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February 2021

Fenne Lily: Life's a breach

Fenne Lily has accidentally made a record that’s very on-the-nose for 2020. Before anyone had even muttered “oh my god, what does self-isolating mean??” she holed herself up to pen an album that focuses on loneliness and mental health.
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Published: 8:30 am, September 28, 2020Words: Jack Press. Photos: Ben Brook, Nicole Loucaides.
Fenne Lily: Life's a breach

A trip through the Oxford Dictionary's definition of the word 'breach' can be a bit of a slippery slope into a whole new world of wordplay. A breach can be an act of breaking or failing to observe a law, and it can also be a gap in a wall or one's defence. For the Bristol-based singer-songwriter Fenne Lily, the title of her new record is a little bit like a loaf of half-and-half bread; the best of both worlds.

"It's about being okay with being alone," she explains, "but also recognising that I do need people, and I love, I don't know, being around people so I can't just be by myself all the time. It's like loving being on tour but knowing I need to be home, there's a lot of feeling opposites on this album.

"It's accepting that when you go up, you have to come down. For me, I'd like knowing that I can feel very, very, very sad one day and then a few days later be seeing life as a good thing again, and I didn't want to ignore either of those sides of my brain, and that's what 'Alapathy' is about"

Acceptance is a concept that cuts through 'BREACH' like a knife, taking on every topic under the sun and putting that sunken, solemn singer-songwriter spin on it. 'Alapathy', for example, is a made-up word that merges apathy and allopathic and is inspired by Fenne's experience of taking medication to improve her mental health, only to conclude that it didn't solve her problems. It simply treated the effects of her discomfort rather than the reason for it. The song encompasses both the double-sidedness of 'BREACH' as an album and the theme of acceptance, wherein Fenne accepts that there are other ways to treat yourself.

'Alapathy' is also the album opener proper, following the hauntingly raw introduction of 'To Be A Woman Pt 1.', and showcases a side of Fenne we've not yet experienced. It's lo-fi distortion, and punchy percussion see's the singer-songwriter shift away from Laura Marling-esque indie-folk towards a moe Soccer Mommy-inspired lo-fi take on bedroom pop. It's a shift in sonics that slides through 'BREACH', and was a sum of all of its parts.

"What I was listening to when I was writing it and what I was listening to when I went to record it was pretty different. Quite a lot of stuff had happened in between life-wise, so I was in kind of a different headspace. When I was writing it, I was in Berlin for some of it, and I listened to this record called 'Afraid of Everything' by Harrison Whitford, and I listened to it every day walking around.

"Then when I was recording, I was listening to a lot of Modest Mouse and Pavement, and my guitarist Joe is big into post-punk, and we did a lot of travelling together and I kind of absorbed a lot of his music taste. I like to just latch on to a music taste and make it mine for a bit, it makes me feel like an imposter in other people's tastes."

If being an imposter in other people's tastes was one aspect of 'BREACH''s creation, being an imposter in her own world was another for Fenne. Having spent much of the two years separating her cathartically raw debut 'On Hold' from 'BREACH' travelling the world touring her tunes, she, in turn, learnt a lot about what she wanted from the music she was making.'

"I just wanted to make something that I like and was closer to what I like as a fan. I wanted to make a record that felt like it would be more exciting for me and an audience to watch and play live.

"The live element of my job is what I feed off. I wanted to make it a bigger sound, because I wanted to include more musicians, and make it more instrumental and interesting in that way, but I don't know if I was really wanting to be more developed and be like 'look what I can do'. It's just more close to what I've been listening to and the way I want to play it when we eventually end up touring."

Fenne Lily: Life's a breach
Fenne Lily: Life's a breach
"It's about being okay with being alone"
Fenne Lily

As well as making an album that was far more fitting to the melodies she wanted to match, so too were the lyrical tales she wanted to tell. Having spent much of her career so far singing soberly about the breakups and breakdowns of past relationships, there was a part of Fenne that wanted to find a way out of being typecast in the role of the romantic balladeer.

"For once, I didn't really have a lot of romantic emotional turmoil, so that was quite cool to be able to start writing about something that wasn't based on a relationship breaking down or whatever, and to move away from that threat of relationships defining me."

"I think this record does have some parts about relationships breaking down, but it also has the other side of that which is relationships being created. There's a relationship which I didn't really look at before which is my relationship with myself, and not to sound pretentious, but you live with yourself all the time, and your main connection is with yourself, so it seems like an obvious thing that I didn't write about before just because I was distracted by other people. It kind of makes it sound like I think it's a selfish record, and well, maybe it is."

'BREACH' isn't as much selfish as it is indulgent, a display of affection towards the emotional effects of both growing up and growing into yourself, understanding who you truly are and who you want to be. On the brilliant shoegaze-meets-dream pop breeze of 'I Used To Hate My Body But Now I Just Hate You,' the storytelling songwriter set about telling a tale of two halves, or more importantly, two emotions.

