In her first major interview with NME, XL Recordings’ new signing Lapsley tells David Renshaw about coming of age with Boddika and Joy Orbison, and why she’s “more than just the face at the front of a band”
19-year-old Holly Fletcher, aka Lapsley (it’s her middle name) knows that the cold winter months are best for her stark, emotive ballads. She released debut EP ‘Understudy’ in January of this year and a full-length album will follow in early 2016. “It’s a good time for me,” she says of New Year. “Everyone’s dead emo and hungover.”
‘Dead emo’ is a good way to describe the sound of Lapsley’s music, but think more sad songs and teary introspection than My Chemical Romance. Songs like new single ‘Hurt Me’ (sample lyric “So if you’re gonna hurt me/Why don’t you hurt me a little bit more?”) plunder the soul and use heartbreak as their starting point. “My whole career will be about sad things,” she jokes. “Happy songs about nightclubs and shots. That’s not me.”
Confessional songwriting can have its pitfalls though. “Sometimes I worry I’ve said too much. But it’s easier to write about things that are fresh in your mind.” Meanwhile, writing sessions with other songwriters only made her more determined to go it alone: “Collaborating on lyrics has never worked for me.” Lapsley produces her own material too, citing Caribou and Grimes as influences.
Her interest in the sort of electronic music they make goes back to Lapsley’s earliest memories of going out in Liverpool, way before she technically should have been, and experiencing the city’s club scene.
“I looked a lot older when I was 14,” she laughs. “I lived my life a lot younger. I’d go out and see people I’d never heard of at the time. People like Boddika, Joy Orbison, Skream, Benga. Whoever came to Liverpool I’d be there, fucked off my face.”
“It was so refreshing. All I knew was classical music and the bands my parents had shown me. I started making industrial-sounding music but then swung back and found a middle ground. I definitely want to go back to that sound in the future. I go to club nights much more than acoustic nights.”
Lapsley is proud to be female and a producer, but hates being labelled a “female producer.” She recently returned to her old school Green Bank in Southport to tell the younger girls about the music business and was shocked to discover the extent to which their knowledge ran.
“It’s mental how little these kids know about the industry,” she says, still surprised nearly a year later. “Everyone just asked me if was a singer, but you wouldn’t ask Caribou if he was a singer. He’d be like, ‘No, I’m a producer and a writer and I sing in my tracks.’ I’m more than just the face at the front of a band.”
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She paints a bleak picture going forwards too. “I don’t think it’s going to improve. I’ve spoken to other females in the industry, people like Shura, and we’ve all struggled. You don’t want to drill it [being a producer] in people’s heads though. You don’t get extra points for going on about it.”
It’s no surprise to discover that Lapsley has found favour among similar peddlers of pop woe. Adele came to an early gig (“I couldn’t see, it was dark, but I got told not to tell anyone”) and Sam Smith is a fan too (“He’s a babe”).
However, for every brush with Grammy winners there are moments of self-doubt. “I should have more confidence myself. I’m still scared but I’ve not got to this position for no reason. I’ve got it in me and I just have to persevere and find it.”
Lapsley: The Details
‘Understudy’ EP is out now. A debut album will follow in early 2016.
Oct 27, Portland Arms, Cambridge
Oct 28, Waterfront, Norwich
Oct 29, Clwb ifor Bach, Cardiff
Nov 2, Deaf Institute, Manchester
Nov 3, Bodega, Nottingham
Nov 4, The Dome, London
Lapsley was a talented sailor while at school. “I raced in national competitions. Two man boats. It’s sick.” she says.
Lapsley, shot for NME in October 2015 by Sophie Harris Taylor: