Brighton trio Fear Of Men have been favourites on the site since their second single 'Mosaic' landed at the tail end of 2012. Last month saw them finally release their eagerly anticipated first long player Loom. DiS caught up with singer/guitarist Jess Weiss and fellow guitarist Daniel Falvey prior to the record's release.
DiS: What are you up to at the minute?
Jess: I'm working my second to last day in a guitar shop before leaving to go on tour.
Daniel: In the last week I've left my job, moved out of my flat and have been getting ready for our album release shows and tour. It has been a crazy time! Right now I'm preparing to send out the UK and Euro pre-orders for the album.
DiS: You're playing four shows this month, two in the UK and two in the States. Which ones are you most excited about? What kind of reception have you been getting in the States since SXSW last year?
Jess: We're excited for all of them! It'll be great to play a home show in Brighton - we rarely play here, so it should be nice to be in the company of friends, and London should be good too. Then we are off to New York for a week and then on tour in the US for 6 weeks with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, who are really good people. SXSW was a great experience for us as a band to get to play to so many new people, and hopefully some of these people will come out for the tour.
DiS: Will there be a full UK tour later in the year?
Jess: When we get back we have a few nights home and then we're off on a UK and Euro tour with Pains. We'll be doing our headline tour for the album in the Autumn after festivals, which we're really looking forward to.
DiS: What about festivals? Last year's set at Indietracks was one of my favourites of 2013. Do you think it's important for bands to play as many festivals as possible in the current climate not only to generate revenue but also potentially attract new fans?
Jess: Thanks, we had a lot of fun that day. We didn't get to hang around for too long, but it seemed like a really good atmosphere. Festivals are a great way to get through to new people for sure. Both our best and worst shows have been at festivals.
Daniel: One of the great things about them is they can take you to places that you would probably never go to otherwise. Probably our favourite ever show was Festival Normal in Monterray, Mexico. It was a beautiful setting for a festival, we were surrounded by green mountains and we went on just as the sun went down and you could really feel the excitement for the night ahead. It seems that the crowd had done their homework because people at the front were singing along, which was an incredible thing to experience when we were the furthest away from home we've ever been. Moments like that make us feel very lucky to be doing what we do.
DiS: There have been a couple of line-up changes since Fear Of Men formed. Who's in the current line-up (I noticed bass player Robyn Edwards wasn't in the recent press photos)? Will you be continuing as a three-piece for the foreseeable future or are you looking to bring in a fourth member? Does the dynamic change within the band when there are four members as opposed to three?
Jess: Our bass players have always been for live rather than recording or writing, and seeing as we'd had a few changes it seemed more honest and representative of the record to have three of us in pictures this time. We are still a four piece live, with Becky Wilkie playing bass. It's been hard to find someone as obsessed with music as we are, as the other bassists we've had have had other higher priorities, but as they've never been involved in the writing or recording the dynamic doesn't change.
DiS: Your long awaited debut album Loom is out on Bank Holiday Monday (21st). Was there ever a time when you didn't think it would see the light of day? Was it a long process putting the record together? Were there any unforeseen hold ups or delays along the way?
Jess: We're incredibly driven and single minded when it comes to our band, so it never felt like it wouldn't come out, however it worked out, and we wanted to labour over it and push ourselves to make sure our debut record was something we'd be proud of. It took us about a year of going in and out of the studio, as we funded it ourselves, so we had to keep working alongside recording. We were working all day, then heading to the studio at night to record until the sun came up, maybe catch an hour or two of sleep and then head back to work. It was quite a strange time.
Daniel: The way we recorded the album was time intensive itself because we used a lot of analogue equipment to manipulate sound, and with that the only way to do it is to just run it through and see how if comes out. Our backing vocals generally go through a process where we put them through plate reverb and an echo chamber then bounce them all down hard on to a cassette tape so they start to warp and distort. We recorded a string quartet and some other classical instruments on the album and put them through this process too. There's a fine line where the distortion is too little or too much and it varies on every part so it's quite a fiddly process. It was nice to get the time to experiment with things like that because before we'd mostly gone into a studio for the weekend to record a single very quickly. With the album we were able to spend a bit more time thinking about production, and one thing we wanted to do is to make it more reflective of the lyrics and ideas behind the songs, so we wanted to explore ideas of fragmentation and disintegration in the music too through things like tape manipulation and different textures.
DiS: Only 'Green Sea' and 'Seer' made the record from your previous releases. Was it your intention all along for Loom to be made up of as much new material as possible?
Jess: It was more about making a coherent album... We recorded probably another half album's worth of material, which we might come back to, but didn't feel right for this record.
Daniel: We definitely wanted to keep looking forward as much as possible. 'Green Sea' and 'Seer' are important songs for us and we felt they should make the debut album. They both helped us understand a lot about ourselves as a band. On both songs we explored techniques and sounds that informed the rest of the album, which is one of the reasons we felt that they worked with the new songs.
