Front Page Feature: DEWEY

Photo by Ali Kate Cherkis

When it comes to using the phrase ‘One To Watch’ it can certainly be thrown about for almost anyone these days. That’s not the case for Fifi Dewey however. Over the past ten years or so she’s slowly been growing her presence in the underground and mainstream music scenes, touring and playing with some of the biggest names in indie folk. She’s worked with some of the most prolific and exciting musicians and producers in the London underground scene, releasing a couple of singles along the way. Returning recently after a couple of years break with new single ‘Savannah’ that dances between the hypnotic and the surreal. It’s been quite the wild ride, with a long trip across the United States thrown into the mix. But now she’s ready to shine her own ethereal light onto the world and gift us all with the music that’s been years in the making.

The new single Savannah is mainly about a trip you took to America?

So in 2013 I went on a trip inspired by my favourite music scenes. There’s an amazing music scene in Minneapolis amongst other places and I just really wanted to go to all these cities and see why that is. I went to Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle and New York. And then in between that I farmed on some organic farms. And that was more of the inspiration for this body of work that I’m releasing, with the first song being Savannah.

And you’ve got more music to come?

Yeah so it’s essentially an album, but I’ve split it into two parts with 10 tracks, and hopefully that’ll all  come out this year.

Are the other songs on the album similar themes to Savannah?

They definitely have similar themes about obsession and fantasy. Essentially it’s that land in the mind where you’re fantasising about a place out of reach, beyond your reality. It’s a queer heartbreak album more importantly!

With it being a couple of years since your last release, why did it feel like now was the right time to release new music?

I wrote most of them between the age of 24 – 26, I’m now 30 so it’s taken such a long time to get it all together! I had the songs and I demoed them up to the point that I was very happy with, but needed help engineering the sound. I then started playing in my friends band, Nick Mulvey, and then he introduced me to the producer Dan Carey. I took the songs to Dan and said do you think you could help me re-amp and re-engineer some of this record. I felt like the atmosphere was there but the quality wasn’t. And he’s totally amazing and he got the vision 100%. Flash forward two more years, with the record complete, I was ready to release it in 2019 after making the music video for Savannah. The day after I made that music video I went into hospital and was diagnosed with cancer.

Oh really? I’m so sorry to hear that!

Yeah it’s mad! I have to tell this story, because I feel if i don’t then i’m not being authentic. It’s maybe a lot for people to hear but it’s real. So I went into hospital and had chemo for 4 months and surgery and have spent this last year getting better. And i’m healthy and happy now!

I’m very glad to hear that!

So that’s why I’m releasing it  a year later. It’s weird because in that video I had this long blonde hair and now it’s come back and its brown and its curly, it’s crazy. So cool! So then I was like do I release that video, because it’s sort of strange but you know, it tells that story so I think it’s important. So that’s the long version!

Working with Dan Carey, I know he’s worked with so many big names, Fontaines D.C. , Black Midi, Tame Impala, what was it like working with him? I’ve heard it’s quite an intense process where you get a day to record in and thats it?

We recorded the single ‘Loch Linne’ which Dan put out on his Speedy Wunderground label back in 2018. The rule is you record everything in a day, Dan and Alexis mix it and then it gets released. So that was super fun! We’ve re-done that song so it will be on the album but it’ll sound slightly different. But yeah me and Dan have like a telepathic way of playing together, it’s really fucking cool! We’ve only just started actually playing more music together, which i’m fucking excited about. And he’s amazing, he doesn’t really have any limitations in his mind, it’s completely expansive. So if you’re like “Dan I want this synth to sound like thunder!” and then it’ll be like “Oh my god this is it” and we’ll sit with these thunder sounds! He’s the best.  

Listening back over some of your songs, they’ve got quite an ethereal psychedelic sound to them. Is that something that when you’re writing the songs you think I want this to sound this way, or is that something that gets thrown in whilst in the studio and you think it would be a good idea to have in it?

 I’ll have an idea of a place before I know what the songs are about sometimes, so it’s inherently cinematic and visual.Then I’ll try and create an unrestful eruption of thunder and lightning for instance. Sometimes a song will build around that like Savannah for example. I had this fantasy about those southern live oak trees in Savannah, Georgia that are all creepy and verdant, bending around the air. The second half of the song takes place in the desert at night time, which is why there’s kind of two personalities in that song. I definitely do that first, I’ll have an idea for the feeling and then I’ll put the song on top of it. Sometimes it’s more simplistic  as i may just write the song on guitar, or I’ll do a vocal stack first, with loads of harmonies and then add the song over the top.

And with the songs on the rest of the album do they follow similarly with the sound of Savannah? Or are they different in any way?

