If you think there's a better lyric than â€śI'm just trying to work out how to be like myselfâ€ť to perfectly sum up the confused state most teenagers find themselves in then, well, no offence, but you're wrong. The epicentre of 18-year-old pop star ChlĂ¶e Howl's electro-tinged soap-opera-in-a-song Rumour, it's just one example of her innate ability to offer a peek into a world of teenage house parties marred by wandering hands, the hearsay fuelled by over zealous iMessages and the emotional upheaval that rests at the root of it all. Released as part of a free EP earlier this year that's seen praise from the likes of The Guardian, Pitchfork and the NME, Rumour and the sweary kiss-off of current single No Strings are clear examples of the sort of brash pop songs with scalpel-sharp wit that have been missing from the pop landscape for far too long.
Born and raised in the epicentre of boredom that is Maidenhead, ChlĂ¶e Howl (that umlaut is a glorious linguistic error she's had since birth) grew up in a mad house of people and pets. With five sisters and a menagerie of animals (including three dogs, four cats, a snake, two guinea pigs, a rabbit and two hedgehogs), ChlĂ¶e would often escape to the, er, local fields with her mates. â€śThere's just nothing. Nothing really happens. Me and my friends don't really go anywhere. Well, now that we've all turned 18 we can go to Reading, which is half an hour away. There was nothing really â€“ there's quite a few fields. We used to just hang out in fields.â€ť
Growing up on the hip-hop she'd hear blasting from her older sister's bedrooms and the New Order and Smiths records her dad used to play in the car, she knew music was what she wanted to do from the age of 10. While her friends wanted to know what the lyrics were to their favourite S Club 7 singles, ChlĂ¶e wanted to know what they meant. â€śI had to try and understand it, even with Spice Girls songsâ€ť. This passion for pop meant that as soon as she landed a recording contract at the age of 16 she decided to sack school off completely. â€śI always said I'd stay in school until something happened, so the whole time at school for me was basically a big social event,â€ť she laughs. â€śI used to use maths as an excuse for a bit of a chit-chat. So when I got signed I said 'fuck this, I'm going'. I would have failed my A-Levels because I didn't do any work. I just hated school.â€ť
Bored of being told what to do and how to do it, she took her vague interest in English literature (â€śit was the only subject I was naturally good atâ€ť) and channelled it into making songs other people could search to find meaning in. â€śI always say that all of my songs are little fables to go along with lessons I've learnt,â€ť she explains. â€śInstead of being 100% autobiographical I just think they're ways to act out something that I've learned, so it's sort of a guide book for myself. That's how Rumour came about â€“ they were all actual rumours that were going around. I like hearing them and working out why they've happened and what's going on in the heads of all the people involved.â€ť In fact, despite leaving the buzz of the school common room, ChlĂ¶e found herself embroiled in the maze of gossip even more than when she was helping instigate it all. â€śYou know what, when I was at school I had no problems with anyone,â€ť she says through a mischievous grin. â€śI managed to go through eleven years at school without having any major arguments or fall outs and then I left school and the fucking biggest amount of chaos happened. I was in so many arguments. It was just me being the fool and saying things I shouldn't. I managed to lose about eight friends in one go.â€ť
It's this inclination to be provocative and speak her mind through her music that's drawn favourable comparisons with Lily Allen. Just don't mention it too often. â€śOh here she comesâ€ť she sighs when her name is mentioned. â€śI don't really care because I was 10 when she came out. She's relevant to me in the sense that although I didn't really listen to her, all the artists that arrived in her wake that I am influenced by were in turn influenced by her. I wouldn't be getting it if I wasn't singing in an English accent, but I get that we speak frankly about stuff in a way some people wouldn't imagine young women to,â€ť she shrugs. In fact, it was the bruised heart-on-the-sleeve confessionals of Amy Winehouse that made more of an impact. â€śI used to go into writing sessions looking at her lyrics beforehand, so she's definitely influenced me lyrically. Me And Mr Jones, that one especially. When I realised there was a type of attitude I wanted to get across in a song I used to listen to that song and be like 'boom, this is how you get some balls',â€ť she roars, before letting out a delicious cackle.
It's these metaphorical balls that are displayed on the one-two punch of Rumour and the gobby, deliriously catchy Eg White collaboration No Strings, written after a particularly depressing house party turned sour. â€śI could see how sleazy this party was and everyone was just sort of hooking up in the corner. I started thinking, what is the actual thought process behind this? Why are people measuring their night out by how many people they get off with? In all the scenarios that I saw, the guy was the one in control and he was the one fucking around the girl. I just wanted to take the piss out of that culture.â€ť That incisiveness is also there on the slowburn beauty of I Wish I Could Tell You, which captures the confusion of a relationship crumbling, while Takes Me A Long Time picks over the remains of what happens when trust is destroyed. Perhaps her poppiest moment, however, is saved for the fizzing electro banger Paper Heart, a defiant anthem about boys being idiots. â€śI went to Manchester to write with Joe Cross and I was in the worst mood I think I've ever been in,â€ť she explains. â€śI feel so bad when I think about it now. I was in such a bad mood and then this really thrashy, electronic song came out of me.â€ť
Having collaborated with the likes of Joel Pott (who helmed the guitar-laden Bad Dream), Samuel Preston and Eg White (as well as working on sessions with Justin Parker and Richard X), ChlĂ¶e's ready to bring what she lovingly refers to as her brand of â€śsteak and kidney popâ€ť (â€śInstead of it being bubblegum pop â€“ it's filling!â€ť) to the masses. Having already played festival sets at Latitude, Somerset House and Wakestock, as well as her own headline show at London's Electrowerkz, things are happening at breakneck speed. Not that she's interested in the future just yet: â€śI don't really think about where I'll be in five years time. I never really think about the future. As soon as you start thinking seriously about the future that's when you start becoming a diva.â€ť That can wait until album number two.