"It's hard to get my head around it," says Holly LÃ¥psley Fletcher. "Around the fact it's not about what grades you've got. I worry 'What if I have a test on this, and I fail, because I've not earned my stripes?'"
If the speed of Lapsley's ascent seems remarkable - at 19 years old, the past year has seen her move from sixth form college student to recording Long Way Home, her debut album for XL - it is testament to her talent, her musical and emotional maturity, as well as to the fact that she is that exceedingly rare thing: a young artist who knows her own mind about her music, her production, herself.
Although she played piano, classical guitar, drums and oboe, LÃ¥psley did not have a particularly creative upbringing; she was an academic all-rounder, her life equal parts schoolwork, classical music, a growing interest in a career in science. "But I was a creative person being suppressed," she says. "And I think what drove me to music was a fascination with this whole world that I didn't know. It excited me. And if I hadn't had this conservative upbringing I wouldn't have been so drawn to it."
In her early teens she discovered electronic music, began going to raves near her home in Merseyside, joined a band. "I was really into ambient music, and the space, and the beauty of it - it kind of reminded me of some of the classical pieces I knew," she says. Though she had already written songs on guitar, now she began to experiment with their production. "I enjoyed shaping them into a song that was sonically exactly how I wanted it to be," she explains. "Over the past few years, I've come to know how to make the soundscapes in my head."
She asked her parents for a cheap keyboard for Christmas, acquainted herself with Garage Band and bought a Â£90 microphone. "And somehow," she says, "I messed around and created 'Station'." More songs soon followed. "I kind of got addicted. It was like an art project. I could be a creative person for the first time in my life."
Her parents told her to stop making music until after her exams. LÃ¥psley rebelled, and continued to write in secret. "Every night I'd wake up at two in the morning and go downstairs," she says. "So all those songs were made at night, which is probably why it all sounds really sad and moody."
She was still studying for her A-levels when she posted her first EP on Soundcloud. Soon afterwards she followed it with the track 'Painter'. They were songs that revealed an artist who was sonically adventurous, but also gifted with an exceptional voice - rich, soulful, but also capable of a stunning falsetto. "And then blogs started picking it up," she recalls, incredulous. "I didn't even know what a music blog was. I printed out every single one and showed my mum. But then it just got out of hand. "
Approaches from record companies swiftly followed. "It's funny if I read through the email replies now," she says. "They were all saying 'So who produced it?' Me. 'So have you got a gig coming up?' No. I've got my exams."
She played her first show a couple of months later in Liverpool. Her next performance was at Glastonbury. The following week she moved to London, and placed her plans to study a degree in Physical Geography on hold.
Long Way Home documents a turbulent time in LÃ¥psley's life - a period in which she reveled in her new-found music career as it took her from Liverpool to London to Los Angeles and back again.
"It's an autobiography of my emotions and events over the past year," she says. "Everything that's happened, I've channelled in some way into a song - whether that's the theme of a long distance relationship, or something that he's said, or the way that I've felt, or an argument. I only revisit the memories of that relationship when I go into the studio. I
think it's helped me, to be able to collect everything for those moments when I'm writing. I think that's what's driven this album."
Often on Long Way Home LÃ¥psley recasts her romantic troubles in a different light - in the track 'Silverlake' likening the inevitability of the relationship's demise to California's dwindling water supply, or on fabulous disco number 'Operator (He Doesn't Call Me)' imagining the trials of a long distance lover in the telephone switchboard age, accompanied by YouTubed samples and a live bass part from veteran bassist Otto Williams.
LÃ¥psley's determined views on her own production have ensured her involvement in every element of these songs - a fact that in the early days seemed to confuse many of the producers she met. "They didn't want to listen to me," she says, "or they think a girl's just there to add a top line, or they come to the table with ideas already. Straight away if I come in to a studio and someone says 'I've written something for you', then I'll just walk out. I don't care. I'm not there for that."
For the bulk of Long Way Home she worked with XL's in-house producer Rodaidh McDonald. "This album wouldn't be how it is if it wasn't for Rodaidh," she says. "He's at the top of the thank yous." There were two tracks recorded with Paul O'Duffy, a producer she admired because "The way that he thinks is different to anybody else. He's not tainted by a commercial idea, it's so creative and beautiful and what I aspire to be like in the future."
She worked with Mura Masa for the album's closing track, a song that gave the record its title. "That lyric about taking the long way home just sums up the relationship," she says. "It has two different meanings: the album's about a long distance relationship, but also if you walk the long way home with someone, you're trying to spend as much time as you can with them."