I think the whole thing fits atmospherically together, It definitely has a specific vibe.I wanted to try and make it cohesive because I think it’s quite easy as a solo musician to put a record out and change the sound with every song. Whereas I was aiming to  make a confluence throughout, which ended up being the vocal stacks next to the poppy vocals off -set with creepy ambient sounds.

And what’s it been like releasing this music through Speedy Wunderground? Is it just Dan who runs that?

Yeah so it’s Dan and Alexis, who’s Dan’s engineer. They’re wizards. They’re amazing in the studio as they just know exactly how to get the right sound. So it was the three of us and our friend Liam who came in to drum for a track.

I feel that if you say to someone that something’s been released on Speedy Wunderground then immediately you would know it’s going to be of good quality, how has releasing with that pretence helped you?

The music is definitely connected and there’s some really cool people in that music scene who I’ve become friends with. And of course just having the honour to work with someone like Dan, that in itself is conformation of something good.

You mentioned touring with Nick Mulvey, how did you get to meet him? And what were some of the best experiences from touring with him?

I met him about 12 years ago through his now wife, Isadora, who is one of my closest friends. Me, her and her sister used to be in a folk band together in Brighton when we were like 18. I used to drum, we all used to sing these 3 point harmonies. We’d go and watch Nick play in his old band Portico Quartet. We stayed in touch and then about 7 years later he asked me to be his backline technician on the campaign of his album ‘First Mind.’ I then recorded some backing vocals for his second album and subsequently joined the live show, playing guitar, percussion and singing! There’s been so many amazing things to come out of that. The best thing has been the people I’ve become friends with through the project. We also toured America which was amazing! 

And you played on his latest album as well? What was that like working with him and then going into the album?

Brilliant! There were loads of people involved in that record. The recording took place in Box, outside of Bath which is Peter Gabriel’s studio.Ethan Jones produced it; such an incredibly beautiful space to record in. And then from that actually Nick finished the record with Dan (Carey) and that’s how I met Dan because we were at his studio finishing off some vocals. Everyone went outside for a cigarette and i was like “Dan is that the Swarmatron that everyone talks about?” and then we started playing and were like “Uh oh, shit!”.

Thats very cool, a very fun way to meet your producer

It was so good, I’ve been lucky!

I saw you played on Jools Holland with Nick, what was that experience like?

It was really crazy, and I’m sure like me you’ve probably grown up watching that show. Just being in that studio was very surreal, it was kind of a bit of a blur to be honest. I do remember looking over and I had St. Vincent to the left of me, Beck to the right and Robert Plant straight ahead. It was the weirdest most flawless line up, it was totally mad. We all just had loads of fun, obviously we were quite nervous but it was a real hoot.

With some of those great artists there, who would you say influences some of your sound, because I don’t know if you feel the same but I did hear a bit of St. Vincent in some of your songs as well?

Yeah I really loved her first couple of records; Strange Mercy, that album is amazing. John Congleton produced that and i love his work. It’s a really hard one that question because there’s definitely been people growing up that I’ve listened to obsessively but I don’t know how much it reflects on my influences directly now. Definitely bands like Polica, that Minneapolis scene, Gayngs and Ryan Olson the producer, I just love everything those guys do. I’ve been listening to Alex G a lot recently, but that didn’t influence the music.I love Arthur Russel and Joanna Newsom..PJ Harvey as well. I made a playlist on Spotify and if you have a look at that there’s like 20 hours of my favourite stuff. It goes from doom metal to classical! I’m really not elitist when it comes to music, I’ll listen to anything. I’m specific about what I like but I’ll listen to any genre.

I think that’s a really good mentality to have, because then when you’re creating your music, you feel you don’t have to have that limitation or it has to fit with this genre

That’s exactly what it is. That’s why I think there’s a big combination of sounds in there, electronic and organic sounds. I’m not thinking about the genre when I’m doing it at all.

Photo by Ali Kate Cherkis

I’ve heard you’re quite a big fan of the show Twin Peaks, and you visited the locations, what does that show mean to you?

I think with David Lynch, a lot of people feel he’s just so inspiring in so many ways. I think even just his approach to making something, he doesn’t have any boundaries and you can tell that. And he’s not doing it for anyone else but himself. So more than anything else his process is fucking cool. But his films are a massive influence. I’d say films are just as much of an influence to me as music. And his stuff is incredible, just the atmosphere, the darkness, the mystery, the obsession with the occult, I’m really into that stuff. There is a darkness in my music, but it’s not necessarily about tapping into it in a negative way. It’s almost like bringing it in, in a melancholic but beautiful way because that’s just life isn’t it? And I think it’s something we shy away from, but I love how he makes it beautiful. And there’s a tension through everything, an unrestful feeling. I’m pretty geeky about things like that and on that trip that I took to America I took a bus and I actually went to see the twin peaks filming locations. I want to show you something actually! It was my birthday on Friday and my friend painted this for me. (She then proceeds to grab a drawing of the RR Diner from the show) Which is pretty cool, if you recognise it?

