MENTAL HEALTH AND THE MUSIC INDUSTRY: IN CONVERSATION WITH LÅPSLEY
I literally talk about my inner monologue and then sell it”
Many know her as Låpsley, but to me she is Holly Lapsley Fletcher: singer, songwriter, musician and producer, not to mention strong advocate for women’s rights both inside and outside of the music industry.
At the age of 16, Holly started recording music in her bedroom in Southport and performing in venues around the local area. It wasn’t long before she developed a strong and committed fan base, garnering over half a million listens of her EP Monday on Soundcloud.
Since then, she’s added some pretty impressive credits to her name, playing the BBC introducing stage at Glastonbury in 2014 before signing with XL Recordings later that year. In 2016, she performed to packed out stages at some huge American festivals: Lollapalooza in Chicago and Coachella in California.
I came to meet Holly in 2016 through friends in London, shortly before she released her debut album “Long Way Home”: an accumulation of songs that tackle loss, love, growth and insecurity using a wide musical range from minimal electronic pop, soul and disco, to big, bassy beats.
We have maintained a close friendship since we first met and connect on many levels. One thing that unites us strongly is our mutual interest in issues around mental health. Holly has always taken a strong interest in my line of work due to her own personal experiences with mental illness.
I called Holly a few weeks ago to talk her through my recent blog on mental health and the creative arts. She was quickly invested, and we set a date to talk more about it over a wholesome Sunday roast.
Whilst it’s not unusual to hear of experiences of mental illness within the notoriously unsupportive music industry, what is unique is Holly’s frankness about these issues and her drive to expose and overcome them.
When we speak, there is very little we don’t cover, from past relationships and breakups, to the realities of being on tour for prolonged periods and its impact on mental health. We also discuss the steps she has taken to support herself in preparing for the release of her new EP: THESE ELEMENTS which was released last Friday.
Ellen (E): For the benefit of those reading this article, I want to ask you about how you first came to enter the music industry. How was that initial decision to leave school to pursue music?
Holly (H): School was going really well, I was getting straight As, I was predicted A*s in my A levels, I had a place at Bristol University waiting for me. I was smashing it and I really valued academia, so it was a huge decision to pursue music rather than go to uni. My parents were grafters and really valued traditional career routes. They literally used to say to me "If you want all this, you need to get one of these jobs [meaning lawyer, doctor, finance etc.]" so it was a really hard decision.
I still dwell on whether I made the right choice, and on some level, I think I regret not going. There is the stereotype of the "bum out" musician, you know like they flop school and they pursue music as an alternative cos there's nothing else for them, but that wasn't me. It was hard to compute.
E: So how did you actually make the decision? Do you remember the day?
H: Well it sort of got to the point where the music was affecting my A-level's and I didn't come out with the grades I was predicted. All of my teachers looked at me on results day like 'what the hell have you done?'. So, messing up the grades helped me to make the decision as I felt like I'd already messed up the academic route.
It was really hard, it made me feel like 'who the hell am I? I never let myself fail' and I thought if I don't pursue the music now then I've let two things fail. It really affected my self-worth because everything I thought that I was, was just knocked. I've really had to battle my own stereotypes of what a musician is.
It's taken the last five years for me to forgive myself for making that initial decision. But now I feel really proud of myself. I've started to really see this as being my career and to take myself seriously and respect what I do. I've really given my all to this new record.
E: Cannot wait to hear the new record in full! You're always so open about your own mental health, especially in the context of the music industry. Do you think that the music industry played a part in any way?
H: It's hard to answer because mental health is so individualistic. I feel like you have to look at it from two sides. There is the mental health which I feel is genetic… that we are predisposed to develop certain issues.
But then there are the mental health issues which are created by the industry or made worse by the industry, the more situational ones. So, if I go back and look at teenage Holly, I suffered from Depression, Anxiety and OCD. I was very compulsive. For a large part, it was under control, but it was a daily struggle.
Then you flip to the music industry, where life is a party and its like 'the ME show' all the time. So, the anxieties change. Everything just shifts onto different things. The compulsions I was experiencing before would just shift sideways into this new space, to do with things like sex, alcohol and drugs. Everything just got really unhealthy.
