Femmetastic

Photo by Matthew Attard in conjunction to the Domus Shoot

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Some interviews can be tough.  There are people who are prone to clamming up; offering monosyllabic answers regardless of how hard you try to put them at ease.  It is even more frustrating if you know that there’s a really good story waiting to be told if only they’d give you something to work with.

This was not such an interview; in fact it was quite the opposite.  The two young women who sat opposite me in a caf√© in Naxxar exuded confidence and both were extremely eloquent in their replies.  Caroline Spiteri and Francesca Mercieca, who perform together under the name Fuzzhoneys, are two musicians who know their mind and don’t shy away from expressing it.

So it was a bit of a surprise when Francesca admitted that she can suffer from nerves when she has to perform.  Which, given that she is the lead singer, can something of a problem.

“During live performances I get so excited, there is so much adrenalin flowing, that sometimes I have to look at videos of our gigs to really appreciate what went on.” 

“Eventually that is something that I would like to control.  For instance when we had a show in Italy I managed to control myself completely.  I really enjoyed myself and afterwards I could talk with people.”

“This,” she says referring to what the two have with their band, “has always been something that I wanted to do.  Not that I wanted to be a diva.  But at the start it was a bit intense as I was extremely conscious that my dream was coming true.  And I truly appreciate it.”

***

I first got to know about the Fuzzhoneys as I do with any local band, through Toni Sant’s excellent weekly podcast Muzika Mod Iehor.  Their blend of soul with rock hooked me pretty much instantaneously and from early on I was telling everyone about this discovery in that insanely intense manner that only music seems to elicit.

To be fair, I was an easy target.  As someone who’s teenage years was soundtracked by various grunge anthems I could sense a hint of that spirit in their music (they would eventually tell me that Nirvana, who were at the forefront of grunge, were a group they deeply enjoyed) even if this wasn’t overt.

More than that there is the admiration – and a faint element of jealousy – that I always feel for those who manage to create music with others.  It was something that I always wanted to do but never had the determination to follow up on.


Photo by Kamy Aquilina of C6 par Photography

Turns out that the Fuzzhoneys duo held that same ambition with the big difference that they kept going until it happened for them.  “When I was young – I think around thirteen – a friend of mine used to play the piano and she used to tell me that when we grew older we’d form our own band,” Francesca tells me.

“That never came to be.”  

“Then I started jamming with Stimpy (the drummer of another excellent Maltese band, The Velts) with whom I used to play so frequently that I didn’t feel to say that we were a band to write things together.  It came naturally.  Yet he had his own band and I started to wonder whether it would happen that I find a band of my own.”

And then it happened.  “I met Caroline because we had the same circle of friends.” 

“By pure chance we were going to the same festival.  And we ended up staying together,” Caroline continues.

“It was all very natural,” Francesca again.  “Sometimes the less you stress about something the more things happen for you.”

There’s a word for that: serendipity.

“When we started playing was also when we started becoming friends.  We weren’t friends beforehand,” Francesca admits.  “We started learning about each other from small things.”

“The amount of likes that we had in common was amazing.  The first time that I saw her room, I didn’t have any words, it was so similar to mine.”

For both their rooms are their sanctuary.  “That’s where I have my inspirations, in pictures in my room.  Artists like Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, John Lennon are for me very important.”

That the two of them hit it off so well is one of the reasons why, so far, they’ve remained a duo.  But it is not the only one.

“From other projects I realised that I work better if only with one person.  A lot of people tell us that that we want to emulate the White Stripes.  They were an inspiration but they aren’t the reason why we’re a duo.  I enjoy having control of the guitar and dislike having a lot of solos.  I like silence and I think that we have a very good control of silence.  Especially in our new songs.  Amazing,” Francesca says matter-of-factly and without any hint of ego.

“I enjoy it even more.  Silence is very important.  You have a lot of bands where there are a lot of people running after each other trying to fill every silent slot.  That’s why I work well with one person because I need my silence.” 

***

Early on in our conversation Francesca takes out a tattered notebook that contains four years’ worth of work.  Through it they can map out their songs from opening inspiration to the final version.  In it there are also those songs where the idea fizzled out.  It is a thing of beauty, even if it may not look like it, and the loving way that Francesca leafs through it shows that she knows this.

The technicalities of their songs, and their song writing process, is something that they’ve thought about lot.  Caroline explains how it usually happens, “whilst we’re in our garage, either I pick up a beat and she continues or the other way round.  And slowly we start building on each other.   We feed off each other.”  

“It is like jamming but it is more focused on getting something that sounds good.  Then, when Francesca gets going she asks for the subject of the song because we work a lot based on the subject of the song.  We open it up, like a story.”
The cover art of Fuzzhoney's debut EP, 'CD  tal-Genn'. Buy it.

