Lady Sovereign: Back In the Game

By • May 1st, 2009 • Category: Features

lady_sovereign_topLady Sovereign has a new hairstyle — and she’s damn proud of it. Leading up to last month’s release of her second LP, Jigsaw, the MC ditched her trademark cornrow braids that had pulled her brunette locks into an omnipresent sideways ponytail for the past several years. But when Chicago Innerview tracked down the performer (born Louise Harman) at New York’s Tribeca Grand Hotel, she was suffering from a serious case of bed-head.

“What time is it?,” Harman sleepily asked as she fumbled to answer her hotel room’s phone, her cockney British accent further masked by the unmistakable rasp that comes after a late night on the town. “Fuck, it’s 3:30 [p.m.] I was napping. I rolled up to the hotel about seven this morning. I was fucking partying hard with Katy Perry last night. I have so much to do today, and I have slept through every interview so far. I don’t know how I’m going to reschedule them all. I’m so sorry, I’m just so fucking tired. I really am sorry, though.”

It was notable that when she expressed remorse for having ignored her media itinerary, it also came with a hint of embarrassment, not solely exhaustion. In the past, she wouldn’t have thought twice about missing a few appointments. The teenage Harman who dropped out of high school could not have mustered an understanding of the repercussions and, even if she had, she probably wouldn’t have given a shit. And the 18-year-old Lady Sovereign who crafted a brash, underground reputation in a London public-housing project didn’t have the professionalism to feel the slightest bit sheepish about sleeping through her interview schedule in those days.

Closing in on a quarter-century, though, brings with it a greater degree of perspective and a self-assured honesty. So when 2009’s Lady Sovereign raps on the new track “Bang Bang” that “my ponytail is dead”, she’s not just talking about a little fashion makeover. “I was 18 [when I recorded debut album Public Warning]. I’m 23 now. Everyone develops and grows, and with age comes experience,” she said, sounding a bit pensive. “I wasn’t trying to mold an image back then; that was who I was and what I thought. I was young. I guess I’m still young, but not as much.”

On Jigsaw, the softer new album and the reason behind her scheduled media blitz in New York City, Harman sounds like a more vulnerable version of the old Lady Sovereign — the 5-foot, 1-inch self-proclaimed “biggest midget in the game” whose brash 2006 debut sold more than 125,000 copies Stateside. “I think it takes confidence to put yourself out there, period,” Harman said. “You have to be confident to go out there and say you can kick anyone’s ass [like on Public Warning], but you have to be confident too to say that you can’t and might need some help.”

And the evolution of Lady Sovereign hasn’t been without its fair share of turmoil. The time between LPs came courtesy of a bout with depression, which culminated in an 8-month hiatus from performing and writing new material. Her erratic mood swings and growing instability eventually would result in her release from her Def Jam contract, a dependency on anti-depressants that led to a brief hospital visit due to a mild overdose and, for the first time since age 14, a total inability to pen new songs.

But freedom from Def Jam’s umbrella and grueling tour schedule eventually proved stabilizing. Soon after her departure from the label, Harman not only rediscovered her lyrical muse but also the initiative to launch Midget Records and ink a subsidiary deal with EMI. “When I stopped making music for those eight months, I was fucking tired and depressed and all that shit,” Harman said. “I didn’t really have a social life, and I never had had a healthy one before that either. So I had to get back to having a stable social life so I could get back to making music. That’s all I know how to do, really. It was only a matter of time before I got the motivation to do it again.”

While she’s now feeling better and getting back in the game, Harman knows she can’t control the future. But the things she can control – such as her hairstyle – bring with them a greater appreciation for doing things on her own terms. So when she follows the line “my ponytail is dead” with “but I wear a hat instead / sideways / it’s my way”, the explanation comes laced with a newfound satisfaction. This is, finally, her way. And for the first time, that means owning up to past mistakes — bad hair days and all.

Chicago Innerview Magazine, May 2009

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