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‘This is still the very beginning of my life’: In conversation with Fenne Lily

Ahead of her upcoming gig at Thekla, epigram catches up with Fenne Lily as she prepares to play her latest album live for the first time.

By Ruby Rogers, Third Year English

Ahead of her upcoming gig at Thekla, epigram catches up with Fenne Lily as she prepares to play her latest album live for the first time.

I want to start by congratulating you on the success of BREACH. It’s very beautiful, and something I’ve been able to relate to on a personal level. If you had to choose a favourite track from the new record, what would it be and why?

Probably Elliot. I mean I’ve only made two albums, but with both of those albums we got most of the way through recording and a song kind of – appeared. For the first record it was Carpark, and then for BREACH, it was Elliot. I wrote it by accident in the Airbnb when we were recording in Chicago. It’s the first song I’d written about someone else’s experience. It’s about my dad, and his dad, and the feeling of inheriting a sense of sadness, which is something I think about quite a lot with my parents. I feel like I’m scared of a lot of the same things they are – I’ve inherited their pain somehow.

Alapathy was the single you chose to lead the project - why was that? How do you decide which track to put out first?

It’s really hard. I have a couple of regrets about the track list. It can change daily. The track you think will hit the hardest is sometimes the one you least expect. Choosing a lead single is hard, but generally speaking, to lead with something that leaves more questions than answers is the way forward. I chose Alapathy as it’s more enthusiastic and rhythmic than what I’ve released in the past.

Was Alapathy a taste for a new direction you were going in?

Yeah, absolutely. I wrote this album in order to play it live; I have a really brilliant band who are way more capable than the parts I write for them. I wanted to switch things up a bit, be a bit more confident. I think I have a tendency to be a lot softer than I need to be because I’m nervous to move out of that space.

Credit: Nicole Loucaides

Throughout BREACH, you explore the sentiment of catharsis – the vulnerability of departing from adolescence into your twenties. After the release, did you experience any feelings of solace after putting these feelings out in the open?

It’s really hard to analyse, because on the one hand, yes. The release of an album to me is the ability to close a door and move on, which is really cathartic and relaxing. At the same time, this album was intended to be played live and I was doing it on my own on Zoom, and that was really sad. So, in some ways I feel like the chapter is unfinished. We’re starting the tour on the 22nd of November, and that is going to be the cathartic chapter-closing that I needed a year ago. I haven’t really had the chance to play these songs with the band. I feel like I’ve changed a lot since I wrote these songs - changed even more since I released them. I’m having to learn how to play them again because I’ve almost slightly moved on; it's like putting myself back in the shoes of my 21-year-old self.

BREACH sees you write more introspectively. Do you think this is a more authentic way of articulating emotions than the way you wrote about love and relationships in 2018’s On Hold?

I mean, it totally depends on the emotion. But yeah, I think. For a long time, I saw my identity as a kind of reflection of how other people saw me, so I knew that for BREACH I wanted to write more about how I saw myself, because I'm with myself more than I'm with other people. I wanted this record to be an exploration of learning: how to be alone but still struggling, the kind of dichotomy of feeling fine when actually, I'm really not.

After using solitude as a source of inspiration, like so many artists during the pandemic, do you think that music written and released during this time will serve as a sort of emotional hallmark?

I think anything written during this time will be comforting for people in the future because there's never really been a time when everyone is feeling kind of the same thing. It's almost nice. We're all kind of bonded by understanding, so if you've survived 25 years of your life without ever feeling lonely or separated from family, now you understand what that feels like.

Credit: Nicole Loucaides

Throughout your life you've lived in various places: Dorset, Berlin, even here in Bristol. Do you find that living in different environments can affect your writing process in any way?

100 per cent, and that's something that became really obvious to me during the pandemic because I was in my flat all the time. I was really struggling to write, even just diaristic songs about my own experience. I think being in one place is just an unnatural thing for us as people. I'm not saying we should all move out every year but it's really nice to feel like a stranger sometimes, especially if you're a self-conscious person or someone who criticizes yourself all the time. It's really healthy and inspiring being in a new place when you're just exploring – there’s this childlike wonder of everything being new.

Are there any artists, venues, or places in Bristol that hold a special place in your heart?

My all-time favourite venue to play is always going to be The Louisiana, purely because I really trust that they look after the people that are playing. The team are really cool, and the sound people are always really good. I like that closeness, that you-could-get-spit-on-your-face situation. There's a new place that's opened called Strange Brew by The Lanes and I've been to a few shows there recently.

What is your experience of being an artist in Bristol?

I mean, most of the momentum behind me writing is going to shows and seeing how my friends or new bands are interpreting their songs live. It’s just a cool place to be, to collect feelings from someone else’s music and then go home, and think “I want to replicate this, that was fun.” There's also just so many good bands too, starting all the time. If you get a chance to see Katie J Pearson, do, she's just so good live.

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Which artist would you say over the last decade has been an inspiration to you?

I know exactly who I'm going to say - Damien Jurado. He is my all the time, every time artist. His lyrics are poetic and very down to Earth, almost like a stream of consciousness, but not in a way that you can get lost in. I listen to him when I’m happy and when I'm sad - he's like my bread and butter. If I ever meet him, I'm going to have a fan girl moment.

As we approach the end of the year and it’s almost time for Spotify wrapped, which artists or tracks do you see being at the top of your list?

Potentially ‘When the Morning Comes’ by Hall and Oates. They're so good - I only realised they were good pretty recently and I feel like an idiot!

Do you think in your next project you’ll move away from your past sound? What does the future hold for Fenne Lily?

I want to get to a point where I've made a record that I'm 100 per cent happy with, and it hasn't happened yet. I love the last two records but at the same time I don't. I want to find that healthy point between being lyrically honest but not too honest, while being really solid live and playing to my strengths as a physical musician. I've set myself the target of making five records. I’d like to retrain to be able to do something else, just have another sort of career change. It's hard to say. I think it's one of those things where people say they’ll never have another baby, and then they have another baby. There’s a real cool feeling I get knowing that this is still the very beginning of my life.

Tickets are still available to see Fenne at Thekla on the 26th November. You can get them here.

Featured image: Ben Brook

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