“Let’s take Luna, one of the latest songs we’ve written.  Both Francesca and myself love the moon so we really wanted to have a song that deals with the moon, ideally with the word Luna.  So when we hit this particular melody we decided to call it Luna.”

“We came up with a story and that’s how we work, with Francesca opening it up.  Then we take a bit of a break and go over the lyrics.  Often we work on them at home and then Francesca asks me about certain words or phrases used; whether they fit.”

“Often there are no changes.” 

“We always follow that process,” Francesca adds.  “Occasionally I tell her ‘this really reminds me of Nirvana or of The Doors’ but we never go out intentionally trying to replicate a song or sound”

“I try to sing and play the guitar at the same time because if I first try to write the lyrics I then don’t know how to sing it!”

“At the start I’ll be having a buzz playing so I ask her for a subject. We enjoy using just one word for our song titles and am trying to keep that.  I think that with time we’ve been maturing in how we discuss a subject.  We go very deep with each song.”

To explain what she means, she uses an example.  “We have a song called Amy that is inspired by Amy Winehouse.  We had seen a documentary about her life and were hugely impressed.  It really moved me and I spent hours thinking about it.  It was the first time that I went overboard with lyrics but I learned a lot.”

“Another song is called Cream that came about when I passed my driving licence test.  So we work a lot with everyday inspiration.  It is not like we’re some rock stars who have some idea and then get other people to help us.  It is not like that.  We have our work.  We have our life.  And then we go to rehearsals and what we do there is more authentic; it is straight from our heart.

Later this year the duo will be going into the studio to record their first album (so far, they have issued one EP titled CD Tal-Genn)

“Without really intending there will be a common thread and that will be us.” Caroline reflects as she talks about that coming project. “As individuals we are quite similar so our tastes show in the writing of the songs.  Inevitably every song has that Fuzzhoneys element to it.”

Ensuring that their taste do echo in their songs involve a lot more work than anyone who is not familiar to the song producing business would imagine.  Francesca gets into the technical detail of this work.  “We draw up a list of songs that inspired us in terms of sound.  We pass them on to whoever is producing our album so that they can appreciate how we want it to sound.”

“As far as mixing, additional sounds and additional voices are concerned, I really get into them.  We have a whole concept.  We work to ensure that we sound as tight as possible so that it seems as if one person is playing, not two; so that we sound gelled and dynamic.”

***

The maturity both in their process and in their thoughts is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the conversation.  It is perhaps far too easy for those who are older – even if not by too much, like myself - to dismiss a lot of today’s youths as over pampered kids who are obsessed with themselves and how they appear on social media.
Photo by Kamy Aquilina of C6 par Photography
Even if Francesca and Caroline do stop to take a photo to post on Instagram, they are far from frivolous or vain.  They are part of a generation of people who have access to more information than has ever been available to humanity and they are doing their utmost to exploit it.

“We love to read,” Caroline replies when I inquire how they come across their ideas.

It is more than that, however.  “I had never read 1984.  Actually I had read parts of it but was too young to really understand it,” Francesca explains.

“I’ve always loved literature so when I came across the opportunity to watch a theatrical adaptation of that book I took it.  I saw a play in London and it blew my mind.  It was very interactive and intense.  Amazing.”

That experience was then folded into their band.  “We had started to work on a song called Circulation with which we weren’t very happy.  I’d gotten to the middle of it and didn’t know where to take it next. When I saw that play it suddenly clicked.  I understood that the circulation was the whole system.  And it started making sense.” 

Given the events of recent months across the world, that interpretation is both deep and prophetic.  For the Fuzzhoneys, such philosophical musings are part of their fibre.  And they take it very seriously, as they do their role as women. 

“We are not about promoting that a woman is better than a man,” Caroline clarifies.  “But we want to show people that you can do anything.  We are two young women who are proof of that.”

“We have a song called Femmetastic that is about getting better as an individual.  Embracing the power, irrespective if you are a man or a woman.”  

“We are not feminists, we are equalists,” Francesca continues 

“I want to start a movement,” Caroline pitches in.  

Semi-seriously, I think.  

***

PS – Francesca and Caroline insisted that I close off the piece with the quote “life is beautiful”.  So I am.  There might have been a hint of irony in their request, however.

Follow the Fuzzhoneys on their site (where I strongly encourage you to check out and buy from their merchandise section), on Facebook and on Instagram. You can also follow Snapshots of Malta on Facebook here.

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out our story on Henrietta Chevalier, the forgotten Maltese heroine of World War II.

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