An intuitive artist who transforms her darkest moments into graceful electronic soundscapes, Fears aka Constance Keane is days away from sharing her debut album, Oíche. Set for release via her own label TULLE on 7th May, the Irish-born, London-based musician balances her intense ruminations on trauma alongside delicate synth loops and tentative beats to shine a light on the fluctuating nature of mental health and the resilience that she’s gained from an honest approach to her on-going healing process.
GIHE Features Editor Kate caught up with Constance to talk about TULLE, the anticipations and events that went into creating Oíche, the importance of friends and family in that process and the hugely supportive women in the Irish music scene who help keep her going…
Hello Constance, last time we spoke in December 2020 you had just launched TULLE Collective. How have things with the label been since then?
Really good. Really, really good. I don’t think I expected the level of support that we have actually had so far, which has been quite reassuring. I kind of had no idea if people would actually respond, or if it would even be viable in any way – I just really wanted to do it. We’ve released a few singles now and the reaction’s been really nice. We’ve felt this community building around us which feels really special. It’s weird, because I’m using my own album as a guinea pig for this, so there’s double layers of emotional investment. So when when anything good happens, I feel it twice as much and it’s the same as when rejections happen too.
It’s not long now until you release your debut album Oíche out in the world. What are you most proud of about this record?
Finishing it was a really big deal. When I started writing music for Fears, I knew I wanted to put out just singles until I had an album ready. I wanted it to be an entire body of work, whenever it was ready. I feel like a lot of it is tied in together thematically.
Sometimes when you work on something for years – it’s been over five years I’ve been working on this – it can be really hard to decide when something’s done. Especially when you’re writing something and creating something that is so personal. Your life continues on, but you have to decide where you draw a line with packaging art made out of your experiences. It’s kind of been like deciding, for me personally, this one chapter can end and now I can begin work on the next one. It feels like not just tying up making an album but it’s like tying up a whole load of experiences as well.
You’ve been open about the context for many of the tracks on Oíche and how they are rooted in your experiences of trauma. When I listened to the album I found it quite uplifting – I noticed a genuine buoyancy to the music, even though lyrically it’s quite sad. Do you do this consciously to balance these contrasting emotions?
I enjoy listening to music that has a level of juxtaposition in it. I like listening to things that if you’re in one mood, you’re going to interpret it as devastating, but if you’re in another mood you’re open enough to hearing the uplifting parts of it. I’m really interested in how art in general is interpreted, so allowing space for the listener to project their own feelings that day onto my music is quite important to me.
I tried to create a sonic landscape that reflects what’s going on in my head at the time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to write really upsetting guitar lines, it’s more to do with when I’m in a certain headspace, I get very repetitive intrusive thoughts. So I like having the same beat going for the entire song or having a guitar line loop the entire way through to reflect that. The lyrics might be bringing you on a journey of progression, but the music might keep you stuck, or else I like to do it the other way around.
When I was writing the album I was processing complex PTSD and before that when I was in an abusive relationship, but I was still going to work and the world was still happening. I think in real life, we do have these heavy things happening to us but I think it’s important for my music to reflect the kind of day-to-day experiencing of these things.
The repetitive thought pattern was a big thing for me, because I’m a person who takes so frickin’ long to process anything. I’m a person that needs to talk about things loads and I need to sit with things in order to then move past them. I’ve pretty much always been like that. So having that repetitive nature in my music and lyrics is just a realistic depiction of how I deal with day to day life.
I mean, there’s points on the album where everything did stop. I think that’s important to acknowledge as well. A lot of the time we keep doing the day-to-day things as the situation is getting worse and worse and worse, so you end up not having a choice to keep going anymore. I wanted that contrast as well. I wanted to show the times where I had to keep going, but also where I had to absolutely pause and where I did basically nothing for months after having a breakdown. Then it’s about rebuilding yourself after that.
