On her website, English singer-songwriter FAYYE describes herself as someone with a lifelong passion for the piano. She started exploring melodies on the keyboard from a very young age, and she found herself enamored by the possibilities those 88 keys provided. “There was something about the resonant fullness of the piano sound that I loved immediately,” she says. “[It’s] like playing the orchestra.” After classical training and omnivorous musical exploration, FAYYE began to record music invoking her various loves, including classical, jazz and pop.
Pop-adjacent music by classically trained musicians can sometimes feel fussy and overly mannered, but there’s nothing to worry about with “She”, FAYYE’s most recent song. While there’s a beautiful sense of poise to it, with just-so chord changes and airy, silvery vocals, it never feels too tight. It flows beautifully, its burbling electric piano serving as a natural base for FAYYE’s vocal talents and some lovely, subtle string arrangements.
“She” came from a period of newfound independence in FAYYE’s life, and in our interview she describes being influenced by some of her favorite films and poetry while writing the song. “She” is a confident song, but in its own quiet way; FAYYE doesn’t feel the need to remind the listener of just how in control she really is, instead letting her piano chops and gorgeous voice do the talking. It’s the kind of show-don’t-tell approach that works well for a song as unique and beautiful as this. I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.
You describe playing the piano as “playing the orchestra” in your bio. As a songwriter, how do you take advantage of the instrument’s range of timbres?
I remember being four years old, hearing my mum play a Chopin piece on the piano and deciding that I had to learn how to play! All she had was a set of keys, but with it she could create a world of sound. I think this is why I have always felt playing piano is like ‘playing the orchestra’.
Most of my songs start at the piano. I’ll sit down and start playing with a melodic or harmonic progression that I find interesting or unexpected in some way. Then, I’ll think about the kind of mood I want to create, which is where timbre and texture come in. For example, if I wanted to create an eerie or mystical atmosphere, I might play with light, twinkling textures at the top of the piano. If I wanted to create a rich, warm wall of sound to envelop the listener, I might work with resonant, sustained harmonies at the bottom of the piano. If I wanted to create an uplifting sense of momentum, I might play with a more percussive, syncopated melody line. It’s all possible!
You cast a wide stylistic net when it comes to your influences. How do you focus your songwriting so that it’s streamlined into a cohesive whole?
I start songs with a story in my head. I picture the characters, where they are, what’s around them, what time of day it is, how they feel. From here, I think about which musical references would best bring this story to life in sound.
And yes, I do take inspiration from a wide range of musical genres! Some songs might draw on more pop influences, others folk, others jazz, others classical. But ultimately, I’m trying to make the listener feel immersed in the story. So I want all of my songs to create a cinematic sense of warmth and intimacy. And this is what really binds them together.
Is there any impetus behind the lyrics of “She”?
Yes! I wrote ‘She’ a few years ago when I was experiencing a moment of newfound independence. Up until this point, I had mostly been writing love songs. But this time, I wanted to write a song about a woman who marched to her own beat.
I took inspiration for the story from some of my favourite films. For instance, I’ve always loved the character of Vianne Rocher [played by Juliette Binoche] from the film Chocolat. She travels from place to place with the wind. This is of course a very romanticized notion, but I think it’s great!
I also took inspiration from some of my favourite poems about women. I’ve always loved ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ by Yeats. I remember taking inspiration from the lines, “It had become a glimmering girl/With apple blossom in her hair/ Who called me by my name and ran/And faded through the brightening air.”
So out of this came ‘She’, a song about a woman who can’t be held down, who comes and goes and leaves people in her wake.
What prompted you to use the name FAYYE, with all caps?
I wanted to use a name that expressed, for me, the kind of person I wanted to be as an artist.
My favourite film is the 1968 version of The Thomas Crowne Affair, featuring Faye Dunaway as Vicki Anderson. She is smart and self-assured, but also vulnerable and able to let her guard down. And I think I wanted to try and embody these traits as an artist. So, I started with ‘Faye’, inspired by Faye Dunaway.
But from there, I wanted to make the name my own. So I added the extra ‘y’, which made it more unusual and unexpected. And finally, I went with all-caps because I wanted it to feel bold and assured!
How have you been keeping busy during quarantine?
I’ve mostly been working, playing piano, writing songs, running, walking, releasing songs, doing online gigs, collaborating with other songwriters over zoom. There have been SO many Zoom calls! It’s been a strange old time, but in a way the forced break from routine has been good. It makes space for new things to come to the fore.
What are your hopes for the future?
My hope is to start collaborating much more with other songwriters, artists, producers…I have started doing this more over the past few months, and have loved it. My hope is this will also push me out of my songwriting comfort zone to experiment with new sounds. From here, I’ll continue releasing songs and well, we’ll see what happens!