Three years ago, after passing her GCSEs, Chlöe Howells signed a record deal with Columbia. She always wanted to make music and had no shortage of material to draw on. "I was 16," she says when we meet at a cafe around the corner from her home in east London, "so I had a lot of bitchiness to talk about."
Since then, she has written around 60 songs. On the strength of those released so far, honed into slick, attitude-heavy electropop by producers such as Eg White (Adele), she was included on the BBC's prestigious Sound of 2014 poll. Ellie Goulding nabbed her as a support act for her European tour, which wound up at the O2 in March.
Howells, who grew up in Berkshire and has been recording music since she was 10, didn't just crop her striking red hair and drop a few letters from her surname in the process of becoming Chlöe Howl. She also dropped out of school. Was that a tough decision?
"No," she says, her laugh ringing out through the hushed cafe. "I did so little work." Her only regret, she says, is not being able to experience university, by which she means "living in a really messy flat and getting drunk all the time. I would have liked to have those teenage years when you mess about and do stupid things."
This is not as frivolous as it might sound. The messy business of being a teenager is the very stuff of Howl's songwriting. Her lyrics, drawn largely from personal experience, cast a sharp eye on commitment-phobia, lopsided relationships and, on the recent single Rumour, the dark power of gossip.
"I'm unfortunately a little bit of a gossip myself," Howl confesses. It was only when she left school, stepping away from her tight-knit group of friends, that she felt its effects. "I became a target, and I could see that when you're that age, naturally you're going to make mistakes and be a bit of an idiot, because you're trying to work out what kind of person you are. So I wanted to write a song that was like, come on guys, go easy on each other."
She's on good terms with her old schoolfriends now that they've moved on to university – but how does Howl feel about entering the public eye, where gossip about you, channelled through the media, takes on a much greater force?
"There have been a couple of things that I've freaked out over because they haven't been true. You read an article that you thought was a standard interview, and then the headline is, 'Chlöe Howl Hates Miley Cyrus'. I'm like, 'Oh no, I didn't say that! I just said that she doesn't wear many clothes!' And then I get all this shit from her fans." She throws up her hands. "But yeah, I think it's just part of the whole deal."
The journey towards pop stardom has been a learning experience. Characteristically, many of the lessons learned have ended up in Howl's forthcoming album. "I feel like it'll be a reminder of stuff that I should never do again," she says. "It's like a little guidebook – a guidebook to Chlöe's life."
Chlöe Howl plays the Scala, London N1 on 25 September; her debut album is due in early 2015
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