"I had just been fucked around by someone, and I had a fever, and flu, and I was at home and I suddenly just got really angry. I was like, 'I feel like shit, my nose is so blocked, and I'm just really, really angry'. When I wrote that song, I was really, really angry.

"I had one last verse to figure the lyrics out for the next morning, and I decided that I wasn't angry anymore, and I appreciated that a good thing happened in the first place, so I wasn't seeing it entirely as a bad thing. I was in two minds, I was angry, but I was also thankful that it happened."

While writing her woes down on paper and putting them to her melodies is a natural occurrence, getting those melodies in order isn't as easy as it sounds on our eardrums. That song, as well as the album that surrounds it, was the result of a lot of to-and-froing from writing to recording to mixing.

"I wrote it so fast in one night, and I recorded it all as a demo, and I finished it, and I loved it, but it was kind of a funny song. I never took it to be very serious. Then we started recording it, and it felt so natural to make it and so unnatural to be re-recording it that I fucked the pace of it so much, and I ended up doing a really, really fast version in Chicago. I got back to Bristol and started mixing it and realised I wanted it to be a lot slower, and then I slowed it down, and I was like 'oh my god have I done the wrong thing?' I should've just gone with how it was at the beginning because it felt natural when I made it so I should've just stuck to that."

"I've been recording more at home, and that's something I've been really enjoying. For 'BREACH', I wrote a lot of it and recorded it as demos at home by myself, and I really enjoyed that part of it, so I want to get deeper into that. There's a song on this record that hasn't changed at all from the demo, just how I recorded it at home, and that feels weird; it feels almost too private. I just kind of sketched it out, and now everyone's going to hear it, it's called 'To Be A Woman Pt 1'."

While the writing of 'BREACH' began in her bedroom, Fenne wasn't quite as ready as you might think for the social paralysis a global pandemic brings with it, especially as someone whose tendency to create is often likened to a Duracell battery. In fact, it was a period of self-discovery that often drifted away from making music.

"I think it's been a choice because it's been really hard, and as much as I think creativity is something that shouldn't just be stopped just because you don't feel like it, it's been a choice because it's been difficult, so I've kind of just been like, 'you can stop because the world stopped'. I've been reading more and planting a garden, all of those classic quarantine things. In some ways, I do feel like sometimes I've been a bit lazy. Sometimes during quarantine, time has been going really weird, and I've been like, 'what did I actually do yesterday?' It's like we've missed an entire year."

Fenne Lily: Life's a breach
Fenne Lily: Life's a breach
"I worry about a lot, and stress about a lot, but that's not always who I am"
Fenne Lily

In many ways, for anyone working even remotely in the creative industries, it truly does feel like we've missed an entire year, and it's something that's left a bitter taste in Fenne's mouth as she reflects on her experiences in comparison to what they could've been.

"I was meant to tour with Waxahatchee and Lucy Dacus, and then I was meant to start a headline tour, and that's all been pushed, or cancelled, so yeah, it's a weird feeling. It's also weird to have written a record that's meant to be enjoyed live, and to then not be able to do that, and I realise everyone is having a hard time, and sometimes I feel bad for constantly saying 'I can't fucking tour my record', but it really is a bummer."

She might not have been able to take herself out on tour, but she's turned her frown upside down and taken to the bathtub to talk to her friends, which include the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Matt Maltese and her would-be tourmate Lucy Dacus.

"Igot this feeling that I was having conversations with interesting people who are my friends and musicians, but I never grilled them about stuff. I had this idea to get people I admired or had toured with or whatever to talk to me and ask me everything they have to ask, and I'd do the same.

"I shot myself in the foot calling it Bathtime, as I don't like baths and I don't have a bath in my house. I've been having to go to my boyfriend's house for baths, and it's become this weekly thing that I'm really enjoying, because I get to talk to Phoebe Bridgers, and Matt Maltese, and Lucy Dacus, and all my friends. I hate being in the bath, but it's happening every week until someone says 'this is boring and we shouldn't do this anymore', which I can then go back to having showers like a normal person."

Whether it's on record or on social media, being your typical average joe is at the heart of everything Fenne does, simply because it's all she really knows how to do. As much as she likes storytelling, she struggles to create a persona to play, opting to play herself instead.

"I think sometimes there's a weird crossover where you feel like you're giving too much of your personality away, and it always feels like you're doing your job or whatever. I haven't been able to make a character for myself, so I guess my character is just me, which sometimes feels bad and sometimes feels like the easiest thing to do.

"I think you can be as serious as you want. I sometimes get the feeling I don't have enough important stuff to say, so it's ended up becoming this thing that I just kind of enjoy doing. I worry about a lot, and stress about a lot, but that's not always who I am. My favourite people on social media are funny people, so I'm making what I want to hear, and I'm posting what I want to see posted, again, I sound so selfish, but it's how it is."

Whether she's sharing her suds or her sins, Fenne Lily has well and truly invited us into her world on her sophomore effort, allowing us to 'breach' the boundaries she set up previously to expose the different layers bubbling underneath. 

Taken from the October issue of Dork. Fenne Lily's album 'BREACH' is out now.

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