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'I Feel Stronger Than Ever': The Return of Chl÷e Howl

Tuesday, 22 January 2019 Written by Huw Baines

Back in 2013, Chlöe Howl seemed set to take the world by storm. Her early singles, including the killer kiss-off No Strings, arrived accompanied by industry hype and a mounting sense of next big thing momentum, but in short order she was stepping away from music to take stock.

At the tail end of 2018, five years on from her initial breakthrough, Howl released the snappy, pop-literate ‘Work’ EP, fusing influences from chart-ready house to thudding trap-adjacent beats with knowing, clever melodies and some typically rich vocals. Prior to her comeback show of sorts at London’s Moth Club on January 23, we caught up with her to discuss lessons learnt, creative freedom and crash courses in the real world.

A massive theme in your new material seems to be treating yourself right, whether that’s binning someone who doesn’t deserve your time or ensuring someone else steps up. That wisdom is usually hard-earned.

I think it’s definitely hard-earned but also wisdom you have to actively seek, too. I think knowing your worth and carrying that attitude with you everywhere you go is a huge life hack. If we talk about romance a lot of us, especially women, are led to believe that being alone is the ultimate fear—but being in a disrespectful, toxic or not mutually satisfying situation is much worse than being alone. Loving yourself, and not letting anyone tap into that energy until they treat you like the precious cargo you are, has been my mood for the last few years and so I wanna write songs that make people feel that way when they sing along.

These new tracks feel very pointed and confident. Did they come together quickly or did you agonise over the details?

Usually the actual songs come together really fast for me. Most of the ones you’ve heard were conceived and born within a couple of days. I think the process of finding a sound or energy you wanna stick with is a much longer journey that’s constantly evolving, so in that sense it’s a never-ending challenge. But once you tap into a feeling or vibe the songs tend to present themselves to you quite quickly.

You worked with a few producers on the new EP—among them Lotus Capo and Chris Zane. What do you look for in a collaborator?

You just need to feel comfortable enough to tell them your ideas. A judgement-free creative safe space. Writing songs is fucking embarrassing at times—I’m mumbling literal gibberish out of tune into a hand mic. Sometimes my initial lyrics are terrible. You need to be with someone you’re comfortable with enough to be criticised by, but also whose taste and talents you respect enough to receive ideas and advice from. You basically need to be each other’s biggest fan.

You spent some time away from music a few years back. How do you view that period now? Was it a case of figuring out and settling on what would work for you?

Being signed at 16, leaving school, and embarking on a whirlwind career of arena support slots, Brit nominations, big budget videos and major label pressure with, not only no previous music industry experience, but no life experience at all, was hugely jading. I was an actual child. I always joke that my version of freshers' week was going on tour with grown men for six months. Losing all of that was obviously massively upsetting and confusing and there is no after care—you’re the belle of the ball and then they never talk to you again and your strings are cut.

However, I also felt this incredible relief. Deep down I knew I wasn’t ready. I honestly had no clue who I was as a person—like all 19-year-olds. I was expected to be this confident, sexy, funny, stylish pop character, but I hadn’t even fully met myself yet. The time away was a huge chance to be my age, living independently in London, and just discover who I was. I made tonnes of friends who I’m still with now—I’d never had time before because I was always touring, so was pretty alone in the city—fell in love, got my heart broken, partied, travelled, and dealt with difficult situations with no support network to fall back on.

I look back on that time as the crash course that lead me to be who I am today. I am immensely grateful for it. And yes, had things have gone differently, had I been ready back then, I’d maybe be in a situation now that would look much more successful to those looking in—but I’m not about to be angry at my younger self for not understanding situations she wasn’t emotionally equipped for. And because of it all, how much I learnt and watched myself overcome, I feel stronger than ever these days. So, yeah. I’m glad.

There are a lot of expectations placed on young pop artists. Do you feel that stepping away allowed you to focus on making your own mark rather than following blueprints drawn up by a bunch of suits?

I feel like the expectations are much more real in a major label scenario. You’re a big budget product. You’re a high risk investment. So you can be assertive and demand certain things to go your way, but if the outcome doesn’t then match the expenditure you can kinda be made to feel you’re back at the whim of the suits.

While I’m not averse to signing to another label, the position I’m in now is a really great way of challenging myself to make all the creative decisions, after coming off the back of a project where I was often left feeling I knew the least. It allows me to be truly creative without this big corporate angle looming overhead. It feels like this big arts and crafts project. Much more soulful and heartfelt. I get to really collaborate in a hands on way with everyone I work with and then I get the final sign off, which is the goal really.

Going back as far as No Strings there’s been a rhythmic, fast-moving quality to your hooks. I think both the choruses of 23 and Work have it. Do you think there are building blocks from your early days still present in your new work, or do you feel like you’re in a totally fresh space?

Maybe? I’m still the same person so the same influences are still present. It’s just evolved a little now and I’m exploring different ways of expressing them. I’m too hyperactive a person to write slow moving, minimal hooks. I wish I had it in me sometimes as they’re obviously super popular these days but...I guess I’m still that 16-year-old brat at heart.

The 'Work' EP is out now.

Chloe Howl Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed January 23 2019 - LONDON Moth Club

Click here to compare & buy Chloe Howl Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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