To me, Oíche is kind of funny to listen to, because there’s stuff that happened pre-breakdown, breakdown and post-breakdown. I mean, I didn’t organise the songs in that order, but I know where each one sits and that gives me a lot of hope – to have a full picture of it for myself.
It sounds like you’ve worked incredibly hard to get to a place of such resilience. When you decided to write about your experiences, were you nervous to put them out into the world? Of course, there’s a level of excitement and pride that comes with releasing a record, but have there been moments of hesitation about releasing music that’s so personal to you?
Yeah, I mean, parts of me still are. I’m very open to talking about mental health issues or trauma. I have no issue talking about what happened to me and my experience of things, I’m very comfortable doing that. To me, it’s actually easier to be honest about it, rather than having to come up with ways of down-playing things or making excuses about where I was at certain times.
I think it’s really important that when you’re doing that, you’re doing that knowing the other person’s interpretation of you is not actually anything to do with you. So, if somebody gets freaked out when you’re like, “Yeah I was on a psych ward for six weeks blah blah, blah,” that’s their own freak out to have, that’s not yours. You can let them hold on to that rather than them passing it on to you. But it takes a certain level of work to even get to that point. So I guess, at this point, I still have waves of feeling like, “Whoa, how am I putting this out after all this time? really?” But overall, I’ve just worked so hard on this.
I don’t really have high expectations for how anybody is going to listen to it. I would like people to enjoy it, but it’s more for me. It’s more of a personal goal of mine. I mean…obviously, please listen to my album and if you want to give me a 10/10 review, I’ll take it! But it’s more about me doing this thing that I said I was going to do, and me doing it in a way that I’m most comfortable with and that I feel I can enjoy the process of.
Well, I think it’s a beautiful record, so you will be getting a 10 out of 10 review from me…
Thanks! I’ve been super lucky in that I’ve had such a solid support system around me the whole time. So while people weren’t physically writing the music with me, I did have so much support from a really good friendship circle and a very supportive family to help build me up throughout this.
For my family as well, it almost feels like a success for them for this to be coming out. Because, you know, a few years ago – I was planning on not being alive. So when I was writing some of the songs on the album, I wasn’t writing them for anybody to hear them. We kind of feel almost giddy about it – it feels like such a huge thing to release work that was made at a point when the idea of releasing anything just wasn’t even on the cards. It feels like a personal victory.
My family are so excited. My Mum reads my different interviews and listens to my stuff on the radio and she’s buzzing.
I know your family help you with so much behind the scenes as well – shooting music videos, featuring in them etc. Do you think it’s strengthened your existing relationship with them?
Definitely. Going through stuff like that as a family can almost break you. When I had a breakdown, it was a really bad time as a family and they were super supportive. To see your family member that unwell is a really scary thing. I think that having them so involved in building this thing afterwards has been really nice, it’s been a really wholesome point of connection.
Filming my videos with my brother has just been hilarious to me. He didn’t film anything before this and he’s just done so much for me and this project. I think it was nice for him to be excited about a creative thing during Covid-19 as well. A load of this also just came out of the fact that I moved home when Covid hit in 2020, I moved back to Dublin for lockdown and…what else were we gonna do?
Do you have a favourite track on the album and if so, why?
I mean, it changes, but I have one at the moment. My favourite track is the opening track ‘h_always’. It’s my favourite because I haven’t touched it. I recorded it completely at the time of writing it, and that was in the music room of the hospital I was in.
I listened back to it and I almost – not in a mean way – but I almost laugh at myself, because I wrote it at a time before I’d realised a lot of things. I guess listening back to something where you were so sure of a different narrative and now you know the truth can actually be really good, because it reminds you that just because you think something is one way right now, doesn’t mean it’s going to be like that forever. So, for me to listen back to that song now and to be able to prove myself wrong – it brings me a lot of comfort.
There’s also just random bits that are recorded in it near the start of the song, if you listen really carefully, you can hear the noise of a tram going by outside the walls of the hospital. I recorded the whole thing just on my MacBook mic, because I didn’t have any recording equipment in there. I haven’t even tried to re-record it. I don’t want to. I just like it left that way.
