ALBUM: Fears – ‘Oíche’

An intuitive artist who has transformed her darkest moments into graceful electronic soundscapes, Fears aka Constance Keane has shared her debut album Oíche. Released via her own label TULLE, the Irish-born, London-based musician balances her intense ruminations on trauma alongside delicate synth loops and tentative beats to shine a light on a personal metamorphosis.

Much like the coarse fabric she used to create her altruistic dress on the album’s artwork, Fears allows her lived experiences take up space and permeate this record, which swells with unflinching honesty and elegance. Oíche, meaning “night”, is a graceful collection of shadowy lullabies that spans five years of emotional territory for Fears, and the result is a truly immersive and enlightening body of work.

Since it was written & recorded in the music room of the hospital she was once an inpatient in, opener ‘h_always’ has remained untouched. “I’m black and blue / on the inside too” she softly repeats, juxtaposing her emotions alongside ward paraphernalia and atmospheric guitar lines, capturing a mindset that is revisited, dismantled and rebuilt over the course of Oíche.

She taps into the fluctuating nature of her mental health with magnetic synths and soft percussion on tracks like ‘bones’, ‘daze’, ‘vines’ and ‘Blood’, each embellished with vocals that ache with gentle sincerity. Her cyclical, buoyant synth loops mirror intrusive or recurring thought patterns, whilst her lyrics capture the mental push-and-pull of processing, accepting and learning to let things go. This is epitomised on ‘Fabric,’ which resonates deeper each time it’s listened to.

Her moving account of gripping her knees tightly while confessing “I’m so sorry for the mess I a made” on ‘dents’ is deeply affecting and marks a change in the record’s tone. The instantly mood-lifting ‘Brighid’ – a home-recording of Fears’ sister and late Grandmother in casual conversation – invites listeners to share in an intimate family moment. It beautifully precedes ‘tonnta’, where Fears weaves memories of her Grandmother into her lyrics, crafting a fitting tribute to the person who originally taught her how to sew.

The resilience of her familial relationships are acknowledged on the album’s poignant closing track ‘two_’. Whilst it centres around Fears’ own experiences of self-harm, the repeated sentiment “If not for my family / I’d never have healed” is deeply moving. It’s this unwavering love and support – whether from others, or mined from deep within herself – that’s helped to shape Oíche and why it’s such a cathartic, cohesive collection of songs.

It is a privilege to listen to this considered, intensely personal record.

 

Order your copy of Fears’ debut album Oíche here

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Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

INTERVIEW: Fears

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

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Photo Credit: Bríd O’Donovan

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

ALBUM: New Pagans – ‘The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All’

An intuitive rumination on the personal and the political, New Pagans‘ debut album The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All is a gritty, deeply poetic consideration of inequality and social injustice. Released via Big Scary Monsters, the Belfast band’s first full length record dives into the paraphernalia surrounding religion, romance and women’s pain, and resurfaces having transformed these tired archetypes into aural talismans of strength and defiance.

Formed of Claire Miskimmin, Cahir O’Doherty, Conor McAuley and Lyndsey McDougall, New Pagans blend elements of post-punk, grunge and pop to explore internal & external conflict in their music. On their 2020 debut EP Glacial Erratic, the band crafted six abrasive, yet melodic tracks that have formed the foundation for their first full length record. With the addition of five new songs, The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All is a sharper, fully fleshed out vision that sees the band’s scathing, yet sensitive approach to song-writing flourish with defiant flair.

“The demand for perfection is disturbing,” sings vocalist Lyndsey on opener ‘It’s Darker’. Based on a real life confrontation she had at a party with an aggressive male musician, the track will strike a chord with anyone who has had their opinion publicly devalued. “Everyone’s looking and I’m upset” she reveals, working through the unsettling feeling of being spoken down to via relentless riffs and commanding percussion.

