Spotlight: Chlöe Howl
20 Sep 2013
"There are a lot of twenty-four year olds trying to appeal to teenagers but they're not fifteen and they did not see what was going on in the corner of the village hall." RFB chats to Chlöe Howl.
Photos: Alex Sutherland
Chlöe Howl, a veritable starlet, has rapidly been pegged as one of the most exciting youngsters in British music; after a couple of years of major label mentoring, she has finally burst onto the scene with a string of uncompromising and frank singles that have caught the attention of contemporaries, teenagers and those twice her age. RFB caught up with the teenager to find out about her experiences of singing in front of the mirror, negotiating her way around the common room and the route to future pop stardom.
How did you first get involved with music?
I'd always been singing, just on my own, since I was really little. I just kind of enjoyed it. I didn't do performing arts because I hated all that stuff but I was always really into music because my dad used to play a lot in the car. And then when I was about thirteen, my mum's mate gave us a really shit keyboard that she wasn't using and that's when I started to write songs. It all kind of went from there.
Did you want to write songs before you had the tools to do so?
I hadn't really thought about it. When I was really tiny I was really weird, I used to write weird poetry things. This is when I was five. I found the book the other day and was just like “oh, wow.” But I was always into writing. Not necessarily songs or anything but I used to love writing stories and creating stories so I think it sort of came from that. I kind of merged the two. The fact I loved music and the fact I loved writing.
Has it all been one natural progression since then or were there times that you've gone off course?
Yeah, I was always working but just kept it bubbling away whilst I was at school. I never really took my music too seriously and then, when I was about sixteen, I met this guy from Heavenly Records. He really liked it and helped me find my management. I was really lucky; I just kept bumping into people at the right time, especially as my family are not musical at all.
Was being at school quite an important part of that process or did you feel like it was holding you back?
It felt like a waste of time but I just enjoyed hanging out with my friends so I treated it as a social hub. I'd been singing for ages at school, so whenever the teachers used to act like teachers I was just like… “Why are you treating me like a kid? I know people your age, we get on well, we hang out.”
Did you know that you could sing properly?
Well I used to sit there with CDs and try to copy, I could always sing but I just wanted to make my voice better so when I was really young I used to just sit with different artist's CDs and try to copy all the riffs they did.
What kinds of thing were they?
I was really into Destiny's Child at one point so I used to try and do that and then my mum used to play Queen loads so I was like “right, Freddie Mercury”, but that was when I was really young and then I just kind of carried on singing how I sing now.
Was there a clear moment where you had to decide whether you were going to take singing seriously?
Well, I was off school for the summer after I finished my GCSEs and that's when I met my management and that's when I got signed, in that six weeks. I was just like “well I'm not going back to school then” and why would I?
At the time did it feel like you were making a big decision?
It didn't no, it didn't feel big at all. I was just like “fine, I'll go then, I'm not coming back.”
And has it been quite weird for you in the context of your friends, a few of them must have carried on at school?
No, it feels like I never went to school. It doesn't feel weird at all. I think they find it weird, they find it really weird that I'm not at school. It's bizarre to them that I'm working whilst they're still learning and are going to be learning until they're twenty-one. So, they find it weird but I'm just chilling, I don't mind. I think it's quite cool.
I’m sure they’re enjoying some of the lifestyle changes that can come with a friend forgin a career in pop music…
They are now. They like coming to the parties. I had a show recently and there was a free bar and they fucking loved it. They felt like absolute rockstars.
Understandably so, your first free bar is a big moment in life.
They were all meeting the band and just like, “Oh are you in the band? I was in Chloe's music lessons.”
Has there been much self exploration for you, going through this process of being a thirteen year old girl sitting down with some Destiny's Child records to now…
I feel like ever since I've been signed I've just kind of been left to do what I want. They literally just gave me a year and a half to write so it was all a lot of me learning. Because I was only sixteen, I had loads to learn.
And you think you know quite a lot at the age of sixteen.
I think I sort of knew but I didn't actually know a lot though. It'd be fine if I was still doing what I was doing then, I'd probably still think I knew everything. But when you get signed...I mean the first person I wrote with was Eg White [Adele, Florence & The Machine, Duffy] and I realised instantly that I knew nothing at all.
Did you learn a lot about yourself during that period, as a writer, did you learn about what you wanted to do with your music?
I don't know. I feel like I've grown up loads. It's not even necessarily about the music, the things that I've learnt, I've literally just learnt about everything. Because I was from Berkshire, nothing happens in Berkshire. You don't know what's going on in the world at all. I feel like I know what I'm doing now.
