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Interview: Fenech-Soler

Since releasing their eponymous debut album in 2010, the past three years have seen Fenech-Soler on a whirlwind spree of festival stages, tours alongside Kelis and Robyn, and some seriously danceable indie-pop. In the midst of a European tour on the back of their recently unveiled second album, Rituals, George Palmer caught up with frontman Ben Duffy for a chat about partying with Example, pinching Paramore‘s booze (well, with their permission), and having trap sessions in the tour van.

But first, relive those long summer nights with the anthemic choruses and syrupy guitars of recent single, ‘Last Forever’:

PlanetNotion: How is your current Rituals tour going at the moment?
Ben Duffy: We’re all really excited. I think we feel as though we’ve settled into it now. We’ve done a few shows now and it probably — for the first time — feels like we have a live show that is at the level that we’ve wanted it to be at. I mean that in a way that it’s been five years [since Fenech Soler’s first studio album], and it’s nice to have two albums to choose from. We feel like we’re on form at the minute!

PN: What are you mainly hoping to achieve from this second tour?
BD: I suppose it’s the first shows supporting the release of our second album. It’s the opportunity to just play the album in its entirety and to build a show around that. There’s obviously been quite a gap between our two albums, so it’ll be nice to go back to places we played on our first album and just play small, sweaty little gigs that have lots of energy.

PN: What does this second tour have to offer to fan who already experienced your first tour?

BD: Certainly in the time that we’ve been a band, this is the biggest production in terms of lights, in terms of the sound and in terms of the general performance. I think we’ve just got better as a band. We’ve played quite a few shows since the first album and had the opportunity to perform with bands that we’ve always really idolised. We’ve learnt lots! And so, conveying our music in a live environment is really important to the band. Sounding really good live has been extremely important to us and so I think we’ve got it down. We’ve finally reached a point where we came off stage last night in Glasgow and we all felt we’d hit a level that we all wanted to hit.

PN: Which venue are you most looking forward to playing?
BD: Obviously we’re very excited to play Shepherd’s Bush in London, which was something that we actually wanted to do on our first album. If we hadn’t had to reschedule our shows because I was ill during the first album, we probably would have done it. But, we’re not doing a ton of shows on the Rituals tour. I remember the first tour we did in the UK and we played something like thirty shows. We played just absolutely everywhere.

There’s only about eleven or twelve shows on this tour, and so we’ve only really picked venues that we’d love to go back to and had a good time — like Thekla in Bristol. It’s been too long between our two albums, and so we’re just very thankful and feel quite lucky to be back out there playing music.

PN: It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to the point where you’re headlining your own European Tour, but were there any stand-out moments along the way where things felt against the odds for the band?
BD: Yeah, I think we’ve had up and down luck as a band. Obviously on the first album with the whole cancer thing I had, and having to reschedule shows we were all a bit frustrated. We’d worked for about three years writing songs in our bedroom and then finally we had an album, and then right bang in the middle of doing that we had to cancel everything. But we didn’t dwell on it. Quite quickly we moved on and were just thankful that we were back out there playing.

I think certainly the transition from album one to album two hasn’t been an easy one. It’s been enjoyable, but it’s also been pretty stressful from a songwriting prospective. I think we just always loaded quite a lot of pressure on ourselves to make an album that we were happy with. We set quite a high goal internally and there was a long time period that we just weren’t really hitting that. I think making Rituals has been an absolute test for the band and I think that’s pushed us individually to the edge, but I’m really glad we have the new album done and that it’s out there.

PN: So are any of you guys doing Movember?

BD: I don’t think we are! Myself and Andrew have full on beards, but that’s just come about through lack of being at home. But, I do commend everyone who is doing it.

PN: Disappointing! But, I’ll let you off…. So, you’ve supported some pretty big names in your time as a band. Do you have any dirty gossip on any of the acts you’ve toured with?
BD: I suppose it’s pretty boring, but everyone we’ve toured with has been absolutely lovely to us. We went around on tour with Example on the last album and that got pretty out of hand most nights. He was kind of in his party mode, but I think now that he’s married and stuff that he’s probably chilled a bit more. We’ve just come off tour with Paramore around Europe and they were lovely. Obviously they don’t drink too much — which was great for us because they just gave us all of the alcohol.

PN: What’s being played to death on the Fenech-Soler tour bus?

BD: We were driving back from Aberdeen to Glasgow at about 4 in the morning and for some reason our lighting guy just went on a “trap hour” — and it actually did my head in! That is quite funny; although I do quite like trap music…. But in terms of what’s being played, I’m weirdly revisiting the Alt-J album. I know that’s “so-Mercurys-2012”, but for some reason in the last 48 hours I’ve just kind of totally become into that album again. There are lots of new producers that we listen to — myself and my brother who’s also in the band — we listen to quite a bit of Maribou State, who are a new production duo who are doing some really amazing, forward-thinking, electronic music.

PN: What was your biggest fear with the release of Rituals?

BD: I think my biggest fear was of it not being perceived in the right way. And, I think when you work with a record label and you make decisions about putting out singles, there are always differing views. Everyone wanted to put out a different track, which I think is a good thing that we all liked each of the songs on the album. I think there were a number of different single options. But, I think my personal fear was that we were releasing tracks before the album came out and I was worried that certain songs weren’t representative of the album as a whole. I was just really glad to get the album out there because I think it was always in my head that it was designed as a body of work with a start, middle and an end. I imagined dipping in and taking a track from like three quarters of the way through and putting it out there.

PN: What were your main influences on the sound of the new album?

BD: I think we always knew that we wanted to make an electronic record — that was kind of where the band came from and that’s what influenced the first record. But, there were definitely times when we fell out of love with electronic music, and that made the writing a little bit difficult. Rituals wasn’t really sounding how we wanted it to sound, but in the end it all came good. I think we just wanted to make big, quite grand electronic pop songs. And, “pop” has not really been a dirty word for us. It’s something that’s always been at the heart of what Fenech-Soler does, and choruses have always been important to us, and colour and melodies. That’s always what’s been part of the band and how we’ve always enjoyed music.

I think drawing a line from the more pop side to the more electronic side and finding somewhere in the middle was the album we wanted to make. We wanted to make the biggest and most epic soundscapes, but then also the most minimal and most heartfelt — and I think we achieved that.

PN: What is the next step for Fenech-Soler following this current tour?
BD: Well, this tour will finish at the end of the year, and then we’re going to America for a while. We’re not going to completely forget about the UK. We’re going to keep shows on sale and be around. But, we are going to be taking both of our albums to America. We‘ve done one tour with Groove Armada and done some other odd bits over there, but we’ve never gone over and done our own tours.

PN: So is the ultimate dream for you guys to “crack America”?
BD: I think it’s always been an extremely difficult thing to do. Cracking America means you become a multi-million selling artist, and obviously that’s difficult. But, I think in this day and age signing independent record deals and actually just getting out there, playing shows, doing tours and having independent teams working the record that are really passionate about it means you can do a lot.

I think that as social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter become more and more fluid and instant, the more that you can build a worldwide community and just get on and do it. It takes a bit of money, but at the same time it’s doable. And, I think electronic music in America is, and has been, really kicking off over there. We’re just going to put our music out there and see what happens.

- George Palmer

Fenech-Soler play London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire tonight, Thursday November 21. You can buy tickets here.

Rituals is available to buy here.

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