Her story might read ‘signed at 16, released a single, got massive’, but Chlöe Howl’s not the type to get wrapped up in an ego. She’s been poking fun at herself since day one, from the poorly-placed diaeresis in her name to the fact that she’s finding it tough making friends when booze-related accidents become a day to day occurrence.
That sounds dodgier than it actually is. In reality, sipping a really grim breakfast tea, she’s referring to the DIY Class Of… drama that’s played out in recent weeks. Every time she meets fellow alumni George Ezra, she spills a beer on him. Two meetings, three beers, covering the poor Bristolian’s face, back, whatever. “He’s pretty cool with it. I’m not sure how he feels about me really though,” Chlöe laughs.
She’s speaking the day after her debut album’s been completely wrapped up. “We had one song we couldn’t get right - we were taking ages. And yesterday we were like ‘ehhhh’,” she says, reenacting a surreal, arms-in-the-air routine that looks a bit like a rain dance.
This isn’t painting Chlöe in a particularly ‘cool’ light. In reality, she’s about as cool as they come for an eighteen-year-old chart-botherer. Debut single ‘No Strings’ put non-committal boys in the firing line. “Fuck your no strings / I hope I have twins” still stands out as the lyric of the year. In one split-second it threw caution to one side. ‘No Strings’ couldn’t give a flying toss about the fact that the subject of Howl’s baiting is probably sitting there, listening in and cringing until he sinks into the ground.
Even from a very early age, Chlöe’s never been one to mince her words. “I’d be like ‘piss off’,” to anyone who dissed her freckled face and ginger locks. She shuns the odd Ed Sheeran comparison to this day, but she still gets listed as “La Roux” or “that girl out of The Parent Trap”.
“I think I was more bullied for being a weirdo,” she claims. “I was scrawny and pale and a little bit mean. But by the time I got to the secondary school I was the hard man.”
Raised in Maidenhead, she kicked school in after being signed in her teens. Her first studio experience - which had no bearing on her actually getting a deal - came when she was 9 years old. “This guy let me record a few tracks,” she recounts. “I still have them - ‘If I Ain’t Got You’, Alicia Keys, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ and ‘Get Out’ by Jojo. I was singing and I was writing stories at the same time, from a really early age. I didn’t realise you could put the two together until someone gave me a really shit keyboard. I guess that’s why some of my songs are storytelling.
“I always told my mum ‘I want to be a singer’ and she was like ‘oh, alright love’.”
Her mum’s perspective might have shifted, but being signed didn’t change everything for Chlöe. ‘I was scrawny and pale and a little bit mean.’ “The main thing that changed was I just went: ‘I’m not going back to school’.” It was something she was prepared for, from the off. “I didn’t really see my friends a lot. I had to turn up at random people’s houses and write songs with them for two days. But it wasn’t a massive change - it wasn’t crazy. I’ve always wanted to do [this] and I always knew how it was going to be. I knew that it would be a challenge for me to go from a sheltered environment like school, to something like that.”
What followed was ‘No Strings’, the ‘Rumour’ EP (which came out on her 18th birthday) and new single ‘Paper Hearts’. In between that; a gazillion festival slots, goodness knows how many interviews and tours with both Bastille and his “crazy fans”, and John Newman and his backstage “school keyboard” or “shit tunes”. It sounds like fun, but it also sounds mercilessly hectic. That’s not quite the case.
Chlöe’s pet hate is miserable musicians, proverbially calling in sick because they’re too tired of being told that they’re brilliant by everybody. “It pisses me off, because I want to be really busy!” she asserts. “I hate having time off. When I have two days off I’m just sat at home being restless. If I were in some people’s positions I’d be going out all the time, making the most of it.”
There is the sense that 2014’s preparing something a whole lot bigger for Howl. If the past 12 months witnessed an endless supply of exciting activities - like being mistaken for Pink by DJ Fresh at the BRIT Awards, of all things - there’s an album round the corner. She’s lucky enough to cite playing with a band who’ve basically become best friends (“I always stay at their house when I’ve got nowhere to go”). Despite the nagging fear that her drummer might go off with Ellie Goulding (“he fancies her, but he’s not allowed to leave”), things feel grounded enough for an assault on 2014 to commence.
Fast-emerging as the most exciting pop star in the country, no-one comes close to Howl in terms of truth-preaching kicks to the teeth. Venomous cuss-filled lines and a dodgy diaeresis - Chlöe’s not free of flaws, but that’s the bloody point. Her worst experience so far came when “some guys” at a gig “were asking me to sing a Jessie J song” in the middle of a set. Learning from that lowest of lows, it’s fairly clear that a quickfire, customary “piss off” would’ve done the trick as a response. From secondary school “meanie” to DIY’s Class Of… star pupil, we’re witnessing a pop prospect capable of just about anything.
Taken from the December-January Class Of 2014 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.
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