The solitary electronic sounds of Låpsley
Right from the beginning, Holly Fletcher knew that she would have to do things on her own - "My personality suits being quite independent," says the singer-songwriter
Låpsley: “You forget that the music reaches out to people and that what you do isn’t as private as you might think”
Some musicians and songwriters prefer to go the solo route for fear of having their creative vision picked apart. Merseyside’s Låpsley (real name Holly Fletcher; Låpsley is her middle name, and her mother’s maiden name) knew that she would have to do things on her own.
“At the start of sixth form I joined a band, which was experimental, ambient electronic music,” says the 19-year-old, who is seated in a comfy chair in Dingle’s Benners Hotel. She was in town last December to play Other Voices, where she provided the calm to an otherwise gale-lashed day. The previous night, as Storm Desmond howled, she took refuge by listening instead to the finished master of her debut album (Long Way Home, which is due for release on March 4th).
“They were a lot older than me,” she says of her bandmates, “and I didn’t feel they gave me credit for the stuff I’d written. I was 15, and it was then I realised that I’d like to create the music by myself – electronically, in terms of production. I was always writing, but when it came to sitting in a studio or trying to discuss things creatively, I think I’m not good at working in a band format. I have strong ideas. And what I write about is very personal, so I don’t feel I can share that.
“Production is different, because you can work with different producers and learn different skills, so it’s music that is more, if you like, scientific. And you can apply that scientific knowledge in a creative way, which can then influence what your sound is. So yes, I’m better off on my own. My personality suits being quite independent.”
The solitary bug
Låpsley had the solitary bug from the beginning. Her creative pursuits were focused on studying classical music: from the age of five, she took lessons in piano, guitar, oboe and drums. “I got to grade six and seven, which wasn’t as good as my peers, who probably put more effort into practising. I wasn’t very good at the concentration elements, or maybe I was just a bit lazy.”
With a family background in engineering and developmental sustainability, she was also casually surrounded by what she says were “geography terms, many of which were thrown around the dinner table”. When asked what her early ambitions were, she says she always wanted to study geography and glaciology, “and then work for National Geographic and write documentaries”.
Come the teenage years, however, her growing passion for music nudged aside other career options. Older than she looked, at 14 Låpsley started frequenting dance clubs in Liverpool, checking out acts such as Joy Orbison, Benga, Skream and Boddika. She was influenced slightly by the records in her parents’ collection, “old school electronic albums, Kraftwerk, synth- based stuff. Quite obscure things, really, stuff my mates didn’t listen to. Growing up, my dad would have been listening to Joy Division, the Smiths, while mum was massively into Fleetwood Mac and Kate Bush. ”
She then delved into less commercial areas, “people like Arthur Russell. Over the course of his albums you can see how he introduced electronic equipment as it developed, which I thought fascinating.”
And so began a tentative path towards self-expression that – the previous unfortunate but salutary experience with her school band notwithstanding – resulted in being included on the BBC Sound of 2015 list and signing with XL Recordings (home to, among others, the XX, Adele, FKA twigs, Vampire Weekend, Radiohead, East India Youth and Sigur Rós).
She brought with her aspects of her classical music background to help structure and form her music.
“I’m really not aware of the way I do it,” she says. “Music is off the top of my head, trying different things, transposing things.”
She subtly uses elements of what she soaked up during her studies and subsequent exams, but her work is largely based around melodies and the interlinking of them. “Being in an orchestra, playing the oboe, the first oboe always had a lot of the lead, interesting sounds. So I was always at the forefront of the melodies coming in and out of the songs being played. I was very interested how, in an electronic way, you could use the same concept.”
In October 2013, Låpsley allowed people to judge her work ethic via a Soundcloud release of her debut EP, Monday. By September 2014, a new tune, Painter (Valentine), was listed for daytime airplay on BBC Radio 1. A month later – despite there being “quite a few offers on the table” – she signed with XL.
“Because I wasn’t desperate, I could see things from a rational point of view instead of going for the most amount of money,” she says of her choice of record label.
“I wanted what I wanted, what would have the most longevity, and XL could provide that. They push me creatively and force me to go back to a song to make it better. They have helped me improve as a writer and producer through believing in me.”
Such belief – let alone creative empowerment – is admirable, but if the music were not so deftly layered in the first place, no amount of either would be of use. What informs the music – a calm amalgam of downtempo production, soundproofed garage and introspective grooves – is Låpsley herself. Her understated style of lyric writing is melancholic, not too sure of itself and willing to admit to that.
Sense of distance
Isolation from her peers is, perhaps, part of the reason for her sense of distance. “When I go to the studio or have drinks with the label people, everyone is a lot older: it’s like I don’t know where I’m meant to place myself within this group of people who have already gone past the 18-years-old stage. I’m not sure how I’m meant to behave.”
She thinks back to the previous night. “When I got the master I was on the phone to my mum, crying ‘It’s done!’ Relief and pride . . . It’s a lot of time on your own in the studio. I haven’t gone to university like all my friends have, and I struggle when I see them.”
Fair enough, but she has a debut album coming out, and they don’t. “Yes, but I don’t necessarily think that what I’m doing is more important than someone who is in university. It’s just different.”
Agreed, but one brilliant aspect about creative activity is that, at its best, it can make people feel utterly connected with what the artist is expressing.
Låpsley considers this as the storm shakes the windowpanes. You get the impression that she would prefer to be outside in the thick of it, alone with her thoughts, than inside talking.
“You forget that it reaches out to people,” she nods, “and that what you do isn’t as private as you might think.”
- Long Way Home is out on March 4th