The hushed whisper that features on LÅPSLEY’s recordings is often mistaken for shyness or timidity, and it might even be fair to assume these traits of 17-year-old vocalist and beatmaker Holly Låpsley Fletcher prior to meeting her, especially given the kind of hood-up, heads-down stage manner of so many of her predecessors in the dubstep/post-dubstep/chillwave genre. But there are moments in this brief interview that Låpsley becomes quite animated. “I’m actually a very open person. I just want to be myself, so I’m not going to pretend to be shy just because it sounds appropriate for the kind of music I’m playing,” she says, sounding suspicious. Holly might have to start getting used to this kind of probing though, as she attempts to balance on the colossal wave of acclaim swelling behind her right now.
Nearly a month ago, her newest song – the soft and unassuming Station – quietly appeared online. And, whilst it would be unfair to discredit her previous works entirely, this very much feels like a debut single for the precocious singer. “I’ve been producing for, like, four months,” she explains, “but I’ve been writing songs for about three years, doing gigs with just a guitar and piano. After some time working with local producers Drohne, I got a feel for it and wanted to see what I could do with that kind of aesthetic on my own.” Songs like Crosses (which you can still hear on her SoundCloud) do indeed sound unfinished, but they still serve as significant signposts for the artist we see today. “I still write all my songs on a guitar or piano, and then chop the parts up and take certain verses or certain sections from them. So the final productions are just electronic versions of these, if you know what I mean. Station began as an acoustic song called Walk You Back To The Station, and then I took a few parts from that and cut it down and it became the final version we can hear now.”
Låpsley’s transformation from acoustic crooner to electronic beatmaker is a telling reflection on what it means to be a singer-songwriter in 2014. At the turn of the century, as dubstep started to wobble from a Croydon record store and Jamie Cullum made his four-hundredth appearance on Jools Holland, singer-songwriters were still chained to their pianos or their acoustic guitars, constructing songs based purely around natural and organic sounds. Similarly, DJs and producers were still confined, at least in mainstream media terms, to wastemen with some form of synthetic drug addiction or socially awkward computer geeks flicking between World of Warcraft and Pro Tools. At some point though, between Kanye discovering Auto-Tune and James Blake discovering ceiling protectors, it started to become OK for singers and songwriters to fuck around with their voices. We are at a stage now where producers and solo artists are starting to meet in the middle. The likes of Sohn, Sampha, even Jai Paul – three of the UK’s biggest rising solo artists – are writing, performing and producing their own tunes, fudging the boundaries to the point where you don’t even ask who wrote or produced what track anymore because, really, it doesn’t fucking matter. And these are still the same songs of love, hate, loss and regret, just shaped with electronics and producing more complex and more versatile results.
Låpsley’s development as a songwriter began with just that – songwriting. And, now, as she’s matured and looked for more flexible ways to express herself, we are left with this quite brilliant piece of music; a subtle, simple song, framed stunningly by the lightest touch of electronics. “I knew when I finished writing Station that this was what I wanted to sound like. I was still experimenting before, playing around with different beats, techniques and tempos.” Yet, despite the new reliance on technology, the finest moments of Station, and those that speak the loudest, can be found in the silences. Those hushed intakes of air, that tiny patter of static – all allow that touching refrain of “I could walk you back to the station” to resonate as affectingly as possible.
Halfway through the interview her phone rings. She stares blankly at a number she doesn’t recognize. “I’ll get that later,” she says tiredly. “I’ve had a load of managers and people I don’t know ringing me recently. It’s all getting a bit mad.” It would be easy to put a comment like this down to a bit of harmless bravado. That is, if you had managed to avoid the internet for the last two weeks. Holly’s Twitter timeline is flooded with blogs from all over the world, all picking up on Station with some astonishingly high praise.
The term overnight success is inherently flawed but, having bumped into Holly on New Year’s Eve when she tentatively suggested I check out her new song which was “getting some good early coverage”, it’s difficult not to include that kind of throwaway phrase in this piece. I mean, at the time of writing, Station has accrued over 100,000 plays on SoundCloud, most of which have been in the last fortnight. That, by anyone’s standards, is mental. Especially when you consider that she’s done next to no promotion for it: “Yeah, I’ve gone from 46 followers on SoundCloud to over 2000 in less than a month. It’s really weird, because Station took me, like, two hours to make. I don’t even feel like much thought went into it; I just wrote this chilled track, added some synths and some claps, and then all of a sudden everyone is trying to emotionally dissect it. It’s a really simple song though, and I think I quite like that.”
Pigeons and Planes call Station one of their “favourite tracks so far this year”, whilst The Line of Best Fit go a step further, calling it “exquisite”. And it must be difficult, the notion of everyone scrutinising and analysing these tunes when, for a long time, it must have felt like no one was listening. “Yeah, it’s very strange, as your songs are a very personal thing,” Holly ventures cautiously, as she plays with the ice in her glass. “I mean it is all quite hectic, but hopefully I’m managing it alright at the moment.” With several label meetings in London due the week we meet, the details of which she is wisely keeping under wraps, Holly will need to work hard to give herself the space and time she needs to develop her sound naturally. “I’m not going to do much music until the summer now, as I’ve got my A-levels coming up. I was just quite anxious to get Station out there, so I could show everyone what I’m about before I took some time away to properly nail it down.” Almost everything written about Låpsley so far has been preceded by her age. And, whilst it may seem like lazy journalism, the mention of her A-levels is a sobering reminder of just how fucking young 17 actually is. However, when balanced against how exciting her coming of age is going to sound, I’m pretty sure it will only be a momentary lapse into sobriety.