A New Beat: Liverpool's Låpsley in profile
A rising talent on Liverpool’s music scene, last month Låpsley (aka Holly Lapsley Fletcher) became the inaugural winner of the GIT Award’s One to Watch prize. We caught up with her at the ceremony
The best music emerges from beyond the shadows, untainted by time or trends. Maybe this is why the world has been so sceptical about Liverpool music for such a long time – the shadow cast by the Merseybeat generation (and one popular quartet in particular) looms so large that anything other than chirpy, harmony-drenched guitar pop seemed anomalous to the region. There’ve been plenty of dissenting voices over the years, of course – for every Cast, there’s a Clinic – and the likes of Outfit, All We Are and Esco Williams represent the vanguard of artists challenging popular perceptions of what it means to be a musician from this particular city. Well, it’s about fucking time someone did.
But wait! Here’s another hat tossed casually into the ring. Drawing from the same pools of artfully languorous melancholia as James Blake or Majical Cloudz, Formby-dwelling newcomer Låpsley appears set to win the hearts and minds of true believers everywhere, with nary a soft-psych jangle to be found. Seventeen-year-old Holly Lapsley Fletcher has already found fans among the music press and at Radio 1, who’ve rather taken to the haunting sparsity of a certain track called Station. The disconsolate sigh of the vocal is pitted against another version of itself that’s been pitch-shifted down until it sounds like another voice entirely; indeed, it’s essentially the sound of Fletcher duetting with herself, and it’s utterly magical.
Naturally, The Skinny thought it only right and proper that we should attempt to learn a little more, and dutifully spoke to Fletcher in the wake of her One To Watch scoop at Liverpool’s GIT Awards. “I’m not really fazed by it,” she says of her sudden popularity. “I put Station on the internet at Christmas time and then just left it. Although a lot of things are going on, I’m still in my room making music – nothing’s really changed.”
“Well, I’ve got a manager now. But I’m organised and I’m ready for it all.”
“I don’t like the friction of being in a band. I’ve got my own ideas" – Holly Lapsley Fletcher
It’s a confident approach that arguably belies her tender years, but then again this is effectively the beginning of her second life as a musician. Two years ago, she was writing and performing similarly downbeat acoustic ballads, of which there remains some evidence on her SoundCloud page. Strip away the signifiers of electronic music – the beats, the bleeps, the atmospheric texture – and the songs don’t feel worlds away from her recent work, but nonetheless it feels like a big jump. Where did the change come in? “Well, I listen to electronic music a lot, but I come from a background that’s quite classical – I play piano, guitar and oboe. I just wanted to make the sort of music I listened to, so I went on GarageBand and experimented.”
Of the various Låpsley tracks posted online thus far, the aforementioned Station is certainly the winner. “I’ve been writing since I was 12. Songwriting is what I’ve always done, but I’m learning with every one. I wrote Station a few years ago on piano, and when I made the Låpsley project, I’d rework songs I’d already written – I liked the contrast of having two different voices.”
It almost feels like you’ve split yourself in two, we remark. Fletcher laughs.
“When I first experimented with the idea of pitch shift, that wasn’t intentional. But obviously the story’s about another person; it’s their point of view.”
As for the decision to split her own voice rather than employ a second vocalist, an explanation becomes clear as we delve further into her philosophies and feelings towards performing. “I don’t like the friction of being in a band,” she says. “I’ve got my own ideas and I don’t want anyone else to tell me ‘this is right, this is wrong.’ If I do it myself, there’s only me controlling it.”
As it turns out, this element of control amounts to a dreamily spacious and uncluttered sound. “It’s quite minimal. I like working with silence rather than adding things. It’s quite hard to listen back and decide, ‘Oh, I want that bit to be really stripped back,’ but then if I have something there, it has more of an effect.”
There are, however, plenty of remixes on the SoundCloud page, indicating that Fletcher isn’t entirely averse to other people’s interpretations of her music. Quite the contrary, in fact, as she enthusiastically explains. “If anyone asks me if they can do a remix, I always tell them to send it! If I like it, I’ll repost it, then it’s just out there. It’s interesting to see what people come up with.”
So working with other people is on the Låpsley radar then? She pauses, torn between discretion and candour.
“Yeah, I’ve got some collabs in the summer,” she admits, “that should be good. But I’d love to collaborate with different producers really. Obviously James Blake would be the ultimate, but it’d be interesting to work with people of a different genre and see what came out.”
As one might expect from such precocious talent, her songs do not sound like the work of one so young. Whether this is a commendable quality will depend on whether you believe pop music is essentially the domain of young people, but ultimately it does not manifest itself in the retromaniac too-old-too-soon-isms of, say, Jake Bugg. Instead, this music sounds graceful and assertive; confident in what it is rather than unsettled by what it aspires to be. The best kind of grown-up, basically. All the same, does she worry that people will focus on the fact that these songs have been recorded by a 17-year-old, as opposed to focusing on the songs themselves?
“I don’t really have an opinion on it,” she says. “I just think… that’s my age. There’s a lot for me to learn, basically, and I think I’ve got potential. This is only the beginning.” She laughs. “Hopefully it won’t go downhill!”
The latter seems unthinkable at this stage, but should it come to pass, Fletcher has other ideas. There’s a university course to be undertaken, should she choose to, and alternative ambitions to be fulfilled. “If I didn’t do music, I’d do geography. I’d love to be a journalist and write for National Geographic! But music is something that I couldn’t do without at all.” Another laugh, followed by a knowing muso-ism: “It’s a part of me, maaaan!”
And that, essentially, is Låpsley: one young woman’s vision. Songs that evoke complex and subtle emotions, implicitly asking as many questions as they answer. Music with a firm grasp on the present, but an imagination that yearns enough to experiment and push itself. Really, what more do you want? It only seems fair that we ask the same question of Fletcher. She’s ebullient and unabashed in her response.
“I want to be respected in the music industry. That doesn’t necessarily mean being in the charts, getting on Jools Holland, the Mercury Prize… they’re all good things. But I want other musicians to be like, ‘I respect that person, I really like their music.’”
As declarations of intent go, this may lack the soundbite-friendly swagger of a Liam Gallagher, or the antagonistic rhetoric of a Nicky Wire, but it’s certainly honest. And if recognition is the ultimate goal, it would appear that Låpsley’s well on her way to accomplishment.