Building A Community: Fears Interviewed

Building A Community: Fears Interviewed

Exploring loss, creativity, and personal evolution with the Irish artist...

“For the first bunch of shows, my attitude was: I’ll just accept my fate for the next 45 minutes. I guess I’m here now so I may as well do something.”

Fears aka Constance Keane is sitting in her Shankill Co. Dublin home, her dog blissfully unaware of any music talk. In an expanding music scene, it’s bizarre and comforting to speak to someone from the same locality. “I’m just excited to be talking to someone about my work who’s from around here. Loads of my videos are filmed on Shankill beach and Shanganagh park. Normally, I’m trying to explain 'well, there’s a park nearby' but you actually know where these places are which is really nice.”

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Her time is split between the Dublin suburb and the city of London where she has been carefully planning her debut show in the UK capital. “It’s taken me three years of living there on and off to find the right venue, the right line up, the right promoters and to feel like it’s going to be the most accurate depiction of the record. I take a really long time to do things.” Playing Chats Palace tomorrow (May 7th), Fears will be joined by her Tulle collective peers as they celebrate the year anniversary of her debut album ‘Oíche’. Joining her will be Aja Ulma, Lapsley and M-Press who have supported and been involved with the Tulle label. “To be able to go together on Saturday night and share this moment on the year anniversary of the release of ‘Oíche’. I’m really excited to be sharing a stage with them.”

“I’m excited to be doing a show in a venue which is locally-oriented. Chats Palace is owned by Hackney council and for me, that’s really important. I wanted it to be a community space to reflect the ethos of, not only of Fears as a project but also the label I run, Tulle. The whole ethos behind it is about being uplifting and helping to empower voices who aren’t as focussed on in music a lot of the time.”

Performing doesn’t come naturally for Keane despite being involved in two Tulle projects, Fears and the band Mhaol. “I’m getting better at it now but it was never a natural thing for me to be a performer. I started out with the performance side of things because it felt like a necessary part of the project rather than something I grew up wanting to do.The more I do it, the more I start to explore different parts of my personality which is really enjoyable. I started to find ways to make it fun for myself. I started making all my costumes that I wear. I decided to buy a fake ponytail and dyed it pink.”

“Once I put it on my head, I decide I am Ariana Grande. She feels very far away from my day to day personality to be honest but I’m loving it. Having those kinds of things has been really good to give me enough separation from my day to day life so I know it’s time to perform.”

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As well as running a label, being a solo musician and part of a band, Keane designs pieces made of tulle for others and for her performances. The flowing fabric is ethereal looking, formless and always in motion like a changing cloud. “I wanted to find a way to disguise myself and putting on this massive dress felt like some form of armour. It’s almost so ridiculous but it frees you up to be able to perform in a way that I personally wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. I can take risks in my performance. My favourite thing to do is make eye contact with people and stare at them whilst I’m singing very sad lyrics.”

“It looks really fragile but when you’re up close to it, it’s quite robust. I’ve dragged dresses into the sea and they come back out and they’re still alive which is shocking to everyone including myself and the men on the beach watching me do this. Working with that fabric taught me a lesson because from a distance, it looks fragile and soft; a lot of things that we would align with femininity. When you’re up close to it, it’s really very strong and tough. I loved that juxtaposition of it being so feminine and society’s idea of femininity and then putting it on like chainmail, feeling really empowered by it, feeling like I own my body whilst I’m wearing it and I feel comfortable enough in it to express what’s inside of it.”

Tulle came along in 2020 after Keane and friend Emily Kendrick became frustrated with the music scene in London due to the lack of diversity and representation. Having someone who works within XL Recordings (running campaigns for the likes of Radiohead no less) as well as A&R friend Katie O’Neill gave Keane the confidence to kickstart the label. “I really trusted their judgements so I started piecing together a crew that I adore. It’s mainly based around me, Emily, Melika Mills (aka DJ M-Press as well the label’s accountant) and Fabia who is my manager. We have a very similar shared vision of wanting to shake things up, wanting to find a new way of doing things and connecting people. It gave me this new lease of life and energy because I was feeling a bit fatigued. To be able to get a gang together and really put our heads together with this shared idea gave me such a sense of purpose.”

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Music is a grounding force for Keane and having two outlets for her creativity coincides with two very different sides of her personality. For fears, ideas come with the drop of a hat. “There’s been plenty of times where I’ve been driving along the road and I’ve had to pull over to record a voice note. The shower is another one and the conditioner is still in my hair. I know that if I don’t get out now, it’s gone. Those are generally the sparks of where things start. With Mhaol, everything is a rush. We’re in the midst of writing and recording our debut album in the space of a week.It’s the absolute polar opposite sides of my personality which I really enjoy having.”

“I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to explore both processes at the same time. It’s really nice for me to feel like if there’s something I need to let out now, I can go and bang the drums in Mhaol and get it done straight away. But if there’s something I’ve been ruminating on for a really long time, maybe that’s more suited to something lyric based, which is a Fears track. I feel incredibly privileged to have both.”

Her latest single ‘16’ is a carefully considered track that pays tribute to friend and collaborator Sophie Gwen Williams. Filmed in the Maharees in Co. Kerry, the subject matter as well as the palace was very special to Keane. The Kerry peninsula was the site of Keane’s childhood family holidays and she made the music video with help of trusted friend Zoe Greenway (also bassist of Mhaol), Lee Arthur and brother Coleman Keane.

“I feel very inspired by my surroundings a lot of the time. I wanted to film something there but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted it to be. Going into that video was the most nervous I felt because I felt responsible for how a very complicated thing was going to be portrayed. Trying to figure out how to portray someone who died in really tragic circumstances is a really heavy thing to try and do.”

“It was a really special weekend where I wanted to create something as dramatic and over the top as I felt Sophie had been. She was an incredible person at asserting herself and her art. I wanted to make sure it was well thought through and reflective but also in a way, silly. Why am I driving around in a convertible? Who am I? That’s a real Ariana Grande moment. The pink fabric that I have with me is the fabric that I used to make a dress for her a few weeks before she died. Having her physically with me in that way felt really special. I’m really happy with it.”

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‘16’ is out now. Fears performs at Chats Palace in Hackney, London on May 7th - tickets.

Words: Sophia McDonald

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