Maxim Meyer-Horn

12 Nov

Fauness: “There’s Nothing Like the Sense of Freedom That Comes With Being Able to Express Yourself Artistically”

Pop music increasingly draws inspiration from the past, but few draw their ideas from the glorious 1970s as London artist Fauness does. After four EPs and a long track, she reveals her musical soul for the first time on her debut album ‘The Golden Ass’. The project has become an interesting introspection of her creativity, which clearly still has a lot to offer. We spoke to the singer about her long-awaited first album to get even more context about the ten soul-liberating tracks.

Congrats on your first album, The Golden Ass. Was releasing your first album how you imagined it to be?

Thank you! Once the album was basically done, there was a strange moment when I was like, “This is it.” It wasn’t at all how I expected it to be, and I’d been imagining what my debut album would be like for many years. Together, the tracks had an effect that was much darker than anything I’d set out to do. This quality may not be apparent on first listen, but to me, it’s quite a melancholic album, not bleak or somber by any means, but mysterious and a little introspective, like the smudgy halo of light around the moon or an expanse of the sea glimpsed from the deck of a ferry just before the sun comes up. Jam City, who worked with me on the album, was the first to say, “It’s perfect for you.”

You released four EPs before the album. Did that experience help you construct the album?

The album feels like more of a definitive statement than anything I’ve done in the past. Only in a long-form record did I have the space fully to relax in the music-making process. With my EPs, I felt that I had to make each song this autonomous, concentrated, punchy track. I think each of the songs on The Golden Ass work on their own, even the interludes “Grape and Grain” and “Cinnamon”, but they’re also part of a system. Whereas with my EPs, the challenge had been making the songs speak to one another, as they all tended to be starkly different. On my second record, Lashes in a Landfill, for example, each song was a dizzyingly different genre. I personally think they worked great together, but back then, I was still figuring out how to reconcile and integrate all of my many musical influences. Since then, I’ve also learned a lot as I’ve gone on about production, vocal production, and improved with my instruments.

Was there anything specific you really wanted to include on your first album?

One thing I had wanted to do was include some kind of monologue that would weave in and out of the tracks from start to finish. Journeys are a recurring theme in my life and my work; the spoken word parts on the record were a chance for me to include some of the memories and reflections I have of places I’ve found myself in, fragments of things I remember, like a verbal collage. When, at the end of “Lonely”, I say that I saw a sign that says “honey and ice”; this is a memory of something I saw while waiting in a car in Greece about ten years ago. I liked the combination of words. On “Cinnamon” I describe a building in the distance; this captures a feeling I had while trying to find a forest on the outskirts of Naples. I was living in the city at the time and desperate for some greenery/nature, as there are not a lot of parks in the central part. I took the metro out to the peripheries and tried to find some woods I had heard about but ended up walking on the side of a road for a while, searching. Such experiences and many more were poured into the monologue and song lyrics.

You’re inspired by the ’70s. Why is the music of that era so captivating for you?

I think I like music where artists are working within a set of constraints—they don’t have everything at their fingertips, so they have to be more resourceful as writers and players. I think this creates space for more emotion to come to the surface and be heard. I love demos, for example. Sandy Denny’s studio outtakes are some of my favorite tracks in the world, and I’m sure she never imagined that they would be mixed and mastered and still listened to in the 2020s. Then there’s the fact that, throughout the decade, emergent musical technologies are coming into use, synthesizers and drum machines, that are forced to interact with more traditional sounds and ways of playing. This hybridity is very beautiful to me. You hear it on lots of records from around ’78-’79, like Judie Tzuke’s Welcome to the Cruise.

The artwork on your album is a drawing by Mirren Kessling. What does it reflect?

In classical-mythological paintings, there are often quite disturbing scenes of female figures being ravished by animals. The Rape of Europa by Titian depicts a woman being carried away on the back of a bull, and in this case, the bull doesn’t look menacing but rather wide-eyed and cute. There are also lots of visual depictions of the myth of Leda and the swan that are fairly similar, only with a swan as the sexual aggressor—always veiled by its non-human innocence— instead of a bull. Since my teenage years, I’ve always felt that my sexuality belonged to someone else, that it wasn’t mine. When I began to study art, it was healing. In a strange way, I was drawn to these kinds of classical-erotic scenes involving animals. It’s hard to put into words how the cover speaks to my interest in this kind of imagery. Mirren’s drawing has many layers to it, but one of them is an attempt to offer an image of a woman who is fully in charge of her own body and her own eroticism. I love donkeys, so this particular animal felt like the perfect companion for her. It would have been very different if it was a bull or a swan.

