Lena Fayre is less than an inch away from me. We’re wedged in close on what seems to be the only empty bench left in the Lower East Side, and the man next to us looks like he’s been sitting there for hours. The 19-year-old is wearing pink fluffy dangly earrings, and camouflage shorts from Walmart, her short chestnut hair pulled into a half bun, her eyeliner winged out to a perfect point. I try not to stare at her septum piercing.
We’ve settled here to escape a bustling eatery—the spot chosen for our initial meeting—only to find this outdoor perch more chaotic than inside, an endless procession of clattering trucks kicking up street dirt in their wake. It’s a long way from the quiet of LA where Fayre is based. I'm eager to ask her about the cover art for her new EP, Is There Only One?, co-produced by Noah Georgeson (Devendra Banhart). It's a shot of her phone, which shows an Instagram of her ex's current girlfriend—yup, the woman he dumped her for. For the record, the other girl knows she's on the EP, an EP crammed with songs about heartbreak, denial, empowerment, and honesty. Well, hey, a breakup will always provide an artist with a font of inspiration.
"It definitely bruised my ego," she says of the split. As Fayre tells it, they were in an open relationship, but in the end, he wanted to be monogamous with someone else. "So I went into the studio and I wrote five songs—only five—and really kind of worked my way through this situation, that emotional shit storm."
Apparently, they're on good terms now, and when she called the other girl to ask her permission to use the photo, she was OK with it; her photo was the only logical art to use. "This EP is the totality of my experience with my first real heartbreak," she says. "I don't want to lessen the meaning that this music has for me by like putting a pretty picture of my face on the EP."
Check out this exclusive teaser video for the EP below.
Fayre's melodies are sweetly dark, her vocals, often processed with heavy reverb, blend with a sea of synths over minimalist, hard-hitting, beats—markedly different from the pop she was gaining traction for in 2013 when her YouTube videos were racking up millions of views with a more strident kind of pop. Now, she's FKA twigs with the power of Amy Lee and the ghostliness of Lorde, and just a dash of Banks. She loves Marina and the Diamonds, wants to collaborate with Arca, and takes comfort in Marilyn Mason—"That band created a whole aesthetic and whole personality, especially the record Eat Me, Drink Me. It really changed how I perceive music."
With each song on the EP Fayre moves through stages: first track "Do You Like That?"—which we premiered in May—establishes her pain with lines like, "You made your decision and I'm living with it / I know you're honest / Just way too honest." Honesty is one of the EP's most powerful weapons: it can break your heart, but it can also help you move on and become truer to yourself. Sometimes, dishonesty hurts even more, like on "Colors Of Leaving," when she pleads over and over, "Please don't pretend I can love you like a friend."
Still, her music doesn't wallow in sadness. In fact, the split empowered her, although at first, it came from a place of denial. "I am revolutionary to forsake the longing," she declares on "Possession," a watercolored ballad where she winds her voice through dolce upper registers and low, round tones. "I do it all for me and me for all."
Later that night with bandmate Mike McGill, she takes the stage round the corner at Pianos. She preempts "New Sensation" by holding her mic high and yelling "Shout out to my ex!" Fayre bends her knees to sway with the song, occasionally messing with something on her stand of electronic gadgets. A quick flick of her wrist is perfectly timed with a snare hit on McGill's drum pad. Someone in the crowd comments that people in New York don't like to dance, but that doesn't stop the singer. Earlier, side-by-side on that bench, she told me: "If I give myself to the music, then that's all I have to do. I like to dance, I like to move, but in an honest way. I'm not a dancer, I'm not up there to look sexy—I'm up there to make meaningful music and translate it to an audience."
All you can do is see Lena Fayre close-up, whether you're cozying up together on a dirty New York City street or listening to her music alone, submerged in her reality.
"Come closer," she says onstage, beckoning the crowd to approach her. "We don't bite."
Is There Only One is out on 7.24
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