NYLON Nineteen

Fenne Lily Cures Insomnia Through Extreme Weather Videos

The U.K. singer-songwriter talks to NYLON about her new album BREACH, and peeing at festivals.

Fenne Lily's BREACH is a deeply moving album about confrontation. Confronting old ghosts, her loneliness, and the bad habits orbiting her life — the London-based singer-songwriter's gorgeous sophomore album, out now via Dead Oceans, leaves no stone unturned in its meticulous rifling, all the way down to her smoking inclinations. "I gave up smoking when I was coughing up blood/ And when I felt better again I took it straight back up," she sings on the album's clean and guitar-plucked closer.

If that sounds like a reckless way of living, Lily already knows and has surely already come to terms with it. In fact, her album — much of which she wrote while alone in Berlin — is full of these difficult, level-headed observations, that as a listener, one can't help but put a mirror to your own life to also quietly observe. On "Somebody Else's Trees," she reflects on how a past near-death experience colored her life, and on "I, Nietzsche," how much she hates boys who like Nietzsche. If Lily's found a cure to the anxious remembering that plagues all of our days — more so now we're in quarantine — it's being hard and honest about your own limitations.

When we got Lily on the phone to get her take on the NYLON Nineteen, that frankness filtered through in nearly all of her answers, from how she takes her coffee (filtered black, of course) to her traumatic first Tame Impala concert, and curing her insomnia through watching storm chaser videos.

What’s your astrological sign?

I'm a cusp baby, so January 20 is Aquarius but also Capricorn.

Do you believe in it?

I feel like I don't wanna. I think I'm stubborn in the sense that I'd like to believe that my feelings and my path are unrelated to anything apart from my own decisions. At the same time, it would be short-sighted to believe that, as we're mostly water, we're not influenced by the moon.

What’s your go-to drink order?

My go-to drink is straight up whiskey, which has gotten me respect from old men when I played pub shows. I did go through a phase of drinking white Russians, cause I watched [The] Big Lebowski. I got into bowling and white Russians. I had a night with my best friend where we drank white Russians solidly all night. Probably like two pints of milk, maybe more? I got really sick.

What’s your go-to hangover cure?

I've gotta be outside, and I've gotta basically stick to my routine. I still will have a cigarette when I wake up. Lucozade, and summer rolls.

Who would be the three headliners of the music festival of your dreams?

Warpaint, for sure. I went through a two-year phase where every time they played vaguely near me I would make my best friend's dad drive me there even if she didn't want to come. They're also f*cking good at their instruments; Jenny Lee Lindberg is an unbelievable bassist. I think every time I watch them I watch them with an open mouth. I really love them.

Dinosaur Junior. I just love his vibe and I love that pretty much every song has a solo in it. I think if he can shred, why not?

I'm gonna go for Neil Young, purely because he released [a] record that wasn't as appreciated as his past stuff and he played it in its entirety at the show and then everyone was kind of booing towards the end and he was like, "I'm now gonna play something that you've all heard before." And everyone was like "F*ck yeah!" Thinking he'd play a record that they recognized, and then he started the whole set all over again of the new songs. That's just such a big dick move.

What's the weirdest snack that you make?

I like burger cheese (it's like processed cheese that comes in its own separate little house) wrapped around a tomato. Also, lettuce and peanut butter on a rice cake, that's pretty good, too. Peanut butter is so sticky that you need something fresh in your mouth that doesn't have flavor and that's lettuce.

What's a bad habit of yours that you've been meaning to fix?

Smoking! Smoking is my vice. I recently hung out with my dad's friend who's known me since I was a kid, and he was like, "Ah you're still smoking. That's surprising." I was like, it surprises me that I am able to cut people out of my life, I'm able to see a situation as being unhealthy and move away from it. But smoking seems to be one of those things that's so become a part of my being that it's really gonna take a lot to stop.

What was the last internet rabbit hole you went down?

I used to have insomnia really badly and I moved away from it and I managed to get it under control, but the other night I was up til four lying in bed looking at the ceiling like, "F*ck why can't I sleep?" I thought maybe watching extreme weather footage would make me sleepy, and it did. Ever since then, every time I feel that I want to go to sleep but I can't, I go on Reddit or YouTube and watch extreme weather videos, like hurricanes and storm chasers and it's brilliant. Sometimes something sneaks in that's really dark like, people's livelihoods being crushed by God, but other than that it's kind of calming. It's like, I'm small, in comparison to this huge thing that's happening.

If you could be in any music video, what would it be?

I'm just gonna go [with] The Darkness. There's the video for "Love Is Only A Feeling." It starts with every member of the band as a spot of light; the camera pans down behind these spots of light onto the top of a f*cking canyon and then they all turn, these pieces of light, into the band with their guitars. They're all wearing leather chaps and really extreme clothing. It's just a really extra video where you're like, it's cool that they thought: "We're gonna spend all our budget on location and special effects and zero on hair and make up." They all look so rough but it's epic.

