Fenne Lily on “BREACH” | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, October 25th, 2020  

Fenne Lily on “BREACH”

Breaching the Void

Sep 17, 2020 Photography by Nicole Loucaides Issue #67 - Phoebe Bridgers and Moses Sumney
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On paper, 2020 looked like being a busy and exciting time for UK singer/songwriter Fenne Lily. Appearances at SXSW, U.S. dates with Waxahatchee and Lucy Dacus, before an extensive tour of the UK and Europe to promote her second album, BREACH, meant her diary was pretty much full. Enter a global pandemic and, instead, Lily is sat at home dying her hair chatting to Under the Radar. “It could come out a really unusual color if this is a long interview,” she quips.     

Lily seems philosophical about how COVID-19 has affected her year. “I was bummed out missing those shows,” she reflects, “playing gigs is the thing I really love to do, but on the positive it’s given me a lot of space personally. The bottom line is the pandemic is awful and so many people have lost their lives, which is just fucked.”    

If her 2018 self-released debut On Hold was an album informed by external relationships then BREACH is one of cathartic resolution, and of exploring her relationship with herself. “This is going to sound really shit,” Lily laughs, “but I wanted to prove that a girl with a project isn’t just writing about the men that affected her life. I was very happy with the reception On Hold got, but I was slightly irritated that it got pigeonholed as a break-up record.”     

After touring On Hold, Lily felt the need for isolation so she booked herself a one-way ticket to Berlin and checked into an Airbnb. She spent much of her time there alone, “learning to be my own company,” as she puts it, whilst writing, drinking lots of coffee, and exploring. She even visited Berlin’s notoriously exclusive sex and techno club The Berghain. “That was a weird experience,” she recalls, adding, “but I got a nosebleed and I had to leave! It wasn’t even down to doing anything hedonistic like coke, it was probably down to stress!”        

Unfortunately, when she finally flew home she found all her work had been erased. “I wrote so much in Berlin but somewhat stupidly recorded it all on my phone,” she laments. “My phone broke and the data wasn’t backed up, so basically I lost a month of recordings.” However, when she had settled back into a rhythm of normality, fragments of the songs she’d written in Berlin started to come back to her. “It felt genuinely cathartic,” Lily says, “a bit like going into an exam knowing you hadn’t revised and then finding you kind of innately know the answers, which was really satisfying.”    

Although Lily was adamant the album wouldn’t dwell on messy relationships, they do surface on tracks such as the beautiful and acidulously witty “I Nietzsche.”    

“Some things are inescapable and do seep through,” she admits. “I guess that’s always going to happen when you write about interpersonal shit.”    

She actually wrote “I Nietzsche” as a joke initially. “I was dating this guy who read a lot of Nietzsche,” she reveals, “and he started saying things like ‘we feel this’ and, ‘we think that,’ and I asked, ‘Who is this we?’ And he’d say, ‘Oh that’s just me and Nietzsche,’ which made me realize that, A. He’s the worst person in the world, and B. Nietzsche is a pretty dangerous person to align yourself with. There’s a line in the song ‘You get off to God is dead’ and I distinctly remember him not wanting to have sex but wanting to read his book instead which I found was the most insulting thing ever, like—‘I don’t want your body, I’d rather just read Nietzsche.’”    

BREACH is also Lily’s first album for Dead Oceans, who made contact after she opened for Andy Shauf in New York. “Pinegrove were playing next door. My plan was at the end of my set to just drop my instruments and run over to their show. So as I was running out I was intercepted by someone from Dead Oceans. At the time all I could think was, ‘Fuck man, all I want to do is get to see Pinegrove.’ But they are the coolest nicest people and the only ones I spoke to whom I thought wouldn’t try and mould or change me. Actually, Phoebe Bridgers came to a show in L.A. and told me I couldn’t have made a better decision, label-wise. Mind you I wasn’t listening to everything she was saying as I was so amazed at how absolutely incredible her skin looked close up, I mean how can someone look even more perfect in real life? So perfect she’s almost like a fucking alien!”      

The pandemic has affected all aspects of music and Lily, who started out playing gigs at the much-loved Louisiana in Bristol, is worried about how grassroots venues will survive.    

“The Louisiana treated me with so much respect,” she says. “It’s hard to express just how important playing live has been for me. It’s more than just having a place to see shows, it’s about having a safe space and a sense of genuine community. If all of that is allowed to die it’s going to massively affect grassroots music and even the sort of people who will be able to make music in the future.”  

[Note: This article originally appeared as a bonus article in the digital version (for tablets and smart phones) of Issue 67 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.] 

www.fennelily.com

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