You have been working on Fears for some time now, but I know you’re involved in other musical projects too. You’re in post-punk band M(h)aol, you’ve also been in one of CMAT’s music videos and you’re friends with Julie from HAVVK – who we also love here at GIHE. You’re part of this amazing community of female musicians in Ireland. Just take a few moments to tell me how great that is, because it looks great from an outsider’s perspective…
I love it so much. There’s such a level of women supporting each other in Irish music at the moment, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I started making music when I was 18 and if this had been the case then, I think I would have started out with a completely different level of confidence.
Back then, if you were on a line-up of four bands and there was one girl in one of the other bands, you were doing well. You used to go into venues and during soundcheck just feel quite uncomfortable and like you’re being judged. Whereas now I feel like there’s this network, even online, during Covid where no-one’s even playing shows, where everyone is supporting each other. There’s a real sense of camaraderie in it.
I think we have all grown-up around a similar scene and at a similar time. We’ve all had those experiences of feeling very alien to the norm in the Irish music scene. I feel so grateful that there’s now a space for celebrating something else and a real community where we’re sharing stuff that’s from completely different genres – like wildly different genres. My music sounds nothing like CMAT. At all. It doesn’t sound like HAVVK’s music, it’s totally different. But yet, these women are just really supportive. I think we all recognise how hard everybody works and we have a huge level of respect for each other in that sense.
I genuinely think that’s amazing. Here in London, aside from the GIHE community that I’ve surrounded myself with, I don’t see London or UK bands support each other in the same way that Irish bands do.
I think maybe it’s because we have such low expectations for success. Not in a bad way! I think that frees you up a lot because you just don’t interpret anybody as competition. Because you’re all just doing your own thing. In Ireland, there’s such a long history of gigs that you go to with three or four bands on the line-up that all sound very different because there’s not that many places to play. There are great places to play, but there’s just not that many. So the scenes in Ireland aren’t even necessarily built around the genres at all. I think that is kind of responsible for how there’s such an even crossover with stuff.
I find here in London, because I work in music here in London, a lot of the time people don’t share stuff that they didn’t work on and that’s so weird to me. I remember when I put out a song, I was really confused as to why people were privately messaging me being like “yeah, good job!” but no one would actually share it. I was talking to one my best friends about it and I was like, “it’s just so weird,” and they were like, “no, that’s how you do it here.” I think it’s a very different approach.
The Irish music scene is tiny, so if you’re mean to each other, it’s very awkward when you see each other in the shop the next day, you know? But you also end up getting to know people so well that any kind of preconceived notion you had of them beforehand is wiped away. So it’s hard to be jealous when you’re like “I know that person and they’re really sound.” There’s also a higher chance of actually getting signed here in London. The stakes feel like they are higher here.
That makes sense. As we’re a new music blog, we always ask artists to recommend an artist or band for us to listen to. You’ve mentioned CMAT and HAVVK, is there anyone else you’d like to give a shout out to?
Mia Sofia. She writes songs really poetic songs about literature and Irish history. Her lyrics and her voice are really beautiful and really honest and I feel very connected to them. I have essentially been friending her online for almost two years now. I’ve never met the girl, but that’s fine! I love her. I think she’s absolutely amazing.
There’s an amazing rapper and producer called Celaviedmai who I absolutely adore. I think she’s incredible. She just feels so authentic and so herself and that’s a wonderful thing to see. I always like to look up to people like that.
My friend Sarah Merricks is in a band called Pixie Cut Rhythm Orchestra. They released a song on Valentine’s Day called ‘I didn’t love you when I said I did and I don’t now,’ which is so, so good. Her song-writing is great, she’s just so clever. You can imagine her singing with a kind of smirk and I love that.
Thanks so much to Constance for chatting to us!
Pre-order your copy of Fears’ debut album Oíche here
Photo Credit: Bríd O’Donovan