It is here that Woman's Hour enters the well-trodden territory of the debut album release, whose purveyors are sometimes guilty of trotting out platitudes rather than imparting fresh insightful sounds. The impending arrival of a new album is a great cue to turn our attention toward the four-piece band and find out how they maintain a certain level of artistic integrity in a musical landscape that's hell-bent on squashing pure indie dream-pop.

The title of the record, Conversations, not only summarizes what the album aims to create, but what happened when the gifted and absorbing lead singer Fiona Jane Burgess and I spoke. It was a gentle, open and incredibly fascinating conversation. No more, no less.

The best conversations happen when the heart works as a valve for the words, letting them bubble to the surface and flow out - making ones intentions completely clear. The music of Woman's Hour reflects this notion; it reflects a band who aren't trying to conceal their authentic sound, but more so communicate it and involve the listener. During the disarmed track Her Ghost, Burgess even utters "Take your words and put them in my mouth, help me say the things that never come out."

We need a theory for human relationships. We need a theory for music. We need such theories, because the essence of music is for artists to find the words that the listener may not have the courage to say. As it happens, Fiona Jane Burgess has such a theory.

From the underlying message of the record, to the potential cringe-worthy-ness of being deeply emotional around a sibling (her brother Will is in the band) she reveals how she gains creative and personal perspective in a society often scared to address issues.

I feel like I understand the record a bit better when I listen to it on speakers, which was really unusual considering the intimacy of your voice - but I felt it needed some air to it?

It needed space? Yeah. I do know what you mean, it's intimate but there's quite a lot of it that moves from sparse moments to dense sounds.

The first thing I wanted to talk about is the title of the record. I think that there's a lot of imagery behind the word 'conversation' - why that word?

We didn't actually decide on the name of the record until we made it and it's quite an overwhelming experience at times because you're constantly guessing and making up how it happens. I've got a feeling with our second record that we'll just approach the album in a completely different way. We started discussing the title and tried to describe it to each other and just ended up in this pool of difficulty trying to summarise what the album was. It's all about communication, and the difficulty of that. There's so many conversations that we don't dare to have and a lot of the record is about internal conversations we have with ourselves. That word has a meaning that transcends into our body of work that we feel a connection to.

There's actually this Dutch novelist, Cees Nooteboom, who once said "conversations consist for the most part of things one does not say"

Exactly! Like things that you know you shouldn't really talk about. The underlying message of this record is social commentary as I feel as though in the society that I'm apart of there is a real taboo about being honest about certain feelings and owning up to when we're struggling. I think we like to think we are an open society, but I think we're very repressed. From a personal level it took me such a long time to come to terms with some of the emotions I was having and I'm trying to open up the importance of being open with one another.

I also think people struggle to be vulnerable in a society that's heavy set on being controlled. I think there's a lot of opportunity for people not to be as open, via editing themselves or backspacing their thoughts...

That's exactly it!

In the end of the day, that's what music can be for, for artists to find the words that the listener doesn't have the courage to say, so how much of your songwriting is autobiographical for you?

It's probably the most autobiographical thing I've ever produced. I don't know how much you know about us as a band, but I have no musical training and all the other three guys have. For me it's foreign to write like this, but it's empowering and therapeutic. I'm also in this position alongside my brother!

I find it fascinating you work with your brother, how close are you?

It's such a strange relationship that you have with siblings isn't it? It's unlike any relationship I've ever had. It's complex and I guess with any creative collaboration sometimes it's easy and sometimes it's fraught. We write separately then come together, talk about it and there's always a conversation. Also for reassurance, like, is this crap be honest with me!

Does it feel difficult sometimes to express your inner desires or past experiences with your brother standing there? Was there ever a cringe-worthy aspect to it?

There's no cringe actually! There are moments where I cringe to myself, and I think that's important because it means you care. We've always been very close in terms of talking about our relationships and stuff. My brother is one of the people in my life who I've had one of the most intellectual conversations with and the way we talk about things is more like we sit and theorise them. There's definitely been moments where he has written something and moved me to tears.

