“I wanted to map out a chapter of my life and tell a story that was worth hearing” - hmv.com talks to Fenne Lily
When singer-songwriter Fenne Lily began messing around with songs as a bored 15-year-old, she didn’t know she’d started out on the path to making an album, but that’s exactly where she’s ended up.
Her debut, which is titled On Hold, is an accomplished collection of tender tracks, mostly recorded in Bristol and on the Isle of Wight with producers Tamu Massif and James Thorpe, as well as a single track with frequent PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish.
With On Hold now on shelves, we spoke to Lily about the making of the LP and why she channelled a bad break-up into a great record…
How did the experience of making your debut album compare to the expectations you had?
“I didn’t really imagine it would like anything because I’d never planned to make an album. I just recorded singles, I didn’t feel like I was building towards anything, I was just making songs with my friend. Then when I decided I wanted a band on it, it became something. It had no preconceptions, it was very organic and very easy. Not having a label and being able to source the musicians I wanted and do things when I wanted was very helpful.”
When did you realise that you might have enough for an album?
“I’d released three singles and I’d started to play shows, so to have enough music to be able to play shows, I had to write more songs. From performing live I discovered which of my songs worked well and which didn’t. It was probably a year ago that I felt like I had enough songs to make something, an entity. When I listen to records I listen to them all the way through, I don’t listen on shuffle, I wanted to map out a chapter of my life and tell a story that was worth hearing. A lot of the songs came after a break-up, so I finally had something to talk about. It really chronicles that time.”
Did you have a lot of songs to choose from? They always say that you’ve got your whole life to write your debut album…
“I’m not particularly prolific. I only ever finish songs I really love and that I’m happy to show people. I don’t write hundreds of songs and then choose the best. The selection process was between about 20 songs and there are 11 tracks on the record. Most of the songs are either from when I was 15 or quite recent. I picked the songs that told a story.”
How did the collaboration with John Parrish come about?
“I met him through Aldous Harding. She came to Bristol to record her album and I was pretty much the only person she knew in Bristol so she asked me to come along and take photos of her and we ended up doing a duet. So we met through. When it came to recording ‘Brother’, I knew his way of working and his attitude would work so well with that song. I reached out and he said ‘Yes’. He was great, he’s so talented, he plays so many instruments!”
What kind of album is it lyrically? Would you call it a break-up album?
“I’d like to think that it’s less of a reflection of the people I’ve fallen in love with and the effect they’ve had on me, and more of a reflection of myself. I don’t think I’m a sad person, but I overthink things and I worry a lot. I don’t like the word ‘anxious’, but it’s probably pretty accurate. I think of the lyrics are chronicling how my life has gone from 15 to 20, I’ve done my best to keep it quite simple and stream of consciousness. If you’ve been a teenage girl, you’ll find it easy to find yourself in there.”
How are lyrics for you? Are you writing things down all the time? Or do you need a melody to work?
“I’ve been writing for the sake of writing a lot. I never used to do that. For this album, I wrote to music, which was easier. I’ve been reading a lot more and I’ve realised I enjoyed writing for the sake of the writing. I get quite dramatic mood swings and I tend to write when I’m low and then read it back when my mood improves.”
Finally, was the album always going to be titled On Hold?
“I was really struggling for a title actually. I wanted something non-descriptive and open to interpretation, I really didn’t want something pretentious or that screamed ‘Look! I’m a wordsmith!’. I had a couple of other ideas, but it came down to the final day and I started thinking about how I felt during the writing and recording process, going from 15 to now, and I’ve only recently felt free and like I can trust myself to make decisions and I don’t need other people to validate them. I regard those years as being on hold and it’s nice to end that era.”