During the last record, I had no choice but to take medication. I wasn't doing exercise, I couldn't attend all my therapy sessions because of my schedule, and everything had escalated. I was seeing it as 'I'm in a contract so I've got to deliver and get through today'. I wish someone in the label had actually considered my mental health and changed my diary to allow me more time for self-care.
E: It sounds like you were finding it really tough at this point. Do you believe that your mental health wasn't taken seriously enough by the team around you?
H: Unfortunately, it's just the done thing. The industry acts like you should be lucky they are even talking to you. But actually, it is them who are lucky that I exist. That's been the most significant shift in my mindset since my last album and it's definitely something that has helped me feel more resilient this time around.
But also, now that I have been through it once I understand myself and my body a lot better. I know my triggers are a lack of sleep and too much drinking. But I think the industry makes things worse. It doesn't help, it doesn't offer any support and if you have these predispositions, it's honestly the worst place to be.
Also, because I am a woman, people assume I don't produce my own songs. This press release was done for my album and it specifically said, "Written and produced by Lapsley with the engineer Joe Brown" and then three articles came out in the press that said, "produced by Joe Brown with the beautiful lyrics from Lapsley". It made me stressed, it made me rage, it made me ill.
I don't graft on a computer in a windowless room for two years for you to call me a singer. That might sound precious to some people, but I just want to be acknowledged for the hard work that I put in. I work with a social media team and we have to deliberately post pictures of me in the studio, constantly perpetuating the idea that this is what I do. Men won't have to do that because its assumed that they're in the studio.
E: That must be really frustrating. It sounds like you have to be incredibly resilient to work in the music industry. Do you find that your experience of mental illness has driven your creative process in any way?
H: Honestly, part of me being me and me being creative is about this. The way I write involves an emotional maturity and awareness. You kind of need to experience all the highs and lows to do that. And when I took medication, the Holly I thought I knew felt like it lived within these tiny parameters. The medication really squashed me creatively.
I'd actually rename creativity 'vulnerability'. It's like your ability to be vulnerable and then sell it. It's so weird, I literally talk about my inner monologue and then sell it and perform it. Like, who does that?! People struggle to tell their boyfriend or close friends what's going on in their mind. I guess that kind of proves the link between creativity and mental health. And as an artist, you know that your best stuff, the stuff that really sells, is the stuff that tears you apart.
E: Do you think it's going to be hard to perform the new record on tour night after night?
H: I actually don't know because I haven't performed it yet. Obviously, I know that the best performances are when you completely lose yourself within it. But to say whether I can do that over two years, and how good my mental health is going to be at the end of it is another thing.
You talk about touring with a random person and they say "Oh, sounds so fun" but then you ask another artist and they talk about how savage it is. It's so savage, and you drink so much, and you drink because it's so savage.
But there are highs too, like during a performance you just completely let yourself go, and by the time the encore comes you have the biggest high of your life.
E: It's kind of insane. These emotions are something the average person just never experiences, and you are feeling that every night of the tour.
H: The cortisol in your body, oh my god, as soon as you come off stage, you're so pumped. You want to go out and party. You're like, I want to celebrate how insane that show was, on and off for two years. And then you wake up the next day and have a whole day of press, a whole day of talking about yourself. So, it feels like you're indulging again. It's like the constant 'ME show', cross with indulgence, cross with partying. It's bizarre.
Taken from the forthcoming EP, These Elements. Available 6th December. https://lapsley.ffm.to/theseelements https://www.instagram.com/lapsleyyyy https://twitter.com/lapsleyyyy https://www.facebook.com/lapsleyyyy https://soundcloud.com/hollylapsleyfletcher Director - Camille Summers-Valli Producer - Scarlett Barclay Executive Producer - Aaron Z.
E: So why do you feel resilient enough now to re-enter the industry with a second album? How have you prepared yourself differently this time for the pressures you know you are going to face?
H: I don’t know what’s happened, whether it’s a chemical change or if it’s just me getting older but I don’t have anywhere near as many issues as I did. I know myself now and that my mental state has the potential to escalate more than other people. I know my boundaries.
