Lapsley may have made one of the most beautiful albums of this year, but I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. Just as we’re sitting down the 19-year-old makes it very clear that she’s sick of being asked inane questions by media folk: “Certain types of journalists think I’m stupid. I can see right through them,” she warns me, shortly after “Hello”.
Photoshoots aren’t much better: “You sign a record deal as a bedroom producer and then you’re expected to be a model and all of this shit.” Today she’s dressed down in ripped jeans, a Meat is Murder Smiths T-shirt and a baggy jacket, but she’s going to have to get used to the attention, for her imminent debut, Long Way Home, is a stunning piece of work. She twists piano soul into new shapes, placing it amid modern electronic scenery and digitally altering her voice to give it a huge range. If Adele and James Blake had a baby, who grew into a fiercely independent teenager, she might sound like this.
Holly Fletcher (Lapsley is her middle and her mum’s maiden name) put Station, a gorgeous, sparse ballad that she made on the computer at home, onto the internet towards the end of 2013. She was in the middle of her A-levels. Soon she was interviewing potential managers, insisting they travel to her Merseyside base instead of going to them in London, then milking numerous record companies for as many free meals as possible and having her lawyer mum pick through their contracts.
A year later she signed with XL, Adele’s label. Pop’s biggest seller came to an early gig and Lapsley was told not to mention it, but people noticed anyway. Now she’s tired of being asked about the connection. “Yeah, she did come but, you know, she’s a person, she’s allowed to go to a gig.”
All the attitude is no affectation. Lapsley gives every impression of not giving any amount of monkeys for singing fame and fortune, and almost seems to resent her sudden music success for spoiling her chances of doing a Geography degree at Cambridge. “I did well in my AS’s but ruined my A2’s because of this. My head was in another space.” She got a place at Bristol University instead and sounds like she’s still considering it. She already knows that she wants to do a Master’s in Glaciology. “I don’t need this to fulfil my life. I’m not desperate for it. So if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it my way,” she says of her music career. “I completely know my own mind.”
Doing it her way means doing as much of it herself as possible. She worked alongside XL’s in-house producer Rodaidh McDonald on this album, but has arranged to train as a studio engineer in New York this summer so that she can do much more alone next time. “The easiest thing would be for the label to just plonk me with an amazing producer. The songs would be amazing but they wouldn’t be my songs. Moving from being a bedroom producer to a professional studio, there are gaps in my knowledge. I’d rather know how to use everything and make a conscious decision to want help, than be forced to have help.”
She’s certainly a woman who gets things done. I find her in the Liverpool Echo in 2011, anointed Pupil of the Week. “She is a student who is an excellent role model and takes part in many sports and activities,” said Pat McQuade, headteacher of Greenbank High School in Southport. She followed her mother and grandmother in being captain of Greenbank’s hockey team, and was a keen sailor too.
“I was captain of most of the school teams, and I got the school a windmill,” she tells me matter-of-factly. It was a 12-metre wind turbine, which she campaigned for along with a new cycle lane. “I was just really good at writing letters.”
She got what she wanted in her earliest music career, too. Want to join the Sefton Junior Philharmonic Orchestra, but can only play piano and classical guitar? No problem! Simply find out which instrument slot they’re missing and learn it in a year, says their former second oboist. “I was shit though, honestly. The reason I can play loads of instruments is because I kept giving up and trying another one.”
All this high achievement masked some deeper problems, however. “I’m a very creative person but that side of me was supressed because I was academic,” she says. “I was depressed at school and I didn’t know why. A lot of heavy stuff happened when I was 14, 15.” She skates over some drug issues but says that it was her teenage raving, listening to techno, underground house and experimental electronic music, that inspired the “warped” vocals on her album. The mix of lower and higher voices that she uses on songs such as Seven Months is what makes her music so distinctive. “I wish I had a male tone. Girls’ voices annoy me a bit, they’re too high. So I try to combine them.”
There are more obvious pop songs on her album, notably the big chorus of the next single, Love is Blind, and the sunshiney disco of Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me). These were written, slightly cynically, “to open doors”, she says. “You have to sell yourself a little bit.”
The rest is somewhat more bleak. It’s a break-up album, specifically about an ex with a mental health issue. “The majority of it is about a relationship with someone who had a very extreme obsessive compulsive disorder. He’s not heard it but I have spoken to him about it. It might be hard for others to fully understand what I’m trying to say about that person, but the video I’m about to make for Love is Blind may explain it in a much better way.”
Of course, she’s planning to direct it herself. There seems to be very little this dynamic teenager can’t do. Enjoy her powerful music now, before she strides off for another career entirely and makes a great success of that too.
March 30, Heaven, WC2 (0844 847 2351, heaven-live.co.uk)
Long Way Home is released on March 4 on XL.