Fenne Lily, Illuminati Hotties
About This Event
Fenne Lily & Illuminati Hotties with Katy Kirby
At the age of 23, Fenne Lily is a recovering catastrophist. In the world of her music, Fenne’s inveterate vulnerability transforms what-ifs into worse case scenarios, hypotheticals into heartache. This heart-on-sleeve ethos spawned her early songwriting and colored the emotional intensity of her already confessional work. Now, she’s facing this tendency towards emergency head on.
“Hypochondriac,” the Bristol singer’s debut single on Dead Oceans, reflects on this struggle and her own role in solving it. “It’s the first in a collection of tracks addressing myself as both the cause of and solution to my anxieties.” Somewhere between the guitar-first catharsis of early Big Thief and the urgent honesty of Sharon Van Etten, Fenne finds the track’s footing.
Fenne’s new material represents a graduation of sorts from the relationship-based themes of her breakout On Hold, and from the rooted plaintiveness of her vocal delivery. She wants dynamism. She wants to be heard. “It’s time for me to be loud if I wanna be loud and not feel like I’m gonna piss anyone off,” Fenne offers up. Though, it’s not an abandonment of these traits she’s known for but a deliberate construction upon them. Fenne says these songs are simply “a more grown up way of being all the things I have always been and always will be.”
After years of uncertainty including label disputes, unpaid royalties and a surprise (and successful) album drop,And she is ready to make some noise. Her new album Let Me Do One More is three years in the making and Tudzin’s most defiant and accomplished record to date. Let Me Do One More will be out on October 1st via Snack Shack Tracks (in partnership with Hopeless Records.)
After the success of her debut album, Kiss Yr Frenemies, and coining the term “tenderpunk,” illuminati hotties were on their way to recording and releasing a highly-anticipated sophomore album. However, things at the label started to fall apart, and illuminati hotties found themselves stuck in a contract with a label who didn’t have the infrastructure to put out the album the band had been crafting for months. “It felt like any momentum came to a screeching halt. It felt painful to pick up a guitar, to write, to record any loose ends that needed to happen to wrap up the album,” Sarah recalls.
With the emotional turmoil and uncertainty building over the label situation, Tudzin turned her focus to a new batch of songs that would become FREE I.H. Funneling all the raw feelings and letting go of any inhibitions, illuminati hotties released the collection of songs, carefully not defined as the “new album.” The critically-acclaimed, fan favorite, release closed the chapter on the label drama, and opened up the band musically to a whole world of possibilities.
The positive response to FREE I.H. brought back the energy and intention that had seeped out after the label fallout, and Sarah dove straight into the new album, Let Me Do One More. According to Sarah, “The songs tell a story of my gremlin-ass running around LA, sneaking into pools at night, messing up and starting over, begging for attention for one second longer, and asking the audience to let me do one more.”
With the album shaping up, Sarah knew that she didn’t want to sign a traditional label deal anymore. After all the work to get herself back creatively, she wanted to maintain as much autonomy and creative control as possible. She started an imprint label, Snack Shack Tracks, and partnered with Los Angeles-based, independent label, Hopeless Records. Together, they’re gearing up to release Let Me Do One More.
While FREE I.H. felt like an experimental conduit for self-expression at breakneck speed, Let Me Do One More is the fully-realized creative vision of two years of ambition, heartache, uncertainty, redemption, and ultimately triumph. Sarah reflects, “I love these songs and they’re a part of me and I’m proud of them.”
This IS the one you’ve been waiting for.
Katy Kirby is a songwriter and indie rock practitioner with an affinity for unspoken rules, misunderstanding, and boredom. She was born, raised, and homeschooled by two ex-cheerleaders in small-town Texas and started singing in church, amidst the pasteurized-pop choruses of evangelical worship, about which she shares acute perceptions.
Like many bible belt late-millennials, Katy grew up on a strict diet of this dependably uncool genre. She recalls, “In the mid-90s, the American evangelical church was making music of an extraordinarily digestible, almost unprecedentedly easy-listening kind, stylistically void and vaguely dubbed Christian Contemporary Music, or CCM. It was pop that wasn’t quite pop, determinedly hanging on to the openhearted melodies of a decade prior, straightforward so as to be easily memorable, and in a key that an average churchgoer could sing along to.”
Accordingly, Cool Dry Place finds her dismantling it. “I can hear myself negotiating with that worship-ish music, fighting that deeply internalized impulse to make things that are super pleasant or approachable.” She hasn’t fully overcome the itch to please, but to a listener’s benefit. Instead of eradicating the pop sensibilities of her past, she warps them, lacing sugary hooks with sneaky, virulent rage, twisting affectionate tones into matter-of-fact reproach, and planting seemingly serene melodies with sonic jabs. The fun is in the clash.
Take “Portals” for example, a song of country-traditional chords and gentle vocal delivery that might have easily materialized as a placid ballad. Rather, Katy drenched its soft core in metallic noise and oscillating string textures. You can imagine someone bussing glassware from a table nearby, while Katy sits you down at a booth and trusts you with notes on a pre-breakup, the first couple of minutes living in the last part of a relationship.
With the same masterful trickery, “Traffic!” juxtaposes sound and sentiment, a jittery combination of saturated pop and Rainforest Cafe’ faux-tropicalia projecting (arguably false) sympathy toward a character absorbed in his own self-inflicted misery. Though her chorus wails jubilant, Katy weaponizes its catchy gusts to criticize privilege: “Nobody has it better than you.”
Katy’s residual ties to church life are audial alone; spiritually, she has worked to detach. “Until a couple of years ago, I spent much of my time falling out of love with God. My life until then hadn’t just been participating in a church so much as completely, profoundly believing—youth group, sure, but also a few attempts to cast out demons. Learning how to think or see things outside of that very intense, clarified space was like rewiring my brain. I guess that if there’s one thing that unifies these songs, it’s that they’re figuring out what to do, or how to love, or who to rely on outside of that context.”
The nine tracks that make up Cool Dry Place are miscellaneous in subject (motherhood, late capitalism, disintegrating relationships,) but unified by the angle from which they’re told, from a person re-learning to process life with intense attention. Each song is a catalog of fragments, the number of segments in an orange or the cut of an obsessively-worn shirt, distilled into meditations on the bizarre and microscopic exchanges that make up modern life — a relationship splintering, an uncomfortable pause, an understanding finally found. These emotional dioramas are moderated by the angular storytelling that unites Gillian Welch and Phoebe Bridgers, a favor for the conventions of short fiction over confession.
Kirby readily admits that Cool Dry Place feels like a late-bloomer’s record. “These songs were written and recorded over an embarrassingly long period of time, by a few different versions of myself.” The album began in Nashville years ago. Kirby had moved there for college, changed majors five times, briefly dropped out, and finally graduated with a handful of songs, a circle of artistic allies, an amorphous collection of leftist beliefs, and an English degree. She flailed in the solo-artist archetype for a period of time before turning to friends capable of constructing a satisfying full length. Kirby, Alberto, Hunt, Logan, and Zook spent over a year carving out bits of spare time to record in bedroom studios, living rooms, and a now-demolished former residence of Keith Urban. Tracking was finally completed over Thanksgiving 2019 at Kirby’s childhood home outside of Austin.
As its title track flips the advisory on a package of Tylenol into a hymn to human need for protection and acceptance, Cool Dry Place asks a listener to embrace the precious and contradictory nature of being a person. Katy Kirby is an artist simultaneously tender and angry, vulnerable and protected, calculated and resigned.