It’s the ability to take your influences and make them your own, that indicates that you will have an impact on the music scene. Musically, Brighton’s Fear of Men echo the brilliance of 90′s shoegazers Lush and Curve. With lyrical references to Plath, Nin and Sartre they show that this band have brains behind their musical muscle. With the release of Early Fragments, a compilation of their early singles and an appearance at South By Southwest, they stand poised to make 2013 a very big year. Todd talked to singer Jessica Weiss about their ability to weave deep philosophical musings and brilliant music, without being ostentatious.
Todd: One of the things I admire most about the band is their willingness to reference great works of literature in a way that I haven’t seen since Morrissey did, many years ago. To what extent is the lyrical content of your songs important to the overall message of the band?
Jess: Thank you! I’m a big Smiths fan, so that’s nice to hear! To me, the lyrics are very important. I don’t really write music without lyrics and I fine tune them after they’re written, but I wouldn’t really write a song unless I had something I wanted to say. The lyrics basically are the message of the band.
Todd: You also tackle some topics that many bands would fear to touch, like birth control. There have been periods in history (the 60′s peace movement, early 80′s punk) that chose to discuss controversial social issues. Any sense of why bands seem hesitant to do this now, yet you seem to attack it as if it was normal?
Jess: It sounds silly, but it does feel normal to me- I can only write about what is moving me at the time. I wouldn’t really say I write about difficult topics, more that they come from a person with a definite view on life and I hope that manifests in the songs. I guess perhaps bands don’t want to be too preachy, which might steer people away from some topics, but I try to just write for myself.
Todd: Sylvia Plath wrote, “I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad. Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.”. Where do you think you fall on this spectrum?
Jess: It’s hard to define yourself really… I guess people I don’t know so well might perceive me to be quite breezy, but in general I’m an introspective person who prefers to spend time with people I know really well. I’m always active though, as there’s always something exciting to be working on! I’m a happy enough person but perhaps I feel more comfortable having a more melancholic, outsider attitude to life.
Todd: You’ve taken a couple of years before settling down to record an album. Was this part of the master plan or just happenstance?
Jess: It’s just the way it turned out. We’ve kind of always been busy, be it with touring or making videos or recording, and just generally living life (studying, jobs etc.) so it’s felt fast for us. We want to make a record we’re really proud of and we needed to try out different ways of working before we could do that.
Todd: My understanding is that you’ve finished recording your first full-length. How do you approach recording a album, versus a single? Will the album have a single coherent theme or will it more closely resemble what we here on the compilation?
Jess: It was a big learning curve to be honest. We’re going back into the studio when we’re back from America to finish it. There are definite lyrical themes, and I want the first and last songs to be a kind of manifesto of what we are interested in, but it’s not a concept album.
Todd: Whether it’s the Green Sea video or the cover art on your singles, the visual element of the band seems to have a great deal of thought behind it. Who shapes the visual image of the band and am I correct in assessing it as an important part of your aesthetic?
Jess: Thank you! It is very important to us. I work on it with Dan almost constantly- we always seem to have a packaging design to discuss or video idea to work on. We like to retain control of how we are represented, so we put a lot of thought into it. We don’t have brilliant photoshop skills so things often look a bit DIY due to our lack of know how. But we’re really proud when we look back at our designs and they show a cohesive identity. We’re very into archival documentation and classical imagery, which started off when I was interested in Egyptian statues after readings Freud’s ideas of the Uncanny, where he sees statues as a way to mourn for ourselves and our impermanence. I also like Walter Benjamin’s writings about myth, allegory and ruin, so all of this ties in to the imagery we use.
Todd: I’ve read interviews with great lyricists who talk about the challenge of making their words sync with the vocal melodies/rhythm during the development of a song. How does this process evolve for you? Do you generally write lyrics to match the music or vice-versa?
Jess: My favourite songs feel as though they come out fully formed, normally when I’ve been mulling something over in my mind for a while. There’s a song which will probably be the first on our album that feels really exciting to me because it was a very honest expression of what I was living through, and I hope that communicates well with people. Green Sea was like that, and Seer. Others like Born and Mosaic take longer- I know what I want to say, but finding the balance between meaning and the sound of the words can be difficult. I try to prioritise meaning but it is a balancing act.
Todd: We’re excited that we’ll be able to see you at SXSW this year. What does playing that festival mean to you?
Jess: It’s incredibly exciting for us. We’ve had bloggers in America like Gorilla vs Bear writing about us for the last year or so, so it’s going to be really cool to get to meet some of the people who’ve supported us, and to get to travel with our music is a dream come true. I just hope I don’t lose my voice playing 4 shows a day!
Todd: What’s next for the band, once your current tour is completed?
Jess: Finishing the album is our big priority! We’re also playing some more shows in France, and touring wherever we can. We might be back in the US in the summer too, which would be great as there are loads of places we’d like to visit as well as New York and Texas.