Like most good art, Brighton, U.K.’s Fear of Men present a debut so rife with mineable meanings that this interviewer found himself discussing a never-intended (but feasibly workable) metaphor with its authors. And, yes, we really should say authors—guitarist Daniel Falvey and singer/guitarist Jessica Weiss set out to form a definitive artistic statement, that is, “a full album.” Fear of Men’s Loom is a fully immersible world of its own.
Indeed, you should dive in to this album—there is plenty of water imagery in Weiss’ lyrics through which you could swim, for 11 songs—and no doubt it has a high factor of re-spinability. But aside from its rich themes, how did Loom get here? With its own brand of heavily melodic, guitar-centric pop, one that employs swift, skittering rhythms and a tasteful deployment of decorous effects—it’s all at once dreamy and disorienting.
“We are very interested in opposites,” Falvey says. “In light and dark and, like you say, placing abrasive textures next to purer sounds. The water imagery in Jess’ lyrics, for me, ties into a wider theme of being overwhelmed, of drowning or being suffocated by a weight on top of you…this sense of being engulfed really influenced me in terms of guitar layers I put down and the overall production of the album.”
The album was recorded underground in a small studio near Falvey’s home, a claustrophobic space where the pair admits succumbing to an “internal pressure” that they started to explore. “So, at times, the mix is very densely layered,” assures Falvey. “We really enjoy exploring the possibilities and potential of a studio.”
In 2011, Weiss was completing her fine art and history of art degree at Goldsmiths University of London when she met Falvey, who studied English (as well as the guitar) at one of her exhibitions featuring her experimental ambient compositions (often used as soundtracks for her short films).
Not too long after they’d gotten to talking about music, the idea of a writing/recording collaboration came up and, later, a proper band formed with drummer Michael Miles. Weiss considered it “a very organic and natural thing to start the project, but we’ve always had a passion and a drive to do something interesting with it.”
We’ll get further into the “interesting” part in a bit. First, the “drive.”
“The recording experience (for Loom) was pretty intense,” Weiss assures. “We were working in the day to afford the studio time, then recording through the night and either sleeping in shifts or going home to grab a couple hours’ sleep before then heading back into the studio. I’m proud of us that we’re still close friends (with drummer Miles) and excited to be working on our next recording after living like that for a year…trying to push ourselves to be better was frustrating at times.”
Weiss has a very alluring voice but her lyrical phrasing, the words she illuminates with that woozy croon of hers, are varyingly devastating, provocative and soothing. The sweetness of tone pulls your ear in, but then: “I’ve tried my best to destroy you / but the waves keep washing over me.”
And Fear Of Men is all about that balance that Falvey mentioned, the textural and tonal elements that bounce and reflect each other. The essence of Fear of Men’s allure shines in that harmony of Weiss’ wispy voice billowing around the shearing, spacey jangle of the guitars; those kicking drums that communicate an almost danceable beat to your body. There’s no other word for it: dreamy!
“There’s an element of self-destructiveness to it, too, I think,” Pavley says of a song called “Waterfall,” the first proper song on Loom after a brief introductory lullaby. It has intertwining guitars that reflect a double-tracked vocal, the two sets of twins gliding together over driving percussion as it’s eventually “engulfed” by an eerie ambience; a fuzzy kind of feedback roar that spills over the tracks concluding measures.
“[It’s a] pulling at the corners of these pretty songs that have something darker at their core,” Falvey says. “I got very interested in using backwards guitars on this record as background textures. They have a quality to them that sounds like they are clawing at something…pulling at the corners of a song and dragging it under.”
Remember, they spent a year “underground” recording Loom. But what could have become a predominantly dreary (claustrophobic, or, worse, distractingly gothic)-sounding record becomes enriched, not just by the pull of the percussion or the curious atmospheric effects they employ, but particularly by Falvey’s guitar experiments and Weiss’ wonderful wordage: going “beneath the water,” being “swallowed by shadows” while you remain “perfect, still, on the surface…,” thus, exploring themes of sleep as a sea and drowning merely as a transitory dream until you reach the other shore and awaken. And while I had read all of the lyrical references of mirror images as a tie-in to a “loom” that forges separate strands of fabric together, it turns out that Weiss and Falvey were going for “looming” shadows over people.
We could go a lot deeper than that, particularly with an English major and an art major in the band. Indeed, as Falvey admits, “This band takes up so much of our thoughts that nothing is trivial, it all has to add up and make sense to us.”
We should note, though, that they created the sculpture seen on the album cover (inspired by figures trapped in ash by the ancient-era eruption at Pompeii.) “We were very exact with the installation for the album cover, even to the positioning of the fingers on the sculpture,” Falvey says.
Take that level of meticulous care, just on the music’s cover art and then imagine how they approach compositions of catchy, complex, conceptual pop. You’ve got a formidable finished piece.
“I certainly feel that music is something to be considered and enjoyed and I’m incredibly pleased when people take the time to analyze our lyrics,” Weiss says. “But, I think it’s legitimate to enjoy music in a less obsessive way. I think that there are still music fans out there that have a desire to understand more about what they’re listening to, perhaps as many as ever. Still, I do think it’s a shame that fewer people listen to albums as a whole though—singles are often not the most interesting thing a band is doing.” Right, some bands are doing more, like creating sculptures.
After Loom’s release last April, Fear of Men started turned heads as openers for Pains Of Being Pure At Heart in the U.S. They joined those same contemporaries again for a tour through mainland Europe this month.
Their favorite experience, above all, has been simply releasing Loom. “Because,” Weiss says, “so much time and effort and thought went into making it that it is extremely gratifying to come to these far flung places to play it to people.”
Listen closely. It gets deep!