Conquering Fears

Dublin artist and musician Fears, real name Constance Keane, told David Hennessy about her debut album that she started writing while suicidal in a mental health facility in Dublin when she was not sure if anyone would hear it.

Known as Fears, the Dublin artist, musician and producer whose real name is Constance Keane combines reflective electronics, acoustic samples, and haunting vocals to invite the listener on a journey blurring the boundaries between music and visual art.

This year saw Fears release her debut album entitled Oiche.

It’s been a long time coming, the project originally began as a four-piece band in 2012 before being put on ice until 2016 when it returned as a solo endeavour.

But it is not just the years that make the journey so significant

Oiche follows some very difficult years for Keane, which began when she suffered a breakdown and was admitted for mental health treatment in 2017.

She started the writing at a time when she didn’t even know if anyone would hear it.

Fears told The Irish World: “I mean the opening song on the album h_always I wrote and recorded in St Patrick’s Mental Health Facility in Dublin at a point where I was suicidal.

“At the time of writing that song, I had no expectation that anybody would even hear the song so for me to then be able to come out a few years later and be like, ‘Here’s the song but also here’s an entire album’ that at that point, I never thought anybody would be hearing is great.

“Just purely holding the record in my hand is kind of like a massive achievement in itself, I guess.”

The album is remarkable for its vulnerability and Fears is not just sharing of herself as the album also includes an audio snippet recorded at her grandfather’s wake.

A conversation was between Constance, her sister and her grandmother, who at the time had dementia, making her unable to remember her husband’s death.

What does it feel like to share something so personal? “It’s actually really nice.

“I take a long time to release songs so I end up sitting with them for a few years before anybody gets to hear them, generally speaking.

“So it means that I’ve kind of sat with it long enough to feel vulnerable with it and feel a real strong connection.

“And then over time, you get to a point with that work where you want to share your Nana’s voice with everybody, you want to actually talk about her, you want to share her story, you want to talk about what she was like, you want people to hear her as well.

“So I think with any of the kind of heavier topics on the record, it’s been that I’ve been able to sit with them long enough to process them, to then want to share and to know that I’m sharing in a way that is not expecting approval as well.

“I think it’s really important when you’re sharing very vulnerable work, when you’re putting it out there, you’re not doing that to get validation back, you’re just sharing because you want to share.

“So on one hand, I’m actually really glad that it has taken this long for me to get the album together and, and put it out because I feel a lot more kind of confident in myself with the more vulnerable work.”

Fears has been open in talking about her struggles because she understands how this can help someone else.

“For me personally, I think it’s like what I was saying about sitting on songs for a long time, you become comfortable with them. Like talking about this stuff with my close friends, and then a broader circle, you slowly build up a level of comfort.

“And you also start to understand that when you judge yourself less about it, you feel more comfortable talking about it.

“I think it’s important. It’s been very beneficial for me anyway, to get to a point with my mental health problems where I felt, ‘This is the thing that happened. It’s not actually something that defines me’.

“But it’s really important that people do share these stories because I’ve benefited so much from people sharing their stories with me.”

Has music been therapy for Fears? “It has been. I definitely go to therapy as well anyway.

“I find that music is something that happens very naturally for me so it’s a therapy in that sense.

“And when I’m feeling overwhelmed or I’m feeling a certain way, a lot of the time what I automatically start doing is music.

“But I have found at my darker points, if I try to force myself to make music to feel better, and then I can’t make music, then I feel even worse about myself.

“So I kind of just have it as an instinctive thing that I go to, but I really tried to not put too much pressure on it as my main source of therapy, or my main way of keeping myself mentally well.”

Fears’ music has been described as both sad and hopeful. Its beauty probably lies in the fact that it is both.

“I hope that it’s both at the same time.

“I mean there’s a number of tracks on the album that I think start out as sad or musically might sound sad, but the lyrics are actually very hopeful or the other way around.

“And I would say that it’s reflective because a lot of it is coming from a point of reflection on things that have happened or reflecting on my feelings in a certain situation or something.

“But what I hope is that there’s enough space in where people feel like they can put in their own stuff, they can feel like they can put in their own feelings and their own thoughts.

“So musically, I like to leave enough space for other people to fill in the gaps.”

It was last year that Constance really began to release music under the Fears name, with tracks such as Two_, Tonnta and February’s Fabric earning acclaim from both sides of the Irish sea.

Covid-19 came along just as she was about to launch herself and the material.

“I was totally ready to go.

“I had the album pretty much done when the pandemic hit.

“I had shows lined up for May 2020.

“I was going to be playing my first UK shows.

“I had four shows lined up and they all obviously went so I’ve kind of just been sitting here waiting.

“I feel I’m in a strange limbo period where I put out this record that I spent years working on and I’ve been getting such wonderful feedback online but I haven’t had any physical experience of it yet.

“So I’m sitting here so excited to be able to perform some shows but not able to do it yet.

