A gentle, atmospheric offering inspired by her relationship with her late Grandmother, Irish artist Fears has shared her latest single ‘tonnta’ via her brand new label TULLE. Born from her desire to mix things up and provide support to under-represented groups in music, Fears’ (aka Constance Keane) new collective is one we wholeheartedly support and look forward to hearing more from in 2021. We caught up with Fears to talk about the story behind ‘tonnta’, the beautiful accompanying video and how she manages to stay on top of the many impressive musical projects she’s involved in…
Congratulations on launching your new label TULLE! What inspired you to set it up?
Thanks so much, it feels great to get it out in the world now. I’ve been working on my music as Fears for a few years now, just self-releasing stuff and earlier this year I was thinking I’d like to find a proper home for it. It felt most appropriate for that home to be a label owned and run by not straight white cis men to be honest. I was working at a few labels in London and having these great conversations with women about setting something up. At the same time, I was doing some recording with my friend Katie O’Neill, who encouraged me and helped me think this is something I actually could do. The team so far came together really naturally, as we all have a shared want of mixing things up.
We’re always glad to hear about people mixing things up! There was some unwanted backlash on social media when you made it clear that TULLE would be supporting under-represented groups in music (women, trans women, gender non-conforming and non-binary folk). Were you surprised by this?
I actually wasn’t surprised at all and I think that’s the saddest part of it. Generally speaking, when you create something that isn’t directly serving a group of people who are used to being the ones in power, there’s going be some of them who are not into it. I’m at a stage with feminism right now where I think the best approach is to block and swerve those people. Conversations are important and useful when it comes to changing perspectives, but sometimes you have to weigh up if talking to certain people is worth the amount of energy it will cost you, when you could be using that energy elsewhere.
Your first release via TULLE is your own song, ‘tonnta’. It celebrates the life of your late Grandmother, while acknowledging her struggle with dementia. How did you find writing this song? Was it cathartic, difficult, or a mixture of both?
I actually wrote the song while she was still with us. I’ve been sitting on this one for about four years, it’s just taken me this long to figure out the best way for me to present it that I think honours her as a person. She had dementia for quite a long time and we were so lucky that it was a fairly slow decline. My Nana was incredibly good to me growing up, and it was really important to me to write about her and her wonderful soul, even while she had dementia. It’s a very scary and unsettling thing to watch a loved one slip away. But I think it’s really important to step up and care for them, like they did with us. I’m really glad I got to do that.
The single is accompanied by a beautiful DIY video. Love that you directed it, your brother shot the footage and the video features your Mum & sister (as well as pop sensation CMAT) What was the experience of working with your family like?
I love working with my family. I mean, we’re quite loud and direct with each other so it’s not like we’re sitting around smiling and holding hands 24/7, but we are very close. They’re so supportive of me, so this is definitely not the first time they’ve been dragged in to help me with stuff. I felt that for this release in particular, it would be very special to have them as part of it, once they were comfortable with it. For all of us, it’s been really lovely to have our Nana in our thoughts so much, have her things around us, speak about her, and celebrate her. Pretty much everything I do with Fears is extremely low budget and very DIY so having a family who enjoy doing things like shooting a video or getting into the very cold Irish sea is such a bonus.
The sea does look cold actually…Talk me through how you made the dresses in the video. Where did the inspiration for the shape and fabric come from? How long they take to create?
My Nana taught me how to sew when I was younger. We used to make aprons and skirts and stuff when I was a kid. I had a thought around this time last year that I wanted to try making a big dress for my live performances, sort of inspired by a photo of her from 1974, where she looks really confident and happy. It’s the single artwork for ‘tonnta’. My dresses are much bigger than that, as I wanted to capture that idea of taking up space. I get really anxious before I perform, so I wanted to make something that would help me stand up straight and own what I was doing.
My brother actually bought me the sewing machine because I was so broke during the first lockdown, as many of us were, so a big thank you to him. As I made the first dress, I got into a flow of it and found a feeling of connection to those childhood memories. It was then that I came up with the concept for the video, and started asking some women who knew what I was doing if they wanted to be involved. I then designed each dress while consulting each woman.
They do take a little while to make. It depends on the design and the type of tulle I’m using, but it is quite labour intensive. It’s worth it though, when you see the final product and the way the person looks while wearing it. I think wearing something big like that automatically gives you an air of importance that it would be great if women had automatically.
Be honest, did you trip at any point while running through that field in your dress? Do you have a reel of out-takes you’re willing to share with the world?
Hahaha, I didn’t trip, but I definitely fell over a few times while spinning around. I think one of the things I love about the video is that as it progresses, I put in clips that were less polished and us being messy in a field, screaming the Irish national anthem for whatever reason. I will release that clip sometime soon.
You’re a super busy woman – launching a label, hand-making bespoke dresses, creating music as fears and drumming in post-punk band M(h)aol too. Any tips on time management? That’s a lot for one person to undertake!
I guess I am quite busy. I also manage Laura Groves and work on and off at a few labels. My family always joke about how I’m like two extremes at the same time. I’m doing all this stuff, but sitting in my dressing gown drinking hot chocolate. I’m either switched very on or very off. I work really hard and then exist horizontally watching Real Housewives alone for hours on end.
I think my main tip is being honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and assessing what your needs are in order to help you get everything you want done. Most of what I’m doing is not making me money, which you need to do things like pay rent and buy food, so trying to get the balance right with that stuff is obviously key. Everything you do (even if you love it) is going to have its downsides and drain you at some point. I just try to evaluate everything as I go and check in with myself. I also go to therapy every two weeks which is absolutely vital for me, to have space to sit and assess, and be supported doing so. I enjoy hanging out with myself a lot, and know that I need to factor that in to any work schedule I’m making.
That’s great advice. What does early 2021 look like for fears and for TULLE? Anything you can tease us with?
The first half of 2021 will see the first full length release on TULLE. And that’s all I’m saying.
Thanks so much to Fears for taking the time to talk to us!