When I meet Hero Fisher in a bar in East London’s Brick Lane, it doesn’t take long to realise she’s a force to be reckoned with. It’s subtle; more zephyr than full-blown storm but it’s palpable. She’s smart, funny and expressive; the words she speaks should definitely be in a book and before I know it, an interview scheduled for an hour breezily transforms into a two hour conversation.
British-born to Australian parents and raised in a small village outside of Paris, Hero was immersed into a creative world from an early age; her mother was a potter, her father an illustrator and her sister a weaver. A rebel at heart, she dropped out of art-school in her late teens and began experimenting with her first musical recordings from the sanctuary of her bedroom.
Inhibited by the notion that sharing her songs would be ‘irrelevant and self-indulgent’, the fiercely self-protective Hero glided between France, Australia and UK, enjoying a bacchanalian twenties and dividing her time between waitressing and residences in Parisian bars.
In 2015, she released EP Slipstream and her critically appraised debut album Delivery. Three years in the making, it amassed a decade’s worth of bedroom songwriting and drew inspiration from Hero’s muses, including Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave. With subtle and tender vocals, emotive and raw language and a seamless shift from rock to folk, Hero has been described as a “blistering rock and roller in the vein of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, and an experimental folk storyteller à la Jeff Buckley”.
To start, I’m curious to know when Hero first recognised her musical talent. Was there a pivotal moment? “Music, it’s a weird one” she says thoughtfully. “I feel like all of us randomly fall into things but music is a massive influence and inspiration for me”. Coming from a naturally creative family, plus having classical piano lessons for most of her childhood steered Hero onto an artist path. “I wasn’t very good at doing my homework.” she laughs “but my piano teacher always marvelled at how good I was at picking up a tune without reading the music”.
Pursuing music as a career choice came later for the musician, and the transition from writing material in her bedroom to performing took some time. She enjoyed a “messy early twenties” and spent a lot of time in Parisian bars, befriending the people who ran open mic nights. “It was a big blur” Hero admits smiling. “I was scared back then. I really was a terrible performer. I’d either be hungover or drunk, and if it went well, no part of me made that happen”. and we both laugh agreeing that sometimes it’s definitely not a bad thing to be a little drunk.
Hero’s music is deeply arresting and unpredictable. The critically-acclaimed material has been described as “cinematic” and “atmospheric” and Hero is pleased with these depictions. “I do set out to make things quite cinematic, or dreamlike” she admits. “With my second album, we’ve left aspects of it untouched a bit, so hopefully some new words will come through as well”.
October 2018 will see the release of her sophomore album Glue Moon, which promises to give way to lighter and more positive songwriting horizons following her earlier musical catharsis. Did Hero have a specific vision of what she wanted the album to be, and was there a particular inspiration for the material? “I work all the time with composer and producer Saul Wodak, who is hugely instrumental with the whole process; he’s a very magical brother and it would be a really hard process without him.” explains Hero. “We joked that we wanted to make it pagan, psychedelic; somewhere between Black Sabbath and the soundtrack of The Wicker Man. Fortunately for my manager Sarah, we were kidding.” she adds with a grin.
She wanted the new album to be raw and more spontaneous, especially as 2015’s Delivery was so personal. “I want people to feel the enjoyment of it when they listen; something a bit more delicate or free-fall” she explains. It was produced entirely by Marta Salogni, who mixed Bjork’s album Utopia. “I feel like we caught her just in time” Hero says proudly. “She’s a really up-and-coming producer; young, Italian and fucking fire. We did well!’.
Hero used visuals from books to inspire the album’s tracks; with Sylvie and Push The Boat Out inspired by Marilynne Robinson’s ‘Housekeeping’, and this helped her to set a certain mood when song-writing. “Glue Moon is a place I’d have in mind when I was writing the songs. I would picture this big dark lake; a very peaceful safe place with a giant pale blue green moon over the lake. I think that maybe came from a scene in that book” she says pensively. “A lot of the books I wanted to read were about hermitic or transient, self-sufficient women. Free-form women that were capable of being mad and surviving”. We discuss the power of literature, the images a great book can evoke as Hero orders a glass of red and how we all interpret things in different ways. It’s easy to talk to Hero; one subject leads seamlessly into another, an idea sparks a deeper discussion.
If pushed on her personal favourite tracks from the new album, Push The Boat Out is very special to Hero, as “it’s about forgiveness, and its a bit harsh, and a little bit spooky” she laughs. “The songs I like have that hazy, dreamlike sound to them that bring me back to Glue Moon, the place”. She looks genuinely shocked when I ask if she listens to her own music, and squirms in her seat. “No!! Never! It’s horrible. It’s actually horrible. If i heard this interview played back now, I would hate my voice now!”.
On the subject of cringeworthy moments, I’m curious to know if she’s still as fiercely protective of her work; does she still consider it ‘irrelevant and indulgent’ to share her music with the wider world, or is it cathartic? “The music was, for a long time, a really personal exploration” she explains. “I didn’t have any aspirations to even share it with people other than close friends. I liked writing on my own for myself. It took me a while to realise I should probably stop doing shitty jobs and attempt to do this full time…”.
She pauses thoughtfully. “I’m still scared of sharing things, but I quite like that once my tracks are out in the open they’re not mine anymore; your interpretation of the song is as valid as my own. I read into songs that I love in my own way – maybe the artist who recorded it wasn’t thinking about that stuff at all. That’s a nice thing, it leaves space for people’s own imagination”. She realises that sharing is part of the job. “I spent a hell of a lot of time making sure I’m proud of the songs I make. They’re not written with any other intent than trying to make the sound work for me and for the people I’m making it with. If people like it, that’s awesome” she said proudly.“ I mean, that’s ideal” she adds, laughing.
