Fear of Men jammed into their car and drove to the nearest gas station to call me. They’d been practicing all day at a remote farm that belongs to the parents of drummer Michael Miles. It’s about two hours from their homes in Brighton and the cell reception there is spotty at best.
It’s not surprising that they’d want to rehearse out in the middle of nowhere, because isolation has plays a big part in the band’s mythology. After finishing their tour to promote their 2014 debut, Loom, they holed up in a repurposed abattoir (a.k.a. a slaughterhouse) in Kent to write and demo what would eventually become their sophomore record Fall Forever, out this week on Kanine Records. The slaughterhouse’s thick metal slabs and industrial atmosphere cut off the band from the outside world. “It had a dark energy that was quite interesting,” singer and guitarist Jess Weiss said, “and just being in a place that has that kind of history of violence–it was quite evocative.”
At first glance, Fall Forever seems like a sharp turn into darker territory for the band. Lead single “Island” centers around an echoey Weiss singing lyrics like “I’m like an island/I don’t need to feel your arms around me” over ghostly harmonies and sparse, fluid guitar. But Weiss gently corrects me on that assumption. “I would say that Loom was just as dark as Fall Forever,” she said. “But it’s just the way that we’re expressing the arrangements and the idea that we wanted to strip things back to simpler but stronger elements. I think that lets the darkness come through, whereas before it was maybe covered up a bit more.”
The jangle-pop guitars of Loom are gone–replaced by cold textures, ambient EBowed bass and guitars that sound like anything but. Much of Fall Forever seems to drip with synthesizers, but most of what you’re hearing is actually guitars. Guitarist Daniel Falvey said this is partly an aesthetic choice–the guitars have an inherent organic quality often lacking in synthesizers–but mostly a practical choice for the live show. “These songs wouldn’t translate so well live if we were stuck behind keyboards,” he said.
However, there was a marked change in how Weiss wrote these new songs. She said she decided to write as a more assertive version of herself, which Falvey and Miles reinforced with guitar, bass and drums that cut through and offered catharsis for this newfound voice. Weiss and Falvey compared both the lyrics and flowing textures to water. “Water is kind of the strongest, most powerful thing,” Falvey said. “It can be both gentle and very, very powerful–like a river coursing through the land. I wanted to have succinct, fluid guitar parts to sound strong.”
“Sane,” which erupts into thunderous power from a supple, tender opening, is a perfect example of this. Debuting it on the road in the months before not only offered a preview of Fall Forever to audiences, it helped the band zero in on the strength they wanted to capture on record. “There’s something that feels really wonderful about bringing it all there,” Weiss said. “It definitely feels exciting and kind of vibrant and like a release.”
“I feel like this album has kind of opened things up,” Falvey said, already looking toward the future. “I feel like we could go anywhere on the next one.” As I re-listen to Fall Forever after our call ends, this sentiment rings true. Fear Of Men aren’t a band you listen to in terms of they used to sound or who they were influenced by, their striking, gorgeous songs stand apart–in isolation. And I suspect once they finish touring, they’ll drop off the grid again to go to a dungeon, a cave or wherever to make more.
Fall Forever is out 6/3 via Kanine Records. Get it here.
The band will be playing Bowery Ballroom on 7/2, get tickets here.
Photo by Eleanor Hardwick