Find Your Inner Ego: Layla

Layla is a piano-based singer-songwriter living in Grenwich, London. Her music has been played on Made in Chelsea, her gigs are always packed and she is living every musician's dream - music is her full time job.

If I had a pound for every musician who told me that they couldn't pursue their talent because their "personality wasn't wild enough", I would be one rich journalist. Sadly, my pockets are empty, but the interviews that I refer to here, along with a few dozen chats with the 'wild' ones, has driven me to give the cliché (but albeit important) advice: don't settle for anything, reinvent yourself and make it happen.

There is nothing new or revolutionary about this advice, but there are two common misconceptions. Firstly, that reinvention is something that happens when you're signed. Secondly, all alter-egos are materialistically construed to look like the next Lady Gaga - well, 'Baby Gagoo', as that name is already taken. I label these examples as misconceptions because reinvention is not about glitter and theatrics, it's about mindset.

Hypocritically, Lady Gaga would be a fantastic example to use as someone who changed their mindset and kicked off their career. Her exterior is built on glamour, glitter and bizarrely addictive behaviour, but she has spoken out many times about "putting on a mask" when she performs. However, I want to drive away from the obvious, and focus on an emerging artist who I believe people should know more about.

Layla is a piano-based singer-songwriter living in Grenwich, London. Her music has been played on Made in Chelsea, her gigs are always packed and she is living every musician's dream - music is her full time job. As you may have guessed it though, LAYLA is not her real name. Before January 2013, her name was Jose Vanders.

I spoke to LAYLA on the eve of her 24th birthday. Before getting caught up in a deeply inspiring and philosophical discussion, I did some fact checking and asked if her name was Jose Vanders. "Oh no, my real name is actually Josephine Vander Gucht," she replied.

She began performing music as Jose Vanders when she was 16. Her songs were simple, youthful and tugged at the young heart strings of many, including my own. Four EPs, which sold a few thousand copies and had over 2 million plays on myspace and youtube, were self-produced and independently released by Jose.

Jose Vanders became a star in her own right. Perez Hilton named her "one of the most exciting things to happen to British music since Amy Winehouse". She played alongside Ed Sheeran, Lucy Rose, Justin Young (The Vaccines), Ben Howard, Little Boots, Johnny Flynn, VV Brown, Supergrass and Noah and the Whale. She was also the new face of BBC3 in 2008, she recorded in Abbey Road Studios, played in New York and did a number of headline shows.

But, everything changed.

On 1st January 2013, Josephine Vander Gucht released a four-track EP 'New Year' under the name LAYLA. The songs carried the same genuine, lyrical and relatable theme as it always had, but the music was different - fuller, older and wiser.

"A lot of industry people said I'd done something quite risky. I spent 7 years building up a fanbase and being able to play anywhere, knowing that people will turn up. They thought it was foolish to make such a big change. But you need to take risks and challenge yourself, waiting for change will just make you stagnant."

As you can see from the name, Josephine wanted a big change. "I liked LAYLA. I liked the symmetry and the simplicity. It's an ambiguous name - there's no immediate surety of the genre and no surety of what I look like. It's a name without judgement."

"When I recorded New Year, something felt different. I was fresh out of university, I felt like I was in a new place, even though I'd just moved back in with my parents, and I realised that I wanted music to be my main priority."

Josephine, who had recently graduated from University of Bristol with an English Literature degree, spoke to friends and family for hours about releasing the New Year EP under a new name. "I am a firm believer in the ability for people to completely reinvent themselves," she explained, "and I felt myself doing that with New Year."

"I love the idea that we subconsciously change around different people. With our family we'll be one type of person, with friends we're another. It's really amazing if you can become aware of how you respond to different contexts and work out who you want to be. You learn to develop personality traits."

"It's the idea of growing. That's what the world is about. We're always going to be growing, progressing and reinventing ourselves in some way. Human's love fresh starts."

Since the milestone EP on New Years Day in 2013, LAYLA has grown, developed and found a style that is, arguably, miles apart from Jose Vanders. The following EP 'Yellow Circles', which was released in November 2013, unleashed a fire of confidence that she had never revealed before. Each song was compact with creative backing vocals, empowering rhythm and fiesty lyrics.

"I am a firm believer in positive energy and having absolute faith in what you're doing. I had this mindset of being a full-time musician - if I wasn't going to have a job, then I had to focus. I loved recording that record."

Since the start of this year, LAYLA has been focusing on her new EP, 'Black Mud', out on April 28. She released her first single from the EP 'Smokestacks' last month, which has been played over 100,000 times on soundcloud. If the rest of the EP is half as good as this song. We are in for a treat.

"I don't think a lot of people are aware that I changed my name. It was a big risk, but I've loved the challenge. I've made a lot of new fans and I love the music I'm making. I'm glad I took the risk - to me, it's paid off."

"Success is 90% faith and 10% perseverance. All we're trying to do is become better versions of ourselves."

LAYLA felt like she wasn't growing in the way that she wanted to, so she changed direction. This is something that all musicians have it in themselves to do, the challenge is finding it.


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