What about stage-fright? “I really don’t think I’ll ever not feel nervous before a gig. That’s part of it, feeling anxious and scared about a performance but if you can channel it in the right way, hopefully you can share the feelings with the audience and it’s not so daunting”. We talk about how some of our best gigs have been where the artist has messed up a bit and how the crowd can relate to that. “It’s more touching for people to see mistakes or the human part of you, the sort of fragile aspect of your performance” she adds. When I ask Hero what the best thing about performing is, she answers immediately. “I like it when I get over my nerves. When you’re in the middle of a song and I can hear the other players doing their thing and it all balanced out – a musical moment. Everybody’s in the room together and it’s peaceful”.
Hero is greatly involved in the visual side of her work. Over the past few years she has been working with acclaimed photographer Julian Broad who has deftly understood Hero’s vision and how to execute it. He has produced a video for upcoming single Light Through Closed Eyes which I’m excited to see.
It’s barely a week after her sold-out gig at London’s St Pancras Old Church when we meet. A few days before, Hero had expressed gratitude on Instagram for a smooth-running performance as, despite contracting a throat infection days before the show and only having two full band rehearsals, it was a success. “I couldn’t really go for it vocally on the night though”, Hero explains modestly. ‘It was a really lovely venue and the sound was reverberant in there, so it disguised any defects”. “If that’s your voice when you’re ill, what’s your good voice like?!” I ask incredulously. She smiles brushing it off and mentioning quietly that someone else may have said the same thing. Despite the strong vocals and striking image, Hero comes across as self-deprecating and even a little surprised by her talent.
She fondly remembers the recent gig. “I played with cellist, Alex Eichenberger and it was the first time I had cello on stage. I adored it, it was really moving.” says Hero passionately. “I had only met Alex twice before the gig and found having a girl on stage with me was really unusual. I don’t actually remember ever being on stage with another girl, which is a weird thing to say, but it’s usually very male. I get on well with guys as I do girls, it’s not a problem, but I did find it extremely reassuring. There were moments when I’d look at her and she’d give me a little subtle nod. It was just a nice feeling”. On the night, Hero was also accompanied by Adam Chetwood on pedal steel guitar. She describes the sound of the two instruments blending together as “like honey and butter”.
Influence-wise, whilst Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen still feature heavily, she’s keen to ensure women get the shout they out they deserve, believing her musical taste has evolved as she now listens to more women. She’s a great admirer of PJ Harvey and Joan As Police Woman, considering these artists influential as “they’re mavericks. They’re not doing things the way people expect of them”. Her taste has evolved since her teens (“Then again I did listen to The Spice Girls’ 2 Become 1 the other day and I thought I should do a cover of it!” she laughs) but some artists will always feature on her forever playlist. “When I was a teenager, I thought Jeff Buckley’s Lover, You Should’ve Come Over was the most beautiful song ever, and I still love that song” she explains. Hero also reveals that the woman she listened to most as a young teenager was Billie Holiday, who she considers “the best singer in the world”. “She had such a full-on hard life” says Hero seriously. “Whatever she went through was really channelled into her voice. It was so beautiful”.
After a cracking year so far with single releases Sylvie, Push The Boat Out and I Let Love, I wonder what Hero wants from the rest of 2018. “Some good shows, some nice slots in festivals and supporting artists I admire” she muses. “Releasing the album and seeing how it’s received. Plus, Saul Wodak and I are planning a very raw, home-made recording; going away for a week in the middle of nowhere. It’s great to go in with sound producers and engineers in an awesome studio with tons of history, but there are such lovely raw recordings from artists who have recorded in a shack somewhere or a cabin. Just something super simple”.
As the interview draws to a close, I ask Hero if I’ve missed anything, is there anything else she’d like to talk about?. She pauses for a while, wine poised in hand and looks serious. “Something that’s never really discussed is, how it’s not an impossible thing to do what I’m doing. I feel like it’s either you give up or you don’t. I feel this more and more as I’m getting older. She sips, and carries on. “I just always hope that if anyone reads about me then they can think, ’if she can do it, then I can do it’. Because, I never really feel like I can – but somehow I am”.
Is that about self-belief or about persistence? “Definitely both those things” she says thoughtfully. “Having your own vision is a beautiful thing, and believing that is a real thing. Sometimes when I’m listening to my stuff, I think, ‘Why am I not just doing humanitarian work and shutting up?! Why do I think I’ve got something to say?’. I’d like other young, female singer-songwriters to read this, and realise it’s a hard thing to tackle, but it’s doable”.
The bar is starting to close up to prepare for the evening crowd so, sadly, I draw the interview to a close. We’ve covered a wide range of topics – from literature, to clever women, to stage fright and self-belief and as I walk away, I realise I was lucky to be a part of Hero’s evocative world, just for a bit. She’s introspective, bright, self-deprecating – and bloody good fun. I could hear her laugh echoing in the air and glasses clinking as I opened the door and went back to reality. I wanted to stay in Hero’s world for just a little longer. It’s dreamy.
Hero Fisher’s new single If I Die and Nothing Happens is released on 24 August 2018
Glue Moon is out in October 2018.
Interview by Nicola Greenbrook and Portraits by Rachel Lipsitz with Hero Fisher, Shoreditch, East London in March 2018.