Interview: Fear of Men
“We want to look like we care about things”– Fear of Men on aesthetics, art and sneaking into Travelodges
I like to think that, in an alternative universe, Fear of Men is the auditory equivalent of that ‘how metal is your period ’Buzzfeed quiz: singer Jessica Weiss biting the heads off of bats and spitting the result onto canvas, while Dan Falvey chugs out an ear-melting, yet melodic riff. It’s a fantasy loosely based on the word ‘androphobia’, an anxiety disorder that literally translates as “fear of men”: something Jess was researching in her earliest days of writing songs, as well as a fantastic-sounding word that conjures up images of the most epic bassface.
To their credit, when I tell Jess and Dan this the pair of them break out into the sort of delighted giggles you wouldn’t expect from the founder members and creative forces of a band that takes their artistic intent very seriously indeed – while still readily admitting, with delight, that part of the reason that they chose their band name was that “lots of macho guys would really dislike it and they wouldn’t want it on t-shirts”. Formed in Brighton in 2011, Fear of Men have already made waves with a run of claustrophobic-sounding, shoegaze-inspired early singles, each of which came packaged with artwork and videos chosen and directed by the band themselves. An arts graduate who began making “weird, dreamy pop”as a means of soundtracking the short films she was producing for her degree, Jess is an intensely creative, thoughtful young songwriter – as well as being incredibly adept at sneaking a four-person band into a single Travelodge room when on tour.
“We didn’t want to make our first album until we were properly ready, and we knew what we wanted to say with it,”Jess tells me, when I ask whether the band’s somewhat scattergun approach to releases was an intentional creative choice or just the way that things worked out. “We didn’t start out with any long-term plan and kind of learned things organically when we first started out as a band, and I think that approach was a nice way of showing that we were learning about songwriting and our instruments. I think you can hear our progression over what we’ve released. I don’t find it very appealing when things start out fully formed – the bands that I like are generally those that developed over their releases.”
Released on red vinyl for Record Store Day – and everywhere else a couple of days later – debut album Loom sounds like a coherent mission statement, as well as the culmination of three years growth as a band. After working with a number of independent labels on their singles, the band has now found its spiritual home on Kanine Records, a small imprint based in Brooklyn, New York that courted Fear of Men mercilessly as blogs on both sides of the Atlantic fell for their aesthetic and dark, dreamy songs. Last year the label released Early Fragments, a collection of the band’s hard-to-find early singles and EPs for their growing US audience.
[Photo by Eleanor Hardwick]
It’s notable that Loom contains two tracks from that compilation, albeit rerecorded to fit in with the album’s narrative. Given that one of the original 300 white 7”s that Green Sea was pressed on resides in this writer’s collection, I was thrilled to see one of the band’s strongest songs to date given a new lease of life.
“That song has always been important to us,” Dan explains. “It’s the song where we came up with certain techniques that we like to use now, and that we’ve used throughout the record, so it made sense to keep it on there. The way the drums are played, for example, is quite stripped down – and this won’t be obvious to most people, but to us they sound almost like hip-hop drums they’re so bare.”
“There’s the backing vocals as well,” Jess chimes in. “We spent a long time working on different versions of pedals and echo chambers, and we found our own mixture of how we like things to sound on that song: up close they’re really kind of thick and distorted, but then when they sit back in the mix they sound pretty again. That song was used almost as a palette for what thereat of the album would sound like – we wanted to create something that was really cohesive and had an arc to it as a record, so we chose songs based on that rather than what was newest.”
Like most of Fear of Men’s creative choices, then, the album’s tracklisting is carefully curated to fit into the band’s aesthetic. Jess is only half joking when she says that the band spend as much time doing their artwork and design as they do on the music – herself and Dan, who she describes as having “a more practical eye”due to his interest in design, have produced all their artwork together. They often “pull in different directions”given their different influences, Jess says, which is why it’s when their ideas come together that they know that they have hit on the right concept.
Perhaps the most striking example was the band’s recent video to accompany Luna, the song that trailed the album proper. Co-directed by Jess and Dan with Brighton’s 4eyes.tv, the video shows the band recreating work by performance artist Marina Abramovic. In its most striking scenes Jess sings while staring into and through the camera, a live snake draped around her neck like the artist’s “Dragon Heads” performances.
“In terms of the aesthetic of the band, the way that we’ve done things has always been a bit of a reaction to some of the bands playing around London when we first started out – those slacker, stoner, four-guys-looking-like-they-really-don’t-care bands. We wanted to set ourselves apart from that and do something that we really cared about and that we were interested in. And that’s maybe a little more subtle, or cerebral – we want to look like we do care about things,”she said.
The band are now heading off to the US to play “just about everywhere”before returning to Europe and the UK with current touring partners The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. “None of us has ever really travelled before,”Jess says excitedly, although she admits that she plans to pick up a really good set of earplugs at the airport in order to muffle the sounds of drummer Mike Miles’ snoring. It’s all good-natured teasing though, as both Jess and Dan claim that the secret to surviving on tour is “just being in a band with people you really like, and get on with”. “I feel as if we could spend days together, working hard on stuff but enjoying it,”says Jess, who admits that the band has already started “discussions and little demos and things”for album number two. “If you weren’t enjoying it, just hanging out as people, then I don’t know what you’d be doing,” she says.
As a final nod to both the band’s diverse influences, as well as the passion they share with TYCI for female-fronted art, I ask them to recommend “a record, book and art”produced by women they admire. Broadcast’s 2005 album Tender Buttons is a unanimous choice, while Jess scores double points with Deirdre Bair’s biography of her favourite writer, Anais Nin. Finally, Polish archivist and Turner Prize nominee Goshka Macuga gets a recommendation – if her highly visual style based on curation and found objects doesn’t turn up in a Fear of Men video at some point I’d be very surprised.
Loom is out now. Fear of Men return to the UK in late June / early July with shows in Bristol, Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester and London. For more information, visit the Fear of Men website. And for more of Lisa-Marie’s writing, visit her blog.