What was your first concert, and what are your memories of it?

I was maybe 14 and I went to see Tame Impala. I think it was before they released the first album. I remember it because I was wearing this pink mini skirt and I was in the middle of the room, very far from exits and I got my period. I was trapped in a throng of people that were going hard for Tame Impala and I was like I need to get out. I realized I couldn't and I had a panic attack and I had to be carried out by a complete stranger while on my period. That was fun.

The support act was Melody's Echo Chamber and she was wearing this gold top and and the end of the show, when I got over the panic attack, I met her at the merch stand and I told her that I really liked her top, and she was like, "Oh my god we can totally swap." And I was like, "Really?" And then she turned away from me and she started talking to someone else. It broke my heart. I blame her for me having trust issues now.

What was your favorite movie as a kid?

It's either Aristocats, and there was also this cartoon called Help I'm A Fish, where these kids turn into fish and then they try through the movie to get back onto land. The opening credits music was written for the film, and the lyrics are: "I'm a little, little fish in a deep blue sea/ Will somebody help me?" And there's a backing vocal that goes: "Help me!" It's really cool.

What's your favorite meme/internet joke and why?

What's your go-to breakup song?

When I'm having a breakup I like to involve myself in music that isn't about breakups? I like to feel pain from a different perspective. Damien Jurado has a song called "The Last Great Washington State" and it's probably the most beautiful song I've ever heard. In terms of this really melancholy, emotionally intelligent story about losing someone and finding it difficult to fit your life around their life. It's completely devoid of anger or criticism. It feels really honest and really simple but it's got these mad strings on it.

What is your favorite red carpet look of all time worn by someone else?

Immediately I thought of the Björk swan dress. It's brilliant. Also swans do hug like that — they wrap their necks around things. I feel like if I was wearing that dress and I was at an event where nobody was speaking to me, not that nobody was speaking to Björk, but if I felt myself alone at an event, I would feel supported by the fact that there's a fake swan hugging me with its neck. Emotionally it feels important to me and also it looks tight.

What is one thing everyone should buy that is under $10?

A Shewee; it's to help women pee at festivals. It's like a funnel with a kind of oval shape opening at the top and a little tube, and you piss into the funnel and it goes directly down instead of spraying your feet and you can use it standing up. My friend bought me one as a joke and I took it to a festival last year and used it and it's changed the way that I pee. It looks suspect though. I have it in my kitchen drawer for some reason and every time I look in the back of the drawer I'm like "Oh! What's that?" But it's just the Shewee. It's fine. I've washed it.

What is your go-to sad song?

There's a song by Okkervil River that when I first heard it, I cried uncontrollably. It was one of the first times that I hung out with my now-boyfriend. We were in my house and he just put on this record and it's the first song on the record. It's called "Okkervil River R.I.P."

The first lyric is: "Hey my little baby/ Pointing at the sky's amazing/ In the lake now." It's like six-and-a-half minutes long, and it builds to this crescendo that, it's such a slow build, it naturally tracked the development of my crying. First I was crying a little bit, and then by minute two I was like really crying and then by the end I was an absolute mess. I was doing that diaphragm crying where you can't breathe and you can't see and this guy who I just met was just holding me and he didn't say anything. But I think I fell in love with him at that moment because he dealt with that outburst of unexplainable emotion so well. And ever since then, anytime I'm feeling like a need to cry, I'll put it on and every time it will let me cry.

What reality show would you most like to appear on?

Don’t Tell the Bride! It's an old show that is now on Netflix. It's British and the premise is, there's a couple who are engaged and the man is given the task of planning every aspect of the wedding. And, invariably, the woman says at the beginning: "I want to feel like a princess for one day." And the man says: "I wanna push her out of her comfort zone." And they don't get to have any contact through the process of planning the wedding. She just has to turn up on the wedding day to whatever this guy has planned, and it's so dramatic. There's often people like, "I need to think about our relationship. I can't go through this wedding. You've got this so wrong." It's perfect.

What is your coffee order?

Just a black filter coffee. I drink a lot of it. Recently, I've been trying to cut down so I've been splitting the amount of coffee I drink between two cups; rather than having six cups of coffee that are really strong I'll have six half-cups of coffee or whatever. So I'm watering down with oat milk. It doesn't taste the same. It doesn't feel as Parisian...? It doesn't feel like something Jacques Brel would drink. He wouldn't water it down.

What is your favorite fast food place, and what's your order?

When I was in the States, we went to an IHOP at midnight after an amazing day of driving down the Redwood trail in California. I got pancakes with fruit with yogurt and syrup and a side order of just broccoli. It was the perfect meal.