I’m also ready to tell people what I’m not happy to do. For example, unless it’s the last show in a particular city, then I’m not going out. I don’t owe them. Last tour, everyone made me feel like I owed them the world. But when you understand the industry, you walk differently. I’m glad I’ve already been through it once. I’m resilient now, nothing breaks me. What has also really saved me over the past few years is volunteering.
E: Oh yes, I remember! You worked in a charity shop and trained as a Doula, didn’t you? What did that involve?
H: Yes! So, a Doula is a person who supports women through labour and birth, and sometimes after too. I worked with teenagers, I wrote a letter to the council for a girl who was pregnant and got her a flat within a week. I did it for free. I just found pregnant women that needed help in the community. I love it because it’s such a contrast to the ‘me, me, me show’ you get on tour. The last two years have made me recognise that I need to put these things in my life to balance myself out. To exist and not feel guilty for existing. I was feeling like my existence was insane. I had to find value in myself and what I do. Otherwise, I feel like I am too vain to be on this planet and then I self-punish.
E: What do you think is going to be the thing that keeps you most level-headed this tour?
H: I’d say it is quite centred around the compulsive side of me. OCD is such a broad thing. For me, I’m a very compulsive person, it’s like I have no fear. I skip the point where normal people stop and think. So, if I get good sleep and I exercise and eat well, I can slow those moments down where I can give myself enough time to recognise what it is and then make a decision.
But if I’m hindered in any way by lack of sleep or stress, then there is no way that I am stopping myself to think. And the danger is if that doesn’t happen, then that pathway becomes strengthened and I get to the point where I am like eat, eat, eat, drink, drink, drink. The irrational thoughts become stronger and stronger and stronger and I can’t function day-to-day. And then it affects your sleep and then the problems cycle.
E: I couldn’t agree with you more. You get out what you put into your body.
H: Yes. It’s a full-time job! And you can indulge in it. I think the interesting thing is that there have been times in my life, mainly in my teenage years, where like I have let it take over because I just wanted a break. I just wanted to let myself do these things, let these things drive me.
It’s thrilling sometimes, but it’s dangerous, just letting myself be what my brain tells me to be. It’s like an adrenaline rush. Until you stop, and then you’re like ‘wow I hate myself’. It’s not worth that adrenaline buzz for the guilt you feel after.
“Remember when you said My love was like a rose Not the sweet bloom But the pain as it scratches your hand” “Remember when you said I’m a Lily in the spring So sad but so beautiful”
E: Right we need to wrap up, but before we do tell me about the new EP.
H: Oh, it’s so interesting, the EP. There’s only four tracks. The full album will be out early next year (2020).
The first song is called “My Love Was Like The Rain”. It’s about the duality which I feel I am. Each verse is a metaphor for something that I feel has perceived duality. Like a rose has flowers but it also has thorns, and a lily is a flower at funerals, but I think that lilies are really beautiful. The song is about accepting the light and dark. It’s not good or bad, it’s kind of just human. It’s just me.
The second song is called “Eve”. In this one, I’m basically saying that maybe Eve ate the apple because it was both her and Adam’s fault. I don’t think anything is one-sided. This song is about sex, guilt, shared blame.
“I tried to make it work For the times you never heard You just sink into the solitude I can’t carry both of us You know I tried to go the distance I’d be screaming in the silence I tried to lift us up I tried to make it work”
The third song is called “Ligne 3” [which was released last week]. It’s about my last relationship. It’s about breaking up with someone but also appreciating everything you did for them at the same time. Simultaneously feeling both when you split up. It’s about obsession and love and breaking rules. It’s funny, for the video I got the photographer of the video to go and film the area where we were living together and they were like ‘do you want to do it?’, and I was like no! I do not want to go to that city and cry!!
Then the fourth song is called “Drowning”. I love this song. It’s about being such a competent teenager and then being such an incompetent adult, and about wondering when I will get back to that person before and that feeling. It incorporates quotes that my parents have said, and I end the whole show with it on the tour and it’s really intense. It’s so emotional. I have this violin part which I wrote, and I end up crying when I hear it.
You can listen and pre-order Holly's EP here: https://musiclapsley.com/home/.
She will also be performing in Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris and London in January of next year.
NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: We would just like to say a huge thank you to Holly, AKA Låpsley, for opening up in this interview and for sharing her experiences with mental health and the music industry with us and our readers. Thank you Holly!