Informed by overheard conversations on a Belfast bus, ‘Charlie Has The Face Of a Saint’ flows with a stream-of-consciousness narrative. Throwaway phrases like “I’m doing my part” or “You’re easy to have when you’re down on your knees” float above the loud/quiet verse/chorus structure, with the conflicting voices unable to provide answers, they simply exist in the ether. The spiralling ‘I Could Die’ follows, with its manic riffs and urgent vocals, before the powerful ‘Bloody Soil’ breaks through. It feels like the soundtrack to a social uprising, with its intense riffs and chant-able chorus.

A tribute to the sister of artists William Butler and Jack Butler Yeats, ‘Lily Yeats’ is an aural confidence boost to the song’s protagonist, and to the women who need encouragement to step out of their brother’s shadows. “My daughter needs to know that she can do the same,” sings Lyndsey over erratic riffs and pummelling beats, before dual male/female vocals drive home the message that it’s everyone’s responsibility to amplify the volume of women’s stories.

Lyndsey’s sharp focus on weaving her own stories of pain, self-autonomy and motherhood with other historic female narratives is the lyrical lifeblood of the album. She allows her own joy, grief and frustration to run parallel to others, with the band’s driving rhythms creating a musical space for the resilience and strength of these women’s histories to shine through. Singles ‘Harbour’ and ‘Yellow Room’ epitomise this.

On ‘Harbour’, Lyndsey celebrates the joy and the struggle of her own pregnancy, while on ‘Yellow Room’ she unravels the conversations around women’s mental health and the lack of support that new mothers often receive. Inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s semi-autobiographical short-story The Yellow Wallpaper, ‘Yellow Room’ is a racing, urgent exploration of female isolation. Through the medium of Gilmans’ text, the band traverse these underlying doubts via crystalline vocals and charged, powerful riffs, challenging and updating the narrative around women’s mental health.

A humble, shimmering ode to the perseverance that’s needed to keep a long-term relationship going, the band’s treatment of love and its many faults on ‘Admire’ is far more romantic than any Valentine’s bouquet. “Let’s preserve our old ways / let’s preserve them always” sings Lyndsey, her voice floating above atmospheric guitars and swirling bass lines. The song builds to a cacophony of shoegaze noise, removing all sense of doubt about remaining faithful to your partner.

On ‘Ode To None’, the band rip up more outdated traditions of conventional storytelling, declaring “We’re the new pagans / dedicated to nurture”, while on the aspirational ‘Natural Beauty’, Lyndsey dismantles what it means to be an ambitious artist. It serves as a reminder to take your art seriously and to have confidence in your abilities, which is wonderfully expressed in the empowering sentiment: “It’s in her destiny to be better than you.”

A riotous, refreshing call for accountability and a take down of sexist double standards, ‘Christian Boys’ seethes with righteous fury against the unfair judgement of women who are involved with hypocritical men. Based on the experiences of Lyndsey’s friend – who had been having an affair with a Christian leader in Northern Ireland before his marriage to a virgin bride – The urgency in the repeated lyric “Christian boys are the worst I know / Christian girls should take it slow” exposes the hypocrisy underscoring the track’s narrative, calling out those who blame others for their own mistakes. It’s a powerful and necessary statement to close the record with.

On The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All, New Pagans uproot musical genres, challenge stunted narratives around social history, gender and relationships and manage to cultivate a powerful sonic resilience against them. It’s a hugely refreshing and impressive album that deserves all of the praise it’s received so far.

Order your copy of The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All here.

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Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

ALBUM: Anna B Savage – ‘A Common Turn’

An exquisite unravelling of the self that’s layered with melancholy, joy and wit, Anna B Savage‘s debut album A Common Turn is a compelling collection of deftly crafted songs that enrapture the ears. The London-born, Dublin-based songwriter has channelled her feelings of grief and insecurity into a confident and cohesive record, cauterizing the emotional wounds of her past and taking charge of her future.

