Back when Låpsley used to play hockey, she never got nervous. She and her teammates would huddle together and scream. Loudly and very aggressively. “We just copied what the guys did and then went on with it,” she says. But performing live on stage is an entirely different beast.
It’s hard to imagine that Låpsley, born Holly Lapsley Fletcher, is anything but cool before a set. The English singer-songwriter may be embarking on the North American leg of an international tour promoting her 2016 debut LP Long Way Home and recently sold out the legendary Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, but she’s still human. She gets so nervous before going onstage that she has to fight herself from vomiting or “going for a wee a million times.”
Låpsley returns to Boston this Thursday (November 3) to play the Paradise Rock Club. We spoke with Låpsley after she finished the soundcheck for her sold-out London show, and she talked to us about why she always meets her fans after shows, the next Nobel Peace Prize, and how the fans that get engaged at her shows always manage to surprise her.
Cory Lamz: You’re in London tonight playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire. How does that feel?
Låpsley: I’m so excited. I think just doing the soundcheck earlier it hit me. I was like, “Shit. I’m finally out here. Ahhh, what am I doing?”
What else have you been up to in London today?
I had a singing lesson, which I have like once a year [laughs]. I have to get it in. Sometimes I get a bit scared and my coach is like, “No, you’re fine. Do your scales. Nothing’s wrong.” Then I got a pedicure. All of my friends and my mum went with me as well, which is nice.
That’s so fun. How long had it been since you’d seen your mom and your friends?
I see my friends once a month now because I’m away so much. Two days a month I’m off, really. It’s like this: sometimes I have two weeks off, and then I’ll see everyone. But yeah, I’ve had such a busy year.
What can your fans expect from your shows on this tour?
It’s a version of the album that is specifically tailored for live performance. We’ve bashed out these tunes over the course of the year and I’ve changed them to the point where I believe this is the best performance I have to go for this year, for this album. I’m really excited for people to see a different side to my songs and bring them to life from just a studio recording.
When you say that you’ve altered them, what do you mean?
We’ll put another bass part in, or we’ve changed the organ. Just enhance it live. Nothing major. It’s still the same song.
Are you playing any new songs on the road?
No, I’m not playing any songs that I haven’t put out, but I am playing songs that I didn’t play live on the last tour. So other songs from the album.
Do you ever get to interact with your fans after shows?
Yeah, after every show. After every show I’ll come out and meet them and say hi.
It’s really awesome that you do that as an artist of your stature, selling out shows and stuff.
If I ever thought I was too big to come out after a show, I’d let my friends swat me in the face. They’d know it anyway. They’d be like, “What kind of person are you? If you’re not going to see people on the same level as you, then you’ve got issues.” [laughs] I don’t know what other people do, honestly. Maybe that’s my issue. [laughs]
No, I think it’s great that that’s your approach. Do you have any really memorable fan experiences?
Yeah, it’s quite sad actually. This guy that I know that worked for National Geographic, the museum… He was a really big fan. He bought tickets for me to go with him round Washington. Then a few months ago I found out that he died. He had an accident. He was pretty young. I’m excited to get back to Washington and dedicate that show to him. That was a bit of… It hit home. He was really big fan… But yeah, people have gotten engaged. I think someone is getting engaged at my New York show. They’ve asked me to pause the song for them, which I think is hilarious because I honestly would not ask someone to marry me during a song.
Is it usually the same song that people ask for?
It’s usually like “Painter,” which is really funny because the song is a bit of a joke. It was a gift for my friend who didn’t have a girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, so my gift was my song to him. It’s funny that they choose that one, but maybe that’s fitting.
I think that there’s something very universal about the emotion in your songs. Certainly I identify with it. Your songs are very emotional, but, despite the inspirations on where the songs are coming from, they still feel like some element of expressing love.
Yeah, I think it’s just honesty. I think people relate to other people, and you can’t relate to a lot of shit in the industry nowadays because it’s so affected. You know what I mean? It’s so changed or so forcing. That’s why I feel like I connect with more music from the past. It’s less bullshit.
