Although “Sing to the Moon” reached the Top 10 in Britain, and one of its singles, “Green Garden,” entered the British Top 40, accolades and awards didn’t equal more hits. Months before “The Dreaming Room” won the Ivor Novello award, a top British award chosen by songwriters, Sony Music informed Mvula in a brief email that she was being dropped from the roster. “I was not used to the reality of the commercial music industry,” she said. “It was just so curt. It was, like, ‘Here endeth your value to us.’”
Mvula was already reassessing her songwriting. “There was this pressure put on me, and that I put on myself, to make something new,” she said. “I had all these tags in my head. You know, ‘Created her own genre of music, created her own lane.’ But then I found myself like, ‘So what does this mean? Where do I go next?’”
Between recording contracts, Mvula toured as the opening act for David Byrne in Britain. Her stripped-down shows sparked new attention from Briony Turner of Atlantic Records U.K., who is now the company’s co-president. Turner had wanted to sign Mvula before her Sony deal. Now, Turner said from London, “She had moved into this unexpected new realm, and I was blown away. I signed her because I think she’s a genius. I love what she stands for culturally and musically.”
Mvula told Turner she had been thinking about 1980s R&B and that she wanted to experiment with collaborators. Her ideas, she now admits, were nebulous. “I had been boasting about making a record that I wanted to dance to, but that was an outright lie,” Mvula said. “I had no real plans. I had no sketches, I had nothing. I was just trying to magic it into reality.”
With Atlantic’s help, Mvula tried songwriting sessions that were “like speed dating,” she said. None panned out until Turner suggested Dann Hume, a producer from New Zealand who ended up co-writing and co-producing the entire album with Mvula. “Little did I know my life was going to change,” Hume said by phone from southern Wales.