Somewhere in the middle of the California desert, Låpsley (née Holly Låpsley Fletcher), is trying to manage a poor connection while discussing her March 4th debut full-length, Long Way Home.
She’s at the celebrity-studded Coachella festival, and though she tends to favour the more “rugged” music fests, she is excitedly discussing acts like Anderson Paak and T.I.’s guest appearance (“Hilarious”), her XL Recordings labelmates Ibeyi (“They were amazing!”), and The 1975’s lead singer, Matthew Healy. (“He has a lot of charisma and confidence. You don’t see that sassiness anymore.”)
In many ways, being at posh Coachella, having rumoured fans such as Adele and Sam Smith, and even her recent debut, are all a huge surprise for the 19-year-old Brit. Though her album is entitled Long Way Home, her path to success has been notably short.
Raised on her parents’ favourites like Joni Mitchell, Låpsley despised music lessons as a child. Rather, her dream was to work for National Geographic one day. But at 16, with a growing self-described obsession with Soundcloud and discovering new music, she began “roughing around on Garageband,” slowly, unknowingly creating her own unique sound.
Inspired by others uploading their music, she decided to share the four songs from her sparse and intriguing Monday EP, hoping to garner some feedback from friends and family.
“I would send it to my family abroad, just to kind of get a response,” she says, “more for how I could improve rather than to have a career or anything. I did not see that [a music career] as a realistic option at all.”
Låpsley’s stark production paired with sophisticated vocals was stunningly evocative. And her sound soon captured attention way beyond her inner circle. But, though drawn to music creatively, initially, she had little clue about what she had been actually doing.
“I went to an all-girls school where you couldn’t study music production like you did in a boys’ school,” she says. “I didn’t know that me balancing the sound at the end [of a song] was called mixing, and that I mixed my own tracks. I was just messing around. I never followed music blogs — didn’t even know they existed.” (An admittedly surprising admission coming from a teenager raised in the era of the internet.)
Now, on reflection, Låpsley calls those early experiences “mental,” admitting that it took a while to understand that the attention was neither a joke nor fleeting. “It was like, ‘do you want to sign a record deal?’ And I was like, well, yeah, that would be cool if you’re offering me a record deal, I’ve made like four songs. But I’ve definitely grown into the job, if that makes sense.”
In 2015 her Understudy EP was released on XL Recordings, followed by 2016’s full-length release. But admiration for her undeniable production and song-writing skills has not come without its challenges.
“Some of the album I co-produced, and as soon as their name was next to mine on the credits people were like ‘so and so produced the album for you’,” she says. “Well, no, actually it’s not like that. If I was a guy you wouldn’t just say singer-songwriter. Because I can sing means that I’ve chosen to put it in my work. If I couldn’t sing I would still make the work, I just wouldn’t have me as the singer, it would probably be instrumentals.”
For her recent video, “Love Is Blind” (with a concept created by Låpsley), she used an all-female crew. While not designed to make a statement, like many female artists today, discussion around feminism in pop – a statement Låpsley playfully calls a ‘giant contradiction’ — has become par for the course.
When asked if she feels a pressure to take on political stances so early on in her life and career, she is adamant that she’ll do what she has to do, even if reluctantly. “I do think there are issues in the industry that I didn’t realize were there until I entered it. So if I see something I think is unjust I’m going to say it. I don’t want to be seen as lesser person because of my gender, nobody wants that. But I don’t get a thrill about being some kind of warrior.”
Taking a strong stance also extends to her music. “My writing and production are not affected by what other people want from me. I’ll do what I want. I don’t write something because someone feels like I should sound like that or that the label feels I should go in that direction. It’s definitely a personal thing.”
Now embarking on the North American leg of her tour (she’ll be at Toronto’s Mod Club on May 3rd), Låpsley shares that when things slow down, she would love to experiment with writing pop records for “different and exciting” artists like Rihanna. “Writing pop music seems like a very big challenge because most pop songs have 10 writers,” she marvels with a laugh. “It must be a challenge!”