As a young person making music is there a clear thing that you want to capture or sum up or be part of or even lead with your music?
I don't know because I've never really wanted to be preachy, I've just always wanted to observe how it actually is for people my age. I just want to write about that. I feel like sometimes people mistake frank lyrics for trying to teach people a lesson and I'm not I'm just trying to be honest. I think I know as a teen, I don't want other singers to come along and pretend like it's all flowery and Taylor Swift-y because it's actual pretty grim, it's pretty gross being a teenager. I learnt how to deal with people when I started working. I've actually always had to deal with difficult people. I always worked with difficult men so I learnt that at quite a young age. I didn't really get on at school. I never told anyone I was doing music but the teachers could tell I found it really pointless and there've been times when they were like “Do you think everything I'm doing is just a waste of time?” and I’d be like “Um, I know you need to teach the curriculum but I don't need to know this.”
It's all the hidden curriculum stuff...
And the OFSTED reports, when they're trying to get kids to come to their school they have to have good results otherwise no-one is going to come. Also, the problem is that you learn how to read and to write, you learn how to divide and add up but the rest of it you just learn because otherwise your teachers will tell you off, you're never going to use it. I never learnt how to do a histogram. I had to do it for my GCSEs and my teacher kept telling me to revise but I just couldn't or wouldn't, so every exam I did I'd just skip out the histogram page.
Was that quite an important period to you then?
Not so much the education side of it but I just learnt a lot about girls and gossip and being a teenager. I feel like because I left so early I've been able to observe it from an outsider’s perspective. I can see how them being stuck in the same rooms every day affects how they think, affects how much they judge people and how much they feel judged, how much they gossip. Coming from an outsider’s perspective, it means my songs aren't written from a very prejudiced or biased place, it's literally just what's going on.
Did you feel the same when you were at school, did you feel a little disconnected from it all, enough to see it for what it really was or were you bang in the middle?
Basically, my year at school, we all got on and were all really good friends. It wasn't clique-y but I was definitely in one of the big girl groups so it was very easy to just be like “I don't know what's going on.” But I'm glad I had that as well because then when I stepped out of it I understood it a lot more. It's easier to write about when you've been a part of it.
Is there an apprehension, now that you're in a different position, of trying to maintain that perspective of being amongst it, after stepping away, to be able to commentate?
I am not going to try and influence where I'm put, I'm just going to try and be where I am and learn about that and write about that. I feel like because this first record is going to be very much about where I was as a teenager that I'm kind of looking forward to the next segment not being about that. I just feel like if I embrace where I am at the time, it'll always naturally progress in a nice way and I'm kind of looking forward to that more than feeling apprehensive about losing an edge.
Do you think that this is music for teenagers?
No, I'm just not lying. I'm sure a lot of teenagers will have gone through the same stuff and I don't know about adults, I haven't been one yet.
There are other people out there who are trying to tell you what your life is like at that time and getting it so completely wrong, do you think that's a problem?
Well I feel like there are a lot of twenty-four year olds trying to appeal to teenagers but they're not fifteen and they did not see what was going on in the corner of the village hall. I feel like sometimes people can sugarcoat it a bit too much. I didn't even really think about it at the time, I was saying what I saw.
Why do you think some people get it? People like Taylor Swift sell millions of records and some teenagers must hear that and go “yeah, maybe she is right, maybe she get's my life.”
I feel like she's pretty honest too though isn't she? But with other people that aren't so honest. I think some tunes are just catchy and the breakthrough artists that are a little bit older and appeal to younger kids, their songs are catchy. I don't know, I think that's just what it is, I can't pin it down to just being relatable. If any tune is hooky enough, you'll find a way to relate to the lyrics. It doesn't matter. I just really enjoy lyrics but I feel like ultimately if a tune is catchy you'll naturally find a way to relate to the lyrics because you can't help but love the song.
Maybe Carly-Rae Jepsen doesn't know a thing but that 'Call Me Maybe' song is catchy!
It's a good tune. I actually love that song.
I know! Is the basic idea of being a teenager important to you?
It's tricky for me because I always get asked this I just am one so it really wasn't the case that in every writing session I insisted on getting across that I'm a young girl and I want to write about young girl things because I have to relate. But if something happens to me, I write about it and it just happens to be very teenage topics. I suppose it's important to me in the sense that I was never willing to write about things that I hadn't experienced. I never wanted to write about being in a really serious relationship because I've never really been in one.