Today is the opening of the week-long Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts Festival, with new pieces from the nation’s bounteous pool of creators being shared every day. The festival aims to “spark inspiring and challenging conversations about mental health issues, fighting stigma and promoting wellbeing via active creativity.”
With various conversations, performances, films and more arranged across the week, we wanted to highlight today’s premiere of “two_”, a stunning new track from singer-songwriter Constance Keane, aka Fears.
Across the handful of tracks released so far, Fears has already proven herself to be a stark voice in the ongoing conversation around mental health. “two_” delves even deeper and required even more bravery, as it centres on her true experiences of self-harm. In her disarmingly clear voice, backed by skeletal guitar and simplistic beats, she recounts her mental and physical despondency in stark poetry: “The lines on my legs / tell a story of the time when I spent / too long hating myself from the outside in.”
Rather than try to unpack “two_”, we thought we’d ask Fears a few questions directly, and get to know this bold new voice. Listen to “two_” below then scroll down for our Q&A.
Firstly, why did you choose the name Fears?
I chose the name Fears because although I had been working on music behind closed doors, when it came to actually releasing stuff and performing, I was fairly terrified. I used to feel sick for a week before a gig. I hated the idea of being on a stage. I think at that point playing shows was a necessary evil for me. Over the years I’ve changed my view on it. Although I am still very much not into being in a stage in front of a crowd, I get a really buzz out of coordinating performances and my visual work I make.
“two_” is being released in conjunction with Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts Festival – how did that partnership arise?
I’m really excited that the track is coming out in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts Festival. Their Artistic Director, Dawn Richardson, got in touch to see if I was interested in putting something together and I had started working on “two_” only a few weeks beforehand so it was great timing.
“two_”, and all of your songs released so far, are related to how you manage your mental health, which is something you openly talk about. What part does writing songs play in the learning and healing processes?
I feel incredibly lucky that I have something like music to put my energy into because it gives me a place to put the emotions I am feeling. Whether I decide to release it or not is a whole other thing, but to be able to record the thoughts you’re having in a creative way has helped me immensely. When I was in hospital, there was a music room, and I would go and just sit there alone and remind myself how to create for the sake of creating, as opposed to worrying if other people are going to like it. When you’re in a situation like that, you don’t really expect anyone to even hear what you’re making, and there’s a lot of freedom in that.
“two_” is particularly about the subject of self-harm – did you have any reservations about singing so bluntly and personally on this topic? What is the experience like presenting this to other people?
I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about self-harm for a while now. It’s obviously an awful thing, and definitely not something I would condone, but it’s a symptom of a bigger issue. Because of how it carries a sense of shame in mainstream society, it ends up being this big dark shadow for people, including myself, that only isolates you further. It’s been encouraging to see public conversations about mental health issues in general, but I think self-harm is still left locked up in the attic somewhere, never to be spoken about at the dinner table.
I think my main reservations about talking so bluntly about it is that people would think I’m pro-self-harm, but clearly isn’t the case. Just because you acknowledge something doesn’t mean you promote it or celebrate it. I worry about triggering people by bringing it up, too. As with so many things to do with mental health issues, the same approach isn’t going to be good for everyone, so it’s important for me to flag up that’s I’ll be talking about it before I get into anything.
Why do you think it’s important to speak/sing openly about mental health struggles?
My hope with talking about it is to get rid of that isolated feeling you get when you try to pull your skirt down an inch or two further to cover up the evidence. You’re constantly on guard. It’s exhausting.
What have been some representations of mental struggles in art and culture that you have appreciated?
It can be comforting to hear music about these kind of topics because it makes you feel connected to something. It’s the same with other art forms too. I remember reading It’s Kind Of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini while I was in hospital, and it was the most normal I had felt in a while. The TV show This Way Up that came out last year was also a great watch, in the way it represented the moments of humour in someone recovering from a breakdown.
How have you been coping with the current lockdown situation?
I’ve actually been coping okay in lockdown. I honestly wonder if six weeks in a psychiatric hospital two years ago taught me some coping mechanisms for spending this long without seeing friends and living your “normal” life.
I usually live in London, but I’m back in Dublin with my family, and we’re doing okay. There is space to go for walks and breathe, which I feel so grateful for. I’ve been making radio shows for two online stations – Dublin Digital Radio and The 343 Radio, and that’s been a wonderful way to connect with the outside world. Pre-lockdown I was supposed to be playing shows around Ireland and the UK for the next two weeks, but I’m safe and healthy so I really can’t complain. I’ve been putting together visual work – one of the pieces being the video for “two_”
Do you have any tips or recommendations for maintaining high spirits?
My tips for right now it to make things with no pressure of showing it to the world. Everything is so stressful right now, there’s literally a pandemic happening, so expressing your feelings in any creative way you can is a good idea, without having to live up to anyone’s expectations or prove yourself in any way. That could be making dinner, writing something, putting on weird make up, or getting dressed up for an evening of sitting on your sofa. Fundamentally – are you alive today and being mindful of others and not spreading the virus? Then you’re doing a great job.
What does the future hold for Fears? Is there an EP or album on the horizon?
I’ve been saying I have an album recorded for about a year now and it’s still there haha. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to release it, which I imagine will be early next year at this stage, but we shall see.