To contemplate the difference between loneliness and being alone is not exactly a new concept. Yet, for so many of us, it’s a lingering thought that’s become all the more prescient in this present day. And while it is, of course, a question heavily packed with meaning and existentialism, it’s also only something we can really begin to process with time and experience.
“Aloneness and loneliness are two very different things, of course,” wrote Nick Cave back in September 2019, in a sage entry on his Red Hand Files. Responding to the question ‘How long will I be alone?’, and adding to the conversation at large, his entry feels apt to mention to Fenne Lily, as she readies the release of an album grappling with that same theme. “I haven’t seen that! But a) fuck him for taking my only talking point,” she laughs, “and b) I will definitely read it.”
Having first emerged back in 2016 as a fresh-faced singer-songwriter who’d go on to release heart-on-sleeve debut ‘On Hold’ two years later, Fenne today seems almost like a different person entirely. “I keep being asked how I’ve changed as a person between records, and I don’t think I’ve really changed that much in my emotional make up,” she counters. “I have, though, tried to make a choice to focus on different aspects of myself.”
It was through that choice that Fenne found herself ready to take the leap into unknown territory. Having finished the rigorous touring run around that album, the then-21-year-old took the decision to relocate, alone, to Berlin.
“I think on the first record, I was quite confused and angry - but I didn’t want to show that I was angry. Mainly at myself,” she caveats, “for letting what went badly go badly. Then on this album, I learned physically how to be by myself.” Moving away for a month, she needed to fully throw herself into a new version of life. “I had never been alone for more than a couple of days before, and I think that process - of taking myself, feeling uncomfortable, into a situation that made that discomfort more profound - made me look at the more positive aspects of my character. If I’d dwelled on the shit bits, I wouldn’t have made it through that time with my own mind.
“It’s weird when you realise you have to spend your whole life with yourself; sometimes, you hate yourself more than you’ve ever hated anyone else,” she continues. “You realise if you don’t become your friend, how can you expect anyone else to, and that you’re going to have a really long, crap time.”
"It's weird when you realise you have to spend your whole life with yourself…"
It’s this sense of growth that helps to define her rich new record ‘BREACH’. A second album that sees her move towards a more personal sure-footing - from ‘Berlin’’s lyrical admission of “It’s not hard to be alone anymore” through to the search for closure within ‘Laundry and Jet Lag’ - there’s a sense of quiet assuredness running through its twelve tracks that feels truly cathartic.
“I genuinely feel more in control than when I made the first album,” Fenne confirms. “Even the title of the first album suggests that I was stuck, or waiting for something to happen. On this album, I was just like, ‘I know what I want and I’m gonna do it’. I’m not saying that it was an easy process and it all went super smoothly - it really didn’t - but I was more prepared for things going wrong than I would’ve been had I not made that decision to unlearn some stuff and learn some coping mechanisms.”
That concept even stretches to ‘BREACH’’s title. Touching upon both the way in which she was born, and the desire to break through her own self-imposed barriers, it’s a powerful metaphor for where Fenne finds herself right now. “I think that the way that I came into the world has partially dictated how I exist in the world,” she explains. “I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely happened. Then, the [alternate] definition of breach is a gap in a defence or barrier and that’s definitely something that I was thinking about when I was writing. I was trying to be more self-sufficient in terms of how I made the songs for a start. Taking control, reclaiming autonomy, that all ties into it.”
And it’s through this new sense of clarity that ‘BREACH’ really hits home. An album that sees her build on the more traditional folksy foundations she had previously laid, it’s here that she provides a fuller, more kaleidoscopic insight into the pressures of growing up, of figuring yourself out, and of searching for your place in the world. “Aloneness versus loneliness, for me - I don’t know about Nick Cave,” she winks, “but I see aloneness as a choice, and loneliness as a symptom of something being thrust upon you. I wanted to make sure I understood that being alone didn’t have to be because someone had thrown me away, or because I was sick of a situation. It could be voluntary.” It can be liberating.
‘BREACH’ is out now via Dead Oceans.
As featured in the October 2020 issue of DIY, out now.