One of my favorite songs of yours is “Operator.” I remember the first time I heard it, I thought, “Wow, this song goes off, but it could also use a remix.” Then I came across the remix used for the video [the DJ Koze Radio Edit]. When you did the video, how did the idea for the video come about? Because the video is a bit interesting, and it’s a little different for you, too.
It’s funny that people say that because I forget that people have a different perception of me, the one that the media makes of me. Obviously I’ve lived a whole life until now. People know me. People who know me well would say that it’s not something surprising that I would do, but I forget how much PR goes into it all.
After my first Berlin show, I got taken out, and we went to a drag show. I just fell in love with the Berlin drag scene, and I really wanted to create the atmosphere and thrill that I felt from my first night. I investigated some drag stars and came up with the concept for the whole video, and then I approached the label and told them that I wanted to do this. They were like, “Yup.”
One of the interesting things about “Operator,” too — and perhaps even one of the overarching themes of the album — is about a relationship, a long-distance relationship even. “Operator” lays the foundation for that theme…
Yeah, in a metaphorical way.
…Yeah. And then adding the visuals from the video adds another layer to the message.
Yeah, the meaning is still the same, but now it’s an interpretation of the meaning behind the song. That was more the visual… It’s a different kind of video, to investigate the meaning.
It’s fun to see you dancing toward the end of the video as well. Another song that I want to talk to you about is “Station,” which I think is also a standout. You have two vocal parts, one that feels more masculine because it’s in a lower register and then one that is in a higher register, and both of those being your voice. So where did that idea come from, to take on this more conversational approach?
I heard about the idea for this production from listening to a bit of electronic music and house music, where a lot of female vocals are altered pitch. I quite liked the sound of that. Then I realized that I could use it for a different point of view or be a completely different person or a devil’s advocate. You could use it in so many different ways in a song.
I think a lot of the house inspiration and more electronic inspirations that you’re talking about really shine through on the album. Who are some of your biggest inspirations right now, and who are you listening to?
I’m a big Tycho fan. I really like Bon Iver’s new album. He’s really outdone himself. It’s definitely an album for him more than anyone else. I quite like the sound and the programming. Who else? I had a good crack at Banks’ album. It wasn’t really my kind of thing, but I think it’s better than her last one. Yeah, that’s it at the moment really. I’ve been so busy, I haven’t really had the time to sit down. That’s something I’m so excited to do at Christmas.
Five years ago, you weren’t doing music as much, at least not to this degree. What did you think you’d be doing instead?
Working for National Geographic and writing documentaries.
In the next five years, what do you hope to do?
A mix of things. I want to establish myself as a writer primarily and as a producer. Also, go into more investigative journalism, whether that’s with music or with something else.
It’s interesting that you bring the investigative journalism piece. Do you mean investigating stories in relation to music or…
Well, I’ve just been with VICE to present a small, 12-minute thing. So that’s the kind of thing I really want to carry on doing. They’re like, “Ah, well, we’ll give it a try.” Then I went for the audition and said, “Wow, I’d love to do more.” It’s that kind of stuff. I want to follow my passion for people.
You’ve said that you’re inspired by strong female singer-songwriter types. Stevie Nicks being one of them.
You know, I never really like to attach the “female” to it because I don’t want to do that to myself. I know that it’s a lot harder for females to get there, and that’s what I admire, rather than their music specifically because they’re a girl. The struggle is different.
To that same point, sometimes I feel as if singer-songwriters who are female are able to open up and be honest in a way that male singer-songwriters are not. Have you ever noticed that? There’s a vulnerability there.
Yeah, I think guys do, but yeah… guys are very, ummm… it’s almost like the only honesty you see is someone like Jeff Buckley or someone where a tragedy has happened. It’s just honest. It’s interesting how emotions are portrayed through male writing.
One final question for you. As you are traveling and you are touring, and even when you were with VICE, is there one item that you must have on the road with you when you’re traveling?
Oh, let’s have a think. Not one. Can I say many, or does it have to be one? I always have moisturizer for babies and also Japanese face wash. “As long as your own face looks good, you can come back from anything.” Dry shampoo should get a Nobel Peace Prize because oh my god, it’s saved me on so many occasions.
LÅPSLEY + AQUILO :: Thursday, November 3 at the Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Ave. in Boston :: 7 p.m., all ages, $20 :: Advance tickets