Mark Fernyhough Premieres New Song "Steal My Love" and Chats About His Music
British-born, Berlin-based artist Mark Fernyhough shares his anthemic new single “Steal My Love” and talks with PopMatters about his creative work.
Those with an interest in particularly dorky pop cultural titles may be aware that the time of predicting 2017’s “Summer Anthem” is fast approaching. British-born, Berlin-based artist Mark Fernyhough’s new single “Steal My Love” is by no means the sort of song one would normally see in the running, nor is it marketed as such. Yet it feels more in line with the true feelings of summer than whatever lowest common denominator radio fodder will inevitably be awarded the ubiquitous summer anthem title. “Steal My Love” is certainly anthemic in the British pop sense, with big, hooky verses and even bigger, hookier, more blinding choruses, but it’s also beguilingly wistful, a sumptuously warm and sunny day belying a doomed summer romance. Luckily, “Steal My Love”’s hooks are gripping enough to outlive any direct pigeonholing, seasonal or otherwise.
“Steal My Love” follows up on the promise of Fernyhough’s 2016 single “Berlin” in ensuring that his upcoming, as yet untitled solo debut will be a grand affair. The videos for "Berlin" and "Steal My Love" capture the varied approach of each song: whereas the more downbeat “Berlin” comes with a video styled in a monochrome that's reminiscent of French New Wave, “Steal My Love”’s visuals have a fashion magazine gloss coating their mystery. It's a style which speaks both to Fernyhough’s work as a Vogue-featured photographer and his love of Roxy Music and its surplus of strong, sexy, and enigmatic images.
Fernyhough has opened for Suede in Europe, but he also shares a passion for less glamorous signifiers, such as old comics and pulpy ghost stories. Indeed, the glorious pop of “Steal My Love” belies a recording session plagued by supernatural interferences worthy of a campfire tale. In an email interview, Fernyhough thus touched on spirits and style in equal measure.
Tell me a little bit about the material you have been working on. Is there more where "Steal My Love" came from?
Two albums are being recorded. My solo record featuring “Steal My Love” and other tracks I wrote in Berlin, plus an LP of co-writes with London guitarist Steven Horry. From that project, the first single, “Fireworks”, was released late last year.
How did you get to know (guitarist, producer and comic writer/artist) Steven Horry?
Splendid Berlin, the arts magazine I co-edit with photographer Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit, was looking for an Eddie Izzard image to accompany an interview we'd done with him. As if by magic Art Brut's Eddie Argos popped by, suggesting that Steven paint us one. He did so excellently and also ended up producing and arranging “Steal My Love” and most of my debut LP. I also worked with producer Lukas Creswell Rost on some tracks too, including my first single “Berlin”.
You are a visual artist, writer, and musician. Would you like to add anything else to that multi-hyphenate?
I'm currently directing art video projects with Berlin contemporary dancers and actresses which also informs my music videos. It's liberating to have full control over the visual side of my songs.
As someone who does their own visuals, do you have any advice for less artistically inclined artists looking for their own visual direction?
Don't try to be hip or cool. Focus your attention on something that personally fascinates you. Otherwise, no one else is going to get excited by it. Visually I'm more inspired by New Wave French films, classic paintings and old comic books than other photographers, so that adds a slightly different angle to my work.
What are the different ways in which you approach the mediums of visual art and music?
My songs are incredibly instinctive and personal. With my visual work, I enjoy a greater emotional distance. I feel extra pressure to stay true to myself with my music, to create a cohesive body of work. With my visual art and photography, I rapidly explore various directions.
How did the actress Gabrielle Miller become involved in the video? Is there anything you can say about the other young lady appearing in it, Sofia Exss?
The video to “Steal My Love” is a rather international production. Gabrielle Miller is an Australian actress who I met through a Berlin photoshoot. Sofia Exss is a Moroccan actress/model I've photographed for numerous magazine projects. The video was filmed in the Hanseatic East Sea town of Stralsund.
What more do you know about these Russian ghosts that disrupted the recording of "Steal My Love"?
I recorded the vocals to “Steal My Love” in a World War II bullet-ridden part of Berlin where Russian forces fought in the streets against German soldiers. The building overlooked a former brewery which has a very grim wartime history with deserters being hung in its courtyard. One day I was there alone, and despite the upstairs dwellers being away in New York, I heard heavy footsteps and then Russian sounding celebratory men's singing as the chandelier swayed. Then everything went silent. An eyebrow was raised.
Have you had any other spirit encounters when creating music?
On “Steal My Love” there was a mysterious “oooh” that could be heard in an earlier mix. Steven Horry and I checked the vocal track, and it wasn't me.
What is your favorite song about, or evocative of, spirits?
I once went to a huge abandoned hospital complex in Berlin and listened to Nico's Marble Index. That was pretty atmospheric. I also like haunted house sound effect tapes like rattling chains, howling wind, and random shrieks. Marvelously romantic.
What are some of your plans, musically and artistically?
To continue making music, creating visuals and exploring new worlds. I'd like to work on some interactive art/video projects with contemporary dancers.
As someone who works in both the fields of fashion and music, I'd imagine that you would agree few bands have much of an image nowadays -- apart from the normcore movement, which is essentially anti-image. Do you feel there is a chance for another resurgence of bands with both style and substance, or are things too fractured for that nowadays?
Roxy Music was a strong influence in me employing empowering female glamour in my videos and artwork. Yeah, rock music is bizarrely conservative at the moment. I think if more bands could have style and substance in an uncontrived way then that would be tremendous. I mostly listen to older music but regarding newer bands I really like the Hamburg duo Boy and the New York band Veda Rays.