DiS: The opening and closing segments of the record ('Alta' and 'Atla') suggest it has a theme - concept even - running through it. Songs like 'Descent' and 'Inside' also accentuate this. Is there much commonality in what you write about or how you approach constructing songs?
Jess: There's definitely a common outlook on life that's explored in different ways across the record to create a prevailing theme, of introversion and disintegration punctuated with moments of connection. There's not a common way of writing... some just feel fully formed in my head and come out when I'm falling asleep, some take concerted work to fit the pieces together and try out different combinations of words, but they're all seeded from keeping a thousand notebooks with words and phrases and ideas that I like.
DiS: Talk me through the recording process? I read somewhere that you recorded Loom primarily at night in a basement studio. What influenced your decision to follow that as a course of action? Would you repeat the same process again in the future?
Jess: For one, it was a practical decision- as previously mentioned, we had to work through the recording process, so night time was a practicality rather than an aesthetic decision, but that helped to inform the claustrophobic feel of the album and created some interesting atmospheres which we fed off- lacking sleep can bring emotions to the surface and add tension in interesting ways, and the fact that we're just as close after the experience when we've been in quite intense situations together means a lot.
Daniel: Like Jess says, it was something that we just had to do really but we'd do it again if it was what it took to get an album recorded. We asked Julian, the engineer at Church Road Studios, if he would write about recording the album for the Art is Hard flexi-zine and he said one thing that I thought was funny: "I thought I would allow them the space to exhaust themselves, but they seen to know no limit" If there's one thing we have as a band it is stamina!
DiS: There's also a limited edition version of the record coming out for Record Store Day. How important is Record Store Day, not only for participating outlets, but also for artists to get their output recognised bearing in mind the high level of publicity it's now afforded?
Jess: We really believe in independent record stores and spending money on a beautifully presented record. We spend a lot of time on the artwork and design for our releases, so anything that's promoting that is important to us and cool to be involved with. Brighton has a really great record store, Resident, where I buy all my records.
DiS: You've also put out a magazine and flexidisc on Art Is Hard records this week. These type of releases were common place in the late 80s/early 90s with publications such as Spiral Scratch. I remember buying my first My Bloody Valentine single ('Sugar' flexidisc!) on one of these. Are you big fans of fanzine culture? Is it something you'd consider doing again in the future?
Jess: We're definitely a fan of DIY culture, and I think we'd always want to be making smaller, interesting releases like demo tapes and zines alongside LPs. Daniel: It was an opportunity to do something interesting with the single release and it was a good opportunity to work with Art is Hard, who we are fans of. For us, DIY culture is the opposite of apathy and cynicism. Those two things can sometimes feel quite overwhelming, especially on the internet, or in the music industry. At it's best The DIY community is the opposite of that because it is about doing something positive and pro-active. That's something that resonates with us so hopefully it's something we'll always be involved with.
DiS: Bearing in mind it's taken three years from your first release to putting your album out, what advice would you give to new bands just starting out? Do you think it's important for bands to worry too much about being signed in the current climate?
Daniel: I think it's important to have a clear idea about what you want to do from the start, just in the sense that the band should be an extension of yourselves. When we're not practicing or recording or writing we are doing artwork for the releases, or working on video ideas. When we're not working the band is basically all we do, so you really have to love it. I think we've seen a lot of bands come and go that maybe were trying to hop on a bandwagon, that perhaps wanted to be part of a scene more than they wanted to say anything with their band or music and when things get difficult that won't sustain you and keep you fighting for each other as a band. There can be a weird thing in the UK where a band's main priority when they are starting out is to get a lawyer. When we first put music online we got tonnes and tonnes of emails from lawyers and we ignored them all. Those very early days we met a lot of people who could only be described as sleazy and we made decisions then to try to not engage with that more corporate side of the music industry. Maybe it would have been better for us in the short term but we look back and we're very happy that we didn't become involved with all that. Being signed wasn't something we thought that much about - we definitely wanted to have a label to release this album but until we'd made it we were just focused on that really.
DiS: Are there any new bands you'd recommend for Drowned In Sound readers to check out? What about Brighton as a creative hub in general? Is there a vibrant music scene there?
Jess: Brighton is a great place to live for musicians as there's a steady stream of people moving in and out so it always feels pretty fresh. Two of my favourite local projects are Dog In The Snow and The Hundreth Anniversary.
DiS: Finally, what are the future plans for Fear Of Men? Do you set yourselves goals, targets or timescales in terms of releasing a follow-up to Loom for example?
Jess: Well we're already excitedly discussing ideas and working on demos for album two. I think we'd like to get recording in the Autumn, but how long it takes just depends on when we're happy with it. I guess there's a rough idea, but our internal quality control means that it will be ready when we feel proud of it.
The album Loom is out now on Kanine Records.
For more information on Fear Of Men visit their official website.