How did you approach the visual aspect of The Golden Ass?

Anyone who knows me knows that Aubrey Beardsley, the decadent, queer British artist and designer of the 1890s, is someone I’ve been obsessed with for a while. He worked in a monochromatic and linear style, and his work is erotic and funny, which was a big inspiration for me when I was directing Mirren. The title of the record comes from the novel by Lucius Apuleius, written in late Roman antiquity. The cover image doesn’t illustrate a scene from the book but rather my interpretation of the combination of words that makes up the title. All of the fonts were created for this project, which was something I wanted to do from the beginning so that the album was its own sealed world.

Typography-wise, I was looking at children’s books from the early to the mid-20th century. I came across an edition of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by the Italo-Swiss artist Libico Maraja from 1953. If you look at the cover, you’ll see how his work fed into the imagery for the record.

Which sentiment do you want to bring across with the music videos?

Making music videos is so fun for me, but it’s also more challenging than any other aspect of releasing music. I tend to have visual images in my mind when I’m writing a song: just a faint impression of the location where the song is set. The difficult part of that is then distilling that vision into a project that involves collaborators who have their own vision and ideas and trying to please them while also staying true to the sense of the song that I have in my heart and mind. I’m getting better at having faith in my own ideas, but I also have a tendency to want to make other people happy, so it’s a balancing act. With the video for “Mystery”, the scenes with the mask on the beach and in the sea were shot with my best friend in Naples, at a beach called La Gaiola. She had never filmed anything like a music video before so it was a gamble, but one that paid off, as I got exactly what I was looking for.

It was quite a journey before you even released music in 2018. How do you look back at that time?

They say you have your whole life to create your first album, which can mean making follow-up records is tricky because you have to start from scratch. In my case, I wouldn’t say that I was able to put into this record everything I’ve been through and all of the things I want to say. I still have a lot of ideas and material saved up and bursting to come out through my music. Rather than looking back to a time before I realized my first EP Toxic Femininity, it’s more productive for me to look forward and think about what’s next. The vision of what’s to come is already coalescing, which is exciting.

How did your childhood affect the outcome of The Golden Ass?

Growing up, my family was very musical. Music was on all the time in our house, and my parents prioritized going out to hear music. Compared to me, my brother was always the better musician from a technical-theory perspective. I was more caught up in the social whirlwind that came with moving between countries and found it hard to isolate myself in the way that he was able to, and in the way that it is essential to reach a certain level of skill. Now, I lead a fairly isolated life where I spend a lot of time practicing my instruments, feeling like I’m making up for lost time, and overcoming a sense of shame that I didn’t become, like my brother, a virtuosic player when I was younger. My brother and I have played together a few times, and the lovely thing about the album is that it’s his fretless bass playing on “Lonely”. I sent him the demo and asked him to send some bass ideas, and he wrote back saying, “I chose to play fretless because I know you love that sound.” It’s really special to bond over music.

Did writing the album liberate you in some kind of way?

I think that, in general, being an artist makes me feel liberated. There’s nothing like the sense of freedom that comes with being able to express yourself artistically, where there are fewer rules than with other aspects of work and life. When I’m working on music, and I step out of the studio for a moment into the street, I feel so un-self-conscious and comfortable in my own skin. That feeling quickly fades as soon as I’m not working on anything creative. Being an “artist” is the only identity that resonates with me without any reservations. In terms of The Golden Ass specifically, rather than me being liberated, I feel that those ideas and images and melodies and harmonies, etc have now been liberated. Magically—and because of the hard work of my record label Cascine—they are traveling into the homes and headphones of listeners around the world. In the process, space has been created for more ideas and sounds to flow in.

Fauness’ debut album ‘The Golden Ass’ is available everywhere.

Pictures by Sylwia Wozniak.

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