Longterm Chlöe Howl listeners will already be aware that this bold, engaging singer songwriter has never exactly been shy of the odd expletive, but there’s one four letter word she always refused to use. “The word ‘love’ was banned in all songwriting,she says of her earlier releases. “I was totally opposed to anything affectionate. I was like: ‘I’ll never do that.’ Thinking back, I’ve figured out why: I’d never actually been in love.”

 

The Chlöe Howl ready to come out fighting in 2019 is a little bit older, marginally wiser (but not to the point where she wouldn’t still be excellent company on a night out), and — as you’ll hear from a raft of new songs that take a scalpel to the intricacies of modern relationships — she’s been in love. And fallen out of it. And done all the bits in between. On her freshly minted Millionaire EP there’s an unmistakable influence of the artists who continue to inform Chlöe’s pop sensibility (“I grew up with Robyn, I love Carly Rae Jepsen, I’m basically passionate about songs that make you want to dance but really want to cry”), combined with a robust sense of strength and self-belief. “I want the songs to be something that makes you feel emboldened to go out and demand the world for yourself,” Chlöe says. She sometimes uses the phrase cosmic soulto describe her sound, and her glitter-strewn modern pop sound is complemented by visuals that celebrate downplayed glitz and rough-around-the-edges elegance. It’s all topped off with some balloons she got from Brixton Market: My vibe, I’ve come to realise, is a constant battle between glam and tacky.”

 

Chlöe was 16 when she moved to London from a village near Maidenhead, signed to a major label and became one of 2013’s most hotly-tipped new artists. Smart, no-nonsense, enjoyably brash tracks like No Strings and Rumour reflected the duality of Chlöe’s passion for both pop and guitar bands, and saw her being shortlisted for both the BBC Sound Poll and the Brits’ Critics Choice award. Everything was going very well, until it wasn’t, and one winter when Chlöe was still in her teens she and her label went their separate ways — not a surprise to Chlöe, and maybe something of a relief, but still not exactly ideal. “I came off the back of a Brit nomination and being a priority artist at a major label,” she remembers, “and suddenly the strings were cut. It all went.” Normally when this happens to artists they leave the country for a bit to ‘find themselves’, or they cut themselves off from everyone and have a rethink. Chlöe didn’t leave the country (although she did have quite a nice holiday in Italy thanks for asking); most importantly, instead of cutting herself off, she discovered the social life that her punishing touring schedule had previously rendered impossible.

 

“I spent a solid six months meeting myself,” is how Chlöe puts it. “But I also spent that time meeting new people. I threw myself into things: if anyone invited me out Id just go there, on my own. I made a bunch of friends, fell in love, got my heart broken: all the stuff that makes you learn a bunch of life lessons. I let go of my ego in a bunch of ways and its been the most rewarding experience — I had to learn sometime, and Im glad I learned it then.

 

Chlöe didn’t want to rush back into music until one day, she recalls, “I realised: I really miss it. And thats when I knew I was ready to go.” Her fresh start was also a celebration of independence, which meant a deliberate avoidance of the too-many-cooks scenario of her career’s first chapter. Which in turn meant that while self-released tracks like Magnetic and Do It Alone showcased Chlöe’s swelling songwriting prowess, they also came out while Chlöe was managing herself. “It was hard,” she laughs. “I remember phoning my live agent at one point and going: ‘Er, how the fuck do you put on a show?’ There were many emails. So many emails. I was totally unprepared, but I did it, and I surprised myself.”

 

Now in 2019, and hot on the heels of 2018’s extraordinary Work EP comes a fresh Chlöe who, now having built a small team around her vision, is free from inbox overload and able to focus once more on the business of being a top-notch popstar. Working with friends and close collaborators can mean that video shoots, for instance, become all-hands-on-deck affairs: Chlöe laughs when she says they’re like arts and crafts evenings. And that’s just how she likes it. “With the space that’s freed up I’m totally back to feeling creative,” she adds. “For the first time I can remember, I feel totally free.”

 

Nowhere is that more evident than in the barrage of fresh new tunes in which the bravado of Chlöe’s earlier work remains, but this time alongside a more contemplative mindset. “Looking back at my younger self I see someone with a takes-no-shit attitude, but I also see a bit of a fantasy character,” she says. “I definitely wanted to be a girl who took no shit, but I didnt have the life experience and I’d never faced enough challenges to actually become that person.” The last few years, she adds, have seen her asserting herself more than ever, and from a lyrical perspective this means she now has the confidence to present her own vulnerability. “I was afraid to be vulnerable before,” she admits, “whereas now I realise vulnerability can sometimes be the bravest thing.”

 

Combined with last year’s Work release, Chlöe’s forthcoming Millionaire EP is the unmistakable sound of a young artist finally beginning to know herself — all without jettisoning the personality the UK fell in love with the first time round. Feelings of self-worth are explored on lead track Millionaire (“when you’re seeing someone and they’re acting like they’re a bigshot, you need to remind them: actually, my guy, you’ve got me, you’re already a millionaire”). Another song, tentatively called Sad Banger, is about the feeling of being in a relationship and sensing that the other person is cheating but hanging on to spare your pain. “I was actually the other woman in that story,” Chlöe confides. “Although can the record please show that nothing happened until he broke up with her…” Other new songs include Jealousy, in which Chlöe explores “various different themes around the fact that I’m awful to date” — it’s a song that suggests “if you’re not getting the attention you’ve decided you deserve, you should flirt with someone else in front of them, and if they act out of jealousy it means they like you. I mean, sometimes we all need to tap into our inner teenager.”

 

Sad Banger is a sequel of sorts to Do It Alone — it’s about the same relationship — and along with other new material it showcases Chlöe’s ravenous musical appetite, which has led to reference US acts like Kehlani and SZA without losing any of the sound fans have come to love. As well as a bunch of the new songs being ones Chlöe wrote with an ex (“when we split up I was like, I’m keeping these fucking songs), there’s also work with producer Chris Zane, “the one I always come back to — my pin in the map”, who’s been a collaborator since the Rumour EP back in 2013. Chlöe’s plans for their creative partnership are perfectly representative of her down-to-earth approach: “We’re just going to do a load of songs, then put them out. Easy as that!

 

And maybe — much as the contemporary pop world loves to overthink every step — it really is as easy as that. Take a gifted singer songwriter and captivating live performer with plenty to say, give her the space to figure out how to say it and the time to pinpoint who she is and then, well, chuck it out. “The Chlöe people met five years ago feels like she was a separate character,” Chlöe says today. She smiles. “Back then I worried a lot about whether people liked her, but now I kind of don’t care. Cos I like her.”

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