Released via City Slang and produced by William Doyle, Savage’s debut LP is a raw yet polished affair that brims with her eccentric observations about love, growth, working “really fucking hard” and most surprisingly, her admiration of birds. Having had a fascination with them since childhood, Savage uses birds as a visual motif throughout the record; their recurrence acting as warnings, epiphanies or reassurances that eloquently shift Savage’s narrative perspective.

The skittish, evocative opener ‘A Steady Warmth’ bleeds into the congenial acoustic guitar strums on ‘Corncrakes’, her confessional lyrics bringing her vivid inner monologue to life. Savage admits she doesn’t “feel things as keenly” anymore and struggles to break relatable bad habits: “I want to text you / but it’d mean I’d thought about you.” Her willingness to explore this rocky emotional territory is epitomised on ‘Dead Pursuit’.

An affecting, defiant ballad that sees her tear herself “limb from limb”, Savage penned this track whilst grappling with imposter syndrome after the success of her 2015 debut EP, which caught the attention of Father John Misty and Jenny Hval who she went on to tour with. It’s humbling to hear Savage lay her insecurities bare and comforting to see her desires for quick fixes – “I’m dying my hair and cutting out sugar” – didn’t stop her from fleshing out the sounds on her beguiling debut record.

The urgent line “I want us to thrive” is delivered with deft conviction on ‘BedStuy’, whilst the serendipitous creation of ‘Baby Grand’ and its forthcoming accompanying short film – which Anna worked on with ex-partner Jem Talbot – is “an exploration of the how and why some people just crawl into your heart and make a home there.” She displays the sheer power of her vocal range on ‘Two’ amidst raw guitar twangs and unexpected jagged electronics. They punctuate the track, as Savage sits in pensive reflection in her childhood bedroom, fearing she will “never amount to anything.” She lets the walls echo her doubts back at her, pushing her emotional resilience to its limit.

The album’s title track ‘A Common Tern’ is a brooding exploration of Savage’s need to be free from the shackles of a pernicious romantic relationship. The track shares its name with a seabird, the sight of which prompted Savage to re-think her relationship while on a fishing trip with her ex. These startling moments of realisation are tentatively placed throughout the record, with following track ‘Chelsea Hotel #3’ showing listeners just how empowering a break from your past can be.

It’s an intense, exquisite celebration of female pleasure and how Savage has learned to dismiss the damaging tropes associated with it. Fans of Leonard Cohen will be familiar with the opening lyric – “He was giving me head on my unmade bed” – as it’s paraphrased from Cohen’s track ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’. Through tentative guitar sounds, revealing lyrics and measured vocals, Savage subverts Cohen’s storytelling, re-writing the narrative to rid herself of shame and confusion. When she sings “I will learn to take care of myself” it’s with genuine, unfaltering conviction.

Savage’s lyrics continue to ripple with an earnest beauty on ‘Hotel’. The image of the red foam left in her bloodied mouth after vigorously brushing her teeth is strikingly poetic. “I turn the big lights off / I put my headphones in” she sings, indirectly instructing listeners the best way in which to let her sounds sink into their consciousness. The stripped back, bare nature of closing track ‘One’ is a potent wish to be “strong and fine.” “Jesus I’m too insecure for this / for him to undress me then take the piss” Savage exhales, grappling with emotional sore spots and physical unease with ones self. She handles feelings of shame and melancholy with impressive tact and sensitivity, healing open wounds by confronting her vulnerabilities head on.

“For me, ‘a common turn’ is those moments of decision where you think ‘I’m not taking this anymore,” Savage explains about the title of her record. “Whether it’s the way someone else is treating you or the what you’re treating yourself.” Her poetic refusal to be erased by the pain of her own experiences is what makes listening to A Common Turn so compelling. Savage’s patient, captivating soundscapes traverse intensely personal terrain, and what a privilege it is to be allowed into this vast, wildly honest territory of hers.

Listen to A Common Turn on bandcamp or Spotify

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Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut