words & illustrations: Sydne Wheeler Larsen
I associate Fear of Men’s latest album, Fall Forever with loss. My first full-listen was while watching the sunset over Manhattan from a Brooklyn beach. The sky streaked with purple, the waves washed away the consciousness of daylight, as I considered erasure: What if we could erase the memory of people we loved who had hurt us?
Meanwhile, Fear of Men’s song, “Erase (Aubade)” whispered away in my ears. The lyrics hold in opposition the fondness of remembering “the hell that we made”, and the ability to let go of the weight of remembrance: “I erase these things / I don’t need what I left behind.” This tipping point of being broken by others and rebuilding is a precarious psychological tension sustained throughout the album. As Jess Weiss phrases it, the narrative is “partly letting things out, and it’s partly trying to feed back to yourself what you think you should hear”.
Fall Forever is an album about love, but the lens through which it is viewed is cerebral, paired with more mechanical production. “The emotional themes were dependency, vulnerability – but strength in overcoming that and trying to just take control of things. The idea of falling in love or falling apart was the crux of the thing. Trying to find beauty in sadness and trying to make it into something," Weiss said.
The album depicts the human ruins left behind by relationships, allowing us into the conscience of someone else. The fadeout of the final track, “Onsra”, leaves the listener adrift as the keystone album lyric “fall forever/ fall together” repeats. As Weiss explains, "It feels like that world is still going on without you. You kind of dipped into someone’s brain. Then the world moves on apart from that but it’s kind of like its own world that you can imagine carrying on existing.”
Band members, Weiss and Dan Falvey met me backstage at Bowery Ballroom before their first headlining NYC show.
Syd: One of the themes that people are pulling from your album is love, that’s come through pretty loud. But another one I pulled out is psychology. Was that an angle as well? I mainly was thinking of the clinical psychology areas of trauma, sanity, disassociation (with lyrics like being able to “shed” your body).
Jess: At the time of writing the record, I started training to be a counselor because I'm really interested in the area of psychoanalysis and things like that,and I have an art degree. So this was a way I could start moving in that direction
I was interested in talking therapies. I started a course and it brought up all these - it made me very introspective about myself whereas the point of me doing it was that I wanted to try and do something that was less focused on myself and [rather] helping other people.
The way that you learn to become a therapist or a counselor is by talking about yourself, and that just made me fall apart a bit, and so it’s not something that I’m ready to pursue at the moment.
Again, trauma and sanity and how you keep yourself together and manage to make things, and how you just think about yourself as a whole, they’re ongoing themes of contemplation.
When you read something that you really relate to, you hang on to it. There was a reading about trauma that I did a few years ago – Elizabeth Costello, which is a J.M. Coetzee novel. There’s a character in that who is raped and she chooses to hold the trauma within herself. Her power, and her way of taking control of it is by not talking about it. She’s not in denial about it, but she says she holds it inside her like a stone egg. I like that. That became a really powerful image to me about how to reclaim some traumatic incident.
In the song “Trauma” I was thinking about it as reclaiming trauma as a badge of honor that you’re not trying to hide. So it is a different approach than that. Reading these little nuggets kind of stick in your head and you build your own view of how you want to explain things to the world through songs.
Syd: Does that tie into the album artwork as well?
Jess: There were various things that attracted us to that statue. The way it was cropped, and the way that we could make it metallic – it kind of felt quite timeless. We wanted to in some ways dislocate it from the context of classical art and the actual myth.
Dan: When I first saw the image, to me it spoke to what I felt were the two main themes [of the album]: a struggle to be independent – to be yourself and that to be enough. But also dependent…
Jess: It’s passion and violence and sensuality. It’s someone’s grip. It just felt right.
Syd: When you put something out as art, it kind of makes a statement even when you’re not trying to. So some of the things that you’re saying, it’s balancing the strength/weakness dichotomy. I don’t know if people have been trying to read that through a feminist lens?
Jess: I’m very happy to be read through a feminist lens. I want everyone to be strong and empowered and equal and things…
Syd: But the reality is that there’s this struggle of weakness. And being in relationships…it sucks; people do give you trauma. It’s so hard to be feminist and be real sometimes.
Jess: I feel like that’s also just a human quality, having both sides. I know a lot of men who are very vulnerable as well in relationships. Anyone can feel at the mercy of someone that they love and at the same time empowered by that love. It’s just a very mixed up thing. Love is just a scary thing: that you’re giving someone this power over you; so you’ve given it to them, but then they…I don’t know.
Dan: I think what you were saying the other day about [how] women who write about their own experiences are seen through a different lens maybe than men are. I though that was quite interesting.
Jess: I’ve been writing this piece about how writing about yourself affects your life. One of the points in it is about [when] a woman writes about emotional things [the response is], ‘Oh it’s just their personal confession’. But for men – it’s generally taken to be this more profound statement on humanity in general and things like that.
It’s just a thought that I like. I like the idea that it can be read both ways as both something personal and also asking questions about people in general. I think inevitably, it definitely comes from a personal perspective.
All the reading and things that I do feeds into stuff. Not everything that I write is…some things are just what’s happened to me and some things are wider than that.
Dan: It’s interesting for me. With the lyrics, I get more of an appreciation of them. I’ve been reading them and listening to them as we play. It’s quite interesting to see all this from your perspective.
Syd: Jess, so you write the lyrics. As you play it live, Dan, do you seem to pull different things at different shows, where something else makes sense on a different night?
Dan: Definitely, sometimes I do. It's weird because obviously we spent a lot of time together in practice. We spent a year making this record. Sometimes I’ll be playing live and Ill be like, ‘Oh I know what that means!’. But it still might not even be that really. It kind of strikes you because I’ve watched different aspects of Jess’s life as she talks about it, and it’s interesting to see how that comes out in her lyrics.
Syd: Do you have that too, Jess? Where you’re singing it live and also reacting to the memories you’re having?
Jess: I don’t know, I’m very in the moment when I’m performing it. I’m thinking about the meaning but I almost feel in a sort of hazy trance. Onstage is not really the time of deeper thinking for me, but definitely talking it over with the people who have inspired the songs, or reading how people have interpreted things, that can definitely tell me more about myself than I knew I was letting on.
I wonder how much control we actually have in our experience of relationships, but we instead choose to create a reality in which we are “broken”, vulnerable to others, or powerless. (Or maybe something else.) That the fear we have isn’t always about others wounding us, but rather, hurting ourselves.
If I’d written this feature on a different day, I would have told you about the fun I had at Bowery, but I wrote this today, and this is how I see things.
Maybe another day I’ll have the frame of mind to feel power over the relationships I choose to have. In fact, I am the one with the proverbial pen. Weiss is the one with the microphone and the guitar. This is the power we wield when we are not afraid.
additional editing & art direction: Jess Kessler Cavaluzzi