Fenne Lily makes tunes that are heartbreaking yet wonderfully hopeful.
"It feels like I've been pregnant for five years and now the baby's here; it's nerve-wracking because I've never done anything like this before, and I never thought I would. I've had to prepare myself emotionally. If it flops and no-one listens to it, or if people hate it, I'm not sure what I'm going to do..."
Dork has only been speaking to Dorset-born Bristol-based Fenne Lily for half an hour, but it feels like we've been through an entire therapy session together. Self-deprecatingly honest, she's understandably nervous about the upcoming release of her debut album ‘On Hold'. After all, she never even intended music to be her career.
"I just fell into it by accident," she begins, remembering stealing her brother's guitar as an early teen to prove she could learn it better than him. "I'd just sit in my room and play guitar... it's kind of sad," she laughs. "I used it to deal with the fact that I wasn't very good at making or keeping friends."
Fenne's lyrics, consequently, come from a place of social anxiety. "When I started writing I had my first boyfriend and was struggling to deal with the fact that I wasn't overly comfortable with going to parties and being a teenager; that I was anxious and I didn't really know that was okay. At that time I was like, ‘I'm a freak, all I want to do is cry...'"
Admittedly unsocial back then, one of her earliest songs, ‘Top To Toe', was the product of three weeks at an after-school club. "My mum wanted me to do something social, so I went to this songwriting workshop and wrote it. It was probably the most productive I've ever been," she jokes.
Soon after that, a friend convinced Fenne to upload her music to SoundCloud and live shows quickly followed. "I didn't have any other songs, so I started writing more in-between doing my GCSEs, AS-Levels and driving up to Bristol for gigs," she remembers.
Having grown up in rural Dorset to punk and Queen-loving parents, Fenne had learnt ‘Bohemian Rhapsody' word for word thanks to her dad by the age of just 10. "They had massive, eclectic record collections but I just thought, ‘I'll tread my own path, I'm not going to listen to your stuff', so I disregarded a lot of amazing music and listened to Kings of Leon and Elliott Smith for five years instead!"
She also remembers following Warpaint around the country with a friend at the age of 14. "We got her dad to drive us around, and he would wait in the car, read a book or go for a meal, and we'd sleep in the car on the way back," she recalls. "He was so sweet!"
Though there wasn't much of a music scene where she grew up, Fenne gained support from a group of older ex-industry friends who invited her to use their studio. "People that have worked in the music industry for a long time move there for peace," she suggests.
"It means they have a lot of time to give to people that they think would benefit. I had a few older friends in their 60s who invited me to their studio, so I immediately had a supportive group of people who were keen to give me their time which was amazing."
It's something that she thinks helped her confidence in the long run, too. "I think if I had started in London, or anywhere where there's competition in the scene, I would have been put off by it because I didn't think I was very good..."
Although she never intended to do music as a ‘job' - more for something to do - something that did impact her interest in music from a young age was being taken to festivals as a child. "Glastonbury, and a lot of hippy ones where there were drum circles," she recalls vividly. "That hands-on approach definitely came from my parents."
Before moving to Bristol around the age of 16, Fenne was comfortable with just her guitar; but when she arrived her perspective widened. "All the friends I made were in noise bands or doing weird experimental electronic stuff. And even though I didn't want to do that musically, the sense of community was a lot stronger in allowing people to have a say in my music and it being more of a group thing rather than me just sitting in my bed writing sad songs about myself."
Now, Fenne takes a bassist and drummer on tour with her - and it's something that's helped her mentally and musically. "Getting this band together has been helpful; there's a lot more scope to show they aren't just sad ballads about boys fucking me over. It's more like making something good out of something shit!" she suggests, brutally honest as always.
Although her songs are written from a place of sadness - it's impossible not to get choked up when listening to ‘For A While' - Fenne's biggest fear is "people thinking that I'm wallowing in feelings - because I'm not."
Rather than emotional, Fenne describes herself as an angry person. "I would rather shout than cry," she considers. "But it just so happens that my voice is super soft and I have to whisper everything, so people think I'm really affected by everything," she laughs, going on to explain the journey of songs that make up her debut album.
"They're all about the same break-up, but they chronicle being sad, then angry, then apathetic and then when you pretend you're not angry but you definitely still are."
The album's title track, ‘On Hold', acts as the final chapter. "It's about when the break up is done, and I'm finally okay with stuff. It's nice to have the start of the album sad, then gradually getting to a point where I'm cool with it. I feel like this album is a very accurate moment by moment narration of falling in love, breaking up and then falling back in love with being myself."
Instead of evoking a specific sort of emotion, Fenne just wants those who listen to her music to "feel anything" and be able to relate it to what's going on in their own lives.
After holding onto the songs for at least a year, she's adamant there'll be a quicker turnaround with the next record (which she started working on the day after finishing the first). "I got really attached to these songs and didn't want to change them; I feel that's quite unhealthy."
Before sitting down to prepare album number two properly, Fenne's going on a massive UK and European tour. "I'm excited," she enthuses, saying that touring is her favourite part of being a musician. "I only started writing songs so that I could play live.
"I've done a lot of touring on my own supporting people, and although it's really nice to jump in a van with a random band and play all their shows and talk to their fans, it's going to be really refreshing to talk to my own group of people that I've brought together," she considers, clearly eager to get on the road.
Despite an extensive run of shows and festival slots scheduled for the next few months, having fans of her own hasn't quite sunk in for Fenne. "It's mental that people are buying tickets to come and see me," she ponders humbly. "That's still insane - even if 20 people come to each show it would be an achievement!"
Taken from the April issue of Dork - order a copy or subscribe below. Fenne Lily’s debut album ‘On Hold’ is out now.