By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Billion Dollar Boy.
Holly Lapsley Fletcher is letting the moment wash over her.
It’s early on a Friday afternoon in late April, and for the first time in a while, the singer-producer has some downtime to savor.
“I’ve not left bed since yesterday afternoon,” Fletcher says, her rich speaking voice adopting an accent somewhere between Liverpudlian and Midwestern-American. “I took two days off, and I’m just going to stay in bed.”
Considering the last two years of Fletcher’s life, I’m not sure she’s entirely joking.
Fletcher broke onto the scene when she was barely seventeen-years old, winning the “One To Watch” prize in a regional music competition in her native Merseyside. Just a few short months later, she found herself playing at Glastonbury Festival and getting the stamp of approval from Huw Stephens and Zane Lowe, two of the foremost tastemakers in the UK music scene. With her confessional lyrics, powerful voice, and mesmeric piano-driven production style, the ensuing buildup has been a steady swell.
But Fletcher is keenly aware of the risk of burnout, and determined to stymie the process.
As her tour bus snakes its way across the Great Plains, Fletcher decided to fly ahead for the next leg of their US tour, seizing an opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep. Though she usually travels with her backing band, this particular leg of the trip struck her as cruel and unusual.
“I love the boys, but boys smell and being on a bus for such a long period of time is intense,” Fletcher says, sounding somewhat sheepish for being caught in uncharacteristically diva-like behavior. “You just end up drinking a lot on these trips.”
Fletcher is easy-going and self-aware, her phone voice transmitting maturity and perspective beyond her years even to a total stranger.
“I’m sure they find me intense as well!” she justifies with hearty laughter.
You have family in the states. Did you grow up coming over here with some frequency?
Yeah, probably more than most people. I almost forget that we used to come to the States every Christmas. [Laughs]
I’ve been skiing, and I’ve been to Wisconsin, and I’ve got family in Chicago. I’m lucky because my parents always wanted us to travel a lot, so we’ve been to a lot of places.
You’re from Merseyside, and there’s obviously such a significant musical history there. Did you feel like you grew up listening more to American music or British music? You’ve talked about Kings of Leon being a band you loved growing up.
[Laughs] Oh no – wait, wait. I have to explain that. It’s pretty funny.
I went on a skiing trip to California when I was 12, and we had Spotify by then. Nobody really bought records anymore, but I decided I wanted to buy an album. The first record I ever bought – because nobody bought CDs, really – was Kings of Leon Only By The Night. I’ve never listened to anything else by Kings of Leon, but for some reason I just know this album by heart, and everything about it. If Kings of Leon were to do a tour just with that album, then I’d certainly go. It all started as a joke. [Laughs] I never really like new stuff, though.
Who did you grow up listening to?
Well, my introduction to music was through my parents’ CD collection. They have really cool taste! They were teenagers in the ‘80s, and the shit that they had, that they went to gigs to, were like New Order, Joy Division, and The Smiths. Those were all significant and amazing bands on my dad’s side. My mum loved Joni Mitchell, and Kate Bush, and Fleetwood Mac. It was a good mix of really good quality writing, production, and records. If that’s the only music you listen to, then it kind of sets a precedent for the quality of the music you listen to when you get older.
When I started high school I was really into Bon Iver and Chilly Gonzales and FKA [Twigs]; you know, the whole chilled-out, emo thing. [Laughs] And then I got into heavy electronic music. I used to go out to a lot of events around here, and shit kind of changed. [Laughs]
I had this obsession with electronic music. Now I think I’m somewhere in the middle.
You have a background as a multi-instrumentalist. Is there any one that you consider your primary songwriting tool? How you first think of songs in your head?
It used to be guitar, but now it’s piano. It was guitar when I was in high school, just because I could carry it around with me. But yeah, now it’s definitely piano. [Pauses, laughs]
I wish I was better at these instruments! The reason I can play all these instruments is because I got bored and asked my parents if I could have lessons in another instrument. So I was never, like, insanely good at all of them. I’m just kind of mediocre at quite a few different instruments because I got bored. [Laughs]
Do you play the piano during live shows?
I mean, I get really scared performing [instruments] live, because my priority is singing in tune and not wavering or forgetting the words. I get scared. But yeah, I do a bit of playing on stage. But I don’t feel like I have to prove that I know all the parts. Some people have all the equipment around them, and they never really connect with the audience. I have a fabulous band, and I just have to do the minimal thing, and they take care of the rest. [Laughs]
How do you cope with nerves before a show?
I find that talking to the audience calms me down – just chatting about some shit. Everyone thinks it’s hilarious, but I need it. I walked on stage at Coachella, and I said to the audience, “My dress looks like a vagina, doesn’t it?” Everyone was like, “Oh shit! Yeah it does.” [Laughs] I had this spray tan, and I commented on how my eyebrows were melting because it was so hot. It’s only when I come off stage that I realize the shit that I’ve chatted.
In Portland, I talked about strip clubs. It’s the only reason you guys have one dollar notes. It’s a ridiculous thing to have a one dollar bill. It’s because of strip clubs.
So, yeah, I find that chatting shit helps me calm down.
It comes across as pretty genuine, though.
Yeah! It’s probably easier to do a stand-up [comedy] performance than it is to sing on stage. It’s terrifying. [Laughs] Quite scary.
At this point, do you consider yourself a vocalist first?
Oh god no, I always say, “Just because I can sing, that’s why I put it in.” If I couldn’t sing, then I’d just get someone else to. I kind of went with it. People kept saying I could sing, so I decided to do it, work on it, and roll with it. But I’m definitely a writer and a producer above anything else.
I’m getting started in the process of discovering myself as a singer, and it’s weird when you get compared to the singers: They’ve always been singers, and I’m the opposite. I’ve always been this little nerd in my bedroom, playing about with fucking synths and writing stuff, and not necessarily putting a lot of vocals on it.
Many of the lyrics on the album deal with love lost or relationships in a state of decay. You’ve talked about preferring to draw inspiration from real-life experiences, and the challenges inherent in that.
Has the tradeoff been worth it? Having people ask you about your personal life all the time must be exhausting. Will you continue to write in this way for future albums, or are you exploring writing more about hypothetical situations and characters?
[Pauses] I’ve not really lived that long, so I can’t really draw from hypothetical situations, because I wouldn’t know what that would feel like. The stuff I’ve written is the only thing I’ve ever really written ever. It’s the first album I’ve ever written, and I’ve not written more than about twenty songs in my life. D’you know what I’m saying?
I wrote a song about being in one relationship – a relationship with someone with a mental health issue, and in the way that I’d hope. I used metaphors to explain something that was very hard to explain. And it got my head around the situation.
At the same time, when you’re writing in the studio, it’s very solitary. When you’re writing an album, you forget that you might not understand how the press would be. I get asked about this shit every day, and I’ve really got to separate myself from, because otherwise it’s like reliving that shit every day. And you have to sing about this someone every day, and you’ve got to talk about this someone every day. That’s very difficult.
That was the first serious relationship I ever had. I’m not a thirty-year old who has had experience to deal with shit. I’m learning as I go along. And it makes me feel like the press don’t think I’m a real person sometimes.
At the same time, so many writers share hypothetical situations, so it must be like that even for them. Part of this job and part of an album campaign is getting through it. You’ve got to be prepared to talk about it, and that’s just a sacrifice you make.
You can write about what you know, or you can choose not to. [Laughs]
Additional contributions by Philip Runco.