“So I can’t wait to get out on the road, I can’t wait to start getting to actually do things in person, see people in person, thank people in person who have bought the record or you have supported me in another way.

“So I really can’t wait, I’m so excited about it.”

Not being able to see and meet her audience has been especially hard for Fears due to the album’s personal nature.

“I feel very, very lucky with how things have gone but it has undeniably been a very strange experience for a year and a half as a musician because there’s just huge chunks of why you do it that are missing.

“The idea of actually getting to share a physical space with people and have that social interaction and talk about it- I really can’t wait until that happens.

“It’s something that I cherish very, very dearly because it’s very kind of intimate music and to get to actually share that with people in a crowd or with people at the merch stand after playing shows is something I just always enjoy, and I can’t wait to be able to do it again, hopefully in the autumn.

“The last year and a half has been so up and down because I feel like we’ve been given these kind of false promises at various points.

“So you have these moments where you start thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, maybe I can start planning shows again’.

“Two weeks later, that’s gone again. You’re back into lockdown.

“You’re trying to plan studio sessions with people, then that’s gone because you’re back into lockdown.

“And it’s been really difficult to find your stride in it.

“I think a lot of the time when you’re putting out a project, like an album we’ve been working on for years, you kind of want to get into a flow of the release, and to be like, ‘These are the deadlines. These are things I’m doing to be able to make those deadlines’.

“And then you end up in this stop-start kind of motion.

“I am tentatively putting dates in and I will be announcing some UK shows over the next few weeks that I’m really excited about.

“I’m going to be playing in Belfast at the end of October.

“I’m playing in Dublin in November.

“There will be some shows in London and Brighton as well.

“And I’ve got another video coming out hopefully the end of August, which I’m really excited about. That will be like the last video that’s part of the Oiche album campaign.

“It’s a video that kind of ties up the whole thing and reflects on the other videos and brings it all together at the end.

“So I’m really excited about that. And yeah, I mean hopefully start to put together like a healthier live show schedule for 2022.”

Although it is exciting, Fears knows that the idea of live shows still has to be taken with ‘a pinch of salt’.

“I’m just so excited. I mean you have to treat everything in the live sphere with a pinch of salt at the moment.

“You’re saying yes to doing shows ‘if they happen’.

“You’re putting them in the calendar but it’s you know, ‘Covid- permitting’.

“But it still feels good to be putting that stuff in the calendar and to kind of start to even let yourself imagine being on a stage for the first time in well over a year and a half.”

It was earlier this year that Fears took part in the Irish Embassy of London’s virtual St. Brigid’s festival.

She was joined by other London-based Irish artists such as singer-songwriter Aislinn Logan and Joy Crookes, poet/ musician Sinead O’Brien and the poet Martina Evans.

“So much fun,”  Constance says remembering it.

“I loved it. It was amazing.

“I had never been to the Irish Embassy in London before so to even get the email inviting me to do it was such an honour.

“And I straightaway thought of my grandparents and how excited they would be about me doing something like that.

“And it was the first show I had done (since the pandemic) that was filmed by other people even though there was obviously no audience or anything. But there was a crew there to film.

“It was the first one I had done in over a year with other people there, and even that felt very special to be in a room with other people.

“It was filmed during proper lockdown, I think it was the end of January so everything was super-Covid secure but at least I was able to be in a space with people and I think that made it feel even more special.

“And everybody at the embassy was just so accommodating, so welcoming. To get to stand in that incredible ballroom- Honestly, it just felt really surreal.

“That wasn’t kind of where I saw my art going but it was such a privilege to be involved.”

Fears enjoys feeling part of a community of Irish artists in London and being that point of contact when acts come over from Ireland.

“It’s really nice to have people like that around that you can touch base with and that you kind of reflect on the industry in Ireland and in the UK at the same time and compare the two things.

“It’s really nice as well when Irish acts come over to play here and to be able to go to those shows and bring them for dinner or kind of feel like you’re able to show them around a bit as well.

“That feels really nice. It’s nice to feel like you’re the link between an Irish music scene and a UK one.”

She has been based in London for years now and, like many, has found it hard to not be able to get home for visits.

“It’s hard.

“It has actually been emotionally quite hard. I’m very close to my family so I have found being over here for extended periods of time quite challenging at points.

“When I first moved over here, I used to go home maybe every six weeks for a weekend.

“And I would be over and back, in touch with my family and friends at home. It didn’t feel like I was that far away because the flight’s an hour long, you know?

“But it’s been more difficult. I mean, when I when I went home for some of the lockdown and I was coming back to London It felt like I was saying goodbye to my family ‘And I don’t know when I’ll see you..’

“Because at that point, I don’t even know if the vaccines had started.

“So I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna see you soon or next year’.

“And I think having that sense of uncertainty over stuff has been really challenging as well.

“But now I’m now double vaccinated so I’m going home in a week’s time and I’m going to spend a few weeks in Ireland.

“I am so excited.”

Oiche by Fears is out now.

For more information, click here.

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