Fenne Lily On Former Selves, Aldous Harding and Relationships
Rising English folk singer Fenne Lily has finally released her debut album, On Hold, and she spoke to TIDAL about the time spent on this first album, her work with Aldous Harding and the relationships that have shaped her life.
Your backing band on the album is the group Champs. Did their musical approach determine any direction on your album? How evident was their contribution?
I always tend to map out the sonic structures of the song before we create them, so they filled out parts, like a bassline or a drum fill that I felt I needed. Their contributions were heavily influential. A lot of time in the studio, after the writing and performing, is spent just hanging around and noodling, trying things out. Learning how they prefer to create sounds and tones really informed my work.
A lot of the music written on the album has been in your life for some years. How did it feel to include your former self on your debut album?
It was such a relief. It was like sitting on a secret for years. In that respect, it is great. On the other side of the coin, I’m still living two years behind my current headspace, so I have to be singing songs and promoting the album and being excited about it, but I was most excited at the beginning of that journey.
Ultimately, it is something that I’m very proud of. It’s taken a lot of my time and my manager’s natural hair color (laughs) because we’ve done it all ourselves; it’s been stressful, but worth it. It’s like a weight off my shoulders, even though it is only the beginning of the process.
What was the first song you wrote that ended up on the record? Can you tell us about that time in your life?
When I first started writing music, an official release wasn’t really in the cards. I was writing because of the natural impetus. ‘Top to Toe’ and ‘What’s Good’ were the really early songs I was figuring out. ‘On Hold’ and ‘Car Park’ came later in the recording process, and, mentally, it’s hard to really say my headspace has changed. I think, possibly, it could have been influenced by what music I knew was going to heard and what music I wasn’t sure was going to be heard.
I wanted the record to chronicle my formative years and it ended up chronicling my different writing processes, as I grew.
At the core of the album, is this a documentation of expectations in relationships? Are those just romantic relationships?
Yeah, I think people may see this as a ‘break-up’ album, but it consists of many different relationships and many different years. I was trying to capture myself through these writings about relationships. It’s not about these boys, but how the patterns of choosing the same kind of person makes me feel. It was a pattern of having these relationships end the same way.
‘Car Park’ was a song that made me realize this album would be about the ending of these relationships that disrupted. ‘Brother’ was about brothers, of course, and ‘On Hold’ is about friendships. All of those are important in the painting of myself, because I don’t want to always be dwelling on these negative feelings, because it’d be really easy to see me as a shitty person with all of these shitty relationships.
‘Brother’ made me see my life as the product of all of these relationships and the realization that the elements of my life, like the people around me, are determined by my choice and I’m not a victim of this cyclical ‘expectation vs. reality’ problem that has been the focus of my musical output so far.
One of the more remarkable lines of the album is in the opener ‘Car Park,’ where you sing, ‘I don’t believe in luck/so I am giving up.’ Could you unpack the context of that lyric?
I wrote that song after everything else for the album was written; ‘Car Park’ was supposed to be the beginning of the next collection of songs. I had all these unfortunate ends to relationships and with the person I am currently with, I realized ‘it’s not luck, I’m the kind of person who wants to be with that kind of person.’ I was giving up on the side of myself that is easily swayed.
I wanted the first song of the album to be my favorite, at that time, and to set the tone for the album. I’m a very self-conscious person, more like I wouldn’t be my friend if I was me. I hope that people can walk away from the record thinking that I am not as vulnerable as I seemed at the beginning of the album.
How do you think your music videos have supplemented your vision for the album?
Initially, the only thing I wanted to make sure of was that I was in each music video. I mainly wanted to project an emotion in each video, not so much a narrative. I wanted to represent visually how I think I was expressing myself sonically. ‘On Hold’ was written about the kindness of a stranger and I wanted a video that called upon that. I think all of the looks of the videos come together by accident, it’s just sourced from what I liked at that moment.
What did working with Aldous Harding on ‘The World is Looking for You’ teach you while you were making this record?
I met her through her ex-boyfriend at a venue in Leeds. I didn’t see her for a few years because she lives in New Zealand. She came back to Bristol to record and she didn’t know anyone. We hung out and she said she was listening to ‘Top to Toe’ and she wanted me to sing on her record. I was nervous because I had never sung on another person’s work before. We sat in this room and starting singing together, not realizing it was recording and it was done. She seems to work so impulsively and scattered.
She has this incredible darkness that she is dancing around. Her transparency on the record and being so self-contained that people cannot interrupt your process in studio were some of the things I took into my own recording process. I did not tune out input, but her clarity in what she wanted was so refreshing to encounter in those two days in the studio.
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