Oíche, the debut album from Fears (aka Constance Keane), may come from a dark place but it’s being birthed in the morning glow of courage, resilience and hope.
There is a curious dichotomy at the centre of Fears – the musical moniker of Dublin born, London based artist Constance Keane. Her bewitching debut Oíche – released via Keane’s own TULLE imprint – is characterised by its remarkable sense of balance between openness and distance, as Keane’s deeply felt, confessional songwriting wears a shroud of rich, otherworldly ambience that is uniquely its own.
As accomplished a standalone piece of work as Oíche is, Keane’s vision for Fears has always been more holistic than merely a medium for releasing records. For her, Fears was always intended to operate in the spaces between music and visual art – as attested to by the breathtaking poster campaign that accompanied the release of Fears’ Tonnta single in December. It depicted images of Keane, her mother, sister and a variety of friends each wearing a voluminous, one-of-a-kind gown, handmade by Keane herself. In turn, the series provided welcome scenes of both celebration and calm on the eerily underpopulated streets of the city centre.
From the album to the videos and photography to even those dresses, it’s no mistake that these disparate creative strands are presented in tandem, as Keane herself explains from the London bedroom that served as one of the key spaces in Oíche’s creation over the last five years. “I think that’s the approach I take to life in general. This kind of multifaceted thing. I like artists that work in a number of different disciplines or collaborate with people in different disciplines and I like a considered approach to things. A lot of my stuff with Fears is coming so directly from my feelings that it makes the most sense for me to express that stuff in the medium that I feel is most fitting [in the moment]. I don’t really reach beyond anything that I don’t already have an idea about – if that makes sense. I’ll be writing my music and, at the same time, I’m thinking about how it will be visually represented, whether that is with photography or moving image, along with my performances. It takes me so long to narrow these thoughts down that not every idea ends up coming out as something the public sees.”
There may be an essential mystery to Keane’s artistic practice, the method by which she pares her creative impulses down to a more focused object, primed for public consumption. But openness surrounding the experiences that formed these ideas has always remained a central tenet of the Fears project. “There was a big shift for me in 2017 – that was the bad year. I had a breakdown and got complex PTSD. Basically from a very abusive relationship that I’d been in,” explains Keane. “I ended up trying to kill myself and then ended up in a psychiatric hospital as an inpatient for six weeks. I had been in such a bad way in the run up to that [in relation to] my self esteem and my view of me as an entire human being – including all the stuff I was making. It felt like I was constantly not good enough and was getting really bothered about the idea of showing my music to people. I felt really conflicted, because it was something that I really wanted to do but at the same time, nothing I was making was good enough. It takes me so long to release something anyway – because I have to sit with it so long to make sure I’m happy with it – but all that anxiety and self doubt was through the roof, like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I had this breakdown and ended up in hospital.”
“I had been very unwell at home waiting to get a place in hospital. A lot of people don’t realise that you don’t just end up in hospital right away, a lot of the time,” explains Keane. “I wasn’t able to go near music during that time because I couldn’t bear the thought of something that I loved so much not doing anything for me. That would be the final loss of me, it felt like if I were to try making something and feel nothing, that was my biggest nightmare. Then, when I went into hospital, if I’m being honest, I was just really bored and like, ‘ah, sure I’ll just have a look at the music room’. I actually just sat there for the first few days, I didn’t even touch the instruments, I just wanted to sit on my own and have a cry. People weren’t crying on my ward and I was like ‘What is this!? I thought we’re all mentally depressed!’” says Keane as she erupts with laughter. And make no mistake, Keane laughs often, even when discussing the heaviest of the heavy topics, such is the invigorating, emboldening, nature of her outlook.
“It took me a little while to build up the courage to even pick up a guitar. But when I did, I wrote h_always, which is the opening track on the album. I wrote and recorded it in about half an hour and that’s the same recording on the album. That was recorded in the music room at the time, just on my macbook mic, I didn’t have any microphones or anything. The song, if you listen carefully at the start, you can hear the chugging of a Luas going by outside. Stuff like that in the recording is why I didn’t go back and re-do it. That track is just so of that time, for me. Yeah, literally every part of it was just done that day. So, for me to have stuff like that and still be around – when I didn’t think I would be – to be putting it out as the first track on an album, feels like such an act of proving my past self wrong, it feels great.”
Keane speaks with a rare honesty and acuity with regards her experiences, an approach that – as she hastens to add – was simply one that worked for her. “It’s just easier for me,” she says herself. “I’d never expect anyone else to talk about any of their experiences in any way, it’s their business and it’s their narrative and it’s up to them what they want to share and what they don’t want to share. I just put stuff out there and I’m not looking for approval from somebody to be like ‘oh my god, you’re so inspirational’. I think if you’re looking for that, you’re probably not in a place where you should be sharing what happened to you then. I only got to this point through so much therapy and having a family who very openly talk about this stuff. It’s not like I woke up one day and was like; ‘it’s actually fine to talk’. It was a lot of hard work but I’m glad I did it and I’m glad that I’m in a place where I can tell the shopkeeper about my meds – I don’t care.”
“There are certain things to do with mental health that I feel society is fine to talk about now. In fact, so insistent that it’s fine to talk about now. To the point where you might feel like, ‘maybe I don’t want to talk about it because somebody is telling you ‘IT’S OK NOT TO BE OK HASHTAG’ and it’s like, ‘jesus, ok, it’s actually my business,’” sighs Keane.
“Then there are other things to do with mental health that are still supposedly weird to talk about or might make people uncomfortable to talk about,” she continues. “I released a song called Too, it’s actually the final track on the album. I released that last year kind of in collaboration with the Northern Irish Mental Health Arts Festival and it’s a song about self harm. It’s a song about getting to a point of recovery where I can sit with myself and not do anything to my body and the feeling of success in that. The experience of having lines on my leg and being able to look at those and be like ‘they’re still there but I still want to wear this dress or I still want to wear these shorts and if somebody is made uncomfortable when they see them; then that is on them. That’s their business and I don’t need to take that on. That whole journey of learning, that you don’t need to take on other people’s discomfort, has been a really huge one for me”.
Understanding the keenly personal nature of its creation, Oíche can’t help but feel all the more charmed and tender an object – both brittle and bruising, uniquely intimate yet curiously open and inviting, undoubtedly a document of Keane’s experiences alone but proffering a perspective of massive collective value. Keane herself has a typically adroit means of speaking to her record’s uncanny ability to balance the public and the private, the intimate and the societal. “I’m really interested in communicating bedroom to bedroom and the idea of making something in my bedroom that somebody else is experiencing in their bedroom is so special to me. Just because of the amount of enjoyment and connection I’ve felt in my room watching things, listening to things, especially over the last year. It kind of transports your bedroom to a different place but you still have all the comfort of knowing where you are. The idea of people experiencing something I came up with, planned and recorded in my childhood bedroom in Dublin and bedrooms in Belfast and London – in their bedrooms feels really special.”
Oíche by Fears is out now on Tulle.
words: Danny Wilson