Following their 2014 debut Loom, Brighton's Fear of Men needed to clear their heads. They opted to retreat to rural England where they could focus on new material. With a lack of cell reception and a more minimalist lifestyle, the band found themselves rebuilding their sound with less clutter: The focus instead fell on the simplicity of raw, dark melodies and vocals, akin to PJ Harvey and Björk.
Comprised of Jessica Weiss, Daniel Falvey and Michael Miles, Fear of Men wanted their upcoming LP, Fall Forever, to be a stark contrast to their first album. For lead singer Weiss, their sophomore record, released earlier this month, is a diaristic response to a year of existential crisis. Fall Forever chronicles anxiety, death and grief, while tying classical art elements into its visual components (something that's important to Weiss, who studied art at Goldsmiths in London).
We hung out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Weiss and talked about the band's art-music connection, the pitfalls of super-intense love, and how to recover from a truly shit year.
Tell me about the new record. How have you changed direction on Fall Forever?
It's a more minimal, honest and stripped-back version of the band we were trying to become on the first record. So, we used a whole lot of layers, and I also used a lot of metaphors on the past record. I tried to move away from that and tried to be more direct. There are a lot of metallic textures and synth sounds [in the music]. And, there's a lot of intense emotional stuff: Intense happiness and intense loss.
Where did those intense feelings come from?
It's been a weird year...I've been working out a lot of different things. I've been questioning everything, and I think that kind of comes through in the music. There are a lot of intense love songs about wanting to build a world and completely give yourself to someone. Then, there are almost abuses of power when you're feeling that open to someone. To me, it's like my diary. The last song ["Onsra"] is very important to me, because it's about that feeling of completely loving someone and not trusting their feelings around it. Maybe as a pessimistic or realistic person you can just see the end in everything before it's even begun. But it's like, where does that lead to? For me, it's hard for me to enjoy any kind of moment because you're always worrying about the next thing.
It's hard to separate reality from your mind and your anxiety sometimes. You're also a sculptor and you do a lot of the artwork for the records. Can you tell me about why you like using classical art alongside your music?
We always like museum-quality imagery. There are various reasons why we like using classical art. I really like Freud's writing in "The Uncanny"—he specifically writes about Egyptian sculpture, so that was something that was at the forefront of my mind. I just think their aesthetics are beautiful. He talks about looking at a statue and the permanence and beauty of something that was made 4,000 years ago. It just kind of reminds you of your own death. It slightly relates to seeing the end of a relationship before it's even begun. Beauty in sadness is something I'm really into.
We started using found images on early fragments—debris from the Parthenon to go with the fragmented people and stories. On Loom, we took a step beyond that and built this sculpture based on the bodies in the ash in Pompeii. It was about this emotional looming of dust over you, being in between sleep and death. When I was in Rome in January, I saw this sculpture that I really loved. So, we bought a 3D scan of that [for the record art] and got various CGI people to make it cropped and gold, so you can't see their clothes or hair, so it seems timeless. There's some kind of passion, beauty and violence in that, which I really liked. It was about taking classical artwork and taking it forward and making it more modern, which is something we were going to do with the music.
Since we're looking at Egyptian art, has it influenced your music at all?
Yeah, for sure. Our first single [from 2013], "Ritual Confession," has Nefertiti's face on it. We used the image on a t-shirt as well. What we've done recently has been more Roman or Greek-based.
Very cool. What were you listening to when you made Fall Forever?
I try not to listen to music while I'm writing, because I'm afraid something will come out in my writing too obviously. Sometimes when I write songs I'm not sure if I've stolen it from somewhere. Some things come out fully-formed. Sometimes I'll just wake up and know how something should be. I try to limit things like that. I know Dan and Mike spend a long time working on drum sounds and they like bringing in hip-hop drum sounds, so they listen to a bit of that.
Photo courtesy of Grandstand PR
Your band name is quite striking. How did you land on "Fear of Men"?
I was just writing songs as a personal exercise about different phobias like "phantom limb syndrome" and "androphobia," which is "fear of men." I love that it can be turned around and be "what men fear" instead of "being afraid of men." There were so many skateboarding pizza bands around when we came out. It felt like something serious and different.
Do you ever regret sharing too much about yourself in your music?
With regards to talking about personal things, I want people to understand that there are real things that go into the songs, but I don't necessarily want them to know that I've had a really shit year. Also, the artists that I respect I definitely want to know everything about them. I find the stories behind songs very interesting myself. So, I get that urge.
What's the best remedy for a shit year?
Just change everything in your life.
What did you change?
Where I lived, what I was doing and how I saw myself. I felt like I had sank into this person that I didn't even recognize anymore. Writing songs let me think of myself as this strong, independent entity.