OF ALL the potential answers I was expecting rising RnB star Mabel McVey to give when asked about the biggest influences on her work, English indie music lyrics was not on the list. But that’s Mabel – who uses the single name professionally, like Madonna or her idol Beyonce – all over. While it was all but a dead cert that the youngest daughter of producer Cameron McVey and Neneh Cherry would follow her parents and older sister Tyson (of electro duo Panes) into pop music, the 21-year-old’s journey has been entirely on her own terms.

First single Know Me Better arrived without fanfare, posted onto Mabel’s personal Soundcloud account in September 2015 – although it didn’t stay secret for long, with Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac making it her Tune of the Week and inviting the young singer in for her first radio interview later that same month. A few weeks later, Mabel had signed to Universal; and a few weeks after that she made the BBC’s Sound of 2016 longlist.

Self-releasing was an ideal way to “test the water” for a young musician who describes herself as being “unsure of my own capabilities because of who my parents were”. Though Soundcloud has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks, with job losses and emergency fundraising hitting the headlines, it played a “huge part” in Mabel’s early career, as well as how she found new music.

“That it worked for me had a lot to do with timing,” says Mabel; who, although confident that she would have found another way to get her music heard had the platform not been available to her, still sounds delighted as she remembers watching the play count on the song rise every day.

But while her music is likely to be filed next to that of fellow Londoners Stormzy, Skepta and Raye (she helped out the former with some vocals in the Radio 1 Live Lounge just last week), some of Mabel’s closest collaborators come from the world of indie rock. Joel Pott of Athlete has been a co-writer and producer as far back as Know Me Better, and Kid Harpoon shares a co-write credit on her debut EP, Bedroom, released in April of this year.

“Joel taught me a lot about songwriting,” she says. “RnB can be quite aloof and cryptic, whereas indie is much more direct: ‘I walked into a room, you were wearing this…’, that sort of thing.”

Of course, Mabel’s lyrics are hardly that prosaic, but the straight-talking, semi-confessional style that she favours in her writing raises the bar on songs like ubiquitous summer banger Finders Keepers (sample lyric: “Don’t feel like you need to try and love me, ‘cause I don’t need a spiritual journey”). But are her lyrics as personal as they sound?

“My songs are all things that have happened to me,” she says. “”Yes, sharing super-personal experiences is scary, but I can only get up on stage and perform it if I really connect with the music. And it’s a way of processing things that have happened to me too, I guess.”

Although born in Malaga, Spain, Mabel spent much of her childhood travelling wherever her parents were making music. At home in London she was surrounded by musicians, thanks to Cameron McVey’s work on some of the biggest pop albums from the turn of the century: the debut albums by All Saints and the Sugababes, on which he had production credits, both came out during Mabel’s early childhood; while Massive Attack were also frequent visitors (their debut album Blue Lines was another of McVey’s). Mabel also spent a lot of time in her mother’s native Sweden and studied, as a teen, at Stockholm’s prestigious Rytmus music school – alma mater of the likes of Robyn and Tove Lo.

Music was an obvious career choice for Mabel, who has sung and played piano from a very young age. “Imagining it as a profession felt very natural to me, because of the way I was raised,” she says. “When you’re a kid, you don’t realise that this isn’t what everybody does for a living.”

Her time at Rytmus, where she studied songwriting and music production, was “incredibly useful”, and helped to bring some discipline to her creative process. “It taught me about control,” she says. “Not in a negative way, but in the sense that creativity can be really unpredictable. I also did my first co-write there, which has become an incredibly important tool for the work that I do.”

Swedish producers, she found, have “an incredible work ethic”, although the clean edges and infectious beats of pop’s sound of the moment are less obvious influences on her sound than the influences of her mother’s soul and jazz records, the 90s RnB she used to dance to in her sister’s bedroom and the percussive sound beloved by her maternal grandfather, a musician from Sierra Leone. Writing music has given Mabel a tool with which to explore her roots and figure out her own identity, although she adds that “wherever you are, it’s bound to affect your sound”.

“Growing up, I was confused about my identity: I felt like I wasn’t black enough to be black, but not white enough to be white,” says Mabel, who adds that she went through a phase of telling people she was Spanish but now proudly describes her heritage as a mixture of English, Swedish and Sierra Leonean. “Now, I feel lucky to be from so many places.”

The bouncy, dancehall-esque rhythm of Finders Keepers provides perhaps the strongest indication of that exploration of identity. A toe-tappingly sensuous celebration of female sexuality, performed as a duet with up and coming East London ‘Afro-Swing’ artist Kojo Funds and co-written with Mabel’s half-brother Marlon Roudette, it’s an exciting change of pace from the more soulful sound of earlier singles My Boy My Town and Thinking of You.

Mabel has also been very open about living with anxiety – although, she says, it has actually helped her as a performer. “Having to get up and get on with it when you’re having a bad day can really help you to focus,” she says. “Gigs are my favourite thing – even the not so good ones, because you always learn something.”

“I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up with creative parents and around creative people, many of whom live with anxiety. My mum would sometimes say that it was a beautiful thing, and that it would come in handy when making music – and it’s made me a more empathetic person.”

She adds that she hopes by talking about anxiety, she’ll help others to feel more comfortable talking about it “in the same way that my parents being so open about it, as well as my idols like Lauryn Hill, helped me. I want other people to see that it doesn’t have to be a negative thing.”

That the Bedroom EP was two years in the making should not be seen as a slight on Mabel’s work ethic. An album is, she says, “coming” – but only once she is completely happy with it.

“Albums are really important to me because of the way that I consumed music growing up,” she says.

“Solange’s album [A Seat At The Table] is seen as a modern classic, but it was seven years in the making. A piece of art like that can’t be rushed. I want some more time to work on an album, and to build up an audience for it.”