Fenne Lily in the spotlight

Fenne LilyTalented, young, funny, pretty... Singer-songwriter Fenne Lily has a lot of things going for her, not least of all her ability to adapt in an ever-changing music industry. The star-to-be self-released her debut album On Hold at the beginning of the month, in a week when every DW approved artist ever seemed to decide to rear their heads in one collective roar. The underground gem was followed up by a sold-out show in Bristol, but her hometown success is hardly surprising: she's worked tirelessly to foster the live scene and create solid foundations for her career since she was 16.

"I think the thing that's stayed with me from those early shows is the value of keeping up a relationship with every audience, whatever the size," she explains. "I've always connected with artists who come across as unaffected and genuine, on stage and off, and that's an element of playing live that I'll never leave behind - I think it's really important to make people feel comfortable, especially if the material you're playing is heavy or emotionally taxing."

Some might find the challenge of taking on a relatively large city and its music fans daunting, but not Fenne Lily: "I really feed off the kind of immediate, human gratification that comes from playing live, and knowledge of this satisfaction has always numbed any sort of fear or self-doubt before a gig.

"That's not to say that I don't worry about putting myself and my art on a platform to be judged, because that always has been and always will be a challenge, especially during my teens while I was massively struggling to see myself in a positive light, but feeling accepted and appreciated in front of a room full of strangers is so liberating and rewarding. At the moment, I can't see myself making music unless I have the chance to perform live."

This staunch independence is reflected in Fenne's approach to releasing records; from pressing vinyl to filming lo-fi videos, On Hold is an entirely DIY affair. Honestly, she admits her decision to record "without a label was mainly borne out of a slight "authority complex, but also the belief that if you are creating or have created something you truly believe in and are blessed with the means to see that project through with your own hands, there's no reason not to. Especially if you're still figuring out the intricacies of your craft and don't want to be swayed or moulded before you're ready to be, which is how I've felt until very recently. I wanted to maintain artistic control and integrity, but I also needed some time to figure out the kind of artist I wanted to be.

"This record would sound a lot different had I signed to a label and gone through that whole process," She continues. "Maybe it would be 'better' or more polished or have bigger names attached to it, giving the illusion of some kind of greatness, but I feel an immense sense of pride having made something out of nothing, with the help and guidance and love of my friends. If the right label came along with the right attitude and ethics, I'm not totally closed off to the idea of signing because releasing in such a DIY way isn't easy, but I definitely feel like this first record has benefitted from the time and space and attention that this way of working has allowed."

It's rare to find an artist who can look at her world with such clarity, but if you've learned anything so far, it's that Fenne Lily is not a normal artist. Yet despite all that she's done to date, she still doesn't feel like she's "the right person to give advice on the 'industry' as I've kind of distanced myself from it as much as possible! But I would say, find at least one person you can 100% put your trust in - mine is my manager. We've seen everything through together. I trust him implicitly and he puts up with a lot of shit. Also, be nice to sound guys, however rude they might be - they hold the power!"

Another string to Fenne's bow is, of course, her music. Organic, but also layered and emboldened; how her brand of country-tinged balladry materialises really depends on her mood at the time. She explains: "It really depends on what I'm writing about. The way my music has developed sonically has been entirely influenced by my state of mind - I started off kind of timid and sad, but as I grew up a bit and started being able to see the same situations from other perspectives in a deeper way, the sound that fitted my songwriting changed into something more multi-faceted.

"I'm massively enjoying playing with a band so I'm not planning to go back to solo guitar anytime soon, but I still really appreciate a more intimate, considered and sparsely arranged sound."

Of On Hold itself, she says "the tracks [she] chose to be on the record were the ones [she] felt most accurately chronicled" the five years of labour they took to create: "...The tween years, of social anxiety and heartache and self-depreciation, but also of finding my feet and becoming someone braver. Originally the album included a few more old songs, but I realised that it held the whole piece back, as an entity, and focused too much on how relationships have negatively affected me.

"There are three tracks on the record that offer a glimmer of something more than misery, and those are essential because these five years have been wonderful, not all about heartbreak and crying - it was important for me to include those moments!"

Fenne may say she feels anxious and sad at times, but that hasn't stopped her from expanding her contacts book for both work and play. From independent collective-come-management-come-booking agency Chiverin to tours in support of all the right faces, she says "singing with Aldous Harding on her latest record" was the most informative collaboration she's experienced so far: "Seeing how much attention she and John Parish paid to tiny, sonic details had a huge impact on my approach to On Hold, and lyrically she's such an accomplished artist - the darkness she dances around is intriguing and beautiful."

And then of course, "Tamu Massif has been involved from the start (he recorded and produced "Top to Toe") and he's got me comfortable with including instruments that "aren't real" (my words, not his). In the beginning, I was terrified of anything electronic because I thought it detracted from the vocal and compositional elements of my writing, so I have a lot to thank him for in terms of introducing me to new ways of working and being flexible and inclusive with sounds and instrumentation. A band called Champs did a lot of playing and backing vocals on the record - I've loved their music for a while. They (alongside James Thorpe who produced a lot of the record) could see exactly what direction I was going in, arrangement and production-wise."

Fenne Lily's On Hold is now available to purchase from here.


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    1. Fenne Lily in the spotlight – Live List - 25/04/2018

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