Oh okay wow yeah that is really cool!

Yeah it’s so cool! I actually went there.

So that is a real diner is it?

Yeah! It’s so weird, it’s quite strange inside. I actually got stuck there and nearly missed the last bus. And then I would have had to stay in this horrible motel that Leland Palmer killed a prostitute in. I was just like no i can’t stay there! And luckily the bus appeared, otherwise that would have been my fate.

As well with the show it’s got quite an iconic soundtrack, does that have any influence in to your music at all?

100%. Even if it’s just those synths. A band I was thinking of which relates to this actually, somebody that really has influenced me is Cocteau Twins. And I think David Lynch actually asked Liz Fraser to sing the soundtrack first of all. But then he got Julie Cruise to do it, but i can imagine Liz Fraser singing that. It’s so beautiful, I love it so much.

You said your music is quite cinematic, would you at any point create a soundtrack for a film?

I’d love to! I think in a way that would take away that pressure to think about what the story is. You already have the story there and then you can just apply your own skills to making something vibey.

There’s an artist I’ve been listening to this year called I Break Horses and with her latest album she watched loads of old films and then reimagined the soundtrack to them and created her album around that.

That’s really cool!

I think it’s quite a fun way to approach it, where you just have it there and create music for it.

100%. I’ve got a music video out for the next single, which because of the lockdown I decided to make myself. But I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I didn’t want to make a cheesy “I’m in my room!” kinda thing. So I thought I’m just gonna get a drone, as one does. My friend lent me his drone, so then I had to learn how to fly it which was wild because you actually have to get a licence to do it. And I’ve ended up making a music video with this drone and I’m really excited about that coming out. 

Is that the first music video you’ve done on your own?

Yeah, I didn’t  know if I’d be able to pull it off but I think it’s quite cool. It’s obvious I’ve made it because I’m holding the controller in the shots.

And now you’ve done that, do you think you’d do more yourself? Or would you still look to work with other people?

I’m definitely gonna make more of them, it’s a really fun process. It’s quite different from music because you’re instantly in a place where you can’t really think of anything else. You know making music can be so emotional sometimes, whereas this is like “I’m here. That tree looks really cool. Okay. Hi Tree”. And then you’re just looking at a tree, and that’s lovely! So I’m definitely gonna do it even just as a hobby, see what happens. But also I’d love to work with other people of course.

With everything being in lockdown some great projects have come out of it, one of those being the Quarantine Series on Speedy Wunderground, you did yours with Savage Gary, how did that come about?

Oh that’s Dan! That was really fun, I was just like “I haven’t done one yet, please send me a track!”. Haha that was it basically that was the conversation. All of those tracks are so good. I think as well so many things are changing now with the music industry because people can’t gig, things are different aren’t they? And I think it’s pushed a lot of people to see, what we thought were our limitations, are not. Like making that music video for me was something of an experiment, but it’s proved that I can do more than I thought I could. And even just making that track with Dan quite quickly, and putting it on Soundcloud is sometimes just as good, if not actually better than putting things on Spotify. Because I think we get really caught up in trying to meet these expectations that sometimes are unrealistic. I think I’d like to get to a place where I’m just putting music out all the time, but how that’s possible within the industry structure I don’t know. You know I’ve ended up putting this music out independently because of some of those reasons. I think that’s what I love about Dan and Speedy Wunderground, they’re so prolific. And they’re so open to new things,taking risks. I’d love to see more of that happening within the music industry. I mean just dropping things on Soundcloud is kind of great! I miss the days of MySpace when you’d just put tracks up on there and if a few people liked them then they’d re-share them. That was cool and everything’s just got a bit too serious, which then makes you become precious and have expectations. I think it’s really good to just let go of all of that stuff and just do it because you love doing it.

I saw the other day that the CEO of Spotify said musicians need to put more out, they can’t just rely on an album every three or four years. Which kind of shows that they’re only viewing musicians as a commodity.

Totally and it’s just fucked up isn’t it? Maybe pay us first Spotify! 

One last one, suggested to me by a friend of yours, if you could have one type of donut, what would it be and why?

I knew that was going to be a question! I’m just going to go really simple because I asked for some jam donuts for my birthday and didn’t get any did I? So just a jam donut with a coffee, or glazed, just a glazed krispy kreme. No extras, keep it simple, keep it classy.

That’s a very good answer

How about you?

Oh I don’t know!

Don’t say custard

No definitely not, probably just a nice sprinkled donut, maybe a bit of glazing

Nice.

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