Ah, the lengths to which a faithful Boy Scout will go, just to earn his coveted collection of merit badges. Especially if said scout is actually a girl.
And Holly Lapsley Fletcher wants to clarify at the outset that, even though she’s only 19, she is not some overly-entitled, self-absorbed millennial, thank you very much. It’s just that the singer – who, billed as simply Låpsley, will soon release her gossamer XL Recordings debut disc, Long Way Home – was brought up in Britain’s Merseyside believing that she could do anything just as well as a lad could. Maybe even better. So none of her friends or family were surprised when she petitioned for, then won, the right to join the traditionally all-male Cub Scouts, which led to stints as a Boy Scout, then a higher-level Explorer.
And oddly enough, the lass – who never owned a Barbie doll in her life, she’s proud to note – was universally accepted by her troop-mates. “I was one of them, because I was a bit tougher than most of them, to be honest,” she says, with a deceptively girlish giggle. “And I entered a lot of competitions where there were teams and helped them win a lot.” Whereas most kids her age were raised to see females as the weaker sex, she adds, “my parents never told me “You’re supposed to wear pink,” or “You’re meant to do this because you’re a girl.” But you’re definitely judged by your gender, so with a lot of the boys I was around, I really had to prove myself. So it was a bit of a fight. But I have no fear.”
Låpsley treasures her hard-won scout badges. Especially the one for sailing, a sport she’s been actively pursuing for over a decade. She even owns her own boat, christened “Theodore,” which she hasn’t been able to take out on the waves for the full year she spent writing and recording Long Way Home. And she still remembers her scariest oceanic moment, midway through a close race in which she was competing. She was at the helm, backed by only one crew member. But the sea was restless that day, my friends, and her friend fell overboard, just as the inclement-weather siren sounded for all participants to head back to shore.
“Nobody could get out to her, because the waves were so choppy,” recalls Låpsley, a confessed adrenaline junkie. “So I had to execute a very fast turn by myself and pick her up on my own in this sailing boat, and then drag her in whilst steering and navigating these insane conditions. So I got an award at the end for that.” She sighs, triumphantly. “And that’s like the highlight of my life, as well.” Yachting alone is her preferred method, however. “It depends on what the weather’s like, of course. But I find it quite relaxing.”
The artist also instinctively understands one key factor – she’s just made an album so gorgeously ethereal that, once it’s out there in the world, she won’t have much time to herself as she tours the world supporting it. In fact, she’s resigned to her landlubber fate. The deep blue had nothing to do with the record, she asserts – she never writes while sailing, and instead composes only when she’s in the studio itself, in impromptu, often last-minute sessions. And while she experimented with co-writers here and there (notably Paul O’Duffy and Mura Masa; otherwise she adhered to XL’s in-house producer Rodaidh McDonald), most of Long Way Home is her alone, wearing her heart on her autobiographical sleeve. Her rich, soulful warble first gently unmoors from its berth on the opening piano-delicate “Heartless,” then it raises the Adele-evocative ante on the following finger-popper “Hurt Me.” Then, in techno-flirting ballads like “Cliff,” “Falling Short,” “Tell Me the Truth,” “Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me)” – with her voice occasionally warped via vocoder – she relates the story of a painful, failed relationship which lasted for seven months. The set’s funereal keyboard coda, naturally, is titled “Seven Months.” It’s such a fully-formed vision – presented by such a remarkably commanding, disarmingly honest young talent – that Låpsley could very well become the next Adele. She’s that good.
She couldn’t help but sing about what she knows, Låpsley explains. Tracking a romance from beginning to end was an artistic imperative. “It was a relationship with someone with severe OCD,” she says. “So you’re battling with this third thing, this third person, which manifests itself as a mental health issue. And I couldn’t get past that. Because I wasn’t just dealing with him – he was underneath all of these massive anxieties to do with cleaning and order and structure. So it’s not like anyone cheated on each other,” she adds. “It was just dealing with this third thing that made it so difficult.”
How did music gradually pull this Brit away from scouting activities? Again, she chuckles, nobody told her not to. As a kid, she learned to play piano, oboe, drums, and classical guitar, and first began writing songs on six-string. But when she attended field-held raves on weekends, she noticed that ambient music bore a striking similarity to classical, and she requested her first keyboard for Christmas from her folks, who happily tossed in a microphone to the budding mix. Utilizing her computer’s GarageBand program, she arrived at her first spooky melody, “Station” – adorned with warped dog barks – which is included on Long.
Worried that their daughter was neglecting her high school studies, mom and dad urged Låpsley to pursue her proposed scientific career in physical geography and glaciology (which she still hopes to return to some day). She didn’t do as she was told. Instead, she awakened at 2:30 every weekday morning and quietly continued working on her music, leading to a full Monday EP that she innocently posted on SoundCloud. She hoped that another artist might hear her nascent material and want to cover it – she was stunned by the overwhelmingly favorable blogosphere reaction. Soon, she was receiving BBC Radio 1 airplay, and bowing in live on the Introducing stage at 2014’s Glastonbury Festival. She was on her way. Around the same time, she left home, moving to London where she’d secured a publishing deal, then an XL contract. “I’m quite an independent person,” she declares.
“I wanted to make the music that I liked,” says the performer of her aesthetic style. “And I was really interested in experimental electronic music, but then I also had this passion for good songwriting and classical music. So I just felt like I was somewhere in the middle – the music I made had an appreciation for all those things. And I also have a lot of appreciation for space, and the composition of a song. And I always think that synths are the new instruments – back in the day, violins and flutes were the modern ones, but now we have so many different new means of making sound. It’s an interesting shift.”
Is Låpsley eager to return home to her beloved “Theodore?” Yes and no. By the time she gets back, she’ll probably need a bigger boat. Plus, her future plans don’t all include watercraft. “I want to travel and try and live an adventurous life outside of this, that isn’t to do with my job,” she says. “And I mean traveling without the purpose of work. Maybe I’ll want to go to Iceland and see the volcanoes, or attend some lectures, or go to Mexico and go to the jungle. On my own. With nothing whatsoever to do with music!”