Do you remember which song that was?

It was 'Darkest Place' actually. I guess there is something quite special in our relationship thinking now about it. I feel when I'm singing something that he's written I'm singing on behalf of him as well and you feel an immense responsibility to make sure what you're conveying is real.

Woman's Hour arrived on the scene with a certain confidence too. How did you achieve that?

I guess the confidence of the sound has come through the four of us experimenting together and taking our time. Also working with a producer for two years has given us confidence, and enabled us to believe in what we're doing. Those moments there's a real energy but you can't describe it, confidence is a built up of those moments. We cut a lot of songs away that we felt didn't truly reflect us at the time.

Was is intentional to keep the 'character' in some of your songs a little less detailed? Sometimes the physical description is part and parcel of describing a character, you know in a book you would say the hair is this or that colour, but I noticed you really hone in on emotional aspects.

I guess that there is an avoidance of overly describing things going on and I feel like allowing a certain ambiguity in songs is important for me. However complex emotions are I also think they're very transferable to different things in our lives. Surely the beauty of making art is that you don't have to explain it? I make something and I give it to you and that's a gift. Take it and take what you want from it! I have this up and down relationship with how much I want to describe my songs so it's refreshing to talk to you by the way; you're so much more interesting than a lot of people.

I'm a huge fan of conversations! I find people fascinating. I read that you teach Drama at a psychiatric unit too, and in theory unlike music, there's no brief and no target audience. How has that moulded your perception of communication?

If you put it in a simplistic way, my role with them is simply to facilitate and find a way of engaging with them and getting them to have confidence. For most people we go on a journey in our lives being more or less stable mentally and so teaching is a constant reminder of how unstable our minds are.

That kind of perspective must be transformative for you too, and the album takes aim at a lot of traditional values, so have you thought about what your idea of a perfect relationship or society would be like?

I do all the time but I wouldn't know where to start or stop to be honest! I'm constantly questioning what kind of society we live in and all the different things that make up who we are today, and I often romanticise the past. I think we're all guilty of nostalgia. This longing for a difference interests me. There's several things I struggle with, sometimes when I've needed support those support structures aren't actually there. I think education is the first place I would start because the state of education in this country is appalling; we're not taking care of how young people are growing up.

Are there times where you feel like the kindness and sweetness in your vocals may be taken for weakness?

A voice is something unlike any other instrument - you can't buy a voice. You can certainly train in different ways and I'm beginning to experiment more with different vocal techniques. Personally I don't see weakness in singing in a way that's completely natural to me. I think that's something I have a problem with contemporary musicians who feel they need to sing in a certain style in order to be listened to. It's not something that interests me it's something that worries me. My style is finding a voice that is comfortable for me. It's totally real. I've never tried to imitate or copy, I'm born with this voice and when I sing I sound a certain way and I have an accent which I sing with because, well, that's real.


Woman's Hour's debut album, Conversations, is released July 21st on Secretly Canadian. Check out their forthcoming live dates below:

  • June 7th Field Day, London
  • June 11th Fleche D'Or, Paris, France w/ Angel Olsen
  • June 21st Best Kept Secret Festival, Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands
  • July 6th Metropolis Festival, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • July 19th Farr Festival, Hertfordshire
  • July 20th Latitude Festival, Suffolk
  • July 25th Deer Shed Festival, Topcliffe
  • July 27th Tramlines Festival, Sheffield
  • August 3rd Kendal Calling, Kendal
  • August 8th Beacons Festival, Skipton
  • August 16th Green Man Festival, Crickhowell
  • August 29th Bingley Music Live, Bingley
  • September 11th Bestival, Isle of Wight
  • September 23rd Village Underground, London
  • September 24th The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
  • September 25th Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
  • September 26th Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds
  • September 27th Deaf Institute, Manchester