stripped-back blurring of voice and electronics — is not only one of the most stunning songs of the year, it also serves as something of an anthem for Doggett herself. When she looked back then over the distance she had travelled as an artist and as a young woman, when she saw the trajectory and the trail, she was filled with a sudden realisation: “With this feeling that I’d changed a lot,” she says. “I saw that through this time I’d grown into a stronger, better version of myself. And I saw how music had come to embody me.”